The Travel Blog // Stories + Thoughts

What Travel Taught Me About Body Hair, Masturbation and Hooking Up on the Road

“Do you masturbate?”

He asked me. A group of boys were going around to lunch tables and asking all the girls.

My 7th grade self was embarrassed by the existence of the question. “Ew, no.”

I hoped that he couldn’t see the flush red sweep across my face as obviously as I could feel it. Sadly, shame  continued to be part of my experience until I was able to find agency over my own sexuality— thanks to travel.

The thing is, though, that we don’t automatically learn how to identify, awaken or mold agency over our bodies and sexuality over night. It’s different for everyone, and many people experience and hold trauma around this topic.

Up until my last cross-country trip, I hadn’t met all my traumas that I hold around sexuality—especially being femme. As I think back on these issues— body hair, masturbation, and “hooking up”— I’ve really only heard “men” talk about them. Usually white men.


What I learned was:

It’s OK for masculine folks to have body hair; it even enhances their masculinity.

It’s OK for masculine folks to very nonchalantly talk and crack jokes about masturbation — at any time, because “they’re guys”.

It’s OK for masculine folks to experience their sexuality with different people; I might even venture as far to say that it’s encouraged as a part of “becoming a man.”


life model, a female laying naked on her side, body hair


Although I do surround myself with a group of people who are working to dismantle all of these dangerous thought patterns and conditions placed on us by society, traveling to new places has shown me that these thought patterns still do exist. And they’re very much alive.

How can we start to break them down?


Body Hair

When I biked (parts of) the TransAmerica Trail, I couldn’t bring all my daily luxury items with me. I needed space for more important things. At first, I tried to pack everything that I thought was important to my visual presentation, including my razor.

I had never, at any point in my life, stopped to check in and see if I actually wanted to shave my body hair. No one had taught me to reflect on this question. Everyone had shamed the question, actually. I had the mentality that only the “dirty hippies”  didn’t shave.

It had never crossed my mind that, (get ready for this!), my body was my personal vessel and that I got to CHOOSE exactly how I wanted to present—or not present—my body. My body my body my body.




if it was not supposed to be there

would not be growing

on our bodies in the first place


-we are at war with what comes most naturally to us

rupi kaur



black and white photo, woman in camel yoga pose

What a thought, that being feminine and having body hair might not be wrong. What a thought, that I could be as feminine as I ever was and have hair underneath my arms. What a thought, that I didn’t have to shave religiously before every first date. What a thought, that I didn’t have to take the time removing something natural from my body—if I chose not to.


removing all the hair

off your body is okay

if that’s what you want to do

just as much as keeping all the hair

on your body is okay

if that’s what you want to do


 – You belong only to yourself

rupi kaur



Once I started covering more miles on the road by bicycle, I literally had to ditch bags full of items because they were so heavy. I realized (thanks to lack of access to opportunities to shave) that my body hair really didn’t bother me.

I had one worry, though, when throwing my razor away: what if I had a sexual experience with someone?

I felt that I had to shave my body beforehand or else they would think my body was gross—but I decided to cross that bridge when I got to it. Through meeting different partners, having different conversations and being introduced to new ideas on the road, I came to a new conclusion.

I didn’t have to feel shame around having body hair, or keeping it. When I sat and really thought about it, did having hair under my armpit (or anywhere else) really change my experience dramatically?


It did and did not.


The literal fact of having armpit hair did not make me any less of a woman, any “dirtier” (dirtier being used with a negative, containing less value connotation) of a person. What it did, though, was help me find some agency with my body. And that changed how I interacted with myself, and others.

I realized something very important: I am what I am.  I am. I exist. I don’t have to have labels or fit into categories. I can show up—or not—with my existence, as it is.


So, what does this have to do with body hair?


If I choose to engage sexually with someone while existing with my body hair in its full, I can. And there is no shame around that.

This is something that I truly didn’t understand until I started to ask myself questions and search for real answers. It wasn’t until I was traveling that I decided to claim my body and present it how I wanted. The people that I met traveling had explored these questions for themselves already; and I found a space where I didn’t experience shame around body hair in presentation or sexuality when engaging with them.



the next time he

points out the

hair on your legs is

growing back remind

that boy your body

is not his home

he is a guest

warn him to

never outstep

his welcome



rupi kaur



What do body hair and masturbation have in common? They’re both spaces where we can directly participate in claiming bodily agency.

When I feel back through time, I send support to my 7th grade self. Why was I so ashamed? Why did I spit out no when the real answer was yes?

In 7th grade, masculine folks talked about masturbation all the time. They joked about it and laughed like it wasn’t a big deal. They knew that they were allowed to do it, talk about it, and more importantly—that it was acceptable for them.

Young feminine folks did not handle the subject of masturbation in this way. I watched as girls were “grossed out” and completely unconnected with the idea of touching themselves.

What truly grosses me out is the idea that it is acceptable for one gender to explore their body –and all of its wonderful functions– and not for another.

When I started to ask more questions of if I was allowed to participate in having body hair and practice masturbation (especially as much as masculine folks), I became more aligned and comfortable with my body. This allowed me to share my truth easier, which leads to a fuller connection with others.


black and white photo, woman facing mountains in Colorado with arms spread open above


Travel, to me, has always held a space for exploration, learning and growth. The people that I’ve engaged with while on the road have provoked my curiosity, encouraged me to try new things been supportive to me as I explore things on my own.


To be honest, sharing truths like this is still hard for me. I’m still exploring these questions of agency myself. I’m still learning to talk about my sexuality. I’m still solidifying the feelings that I— as a woman—have every right to this space to speak my truth as much as anyone else.


I am looking to create a world where, as funny as it sounds, we don’t experience shame around how much body hair we do or don’t have. I am looking to create a world where self-pleasure and exploration—especially for the femme— can be explored deeply and fully. 


I’m looking to create a world where we can explore these questions openly and together. I am looking to create a world where the femme can approach these subjects without shame. Let’s create a world where we take up this space, unapologetically.

Hooking Up

While we’re working on that, it’s also important to look at how we talk about our sexual interactions with others—or if we do it at all.

My first feeling around the phrase “hooking up” is that it feels quick, shallow and only there for fun.

“Hooking up generally refers to having sex, however, many others indicated that when they say hooking up they are referring to something less than intercourse. In a hookup culture, young people often have little experience with dating and developing romantic relationships.”

Hookup culture – Wikipedia

This is the top hit when I googled “define: hooking up”.

I want to reclaim this phrase, though. I’m using this term with undefined edges. Hooking up, to me, can mean anything from quick interactions to long, continued experiences.


I also want to point out that a “quick interaction” does not mean that the experience wasn’t meaningful or didn’t inspire change in us, because everything does. We can speak to someone that we’ve never met before for three minutes, and the truth that they share with us can give a perspective that changes us forever. In the same way, we can have experiences—no matter the amount of time or intensity—that are significant to us as well.


black and white drawing of naked woman, sitting up, back view

I’ve learned more from investing in someone for a week than I have from investing in someone for a year before. My point is: we can work to undo shame around connecting sexually with others, regardless of the time spent or the level of commitment and intimacy.




I am working to undo my shame that I usually experience around engaging sexually with others—especially as a femme. Travel has helped me do that.

While traveling, I’ve met a variety of people that have so many different things to offer. When I started engaging with people that I wanted to—hooking up– I learned more about myself and the world around me.

What were we hooking together? Our minds, ideas, bodies and energies. Our time. Our experiences.


 There is no magic number as to how many humans it’s considered “OK” to hook up with. There is no right or wrong. There is you—and your alignment. There is you, and you can honor yourself though self-care and exploration. You can honor yourself through new experiences and connections. You can honor yourself by checking in with what you need, want and desire.

Before I traveled cross-country last year, I thought that my voice came second as to how my body should be. I had no place to speak about how I engage my own body or engage sexually with others. It felt inappropriate.  I thought that there was no space for me in the conversation.


black and white, woman smiling and turned looking over a forest in California

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
― Virginia WoolfA Room of One’s Own


But, there is space for us. Remember that.

As soon as we begin to love ourselves, as we exist, we open the door to loving others as they exist. We create space to ask questions. And we find room to grow from them.

Let your time traveling be a space to peel back layers to your own truth. Bring your findings back home. Share them with others.


the world

gives you

so much pain

and here you are

making gold out of it


and there is nothing purer than that

               rupi kaur



(thank you, Michael Amani for your enthusiasm and edits that support this post.)

Feeling inspired and considering solo travel? Stay safe with these tips. (especially you,  femmes!)




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  • Annik
    May 11, 2017

    Your words and the truth that speaks out of them truly touched me. Thank you for addressing all these in society often suppressed topics. I could fully identify myself with your post and I truly believe, so do millions of women out there.
    Keep spreading your beautiful message and be a light in this world! Much love!!

    • Calen
      May 11, 2017

      Thank you for all of the support and inspiration that you give me as well.. truly. Ugh! I am so glad that this was able to touch you in a way that we are so often under supported. <3 thanks for letting me shine!

  • Amy Quest
    May 11, 2017

    Wow…amazing and gave me a lot to think about!

    • Calen
      May 11, 2017

      Hey Amy! Thanks for reading. Brain food is the best! I’m glad that you have such an open heart and mind!

  • Ciara Johnson
    May 11, 2017

    Absolutely loving this post! I relate in so many ways, especially as I am solo traveling for the first time!

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