Masturbation involves touching yourself for pleasure. But it’s a topic that many of us find difficult to talk about. Some people feel shame when it comes to touching themselves, but there’s no need to do so. Masturbation is a normal and healthy way to express yourself and your sexuality.
‘It’s important to remember that most people masturbate – and it can be a form of self-care,’ says Beatrice Lindéh, a Livi psychologist specialising in sex.
What exactly is masturbation?
Masturbation, or self-pleasuring, is touching parts of your body for sexual pleasure – usually the penis, scrotum, clitoris, vulva, breasts and anus. It can involve more than just the genitals, as the entire body is sensitive to sexual stimulation. ‘Masturbation is really about having sex with yourself,’ says Lindéh.
Where, how and with what objects people masturbate varies widely. ‘Most people use stimulation in the form of fantasies, toys, films, sounds or images,’ says Lindéh. Masturbation can also happen between two people, which is known as mutual masturbation.
Why does masturbation feel good?
‘Our genitals have nerve endings that, when stimulated, signal to our brains that sex is about to happen. The genitals swell and produce natural lubrication, your pulse goes up and you feel aroused. If you continue masturbating, you may have an orgasm,’ explains Lindéh.
In response to both the arousal and orgasm, hormones are released that make us feel calm, relaxed and happy.
How does masturbation work for…
People with vaginas?
If you have a vagina, you can masturbate by stimulating your vulva in different ways. ‘It might involve the labia, the clitoris, the vagina or the anus,’ says Lindéh.
People with penises?
‘If you have a penis, you’ll usually masturbate by rhythmically moving the foreskin up and down across the penis and by stroking the penis and scrotum,’ says Lindéh. ‘Some enjoy stimulating the anus with their fingers or toys. Some people use lubrication when masturbating, which is helpful if you’re circumcised.’
How can masturbation help people explore their gender and sexuality?
‘Feeling connected to your body helps, and my advice is just to do what feels good,’ says Lindéh.
Usually, touching your genitals is necessary to orgasm, but this isn’t the only way to feel good. You might focus on other sensitive body parts.
Recent research has found that masturbation can be beneficial for people experiencing feelings of discomfort about how their body looks or feeling a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity (also known as gender dysphoria). Experts found that masturbation helped to encourage body acceptance, discover likes and dislikes, and communicate boundaries.
Is masturbation healthy?
In short, yes. The benefits of masturbation are wide-ranging:
1. It helps you get to know your body
Sexually, it’s one of the best ways to get to know your body and how you like to be touched, which promotes what’s known as genital confidence.
2. It can make sex more enjoyable
Getting to know yourself better can improve sex – whether you have sex on your own or with other people.
3. It can boost your sex drive
Masturbation can help with a spell of low libido and help increase feelings of arousal.
4. It can help you last longer
For people with penises, it can be a way to learn to last longer during sex if they’re experiencing premature ejaculation.
5. It may lower your risk of prostate cancer
There’s evidence that ejaculating frequently may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
6. It can relieve pain and help you relax
Orgasm has a pain-relieving effect and is used by some women as pain relief during menstruation and in some cultures during childbirth. Some people use masturbation to help them relax and go to sleep.
What happens if you masturbate too much?
As long as masturbation makes you feel good and you don’t cause harm to yourself or others, there’s no such thing as too much masturbation.
‘If you start staying home from work or you end relationships just to masturbate, it could be a sign of masturbation addiction,’ says Lindéh. This is when it may be helpful to speak to a doctor or therapist.
Masturbating a lot can result in chafing – though that can also be a case of needing more or better lubrication.
How can I orgasm through masturbation?
If you’re struggling to orgasm, most of the time it’s because you’re tense or anxious. ‘Try to relax,’ says Lindéh. ‘Light some candles, make it cosy and have some alone time. Thinking of it as a date with yourself tends to help.’
It’s also perfectly normal to be nervous if you’re not used to masturbating, so try to be patient. ‘Explore and try different things. Take a few deep breaths and start carefully and gently,’ adds Lindéh.
If you’re worried or struggling to achieve orgasm, you could talk to a doctor or therapist.
When should I speak to a doctor?
Talk to a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Pain in or around your genitals
- Difficulty getting an erection
- Difficulty having an orgasm
- Ejaculating too quickly or not at all
- A lack of desire and arousal
Similarly, if you feel ashamed of masturbating or anything else related to your sexuality, it’s a good idea to try talking about it.
‘A sexual therapist or psychologist can usually help, or you can try to talk to your partner or your friends,’ advises Lindéh. ‘Shame is a feeling we really don’t need in our lives.’
This article was medically reviewed by Beatrice Lindéh, a Livi psychologist specialising in sex.