Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer-inclusive, health-informed, pleasure-inclusive, sex-positive journalist and educator whose work reflects the intersections of LGBTQ+ issues, sexual health, wellness, and pleasure.
When self-knowledge is the goal, the spa, shrink, and self-help section of the book shop are usually the prescribed solution. While all three can be effective, there’s another way to learn about your body, desires, sexuality, gender, and more that we’re highlighting in honor of Ma(y)sturbation May: Masturbation.
Scroll down to learn how solo sex can benefit your health, as well as your conceptualization of your gender and sexuality.
Before we get into how to use self-touch as a self-knowledge tool, let’s start with a definition. Masturbation is the totally normal, common, and healthy practice that involves using touch, imagery, and spirituality with pleasure, exploration, and/or orgasm in mind.
That means masturbation can entail what you traditionally think of as masturbating: Stroking your genitals, teasing your bits with a vibrator, or filling your hole(s) for thrill. But it also means your ménage á moi can entail closing your eyes and imaging sexual energy traveling the length of your body.
In other words, dotting the i has many more shapes and forms than people know either intellectually, or from experience.
Yes, Masturbating Has Health Benefits
Let the record show: The fact that masturbating can feel good is reason enough to do it. As Adrienne Maree Brown put it, “Pleasure is the point. Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom.”
Still, there are legitimate health benefits to masturbating—benefits that stand whether the session ends in zero, one, or fourteen orgasms.
One study found that those who regularly jack, jill, or (the gender-neutral) jordan off are more likely to be self-confident compared to those who don’t. A second showed masturbating reduces the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as promotes better sleep quality. And a third suggests it can relieve stress and anxiety.
There’s also scientific proof that masturbating can: reduce headache and period cramp pain (thanks, oxytocin release!), improve immune health, even improve cognitive function. Pretty impressive for a little one-on-one!
Masturbation Shows You What You Like And Don’t Like
Many of us have been taught that a Prince(ss) In Shining Armor will appear one day and teach us about our own bodies. This is a fairytale. Meaning, bulls**t.
When we invite someone into our bed, it is our job to show them how we like to be touched, not the other way around. This means that, ideally, our body-knowledge will come prior to the partner.
That’s where masturbating comes in; masturbation allows us to explore what does and does not feel good.
Partnered sex can do that, too! you might be thinking. It’s true that with a highly-communicative, highly-intuitive, highly-connected partner, partnered sex can serve this function. But even the most astute partner cannot adjust their touch at your command as quickly as you can.
Think about it: Between when you register that you want them to return to their previous stroking pattern, communicate as much, they register what you’ve said, and adjust accordingly, there's a lag time! During solo sex, no such lag time exists.
Masturbation also offers you the space to explore whatever parts of your body you want, without first having to negotiate where, how, or with what.
For example, maybe you’re interested in learning just how sensitive the ring of nerves around your anal canal is. Solo sex allows you to do so by simply bringing a (lubed!) finger or toy to your entrance— easy! Partnered sex requires a little more communication ahead of time, as well as during, about things like potential poop, pressure, and process.
Does this mean communicating is a hassle? Heck no! It simply means that there are perks to being able to explore something on your own!
Masturbating Can Also Help You Explore Your Gender And Sexuality
As a queer bisexual dyke as well as a sex educator who specializes in providing pleasure-forward, sex-positive, trauma-informed queer sex education to the LGBTQ+ community, I know both firsthand and through anecdotal reports that masturbating can be used to help someone explore their gender and/or sexuality.
For me, the first night I slid my rugby-muscled legs through the inlets of strap-on harness and proceeded to jack my (store-bought) cock off marking a knowing. Each rhythmic pump of my first on the shaft pressed the base of the dildo against my oh-so-sensitive clit sending me to orgasm, and helping my queerness blossom.
For others, masturbation extends an invitation to pleasure-seekers and gender-revolutionaries to imagine that their body slopes and slants, hardens and hungers in ways other than they do in flesh.
Masturbation also allows some to find pleasure in a body that has otherwise brought them nothing by dysphoria and discomfort.
While in the company of just ourselves, masturbation enables us to be highly imaginative in how we touch ourselves, where, with what, and while fantasizing about whatever we might desire.
Exactly How To Use Masturbation To Learn More About Yourself
Ready to use self-pleasure to become self-actualized? These tips can help.
- Start! To repurpose a famous sports phrase: Just do it! Some of us have been masturbating since we were 3 or 6 years old, our teddy bear repurposed as our humping mate. Others haven’t yet out of shame or fear. If you’re in the latter category and are interested in learning more about your desires, get wanking! And remember: masturbating is inclusive of more than just genital touching.
- Take orgasm off the table. Sure, orgasms can feel pretty damn good. But making the goal of self-pleasuring pleasure rather than orgasm can elongate the sex-sesh, while also encouraging you to observe in on what feels good, rather focus on only the strokes and pokes that feel orgasmic. If you find yourself over-prioritizing orgasm, re-focus on your inhales and exhales. Or, stop altogether until you get off the edge, and then re-start.
- (S)experiment. If you’ve been a long-time wanker you probably have a go-to masturbation method. But consider trying something new! Who knows you might even find a technique, toy, or kind of touch that brings you even more pleasure than your usual method. And if it doesn’t, you’re still gaining insights on your own desires.
You might try:
- Stroking a strap-on dildo or packer.
- Rimming your anal entrance with lube and your finger or an anal-safe toy.
- Using a wand on your taint, after that wand has been dunked in warm or cold water.
- Tapping, twisting, pinching, pressing, or flicking your nipples or external genitals.
- Touching yourself while laying on your stomach, back or side.
- Use a pump on your external genitals prior to using your hand.
If you’re a journal-er, you may consider taking pen to paper post-pleasure sesh. Doing so will give you a chance to reflect on what did and did not feel good.
If not, still take some time to noodling on the follow questions:
- What brought me joy during that sex-session?
- What disconnected—rather than connected—you to your body and self?
- What, if anything, might you have interest in trying again?
- Are there any sensations I wish a pleasure product could provide me, so that I don’t have to provide the sensation myself?
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