The significance of the role played by masturbation in the female is examined from a developmental point of view in order to question the assumption, often made, that female masturbation has the same normal significance as masturbation for the male. In order to do so, the difference between attitudes to male and female masturbation is defined as a difference in attitude to the use of the hand for masturbatory activity and is related to the observation that it is that activity that female children give up post-oedipally and again in post-puberty. The unconscious meaning of the hand, as identified with the mother's active handling of the child's body, is examined to show that masturbation is needed by the child to internalize a positive narcissistic cathexis of the body as well as a means of separating from the mother's body. The continued use of the hand during adolescence and adulthood by the girl or woman is then seen as a defensive means of maintaining a positive relationship to her own sexual body once the girl's body has become identified with that of her mother. The failure of this defence when used by the girl as a means to maintain a positive relationship to her own sexual body is seen as leading to the unconsciously determined need to attack her body, as can be observed clinically in those adolescents who physically attack their body.