Reader question: I've never tried to masturbate before and I don't know how to begin. Can you please share your tips?
As someone who has been masturbating in some way for as long as I can remember, I have had this conversation with countless friends. For some reason, I have never really had a feeling of shame around masturbation, but I am well aware of how prevalent that sense is for women growing up.
There are so many different ways you can masturbate, but the most important thing is that you feel connected to your body, and rid yourself of as much shame as you can (I know this is easier said than done).
It may seem confronting for you, but take time to look at yourself naked in the mirror and acknowledge your body for what it is. A lot of the shame we feel around masturbation is overflow from being ashamed of our bodies. Doing this small exercise can put you in a frame of mind that will allow you to enjoy pleasure.
Take off the pressure
Before you start masturbating, set your intentions and do not put pressure on yourself to orgasm. Use masturbation as an exploratory experience that may result in orgasm, not as a fast route to getting off. You know how the minute someone says "Cum for me" during sex, any chance of you actually reaching orgasm evaporates into thin air? Yeah, that's what you're doing to yourself if you start masturbating with the intention to cum, especially if this is your first time. Take it easy!
Figure out what YOU like when no one's watching
OK, so now we've set the intention, it's time to get to the physical stuff. For those who have vaginas, there are around 10 different kinds of orgasm, so it's important to try different things and figure out what works best for you. There is no shame in only being able to cum from clitoral stimulation or only enjoying penetration. I used to think that I only enjoyed clitoral stimulation, but through exploring myself during masturbation, I've found I actually enjoy adding in a bit of penetration as long as it's done on my terms.
Try lying on your stomach, on your back, sitting on a pillow — try any position you can think of. Just as different people have different favourite positions during sex, people masturbate in different ways. It isn't just about lying on your back and arching gracefully with a perfect O face. Life isn't porn, and masturbation isn't performative, so release yourself from those ideas.
Try to separate this initial experience from being sexual in nature — just feel, play and acknowledge what you like and what you can go without.
As someone who has a drawer full of sex toys, and even has a nickname for her favourite one (love you, "Sucky Sucky") clearly this was going to come up. There are toys for EVERYTHING. Once you figure out what you like physically, you can find a toy that caters to what you want. If this is your first time masturbating, some toys may be a little . . . intimidating. Avoid one with too many features — simplicity is best when you're starting out. You can always get more, and I also find that uncomplicated toys are easier to bring into partnered play.
If during the exploration stage you've found out you prefer penetration, get a G-spot stimulator. If you like clitoral play, get a toy that focuses on the clit. Toys shouldn't be scary and are there to enhance the pleasure experience, so if you find something that works, use it whenever you please. Don't shame yourself for only being able to cum one way or another.
Find out what turns you on
I get a lot of emails from women who can't turn themselves on. They have sex drives, but don't ever masturbate because they simply can't find the motivation. Again, there are so many different ways to get yourself in the mood. Here are the three most common:
Use your imagination: This may seem super obvious but it's important to be able to use your imagination to either relive previous sexual encounters or to create fantasies in your head. In either case, imagine the sexual encounter from start to finish and try to take note of what turns you on the most. Is it the tension? Kissing? Actual penetration? Find out what turns you on the most and focus on that act. Replay it in your head while touching yourself in the way you like most. This not only lets you masturbate in a more productive and sensual way, but also forces you to be more mindful when having an intimate moment with a partner. For example, if you discover kissing is your thing, you'll find yourself having a makeout session worthy of a tacky early '00s teen movie the next time you have a sexual encounter, which will lead to better sex for everyone. Yay!
Sext: At this point I'm starting to sound like someone who uses their phone exclusively for sexting, but IT'S USEFUL, OK? I've written a whole article about this, so check it out here. Long story short, sexting can involve texting, voice notes (my favourite), photos and videos and is great for those who get turned on my intimate connection or one specific person.
Watch porn: Duh, porn. Try looking through (preferably ethical) porn sites and let go of taboo or stigmas. If something doesn't turn you on, keep scrolling. If it does, then click on it and explore further. A huge issue is the stigma around watching porn, which may result in some people avoiding it all together due to their shame. Are you seeing the common thread here?
There is so much shame around sex that sometimes we ignore things that turn us on because we don't think it's "normal". As a general rule, if there was made with consent, and in an ethical way, then there's no shame in enjoying it. After all, there has to be enough demand for the thing you're watching for it to be created . . . right? Find what you like, watch it and go from there.
It is so important to be able to pleasure yourself alone. Masturbation can help with so many different aspects of life (including period pain) and can lead to a more fulfilling sex life with or without partners. The main thing to remember is this is for you — try to drop the shame, drop the insecurity and focus on making yourself feel good.