Masturbation can be totally daunting. Even if you’ve been doing it for years, you may be having trouble orgasming or wonder if your technique could use some fine-tuning. I’m 25 and have only been masturbating since I was 19, which surprises people given that I’m a sex educator who sells sex toys for a living. To this day, I find myself feeling self-conscious about how I can be so “set in my ways” when it comes to solo sex: I cozy up under a heavy comforter, grab my wand and a dildo, and have at it. I also get frustrated by how easily I can get thrown off course, or about how particular I am with my environment.
Ultimately, though, I feel happy to have one reliable way to get myself off. I know from my experience as an educator that there are many, many others who have yet to find a way they like to do it. Perhaps you’re feeling frustrated about masturbation, too, and you’re looking for a way to get into it or enjoy it more. Maybe you already masturbate, but you’re not feeling satisfied with your practice.
The first thing I want you to know is that, wherever you’re at, you’re not alone. Take solace in the fact that many of us are still trying to figure out how the heck to pleasure ourselves on our own terms, and that even a “sexpert” like myself needs pointers from time to time. With that said, let’s dive into a few things to remember as we re-acquaint ourselves with…ourselves!
There’s more than one way to stimulate yourself.
We all like being touched different ways, and sometimes, we’re not even sure what they are. When we take the time to explore on our own, though, both our solo and partnered sex lives benefit. Exhibit A: I need intense pressure or vibration to get off, but my sexual partners for the first five years of my sex life only executed light, fluttery rubs and tickles or suction-y cunnilingus — which I hated. Eventually, through plenty of trial and error, I figured out my love for intensity bought myself a big ol’ Magic Wand to lovingly smoosh my clit with.
But remember: You’re not me! I share my experience to illustrate that you may be frustrated with masturbation simply because you’ve been trying the same method over and over to no avail. No two people like the same things. You might prefer rubbing, pinching, tickling, circular motions, up-and-down or side-to-side strokes, or even light smacking — but you’ll never know until you try them all.
Give yourself pressure-free time to explore.
If you know types of stimulation that you don’t enjoy, you’re already on your way to figuring out what you do like. the process of elimination takes courage, determination, and patience, and sometimes it takes a few misses to find a hit. Allow yourself blocks of uninterrupted time to explore your body, and don’t pressure yourself to reach orgasm by the end. If it happens, great! If not, you’re gathering valuable intel about how to make yourself feel great.
Watch others and learn!
We are sold a very rigid and unrealistic depiction of masturbation by the mainstream media. If “female” masturbation is portrayed, it’s off-camera, under the covers, or immediately orgasmic. It’s also hard to find earnest depictions of self-pleasure in mainstream porn. Personally, I love watching femme cammers, as well as performer-made porn. Erika Lust’s work and performer-created content sites like Findrow are great sites for watching more realistic depictions of sex.
Use a tool or two.
Solo sex can absolutely involve toys! After all, no human has vibrating hands or genitals. Vibrators use rotary motors to create rumbly, buzzing sensations that can feel delicious internally and externally. They can even stimulate deeper portions of the clit if you apply enough pressure or have a very strong vibrator.
I think of sex toys as being like utensils: Some of us eat with forks, some eat with chopsticks, and some of us eat with our hands — all methods get the job done, just in different ways, and it’s O.K. to prefer one method over another if it gets the job done better. Unfortunately, there is a lot of myth and stigma surrounding vibrators, for example, that vibrator use will “ruin” sex without a vibrator (not true!). At the end of the day, you should absolutely use a toy if that’s the type of stimulation you crave. Dildos and vibes are also self-affirming tools — like physical tokens to both remind you your pleasure is important and to help you get it.
Personally, I used to feel self-conscious about the fact that I couldn’t get off easily without a giant vibrator. But then I realized this didn’t mean there was anything wrong with me; it’s just the way my body happens to work. What’s more, I was getting suckered into believing the patriarchal myth that a dick should be the only thing I need to get off. If toys pique your interest, browse options online or pay a visit to your local sex-positive shop!
There’s no such thing as too much lube.
No matter what kind of stimulation you like, lube is a must-have. It’s not just for postmenopausal women or butt stuff, as I’ve heard many strangers to lube claim. Even if you self-lubricate in mass quantities, a good lube will allow you to maintain frictionless glide so you don’t feel sore or rugburned after playtime. Water-based lube is compatible with all materials and is mess-free (but will eventually evaporate and need reapplication if you’re in the throes of a lengthy sesh). I recommend Sliquid Sassy: It’s a thick, long-lasting, water-based lube that is hypoallergenic and only has the bare minimum ingredients needed to make it lube-y.
Silicone lube, like Überlube, is a body-safe oil alternative that is compatible with all materials except silicone (liquid silicone can degrade solid). It’s safe for inside and outside bodies, though, as well as for safer-sex barriers like condoms. It also lasts much longer than most water-based lube because it rolls along the surface of the skin and eventually sheds away (water-based lube absorbs into the skin if it doesn’t evaporate). As a sex educator, I find that lack of lube is often the best fix for uncomfortable or painful masturbation (and partnered sex) — so don’t hold back! Douse any and all orifices in lube.
Start outside and work your way in.
Which part of ourselves should we begin exploring, then?
There’s a lot of hype over the sensitive front wall of the vagina, also known as the G-spot. If you have yet to find what your body craves, though, the G-spot isn’t the most intuitive place to start. Let’s consider the clit, the only human organ devoted solely to pleasure. It’s homologous with the penis, but the majority of it is internal — the button-like glans you probably think of as your clit is actually just one small part of the whole structure, which is shaped like a wishbone. (Not that the glans doesn’t pull its weight: It’s got at least 8,000 nerve endings, about twice as many as the penis has).
The spongy erectile tissue of the G-spot is found about two inches into the opening of the vagina, but you may not really be able to feel it before you’re aroused and the tissue swells. You may even have trouble finding your clit when you’re not aroused, for that matter! However, unlike G-spot stimulation, clit stimulation usually produces yummy sensations instantly.
Mix up your stimulation.
My clit nearly retracts into my body and hides under the clitoral hood, which is also a really neat tool for varied external stimulation: It feels vastly different to touch the external pea-like area head-on than it does to stimulate it indirectly. (I definitely recommend focusing your attention outside before concerning yourself with the inside — this will only help the internal exploration later on.) Yanking back the clitoral hood and directly touching the external clit can be too much stimulation — just like it can be painful to directly stimulate the “head” of the penis after yanking back the foreskin. One of the many beauties of a clitoral hood (and foreskin) is the ability to indirectly stimulate the glans (another name for the external clit or penis head.)
It took me a really long time to figure out that I personally preferred this indirect type of stimulation — but you may love going to town on your exposed clit! Explore until you find a way that works for you. Since hands are the world’s most versatile sex tool, you can experiment with both broad and pinpointed stimulation. Using two or three flat fingers or even your palm disperses the pressure, and separating your pointer and middle fingers and pressing them alongside the vaginal opening can stimulate the deeper tissues of the clitoral legs.
Experiment with back-and-forth, up-and-down, or circular movements, and go wherever your intuition takes you. If you’ve always been a person who masturbates on their stomach, try finding ways to stimulate yourself on your back — or even upright. Sometimes I assign myself the task of simply attempting to keep my eyes open the entire time, or not focusing on the ceiling above me (seriously!). I have also set a simple goal for myself of becoming comfortable with masturbating in the tub — until recently, I never bothered to try. Little steps that briefly take you out of your comfort zone encourage your brain to adapt, making you an even more versatile masturbator.
Remember that the pleasure conversation should go beyond the bedroom.
Look, sex is sold to us as being penetration-centric and penis-in-vagina-focused. The thing is, that kind of sex usually does a lot more for the penis owner. Some people with vaginas fear they are “broken” if penetrative intercourse doesn’t do the trick for them, but guess what? Most vagina owners need clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm. Yes, it’s really fun to play with the G-spot and other areas like the anterior fornix (also known as the “A-spot”), a sensitive area nestled between the cervix and front vaginal wall. But many folks don’t fully enjoy these kinds of play unless they’re paired with clitoral stimulation.
Unfortunately, masturbation isn’t something that we’re encouraged to talk about. Even the most comprehensive sex ed can fail to leave out the actual steps to achieve pleasure. Even if you’re comfortable talking to a parent or mentor about sex, you probably aren’t keen on asking them for their personal tips for solo sex.
Sometimes, our roadblocks stem from something other than a lack of self-exploration, and it’s helpful to speak with a therapist about other things that might be getting in our way. I have found that a sex-positive (and also kink-aware) therapist has been an invaluable resource for me as I pursue a healthy, fulfilling sex life. I always suggest searching for an LGBTQIA+-friendly professional: Even if you identify as straight, professionals who are well-versed in a range of sexuality issues may be more sensitive to your needs and more comfortable talking about sex. If your concerns are more physical, don’t hesitate to consult a medical professional, especially if you ever encounter pain with sexual stimulation.
Most importantly, be gentle and kind with yourself, and move away from goal-oriented thinking in your masturbation. Any form of self-love and exploration that makes you feel good is a wonderful thing.
Here’s what’s wrong with gender norms: