It’s a fact that most women practice some form of self-induced sexual pleasure – between 62% and 91%, depending on who you ask. It’s also a fact that many women feel shy and/or embarrassed about it. So, how do we reconcile these two realities? Is masturbation destined to remain a dirty little secret?
"Masturbation is our first and natural form of sexual activity and if that's inhibited or damaged, then we suffer for the rest of our lives." -- Betty Dodson
Dealing With Stigma
How did a natural process that just happens to be exceedingly pleasurable become a source of guilt and shame? A lot of it started in church. Many religions, in fact most, frown on masturbation and consider it a sin and, in more than a few, it's strictly forbidden. A story in the book of Genesis influenced the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) to classify masturbation as a sin. It involves a man named Onan who was killed for “spilling his seed” rather than impregnate his dead brother’s widow. To put it simply, religion generally supports a way of thinking that links sex with reproduction in an exclusive kind of way. In other words, sex is supposed to be about making babies, not pleasure.
But masturbation’s bad name didn't come from religion alone. Prior to 1968, it was classified as a mental disorder and it took the American Medical Association until 1972 to finally declare it normal. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done by the time the 70s rolled around and to this day, sexual self-pleasure remains controversial and very hush hush.
"The guilt, fear, anxiety … that surrounds masturbation is astounding, especially when one realizes … how pervasive it is among human beings." – Lonnie Barbach, Ph.D. (author of For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality)
Letting Go of Guilt/Opening Up To Pleasure
In addition to being sinful, many of us were taught that masturbation is unhealthy and potentially harmful. “Don’t touch” could easily be among the first messages we received – even before our first memories. And, for many of us, that message has been reinforced by stigma, misinformation, and a society that’s still influenced by ancient dogma.
The fact is that masturbating is not only natural – it’s healthy and good for you. And kind of hard to miss that our anatomy is perfectly suited for intimate touching and exploration. For women, masturbation is an important part of knowing and caring for ourselves. It’s the best way for us to learn about the kind of stimulation that works best for us and, for many women, it’s how we experience orgasm for the first time.
Benefits of Masturbation
“I recommend masturbation to the women I treat. But a lot of women are embarrassed by it. My hope is that we can normalise it for women too, because it’s such a natural function. I like to refer to it [as being on the same level of importance] as eating, sleeping, and brushing our teeth.” – Kelley Kitely, LCSW
Let’s be real – the point of masturbation is pleasure and, ultimately, orgasm. And, if you engage with yourself in this way, your chances of a happy ending are quite high. Consistently quite high - as in 95% of the time. But what about other benefits? Is masturbation, in fact, good for you?
Yes. It's actually very good for you due to the positive impact of pleasure on your body and mind and because it so often ends with orgasm. And when orgasm comes into play, the benefits are many:
- Lower stress
- Enhanced quality of sleep
- Better concentration
- Elevated mood
- Stronger immune system
- Reduced pain from migraines
- Decreased menstrual pain
- Lower risk of prostate cancer in men
- Safe sex (absolutely!)
- Improved vaginal health
- Increased sexual confidence
- Stronger libido
Additionally . . .
- Some research shows that sexual activity – masturbation included – is linked to better cognition in aging adults
- Particularly good for older women (decreased pain during intercourse and less vaginal dryness)
- Women who masturbate have more sex with their partners and they have more orgasms.
Sexual pleasure and orgasm are important parts of our overall health and with all the benefits, self-induced pleasure as part of our wellness routines just makes sense.
Know Your Body/Know Yourself
“If you want to learn to have an orgasm, better orgasm, or more orgasms, learn to play your own instrument.”
– Sherri Winston, certified nurse-midwife & holistic sexuality
The instrument she’s talking about, of course, is the clitoris. It’s the center of female sexual pleasure - just like the penis is for men. The clitoris has thousands of nerve endings and three parts - a head, a shaft and “legs” that look like a wishbone. It’s also an organ that becomes erect when it’s aroused and is capable of ejaculation. The fact that the vagina typically takes top billing when it comes to heterosexual sex is a reflection of our culture’s historical focus on male pleasure. It is not a reflection of the reality of the female anatomy.
So, consider becoming intimately acquainted with yourself, if you haven’t already. Discover how you look, feel, smell and taste. And learn what feels good, better, and best. You be in control of your body, your pleasure, and your orgasms.
Goop has a good article: Exploring Your Erectile Network. Definitely worth reading if you want to explore this topic further. Here’s the link: GOOP
"Female genitals are not meant to be touched dry."
-- Laurie Mintz, Sexuality Psychologist
When it comes to sex, wet and slippery is a good thing, but it doesn’t always happen naturally. Birth control pills can cause dryness and so can dehydration. Post-menopause, and the lead up to it, is also a time when dryness can be an issue. Fortunately, there are many products on the market that can help when mother nature isn’t giving us what we need.
Most experts agree that water-based lubes are the way to go. Lubricants with silicone bases damage toys made from silicone - sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. There are some nice oil-based products on the market, but keep in mind that they can damage condoms and other birth control barriers. Oily lubes typically last longer, but they can be messy to deal with.
Cosmopolitan has done the legwork for us and reviewed ten water-based lubricants. Here’s the link: Sexual Lubrication
Can I Masturbate With My Partner In The Room?
Women who masturbate tend to have more couples sex and they for sure have more orgasms. It increases rather than decreases sexual appetite. Sharing this part of your sexuality with your partner can be a very positive experience for both of you and can actually enhance intimacy. It’s also an opportunity for the two of you to play together. Think you with your vibrator and your partner touching you in all the (other) right places. Yes, it can definitely heat things up when you let them in on your little secret and may even trigger a mutual masturbation situation. Talk about a happy ending.
Myths & Facts
Through the ages, all kinds of negative consequences have been attributed to masturbation. Hopefully it's common knowledge in 2022, that it does not cause any of the following:
- Hairy palms
- Impotence later in life
- Erectile dysfunction
- Penis shrinkage
- Penis curvature
- Low sperm count
- Mental illness
- Physical weakness
It also doesn't result in a loss of sensation or desire.
Masturbation is a natural process that plays an important role in our sexual wellness and overall health. It also positively impacts the way we feel about ourselves and our degree of sexual satisfaction.
“Masturbation is a meditation on self-love. So many of us are afflicted with self-loathing, bad body images, shame about our body functions, and confusion about sex and pleasure, I recommend an intense love affair with yourself.” – Betty Dodson
Why not approach your own self-induced pleasure like you would a sexual encounter with a partner? Lower the lights, turn on some music, scent the room - set the mood. Allow yourself to let go of stress and be in the moment. Just you and . . . you.
While we're at it, here are a few other things to try when you're one-on-one with you.
Touch non-genital areas
Touching erogenous zones without going near your clitoris may just heat things up for you - like foreplay.
Use more than one source of stimulation
Generally speaking, there is just no downside to multiple points of stimulation when it comes to sex. Experiment with touching in different ways in different places and see where it takes you.
Savor sensations instead of focusing on orgasm
Release yourself from any pressure or expectations and stay in the moment. Focus on what you're feeling along the way rather than the outcome.
Fantasy is powerful. It can take you anywhere and you can do anything with anyone any way you like. That's one of the reasons your brain is a major erogenous zone.
There are some very steamy movies in your Netflix stream. Unfaithful tops my list of R-rated, super-hot flicks. You probably have a favorite too.
Feel like a bedtime story? Try one of the many podcasts featuring audio erotica. There's really something for everyone and this can be a fun and sexy way to get you in the mood. The same goes for erotica novels and short stories. Or maybe pull out your copy of Fifty Shades of Gray.
Try sex toys – vibrators and beyond
It should go without saying that your vibrator is your BFF when it comes to masturbating. And nowadays there is a model that's right for everyone. While you're shopping for your new vibrator, consider checking out some of the other toys specifically designed with your pleasure in mind.
We're fortunate to live in a time when self-love and taking care of our whole selves are becoming recognized as legitimate components of our overall health. And, more and more, we're understanding the connections between sex and health - both physical and mental. Masturbation doesn't require a partner, so it's easy to add to any wellness routine and it can significantly impact relationships in positive ways. For one thing, masturbation typically increases sex drive - and it helps us to know ourselves in ways that we can share with our sexual partners. It's an excellent way to take control of our own health, pleasure, and orgasms - whether we're single or sexually involved with another person.
The New York Times, You Are Your Safest Sex Partner, Ruth La Ferla, March 26, 2020
Psychology Today, Masturbation 101: Letting Go of Guilt, Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., May 30, 2018
Psychology Today, Top Sex Tips for Women, Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., September 6, 2020
Medical News Today, Are There Side Effects to Masturbation?, Hanna Nichols, Medically reviewed by: Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST, January 23, 2020
Women’s Health, 32 Best Masturbation Tips For Touching Yourself And Loving Every Minute Of It, Gabriel Kassel, November 22, 2021
Glamour, 14 Benefits of Female Masturbation, Plus Tips That Will Blow Your Mind, Tanyel Mustafa, January 18, 2022
Goop, Exploring Your Erectile Network, Sheri Winston, CNM, RN, No date
Enagoski.medium.com, What 60 Years of Research Says About Women’s Masturbation, Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., May 6, 2016
Psychology Today, A Brief History of Masturbation, Neel Burton, M.D., April 24, 2020
JSTOR Daily, A Brief History of Masturbation, Livia Gershon, September 7, 2019
Catholic.com, What Religion Gets Wrong About Masturbation, Devon Frye, October 27, 2020