So many of the women in my sex therapy practice complain that they don't like masturbating. I'm a huge proponent of masturbation, and have seen the ways that it can transform women's lives with more pleasure, more orgasms, better body confidence, and more fun! Nobody's going to force you to put your hands down your pants, but let's talk about how to enjoy masturbation if you never have before.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.
If You Feel like You're too Late to the Party
Female masturbation is much more taboo in our society than male masturbation, so many women never had early childhood experiences of fumbling around with their genitals and figuring out what feels good. By the time they have reached adulthood, they feel too embarrassed to start learning how to masturbate. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard, "I can't believe I'm [fill in the blank] years old and don't know how to masturbate", I'd be dictating this article to a personal assistant while lounging on a private beach somewhere in the South Pacific.
(Side note: I've heard women as young as 16 and as old as 72 utter this statement.) The bottom line is that there is no age that is "too old" to start masturbating.
You can combat any frustration you might feel by choosing to focus on your particular reasons for wanting to learn at this point in your life — just remove any self-critical parts of your thoughts. Maybe it's "I want to take better care of my body," "I want to put my pleasure first for a change," or "I want to have fun on my own." Other good reasons for masturbating? It feels great and can bring you orgasms (I'm convinced that there's no more bad-arse feeling in the world than making yourself orgasm).
It can relieve headaches, menstrual cramps, and stress. It can improve your mood, change your relationship with your body, help you get to sleep, and can be a great form of self-care — all regardless of your age. Masturbation is AWESOME!
If You Don't Know what to Do
I know, it's hard to do something new for the first time without feeling like an idiot. But seriously guys, masturbation is a skill that is so worth learning. Remember that you're doing this on you own, and no one will see you feeling awkward or bumbling around. Plus, I've got your back with some specific things to try.
If you've never masturbated before (or have tried it but never really enjoyed it), keep it simple at first. The best place to start is by stroking across your clitoris in a couple of different patterns (lube can make this feel even better!). Try diagonally, in a figure-eight, in a circle, up and down, and side to side. Each time you try a particular stroke, ask yourself, "does this feel good?" The only "rights" and "wrongs" when it comes to masturbation are whether something feels pleasurable for you or not. If the answer is "no, this doesn't feel that great," just move on to trying another stroke.
If you're an analytical type, try rating the level of pleasure on a 1-5 scale; anything 3 or greater is good enough to continue. When you find something you like, keep doing it for as long as it feels pleasurable. You can play around with different levels of pressure or speed, but most women respond better to consistency than complicated technique.
Try not to think about orgasm at first. Yes, I see what I'm doing here: I've hyped up the orgasm-inducing benefits of masturbation, and now I'm telling you not to focus on orgasming when you masturbate. Before you write me off as a nonsensical idiot (my degree is in reverse psychology!), allow me to explain. Being entirely focused on orgasm creates a whole lot of pressure, and makes it harder to enjoy your experience in the moment.
It prevents you from giving yourself the freedom to explore what feels good, and can make you feel like a "failure" for going through the trial-and-error that's inherently a part of learning how to masturbate. Masturbation isn't like cleaning your house; it's not a horrible chore that only becomes enjoyable once you feel like you've accomplished something. It should feel pleasurable throughout, and that pleasure is what you should focus on.
If You Get Bored or Distracted
The average woman takes 20 minutes to orgasm. Many women will take that long at the beginning, but can eventually work their timelines way down with practice. It's impossible to stay completely focused on anything for 20 solid minutes, so you will definitely notice your mind wandering. When you start to zone out, refocus yourself with the question, "does this feel good?" Or you can give yourself that reminder of why you wanted to start masturbating in the first place ("I know it's hard for me to relax right now, but I want to remember that this is my time to not care about anyone other than myself.").
Learning how to masturbate requires a bit of patience, but patience doesn't need to equal boredom. This is your special self-care time, so you get to find the things that make masturbation even more enjoyable. These kinds of explorations are perhaps the most fun part of developing a masturbation routine! Think about it during the day, and try to build up some anticipation for getting yourself alone later in the evening.
Try playing your favourite sexy music (share your recommendations in the comments!). Wear something that you feel hot in. Watch porn or read erotica. Fantasize about something that already turns you on, or give yourself the freedom to play with new fantasies. Get into different body positions. Moan and pant loudly. You can even revamp your bedroom into a luxurious masturbation den complete with nice sheets, good-smelling candles, and high-quality lube.
These mental techniques can be approached in the same way as physical ones: try each one out and see what works for you!
Want to learn more about masturbation? It's a favourite topic of mine (I even created an online course teaching women how to masturbate and orgasm), so we're going to be covering it here in a series of articles over the upcoming weeks.
Vanessa Marin is a licensed psychotherapist (#78931) specialising in sex therapy. It's her mission to take the intimidation out of sex therapy and bring the fun back into the bedroom.