Good news – sexual pleasure is really good for you! There are numerous studies corroborating the benefits of masturbation and orgasm to support sleep, stress, mood, and a general sense of wellbeing – and the benefits of masturbation extend far beyond a general sense of wellbeing. It can be a way to re-negotiate a relationship with our bodies based on instinct and desire, working through shame, and using pleasure as an anchor to having a positive experience within ourselves.
The best part? These benefits are free, and totally available to us all.
But we all have more to learn and un-learn when it comes to our bodies, sex & masturbation.
This article is geared towards women and people with vulvas – but we think that everyone, regardless of genitalia, can benefit from a little more masturbation re-education.
Masturbation Myths & Misconceptions
By now, most of us know that masturbation won't grow hair on your palms, cause acne, or make you go blind. But even if we're masturbation-positive, we still might believe some not-so-true things that can get in the way of a fulfilling solo sex life.
- Masturbating with a vibrator can desensitize your clitoris. It’s just not true – but if you want to increase your capacity for pleasure and different types of sensation, try using a combination of hands and toys. That way your body learns to respond to multiple sensory experiences. Other tools that also can add to your experience include internal massage wands, butt plugs, and high-quality lubes.
- Masturbation has to lead to orgasm. It may sound counterintuitive, but consider what might happen if you took orgasm off the table altogether. Looking at masturbation as an exploration of pleasure, instead of a goal-oriented experience, can open a whole new world of pleasure to you. It can feel awkward at first, but staying curious has so many benefits down the line.
- People only masturbate when they are single. At the end of the day – whether we are partnered or not – we are responsible for our own pleasure, and the better that relationship with ourselves, the better it will be with a partner.
- Is masturbation bad for you? Good news – this is almost never true! However, always make sure your hands and toys are clean so you avoid UTIs and other infections, and if you're masturbating so vigorously that you get raw or sore, go easy. Genital tissues are delicate and should be treated with love. In rare cases, masturbation can become obsessive. Like anything else that feels good, if your self-pleasure practice is interfering with your relationships or regular activities, it's a good idea to check in with your mental health overall.
Is masturbation healthy?
We all know it feels good – but what are the actual health benefits of masturbation, and why should you consider self-love as part of your self care routine?
- Masturbation can help you fall asleep. If you suffer from insomnia, you know that anxiety is a key factor – ruminating about the troubles of today and tomorrow. But masturbation engages the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us get into our bodies and out of the fight-or-flight response that feeds stress and keeps us up at night.
- Masturbation can relieve stress and improve mood. Masturbation causes your body to release dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and prolactin – the "happiness hormones" that can boost your overall mood, even when you're not masturbating.
- Masturbation can help relieve menstrual cramps. The uterine contractions that are a key component of orgasm can help your period along and reduce cramps' intensity, plus those hormones we mentioned above are natural pain relievers. Everyone is different, and some people find that orgasms actually make their cramps a little worse – experiment to find out what's best for you.
- Masturbation can help you get to know your body. If you know what brings you pleasure and orgasms, you'll know how to direct your lover during partnered sex – which is more fun for everyone. But in addition to that, being attuned with your body is good for your health in general, and you're more likely to notice if something changes.
Now comes the fun part - how to masturbate!
How you masturbate will depend on what kind of orgasm you're after – and there are lots. Check out our field guide to orgasms for a comprehensive hot take (really hot), but here's a nutshell version.
Types of Masturbation
- Clitoral orgasm. Stimulating the clitoris, with fingers, a toy, or even objects not intended for the purpose (like showerheads), is the easiest way for most people with vulvas to "get there". And if you've been masturbating the same way for a long time, it can be exciting to change it up – with different positions, indirect pressure, or ditching the vibe once in awhile. If you've never masturbated to clitoral orgasm before, don't worry about the "goal" of orgasm – think exploration, celebration, and curiosity. It's all about what feels good to you! And always, always use a good lube – and lots of it – for extra sensation and to ease friction on sensitive tissues.
- Vaginal orgasm. Despite what you've seen in movies or read about in romance novels, most women and people with vulvas can't climax from penetration alone. (And thanks to the current wave of sexual openness and public dialogue for making this fact more widely known!) But if you do love penetration – for orgasm or for its own sake – there's a world of dildos, wands, and other goodies that can make that awkward G-spot angle a piece of cake. Always buy quality toys – the extra cost is worth it – and try a suppository for a sensation boost.
- Anal orgasm. They're not only for people with penises! You can actually stimulate your G-spot from inside the rectum, and the sensation may be completely different. The trick here is to go extremely slowly, use tons of lube, and be patient. Start with just a fingertip, then graduate to toys with flared bases that were specifically made for anal play. (This is important – you don't want to end up as a funny emergency-room story!)
- Combo orgasm. This is advanced stuff that can take some coordination and planning, but combined clitoral/vaginal or clitoral/anal orgasms can be out of this world. Play with different combinations of fingers and toys, and don't forget your nipples, inner thighs, belly... your whole body is available to you, with all the pleasure it can bring.
Want more? Follow what makes you feel good, and slow down. Notice your own habits, and consider trying to stay away from them. We generally continue masturbating the same way our whole lives – in the same position, at the same speed. So if you break up your routine and start creating new ways to masturbate and experience your body, you might just experience new pathways of pleasure as well!
- Masturbation positions – explore whole-body movement with self-touch. Try standing up, dancing, rolling around on your back or stomach, get on your knees, do it all and see what really hits the spot for you.
- Things to masturbate with – try a different toy (hello shower head!) or say hello again to your hands! Too often we rely on the fastest path to masturbation, which is totally ok sometimes but not terribly useful if we’re trying to expand our capacity for arousal and pleasure. Getting familiar with your hands, your showerhead, or taking it super slow with your vibrator can really build up arousal and might surprise you with what feels good.
- Masturbate without porn – try masturbating with and without visual stimulation. A lot of us find our self-pleasure is enhanced by the visual stimulation of porn. Which can be wonderful, and so is mixing it up! Being super-present in your own experience is also quite magical and can open up the world of our own fantasies and desires a bit more.
- Other masturbation tips – most importantly, explore different types of touch – not just on your genitals. Touch your whole body - your stomach, breasts or chest, legs, feet, hair, ass. All of it can become a sensual experience – and it requires us to slow down and pay attention to what really feeds us when it comes to touch.
Kiana Reeves is a somatic sex educator, doula, pelvic care practitioner and Chief Education Officer at Foria.
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