We are supposed to be living in an enlightened age and yet there are a great number of topics still wilfully ignored and brushed under the carpet; saved for another day or with the hope that they’ll never be brought up again.
One such topic is female masturbation. Even in more ‘liberal’ and ‘free’ nations, societies and cultures, the notion of women deriving pleasure from themselves is regarded with suspicion and – regrettably – downright hostility. Even if you were to Google ‘female masturbation‘ and cast your eyes over the plethora of articles in favor of it, offering tips and advice on everything from positions, the perfect times and how to actually do it successfully, you only have to dig a little deeper to find the opposite views.
While we can accept that life itself is subjective, the views proffered by the anti-masturbation brigade swing violently between misinformation, dangerous fire-and-brimstone damnation and parental advice that registers as neglect as abuse. The language can be forceful, degrading and designed to browbeat women and girls; forcing them to regard natural acts with an overbearing sense of shame that renders you almost mute with a sense of shocked anger.
Pastor Mark Hill decries it as “a sin” and an area that needs “hard and fast rules laying down”. The same article crows over the fact that a teenage girl has resisted the ‘urge’ for two years thanks to their stern regime of fear and oppression. Talking about the issue becomes a confessional. Rejection of natural acts becomes salvation.
Across the world, the much-publicized practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) continues unabated – as it has done for centuries – in parts of Africa and the Middle East. The barbaric ritual falls in the cracks between religion and deep-rooted cultural beliefs. It robs women of their sexual identity, their sense of personal freedom and is an outright health risk that leads to death and disease.
So what’s to be done? Sure, the old orders and modes of thought can be shaken up, but the restructuring of thousands of years of thought and… ugh… ‘tradition’ might well take just as long to fix. We have to think outside the box. We have to use what we have available to use. And what do we have? Technology, communication and the exchange of ideas.
Happy Playtime is a sex education game whose aim is to eliminate the stigma around female masturbation. It recognizes that loving your body – in every way – is not a sin. No more shame, no more secrets. In their own words: “This little vulva is on a mission: to free the world from a silly social stigma.” The game – and its creator – realizes that being comfortable with your own body and sexuality is a key component of a healthy and happier life. Not only that, but learning these traits and attributes about yourself is a fundamental life lesson.
Happy Playtime is being discovered by others too. Some big players are beginning to realize its potential. In April it was selected as a winner at Games For Change 2015 and a bright future awaits with recognition and funding on the way.
We caught up with Tina – founder and creator of Happy Playtime – and learned that the game is born not just from a strong desire to inform and educate, but to pass on the lessons learned from her own life growing up in a conservative household and culture. Happy Playtime – with its user-friendly and colorful interface – also carries with it the weight of history, of philosophical notions of the self and what we as people can teach one another.
But as we learn in the course of the interview, Happy Playtime also fell foul of the new puritans, namely Apple. Ultimately we have to ask ourselves: will we ever learn?
What inspired you to create the app and teach others about female masturbation and to try and dispel the stigma behind it?
I think every product naturally comes from trying to solve a problem that you have or – in this case – finding a place of harmony for parts of yourself that feel dissonant. I grew up in a conservative family and was really sensitive to the expectations that culture placed on me; so much so that I grew up alienated with my own body despite recognizing my own desires and doing my own thing when the eyes of my parents were not watching.
In college, I was already conceiving of the idea, especially as that’s when, for me, the whole problem of sexuality became much more real. When conceptualizing anything, I think I always look at something from the lens of this concept of “Self”, or “identity” – this great black abyss is the foundation always for everything in life. So where sexuality is concerned, masturbation naturally came into the picture. When this was taking shape in my head touch screens were becoming pretty popular. I was thinking about characters and mascots and how they made products and brands more human and for some reason, it all clicked together.
I was never able to actually create anything until a few years later. I launched the landing page using startup principles: “create a landing page, see if people even give a shit, if they do, build something”. It accidentally blew up in my face. I had nothing to show but the design. That summer was a season of nervous breakdowns for me. Never the less, the whole process of making this game and everything that is involved has been in many ways a healing process for myself and I feel like a much stronger person for creating it.
Which features did you consider to be vital for inclusion?
I would say the most important features are touch and character. They work together in a way that makes it feel like there’s a real interaction.
I wanted to use touch in a way that a human usually uses touch – on a mobile device – so that the association between the game and reality is something that is stronger. You use the touch screen to play with the mascot, who is also your teacher and also the character that you want to make happy and bring joy to. The more orgasms you achieve, the more moves, educational content, objects you unlock. In between game sessions, we want to cover everything from the anatomical aspects of the female body, the science of orgasms and arousal, the social aspects of masturbation, etc. Thus these two concepts coming together – the emotional pull and the physicality of it – makes it feel alive, not just virtual.
I will never know enough about human sexuality to be an expert, but I am a designer, so what I can offer is creating new forms of absorbing education, and that’s important – Marshall McLuhan wrote The Medium is the Message in the 60s, focusing on the growth of film (If I remember correctly). This idea will always apply – the structure and form of something is so important when creating anything – it shapes the way we absorb the content within. We have to make sex education modern, and interactive to give it momentum again.
Have you received any criticism for Happy Playtime and if so, what did it focus on?
We definitely got a lot of criticism, and a lot of support too.
Our game makes the subject ridiculous. We don’t take it seriously. The mission is something I take very seriously. The overall affects of this game I take very seriously. The execution, the character’s design and personality, the brand – my question about that is whether those specific parts need to be taken seriously. The comedic portion of it is what makes it somewhat viral, and I’m a firm believer in that I don’t necessarily need others to believe in the mission in order for it to succeed. The moment someone sees it, thinks it’s hilarious and laughs, that becomes the moment when they’re okay enough with the concept of masturbation to laugh about it.
The character design is too childlike and young girls should not be learning about this so early – I absolutely disagree that young girls do not need to know about masturbation. This game, at its core is also about being able to own one’s own sexuality. Masturbation is sexuality and identity in one concept. Masturbation is about sexual pleasure without men. It is about owning your own sexuality, and that makes you powerful, strong and aware. And girls – whether they want to or not – are learning about sex incredibly early and they need a perspective that is only about themselves – where men are not in the picture – and they need that before they are sexualized by others. See this reddit thread: Girls are sexualized as early as 10 years old.
Did you suffer any setbacks in receiving funding and developing Happy Playtime? Given how reluctant some are to fund adult/sex-based projects, was it something you encountered?
Cindy Gallop – one of my heroes – is constantly talking about this topic in regards to Make Love Not Porn. These blocks are incredibly harmful in allowing innovation in SexTech – which has been – until now – incredibly male dominated. I’m not saying that men shouldn’t run sex companies. I’m saying there has to be an alternative voice – a female voice – about sexuality, which is incredibly rare. When only men depict sex we have a representation of sex from only one view. That said, that’s also why we need diversity, anywhere.
The worst thing that happened to us was Apple blocking us from app stores. We had built an app for iOS native and when it was complete they banned us for pornographic content. Months and months of work and thousands of dollars from my own pocket was basically wasted. Banning us from the app store basically prohibits us from the most basic source of monetization that we could have. Meaning that it is much harder for me to spend more time on this app, because I need to be able to feed myself and pay rent. My time is limited.