‘There was a struggle between my instinct and my head’: women’s perception and experience of masturbation in contemporary Vietnam Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper investigates how masturbation, as one form of non-coital sexual practice, is interpreted and experienced by young married women in contemporary Vietnam. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 20 professional women aged 25-40 living in Hanoi. Thematic analysis suggests that by embracing the pursuit of pleasure and aspiring to achieve this goal, many women stake a claim for modernity by promoting the idea that they are no longer traditional in this particular domain of social life. However, wider social forces associated with traditional Vietnamese gender ideology and sexual values remain firmly rooted, impacting on their everyday lives as working wives and mothers, and stalling their pursuit of pleasure and thus 'wellbeing' in its fullest sense. Indeed, among participants in this study, sex was interpreted as being almost exclusively organised around penile-vaginal intercourse. Even when sex was conceptualised as involving more than penetration, penile-vaginal intercourse was still viewed as its most essential component, without which a sexual transaction could not be seen as complete. The normality of penetrative sex was sometimes coupled with the stigma and discrimination associated with other non-coital sexual practices, positioning women firmly within conventional discourses of naturalness and health in regard to sex.

publication date

  • 2018