Men may talk about it more often, but women do it, too.
More than half of American women 18-49 masturbate at least once every 3 months, according to a study from The Kinsey Institute, and that’s true for single women and those who are coupled up. Self-pleasure doesn’t have the stigma it once did, says Nicole Prause, PhD, but myths still affect the way that some women feel about it — and how they do (or don’t) touch themselves.
Here are five things you should know about masturbation.
1. It’s good for you.
Masturbating increases blood flow throughout your body and releases feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins. “That may explain why there’s a clear mood benefit, even if you don’t orgasm,” says Prause, a sexuality researcher at UCLA. And while men are more likely to talk about blowing off steam by masturbating, research suggests it’s a stress-reliever for both sexes. “It takes your mind [off your worries] while activating areas of the brain associated with pleasure,” Prause says.
2. It improves your sex life.
Masturbation can make you sexually comfortable and confident. “It puts you in touch with your desires and gives you the chance to get to know your own body,” says sexuality educator Yvonne K. Fulbright, PhD. “Experimenting with what feels good and makes you respond positively can lead to better sexual experiences, both alone and with a partner.”
If you have trouble reaching orgasm, it’s a private, stress-free way to try different types of touch and pressure to see what helps you climax, Fulbright says.
3. It can ease postmenopause sex problems.
Many women see changes during menopause. Masturbation can help, says Judi Chervenak, MD, a gynecologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
“The vagina can actually narrow, which can make intercourse and vaginal exams more painful.” But masturbation, especially with a water-based lubricant, can help prevent narrowing, boost blood flow, relieve some tissue and moisture problems, and increase sexual desire, Chervenak says.
4. It doesn’t have to be quick (or end with an orgasm).
The media may suggest otherwise, but masturbation isn’t just a “quickie” experience. That’s OK. “Rushing can make it less enjoyable, and so can focusing too much on orgasm,” Fulbright says. “Give yourself time to touch all parts of your body or try different positions, and don’t feel pressure to climax.”
5. Toys can help.
Nearly half of women between the ages of 18 and 60 have used a sex toy like a dildo or vibrator, according to a survey by Ashley Leonard at Robert Morris University. If you’ve had trouble reaching orgasm and want to climax, a vibrator (which stimulates the nerve endings in the clitoris) may be helpful.
Don’t worry whether it will lead to sex problems later down the line, Prause says. “Put simply, if it feels good, go for it.”