POV: You’re at home, you’ve got a few hours to kill, and you’re hornier than a rhino dressed as a devil for Halloween. What are you to do? Masturbate, of course!
Whether you incorporate a sex toy or go the old-fashioned finger route, solo play isn’t just a fun way to spend “me time,” it’s also legit good for you—more on that in a sec.
Plus, it’s good for your sexual partner(s), too. Because you’re able to experiment on your own, masturbation is a low-pressure way to learn what feels good, explains Megan Fleming, PhD, a psychologist and sex therapist. Maybe you realize clitoral stimulation is an absolute must to climax, or perhaps you discover deep penetration is what gets you to O-town (and beyond). “Relay that insight to your partner and you’re destined for better partnered sex, including orgasms, which promote bonding,” says Fleming.
It’s true that still today talking about masturbation is enough to make even adults giggle, yet the benefits of solo play (and the fact that it feels, well, great) can help to break through some of that embarrassment. But if shame still comes up for you, “start by owning that that’s what you’re experiencing,” Fleming says. “Then, tell yourself that those feelings are a result of internalized sex negativity.” If a self-pep-talk isn’t enough (it may not be!), she recommends seeing a certified sex therapist. They specialize in replacing what she calls “the wet blanket of shame” with pleasure.
Meet the Experts:
Megan Fleming, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and AASECT-certified sex therapist based in New York City.
Leah Millheiser, MD, FACOG, is a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University.
Wendasha Jenkins Hall, PhD, is a sex educator and researcher.
Angela Skurtu, M.Ed, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and AASECT-certified sex therapist based in St. Louis, Missouri.
Heather Brooks Rensmith, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and AASECT-certified sex therapist serving Portland, Oregon and Washington.
Holly Richmond, PhD, is a certified sex therapist and somatic psychotherapist.
Janet Brito, PhD, is an AASECT-certified sex therapist and relationship therapist in Hawaii.
Nan Wise, PhD, is a licensed psychotherapist, cognitive neuroscientist, and certified sex therapist.
Need more reason to enjoy some ~alone time~? Ahead, sex experts explain the benefits of masturbating and the different types of solo play, plus offer some masturbation tips to take level up your next solo sesh.
What are the benefits of masturbation?
The fact that it feels phenom is reason enough to get down with your bad self. But the health perks will have you reaching into your panties faster than you can say “vibrator.” These benefits include:
- It lowers your stress levels. “Masturbation releases stress and anxiety,” says Leah Millheiser, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University. “We know that you get total-body relaxation after an orgasm, which is great for someone who’s tense.”
- It’s good for your vaginal health. “Masturbation increases blood flow to the genitals, which is important because blood flow keeps the vagina healthy,” says Millheiser.
- It’s the safest sex possible. I know what you're thinking: Duh! But if you're looking to avoid pregnancy or eliminate your risk of STIs, masturbation is the way to go, says Wendasha Jenkins Hall, PhD, a sex educator and researcher. All the pleasure, none of the risk!
- It quells cramps. Motrin? Pfft. Try masturbating! Orgasm releases the body’s natural pain relievers: dopamine and serotonin.
What are the different types of masturbation?
How many ways are there to masturbate, you ask? The list is truly infinite.
“Orgasms come from the brain and the spine,” explains certified sex therapist Angela Skurtu, LMFT. “The genitals are just one way to access it.” Let the experts count the ways:
Clitoral orgasms may have the best PR team, but that doesn’t mean they’re always well-understood. For one, the clit is a lot more than what the eye can see when you’re checking your vulva out in a mirror. Home to a whopping 15,000 (!) nerve endings, it’s part of a much bigger organ called the clitourethrovaginal (CUV) complex—which, as the name suggests, also includes the vagina and urethra.
It should come as no surprise that some 37 percent to 73 percent of vulva-owners need clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm, according to research published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. (So, yeah, you may want to start getting acquainted with yours.)
How to do it: You can use your fingers to massage the external portion of the clit, but keep in mind it’s often very sensitive. You may want to sneak up on it by massaging the surrounding area before diving right in. The skin of the clitoral hood can also provide some added protection. While your fingers work fine, clitoral stimulation is also possible with a wide variety of sex toys, from your classic bullet vibe to suction-based toys.
When people talk about vaginal orgasms, they’re usually talking about G-spot orgasms—which, itself, is a bit of a misnomer. “The G-spot is really the back of the clitoris and the bladder,” says Skurtu. That’s because the G-spot isn’t a separate organ (like the prostate, which it’s often compared to) but instead is an area of the vaginal wall, up against the urethra, that’s highly sensitive in some people.
How to do it: The most common way to access a vaginal orgasm is to stimulate the area known as the G-spot or “G-zone.” For most people, that’s about an inch or two deep into the vaginal canal, up towards the belly button. You may be able to reach this spot with your fingers but it’s much easier with a G-spot wand-style toy—with or without vibration.
Because of all the action going on behind the scenes, every orgasm is arguably a combination orgasm. So what this usually refers to is providing stimulation to two erogenous zones at once, most commonly the clit and the G-spot—which, FYI, can lead to some mind-blowing pleasure!
How to do it: Try using a G-spot wand internally while simultaneously using your fingers or an external vibrator on your clit. You might even consider opting for a toy that provides dual stimulation, such as a rabbit vibe, if that shape works for your body.
Yep, you can achieve orgasm through anal sex, too. Like clitoral and vaginal orgasms, anal orgasms are made possible because of this area’s close proximity to other highly sensitive areas, like the CUV complex. (FYI, some people may find direct G-spot stimulation too intense and might prefer to stimulate this area through anal penetration instead.)
How to do it: As you’re essentially aiming for the same area, try using your favorite G-spot toy—as long as it’s anal safe, meaning it has a flared base—to stimulate the anus. While some people can achieve orgasm through butt play alone, anal orgasms are often easiest to access in combination with other forms of stimulation, so consider caressing your clit at the same time.
To make it easier to multi-task, toys like butt plugs—that stay in place, hands-free—can be especially useful. They provide ongoing, added stimulation while you’re free to focus on other areas. Even if anal penetration doesn’t sound appealing, you can access anal pleasure. Use the fingers of one hand to give yourself an external anal massage (with plenty of lube!) while your other hand touches your clit.
“A cervical orgasm is deeper; it’s a contraction of the deeper vaginal muscle system,” explains Skurtu. This is the kind of orgasm some people have while giving birth, she adds. (Luckily, you don’t need to plan on bringing life into the world to access this type of O.) As an erogenous zone, you’ll also hear this area called the “A-spot,” as in the anterior fornix, also known as the back of the vagina.
How to do it: For this kind of pleasure, you’re looking for penetration likely further than your fingers can reach. Luckily, many G-spot wands will do the trick. To find your “A-spot,” work your way up the vaginal canal, aiming a few inches past the G-spot. Pro tip: You’ll practically dead-end into it, which is when you’ll know you hit the spot.
Just remember that the cervix is pretty sensitive for a lot of folks, and having it bumped up against may not feel good, so go slowly while exploring this area.
You heard it here first: Nipplegasms are real! ICYDK, the boobs are a sexual organ. “They have access to the spinal nervous system, [so] you can go down on a woman’s nipples the same way you go down on her clitoris and have an orgasm that way,” says Skurtu. While not everyone can access a nipple-only orgasm, playing with the nipples can really enhance other forms of pleasure, so it’s worth giving a try.
How to do it: If you’re playing solo, simply start by teasing the nipples with your fingers. Maybe add a little lube, too. You can lightly draw circles around them or even pull on them if you’re into that. For additional stimulation, use toys like nipple clamps or suction toys—alone or while engaging in other forms of play.
Yes, some people have, in fact, mastered simply thinking themselves into orgasm. (Lucky them!) Let Skurtu explain: “Sensation memories are stored in the body, [so] you can remember the sensations associated with an orgasm to the point where you can create and replay that sensory memory.”
How to do it: The easiest way to access a mental orgasm is when your memories are the freshest. Right after you’ve had an orgasm, close your eyes and lean into the aftershocks. Try to replay the sensations you just experienced in your mind. It’s not cheating if you need to provide some physical stimulation at first, too. In fact, moving in the same way you did during arousal and orgasm can help engage your whole body in the process, so try thrusting your hips into the air or grinding into the mattress or a pillow while you think orgasmic thoughts.
Expert Masturbation Tips For Beginners And Beyond
Before you can “rock your body” Justin Timberlake-style, you first need to know your body.
“I find masturbation to be one of the most helpful tools folx can use to develop their sexual self-awareness,” says certified sex therapist Heather Brooks Rensmith. But that doesn’t mean you need to make a beeline for your genitals whenever you get the urge, especially if it’s your first time exploring.
Instead, Rensmith suggests you try wooing yourself, first. “Consider taking a hot shower or bath, tuning into sensations such as the smell of your body care products, the tingles radiating in your chest when the hot water hits you, or the soapy slipperiness of your hands against your body,” she says. Then, “take time to dry yourself off and run lotion into your bits, attending to [any] soreness in your muscles, or the softness of your skin. A sensation meditation with your body helps to tune in to the pleasure that is possible.”
When you’re ready for the main event…
1. Lock your door.
This one might seem obvious, but so many people skip it. Locking your door, even if you’re home alone, can clear your brain of any worry of someone barging in. Sometimes, that’s all your mind really needs to get centered.
It’s not that it’s so much about secrecy but about privacy, explains Holly Richmond, PhD, a certified sex therapist and somatic psychologist: “We all deserve privacy. Feeling like you have to keep things secret and hurrying up or hiding typically creates shame.” By locking your door, you can create your own private space and, in turn, feel more comfortable and confident.
In some cases, though, you might want someone to walk in on you, says Richmond. After all, it’s totally hot. If this is your sexual fantasy, talk it out with a partner. Tell them: “The idea of you catching me doing this really turns me on. Can we set up a scene in which we make this happen?”
2. Set the mood.
“Start by creating a relaxing, comfortable space in your home, full of privacy and free of interruption,” says certified sex therapist Janet Brito, PhD. To elevate the atmosphere, Rensmith suggests putting on a sensual playlist to create a comfortable, sexy vibe. (Smooth R&B, anyone?)
3. Put your phone away.
Masturbation is “me time”—plain and simple. Do your best to pretend the outside world doesn’t exist (buh bye, phone) and tune into what’s going on inside your bod. “A woman who can practice mindfulness is much more likely to reach orgasm sooner,” says Millheiser. “While masturbating, if you find that your mind is wandering off, recognize that and gently bring it back to focus.”
If you’re using your phone to explore erotic content, put it on “Do Not Disturb.” The last thing you want is a message from your boss popping up when you’re about to finish…
4. Break out your fave lingerie.
Why save your sexiest underwear for an audience? If the black lace bra you haven’t worn since V-day makes you feel sexy, or that pair of Calvin Klein briefs brings you gender euphoria, put ‘em on! Taking them off can be part of the scene, too, as Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure previously told Women’s Health. As each article comes off, think about what you love most about your body to get all kinds of turned on, she says.
5. Thank your body.
Everyone has hang-ups that make them feel lesser-than when it comes to their bodies. But to have an enjoyable solo sesh, let that -ish go!
Rather than dwelling on parts you’re not totally satisfied with, focus on the sensuality of your curves and how capable your body is of accessing pleasure. Research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine links having a positive body image with greater sexual satisfaction. So, far from being frivolous, loving your body can help you, ya know, love on your body.
6. Explore your vulva, especially your clit.
Admit it: If you’re like most people, it’s probably been a while since you looked at an anatomy diagram (if ever). Spend some time looking at one and even memorizing it. As you do, be sure to say the anatomical words out loud and take mental notes!
Unless you’re in Cirque du Soleil, getting a real good look at your vulva and vagina is going to be physically impossible. That’s why Brito recommends beginning your personal investigation with the basics, which is to say, a hand-held mirror. It’s really the best way to see what your vulva actually looks like, she says.
The clitoris is where the masturbation magic usually happens, so you’ll want to get to know your friend down there really well.
7. Find your other happy places.
True, odds are high that you’ll need clitoral stimulation to cross the finish line. But that doesn’t mean touching allllll the other erogenous zones can’t feel good, too. Brito suggests taking your time to explore and name all the parts of your body to figure out what feels good and what’s just meh. “Touch gently and, with curiosity, label the parts that feel most sensitive, arousing, ticklish, and uncomfortable,” she says.
8. Warm up with your non-genital erogenous zones.
Instead of going from zero to vagina, spend time romancing your non-genital erogenous zones, such as the nipples or inner thighs. There’s no rush!
“It’s not all about the genitals,” Richmond explains. “The best sex is sensation-based, when we’re in our bodies and not in our heads.” It’s all about enjoying the senses, tastes, sounds, and smells of eroticism versus just grabbing a toy and mindlessly going at it.
“If you are in the early stages [of masturbating], you want to get to know the areas of your body that make you tick,” adds Millheiser. And the vulva and vagina aren’t the only areas that can turn you on, she says.
9. Head south with your hands.
“Starting with your fingers is the best way to engage in masturbation,” Millheiser says. Plus, you’ll simulate the feeling of a partner’s fingers around your vagina, which can help you tap into the right mindset. From there, you can build up the sensation in other ways (more on that in a sec).
10. Insert your fingers.
If you’ve just pulled into the self-service station, you might as well try penetrative masturbation—using your fingers, a dildo, or a phallic-shaped vibrator—to see if you like it. If you don’t, NBD, you’re still one step closer to knowing what you do like.
11. Explore the backdoor.
“You don’t have to go inside the ass to enjoy its pleasure potential,” Fleming says. The entrance of the anus has as many nerve endings as the tip of the penis (about 4,000).
When you begin exploring anal masturbation, “start externally and get comfortable and familiar with the sensation,” Carol Queen, PhD, a staff sexologist at Good Vibrations previously told Women’s Health. Add a squirt of lube to your finger and simply circle the entrance to start.
12. Combine multiple types of stimulation.
“The whole is greater than the sum of our sexual parts,” says Nan Wise, PhD, a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist. Translation: Combining stimulation from multiple erogenous zones (i.e., the clitoris, vagina, cervix, nipple, inner thighs, and anus) can add up to some serious pleasure.
Dunno where to start? “Give yourself permission to lay down and let your hands wander,” advises Brito.
13. Focus on the task at hand (pun intended).
But “you don’t have to turn off your mind to orgasm,” says Wise. Instead, she suggests “paying attention to sensations”—not unlike how you pay attention to your breath when meditating.
14. Take your time.
Don’t rush it! Take as much time as you need, says Richmond. If you can make it an all-day affair, why not pull a Samantha Jones and make it one?! “Once a week or once every couple of weeks maybe go into a self-pleasure session without orgasm having to be on the menu,” Richmond suggests. Doing so can help you really explore your body instead of just rubbing one out real quick.
15. Play around with positions.
You switch positions in sex, so why not when you masturbate, too? “There is no one position that works for everyone. You have to experiment and find what’s right for you,” Millheiser says.
Some people like to rub their clit against the bed, while others like to lay on their back. Some like to keep their knees bent; others like to splay their legs out straight; and others still like to lift their legs into a V-shape. It doesn’t matter what your personal taste is—but you won’t know until you move around.
16. Focus on pleasure, not orgasm.
The most important part of masturbation is simply to “savor the sensation” and not set out with the intention of orgasm, says Wise. “Being in the experience is key.” Sorta like with actual sex and relationships, it’s best not to go into masturbating with any expectations—even achieving the big O—because that can make you feel anxious, says Brito.
Still, if you find yourself freaking out because nothing’s “happening,” especially during your first try, that’s totally normal and completely okay. Remember that you’re experimenting in the name of being sexually healthy and don’t need to impress anyone. Your only job is to “focus on discovering what feels the most pleasurable to you,” she says. Take your time, and just feel it out. Literally.
17. Use your imagination.
Your brain = the best erotic aid! “Everyone has different fantasies,” Millheiser says. And no fantasy is too bland or too wild. Maybe your fantasy is to make love to your sweetie the way you did on your honeymoon. Maybe your fantasy features you and a young Ewan McGregor from Moulin Rouge (just me?). Maybe you’re taking a page from Rihanna’s playbook and envisioning chains and whips.
“Fantasizing is a time to discover what turns you on—and not judge it,” explains Brito. Just let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you.
18. Watch some ethical porn.
If your imagination just isn’t cutting it (no worries), there’s no reason not to break out the big guns: porn. Rather than going for the free stuff—which, many times, means performers aren’t getting paid fairly—invest in some ethical porn.
Another option is to re-watch your favorite movie sex scene over and over again. Heck, if you have an old video of you and your partner stashed somewhere safe on your phone, go ahead and enjoy that!
19. Listen to audio erotica.
Not a visual learner? Thanks to audio erotica, you can listen to a tale, while letting your mind do the rest of the work. “There’s an app called Dipsea filled with tons of sexy audio stories to get you going,” Richmond says. “[Some people] like the story around it [and then] being able to create their own visuals.”
20. Curl up with page porn.
Erotica, page porn, R-rated books. Whatever you name them, erotic novels are a great way to explore what turns you on. Plus, you only need one hand to turn the page!
21. Lube it up.
Lubrication is a pretty important part of masturbating because “it makes stimulating your genitals much more comfortable,” says Millheiser. Whether or not you can create your own, store-bought is a great addition!
Bottled lube especially comes in handy for masturbators on birth control pills, which can cause vaginal dryness, Millheiser notes. It’s also a great addition for anyone who’s dehydrated as dehydration affects natural lubrication levels. (P.S. This is your reminder to take a sip of water.)
Watch to learn more things you should know about birth control:
If dryness is an issue for you, and you’re not using a silicone sex toy, Millheiser also suggests trying silicone-based lubes as they last longer. But if you’re just looking for a little extra wetness for more fun—or have a silicone vibe—stick to a water-based formula. (It won’t break down your buzzing friend.)
22. Play with a vibrator.
The modern vibe is pretty much the best thing ever invented since sliced bread (better, even).
These days, most vibrators are specifically made to give you that clitoral stimulation you crave. From bullet vibrators to magic wands (that, yes, live up to the name), there are a ton of options out there for you to try, including oral sex-simulating toys.
23. Try another kind of sex toy.
From nipple clamps to nipple pumps, non-vibrating wands to electricity sticks, C-rings to genital sleeves, there are more types of sex toys than there are masturbation tips!
Hall specifically recommends a stainless steel or glass toy. You can place it “in the fridge or warm water before a session, then use it on sensitive areas like the breasts or thighs to provoke sensually intense reactions,” she says. Hot! (Or should I say, cold??)
If you’re new to sex toys, “hit up your favorite sex shop and take the time to interact with toys before you buy,” says Rensmith. “A knowledgeable staff person can show you all the options to help you make a selection based on the kind of stimulation you’re seeking.”
24. Move your body while playing with these toys.
As tempting as it may be to make your toy do all the heavy lifting, try to get your body into it. Rock your hips to the rhythm of the vibration, or move your pelvis in a circular, figure 8-style motion. Doing so will help you stay present and maximize all the sensations you’re feeling. You might even happen upon some erogenous zone you didn’t know would get you going, says Richmond.
25. Change up where you get down.
Always getting busy while watching Netflix in the living room? Head to your office chair. Usually in bed? Move it to the floor, or even the car if you’re feeling especially adventurous, Hall suggests.
26. Take your solo-sex session into the shower.
This location deserves its very own tip because you can treat it like you would a sex toy. A hand-held shower head might just become your new BFF. According to Millheiser, many women reach orgasm by pointing the stream of water onto their clitoris. “It’s like a quick and easy vibrator—that pulsating sensation on the most sensitive area on the human body,” she says. (Not to mention, it’s nice and warm.)
27. Try edging
Getting yourself to orgasm during solo play doesn’t mean you always have to go full throttle. ICYDK, there’s a technique known as “edging,” which basically involves masturbating to build up sexual tension in your erogenous zones, then backing off just before you’re about to climax.
“Edging can make orgasm feel much more powerful, intense, and enjoyable,” licensed psychotherapist and sex specialist Vanessa Marin previously told Women’s Health. And it’s a solid way to draw out the pleasure before the grand finale, says Wise, especially if this isn’t your first bedroom rodeo.
28. Make it a show.
“Masturbation doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Masturbating in front of your partner or engaging in mutual masturbation can heighten desire and serve as an opportunity to explore each other’s bodies,” Hall says. This way, you can show your partner exactly what gets you going. Keep an eye on where their hands roam on their own body to do a little learning yourself.
This is also a biggie for couples in long-distance relationships. “They can hop on a video call and put on a sexy show for each other,” says Hall. You can bet it’ll make the reunion so. much. hotter.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a sex and fitness journalist committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Men’s Health, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.
Stella Harris is a certified intimacy educator, professional coach, trained mediator, and the author of Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships and The Ultimate Guide to Threesomes. Her freelance career is never dull; highlights include being sent to a strip club with a press pass, appearing on the evening news to discuss the importance of sex education in schools, and speaking as an authority on banana slug mating habits. In her free time, she curls up with scary books and horror movies.