A few years ago, I wrote a story about coming out of my marriage breakdown and rediscovering my sexuality. The column included a brief, hyperbolic line about me becoming enthralled with a new sex toy after months in a sexless marriage.
But after a couple of weeks of using my new adult plaything, I started experiencing pelvic pain.
And if there's anything internet tabloids love more than a woman talking openly about her sex life, it's a "broken" vagina – which, I should probably state, is a physiological impossibility. (This is not to say vaginas can't be injured, but you can't actually "break" one.)
The morning after my story went viral, I woke to 10,000 new Instagram followers (all of whom, to absolutely nobody's surprise, were men, offering to "provide assistance" next time I needed relief) and my photo next to the words "woman uses vibrator eight times a day" on dozens of online publications.
It had made front page news that I, a human woman, used a vibrator.
This struck me as farcical for a number of reasons – not the least being the fact the internet was obviously having a slow news day, and none of the titles had bothered to conduct a fact check to clarify "broken vaginas" aren't an actual thing. But more so, because it highlighted the disturbing lack of knowledge surrounding female pleasure.
This is something I noted early on in my career, when I first began blogging about my sex and dating experiences. The concept of women experiencing, and even pursuing, sexual pleasure is still novel, if not morally offensive, to our cultural construct of womanhood.
There's a jarring cognitive dissonance between the social expectation for women to be (and I'm paraphrasing Usher's "Yeah" here) "a lady on the street and a freak in the sheets". We want women to be ravenous sexual vixens in the bedroom, but confusingly, not to ever actively seek out sexual pleasure in their everyday lives.
While pleasure seeking is not only accepted among men – but written into the code of masculinity (something that places undue pressure on men to be constantly sexual), women who pursue sex are deemed "wh*res", "loose" and definitely "not wife material" (incidentally, if you want to experience slut-shaming on a mass scale, just try being a woman who writes about sex for a living).
It shouldn't be particularly surprising to anyone then, so many women are dissociated from their sexuality.
Every time I discuss fake orgasms (which always results in men flocking to the comments section to unironically announce they've never had a woman fake it on them), I'm flooded with emails from women confessing their husband of 20 years doesn't know they've never climaxed.
And I'm yet to write literally anything about women's sexual pleasure without copping at least a few angry tweets from guys mansplaining to me how I got it wrong (you know, because men know how women's bodies work better than any stupid sheila flapping off her chops on the internet - also, women who think they have a right to express their opinions online are #feminazis).
The truth is, it's not uncommon for a woman to masturbate daily – even multiple times a day. As someone who moves in very honest circles of women, I can confidently say I spend the least time with my vibrator out of any of my girlfriends.
Because, contrary to popular belief, many women own and regularly use vibrators.
The reason we're compelled to reel in shock at news of a woman pleasuring herself with any kind of frequency is because women have been taught to repress this side of ourselves. And some of us get so good at smothering our desire, we ultimately manage to extinguish it.
"Listening to girls' litany of disembodied early experiences, it sometimes struck me that we'd performed the psychological equivalent of a clitoridectomy on our daughters," researcher Peggy Orenstein writes in her best-selling book, Girls & Sex, which she compiled after speaking with high-school and college-aged girls about sex.
"[It's] as if we believed, somehow, that by hiding the truth from them (that sex, including oral sex and masturbation, can and should feel fabulous) that they won't find out, and so will stay 'pure'," Orenstein expounds.
Instead, by demonising female pleasure, what we've actually done, is taken it underground. If the exploding sex toy market – forecast to be worth over $52 billion globally by 2026 – has anything to say about it, women are just as up for it as ever. And research shows we orgasm quickly and often when we masturbate, too.
The secret to "hacking" the female libido isn't a pill or diet. It's destroying the shame women have been indoctrinated to feel around our sexuality since we were girls.
Every comments section littered with the words "wh*re" and "sl*t", every joke among mates at the pub calling a girl "loose", and every reference to a woman who has casual sex as "used up" or "not girlfriend material" is a reminder to girls and women their pleasure is something that must be stifled at all costs.
Here's something no one's acknowledging in the discussion about the allegedly pathologically low female libido: women don't need fixing. We've just spent a lifetime believing our bodies aren't things to be enjoyed, but rather, vessels for male gratification.
In the same way we teach women to minimise ourselves via constant dieting, and in turn kill off our ability to respond to natural hunger cues, we condition women to get "in the mood" for sex as determined by our male partners, and in doing so, thwart our ability to respond to our own arousal cues.
If you're anything like most women, you've become so accustomed to ignoring your sexual signals in place of the needs of your partner, you're not sure you even know what desire feels like. Which is why the best thing you can do to reignite your libido, is schedule in regular self-pleasure sessions, regardless of how you're feeling.
Just as working out a particular muscle group at the gym increases the strength and size of those muscles, women who masturbate regularly experience a more powerful and frequent desire for sex.
The good news is, committing to self-loving sessions is a whole lot more enjoyable than sticking to a diet or gym schedule, and it'll never, ever make you feel bad about yourself. Take it from a woman who's had plenty of practice at solo sex.
Also, to avert any future headlines: please don't worry about my vagina, it's okay. Really.