Masturbation. It’s something many of us love to do, yet it is a word that is often only whispered about in public, if mentioned at all. No longer do we believe that we’ll grow hair on our palms or go blind from bringing ourselves to orgasmic ecstasy, but many of us still carry the shame that hundreds of years of stigma has inflicted upon our culture. As a result, many choose not to engage in self-love at all, while others do so hurriedly and uncomfortably. Nonetheless, whether we’re comfortable with it or not, touching ourselves feels good, and those electric feelings alone are reason enough to do it. But even if masturbation didn’t give us those toe-curling, full-body-shuddering sensations, the scientific community’s mounting evidence that masturbation is good for our health suggests that solo-sex acts should be as elemental to taking care of ourselves as good food and regular exercise. From increased self-esteem to cancer prevention, masturbation could be the cure-all tonic for our ills! The healing ingredients we’ve been looking for lay between our legs and at the palm of our hands.
Psychological Benefits of Masturbation
While discussing masturbation may make us blush, solo-sex has a wealth of psychological benefits. For starters, masturbation is a natural and healthy means of exploring sexuality and releasing sexual tension for those who are abstaining from or are not ready for partnered sex. It is also an exciting and effective way for anybody at any point in their sexual development to discover what pleases them sexually. This mode of exploration can be particularly important for women, whose routes to orgasmic ecstasy are often more subtle than men’s.
Not only is masturbation a fun, hot thing to do in its own right, but by learning how to please yourself, you will only be better prepared to show others how to please you (and more comfortable doing so). This ownership over your sexuality will exponentially increase the amount of pleasure you and your lovers experience.
Learning how to please yourself also frees you from depending on another person for the full expression of your sexuality, and research shows that people who participate in this form of sexual independence have a greater sense of well-being and happiness, higher self-esteem, increased levels of relational and sexual satisfaction, better body image, and less sexual anxiety than individuals who do not masturbate.
In addition to enriching your private and partnered sex life, masturbation is a good antidote for in-the-moment stress. So good, in fact, that Victorian doctors used to masturbate female clients who complained of stress and anxiety with primitive vibrators. Although the thought of paying a man in a white lab coat to bring you to orgasm now seems a little silly, the doctors’ antiquated cure was actually grounded in science. Orgasms release a cocktail of feel-good chemicals in your brain, particularly endorphins and oxytocin, that literally wash away feelings of stress and anxiety. Several studies have shown that the stress-relieving qualities of these sexy chemicals are so powerful that frequent and satisfying self-love and other sexual acts are associated with a decreased risk of depression and suicide and increased quality of life over the long-term. And not only does it make your life feel better while you’re living it, studies show that sex of all kinds makes it last longer, too.
From Cure-All Tonic to Fountain of Youth
Clearly, solo-sex is good for your soul, but it’s a too-well-kept secret that it’s good for your heart… .and immune system, muscles, skin, and lifespan… .as well! It is also the ultimate form of preventative medicine for sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and the most fool-proof form of birth control. And the best thing about it is that you can reap its benefits alone, or use it as a form of safer sex with a partner. After all, few things are hotter than getting yourself off while watching a lover do the same. However, any time you engage in partnered sex acts, just remember that some STDs can be transmitted through genital-genital contact, even if there is no penetration.
Although the most obvious, sexually transmitted diseases aren’t the only ailments that masturbation can help prevent. Masturbation can keep you healthy, even during flu season, by increasing your white blood cell count and health-promoting hormone levels. Indeed, one study of college students showed that those who engaged in sex acts once or twice a week had 30% more of an important anti-viral antigen than those who did not engage in sex acts at all.
Masturbation can also help prevent two of humans’ biggest killers–heart disease and cancer. The increased heart rate that comes with getting yourself off strengthens your heart muscle, and the testosterone that’s released in both men and women during arousal and climax reduces the risk of a heart attack. In fact, in one study, people who participated in some form of sex two or more times per week were less likely to have fatal heart attacks than those who didn’t. In another, women with high levels of sexual dissatisfaction had had more heart attacks than did those who were satisfied in the boudoir.
Sexy bedroom romps can also help reduce the risk of cancer. Oxytocin is the feel-good chemical responsible for stress-reduction and that warm before-during-and-after-sex glow, and it also has anti-carcinogenic properties! Triggering oxytocin-release by hand is far more fun than swallowing your antioxidant vitamins.
But that’s not all! Endorphins are also a part of the chemical mix that hot sex releases, and these natural opiates are good for all sorts of things. They are famous for giving people a “runner’s high,” which could also be called, “the masturbator’s high.” In addition to making you starry-eyed, they are also potent painkillers, and are why masturbation is such a good remedy for menstrual cramps, migraines, and chronic pain of all kinds. Endorphins are also excellent sleep aides, so if you find yourself tossing and turning, throw your hand (or sex toy) into the mix, and you’ll discover a blissful road to sleepland.
You might find that following that sensual route to sleep may contribute to your reproductive health as well. In a 2002 study, women who had orgasmic sex during their periods were less likely to develop endometriosis than women who did not engage in sex during that part of their cycle. There is also evidence that regular sexual activity can help regulate a woman’s cycle, making getting (or not getting) pregnant easier. And if you are going to have a baby, getting off while you’re pregnant may keep you from delivering early. Once you have your baby or move into older age, strong pelvic muscles gained through masturbation will help you maintain bladder control.
So, given all its healing powers, masturbation may, indeed, be the best elixir any door-to-door salesman could hope to sell, but it also may be the elusive fountain of youth. In one research study that measured youthful appearance in adults, among other things, the participants that appeared “superyoung” had sex three times per week (as opposed to two or less), and there’s no evidence to suggest that solo sex at least three times a week can’t have the same effect. These self-lovin’, eternally youthful folks also shared high levels of comfort and confidence regarding their sexual identity.
Getting Started with Getting Off
Many children masturbate from an early age as a natural part of the exploration of their bodies, but as they get older they are taught not to discuss—or, for that matter, engage in—their solo sexual romps. This is especially true for girls and women, whose capacity for sexual pleasure is less acknowledged in our culture than men’s. And yet, despite this social stigma, many people still retreat to their rooms and follow the contours of their bodies to the source of their orgasmic pleasure. Many others, however, stop touching themselves as soon as masturbation becomes an embarrassing word. But it’s never to late to start (again).
Perhaps the most important step to creating—or recreating—a healthy sexual relationship with yourself is asking yourself what your attitudes towards sex, and particularly solo-sex, are. If you find that you associate shame, embarrassment, or other uncomfortable feelings with your sexuality, now may be the time to replace those feelings with the knowledge that we are all born as sexual beings, that people in all cultures engage in sex and solo sex for pure enjoyment, that hundreds of animal species also masturbate, and that, as this article illustrates, self-love is one of the best things we can do for our bodies and our minds. It’s hard to change long-held attitudes overnight, but if you consistently remind yourself that pleasing yourself sexually is a good, fun, empowering, and health-promoting act, you may soon be singing praises of masturbation (and doing it) from your rooftop! However, if you have been sexually abused or have had other difficult sexual experiences, this kind of attitudinal change may be very difficult. A therapist may be a helpful ally with whom you can work through your relationship with your sexuality.
While there are as many ways to enjoy one’s own body as there are bodies to please, a good way to begin a sexual relationship with yourself is to make a special date with yourself. Turn off the phone, draw the shades, dim the lights, and do whatever else you might do if a special guest was coming over; only this time, the guest is you. Be the best host to yourself you possibly can; play your favorite music, pour yourself a drink, put on clothes that make you feel hot, be creative! Lean back on the couch and flirtatiously touch the skin on your legs, your arms, your neck. Allow yourself to enjoy all the sensations that come from that simple touch. Run your hands over your curves and revel in the beauty of them. Whisper sweet nothings to yourself about them. Once you’ve broken the ice, take this party into the bathtub or shower where you can continue to indulge all of your senses as you become more and more comfortable with your body, and more and more excited for the hot night ahead.
Your steamy surroundings might be a good place to begin touching your genitals, playing with your breasts, or simply taking the time to enjoy the feeling of your soapy hands running up and down your body. If you like to put on lotion or body oil after a bath, take the time to do that now, rubbing them into your skin as if you were your dream lover. Because you are.
When you’re ready to crank the heat up a notch, find a comfortable place to start exploring your vulva with your hand. Make things extra-sensual and smooth by using a touch of water- or silicone-based lubricant. With your slippery fingers, play with your labia. Run a finger around the entrance to your vagina, and insert a finger or two inside. Gently curl your finger or move it in and out to see what feels good. Move your hand higher to find your clitoris, that sweet little raised bump that lies where your vaginal lips come together. This highly sensitive organ is the source of immense amounts of pleasure for many women, and is the key to many women’s orgasms, so get to know this little treasure well. Try rubbing your clit with two fingers in gentle circles, up and down, or back and forth. Experiment with different pressures and rhythms. Some women find that they like their clitoris to be touched directly and firmly, while others like only indirect pressure. Although your clit looks only like a small pearl, it extends upward beneath your mons pubis, the area above your vulva covered by pubic hair, so many women enjoy having pressure applied to that part of their body, as well. Vibrators are also a great way to discover what feels good on different parts of your body, and many women have their first (or best) orgasms thanks to one of them. Enjoy all of these sensations for what they are, and don’t forget that you have another whole hand that can be used to stimulate your belly, your breasts, your vagina or asshole. Some people also like to read erotic stories, look at sexy pictures or movies, or fantasize about their deepest desires before or while getting themselves off, and you shouldn’t hesitate to do the same!
Once you’ve found a spot and a rhythm that feels extra good, keep going with it, or mix it up to find other pleasure sources. If all that motion gets your heart beating fast and you begin to think that nothing could possibly feel better… until something explosive and wonderful radiates from your vulva and out through the rest of your body… congratulations! You’ve had an orgasm. But if that moment doesn’t come during this session, don’t worry. It will eventually. The important thing is that you are spending quality time with yourself in a way that many of us reserve only for a lover, forgetting that we are our own best lovers. And the more time you spend having sex with yourself, the more you will get to know what your body responds to sexually, what kinds of atmosphere, moods, sounds, touches, rhythms, sex toys, books, movies, and fantasies turn you on and get you off. Before you know it, you’ll be reeling in orgasmic pleasure, and having a whole lot of fun along the way!
Remember, you are the greatest resource on your body there is, but if you’re looking for more information on self-love or sex in general, thinking about adding some sex toys to your self-love repertoire, or are interested in setting the mood with some lascivious reading or movie-watching, we’ve listed some great resources for you below.
The folks at Early to Bed, Chicago’s feminist sex shop, are always available to answer your most intimate questions about masturbation and sex. They also have an incredible selection of toys, books, and movies that you can browse in a comfortable atmosphere. Drop by the shop at 5232 N. Sheridan Road, or give them a call at 800-585-2BED.
Vibrators are a great way to get off, and if you are new to using them, you are in for a treat! We usually recommend getting a simple vibrator made of hard plastic for your first one. These are often less expensive (and less intimidating) than vibrators made of other materials, and transmit powerful vibrations. Some of our favorites at Early to Bed are Tula and classic Silver Bullet vibes. We also sell a First Timer’s Kit with everything you need to get your getting off going.
Sex for One by Betty Dodson, Tickle Your Fancy by Sadie Allison, I Heart Female Orgasm by Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller, and Good Vibrations Guide to Sex by Cathy Winks and Anne Semans are some of the best books on the topic of self-love out there. There are a wealth of steamy books and movies meant to get your heat racing, and for a full selection, check out Early to Bed’s online catalog.
The studies cited in this article were originally compiled and published by the Katharine Dexter McCormick Library for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., and can be found here.
Planned Parenthood’s website also has an excellent article that details the evolution of cultural attitudes towards masturbation, common masturbation practices across the lifespan, and the healthy role that masturbation can play in a person’s life. This article can be found here.