The Many, Many Benefits of Masturbation
By sara dueck
Learning to embrace your sexuality is a pretty crucial component of living a healthy sexual life. It’s kind of what Harlot is all about. The good news is: you don’t need a partner to embrace and experiment with your sexuality. I’m here to make a case for masturbation—trust me; it’s got a lot of benefits.
Masturbation is the safest sex you can have
Contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or experiencing unplanned pregnancies are virtually impossible through masturbation. Masturbation is an excellent way to explore sexual pleasure in a low-risk setting. This is especially helpful if you don’t think that you’re ready for sex, if you don’t want to become sexually with another person, or if you’re down to get dirty, but you don’t have anyone to get dirty with.
I do need to add a word of warning here: it is still possible to develop infections or experience health problems when masturbating, especially if you masturbate with sex toys or other objects. Bacteria can travel on sex toys: unsanitized toys can still pass on STIs like syphilis, herpes, hepatitis, and HIV. Always make sure to clean your hands and sex toys before inserting anything into your body, especially if you share sex toys with a partner. Don’t put any foreign objects into your body that aren’t designed for that purpose: these items may be made of materials that are not safe for your body—they might contain toxic ingredients, they might be porous or difficult to sterilize and therefore carry bacteria, or they might break. It’s important to know that even some toys designed specifically for sexual use aren’t made of body-safe materials. In fact, there aren’t any specific sex toy regulations in the US or the UK. This means that it is crucial to make sure your sex toys are made of phthalate-free, non-porous, body-safe materials like medical grade silicone, glass, metal, ceramic, or hard plastics such as ABS plastic. Lastly, for the love of all that is holy, do not put anything without a flared base in your butt. I mean it.
Masturbation teaches you about your body
Do you know the difference between a vagina and a vulva? What about between the labia minora and the labia majora? Or the difference between the scrotum and the testicles? Do you know where your clitoris is? I remember scouring my high school bio textbooks, trying to figure out where the hell my clit was. But once I finally found it on a diagram, I realized pretty quickly that my setup differed from the illustrated vulva in the textbook. The chances that your genitals will perfectly match those you see in a textbook (or in porn) are pretty slim, and if you rely solely on outside depictions of genitalia to tell you what yours are supposed to look like, you’re probably going to miss some pretty major aspects.
It’s important to become intimately familiar with your body for a number of reasons:
First, because it’s your damn body, and you’ll probably have it for a while. You know what they say: knowledge is power.
Second, it helps you to appreciate and accept your body. Removing your body from a purely medical context and examining it as something that belongs to you exclusively can help you relate to your body in new and positive ways. Your genitals don’t exist solely for a reproductive function: they are part of what makes you a holistic, complete being.
Third, experiencing sexual pleasure on your own will make you less tolerable of unfulfilling sexual experiences with a partner. Just last year, a study came out determining that heterosexual women, for example, experience the least amount of orgasms than any other group. Perhaps it is because heterosexual women have tolerated, for far too long, a sexual standard that elevates male pleasure over female pleasure.
Last, knowing your body and your genitals can make you a better advocate for your health. If you know the shape, colors, and arrangement of your genitals, the differences in the way they feel when you are aroused and unaroused, and they ways in which they respond to different kinds of touch or pressure, then you are more likely to know when something is wrong, and you will be equipped with extensive knowledge about your body that can help you articulate your problems to a health care provider.
Masturbation teaches you about your sexuality
Masturbating solo gives you an opportunity to explore your body and your pleasure preferences without an audience. All the performative elements of sex disappear, which means that anxieties about how long it takes you to orgasm, what your genitals look or smell like, or whether your partner will judge you for being into a specific sex act can fade away. In this non-judgemental space, you have the freedom to experiment with different types of touch, toys, or fantasies without fear. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about yourself and your preferences when there’s no one watching you, and there’s no expectation to perform in a certain way.
Masturbation can help you learn to love your body
You know how a lot of body-positive rhetoric encourages you to love your body for what it is capable of, rather than merely what it looks like? Well, your body is capable of experiencing a whole world of pleasure, and that can shift your perspective on your body in a pretty major way. In the story “The Bullet Vibe” on Erika Moen’s fantastic illustrated sex ed website, Oh Joy Sex Toy, Erika describes her first experience masturbating with a vibrator. After years of feeling ashamed and self-conscious of her body, she finally mustered the courage to purchase an inexpensive bullet vibrator. She was so embarrassed that she left the vibrator hidden in a drawer for days before trying it out. But everything changed after she tried it—she had her first orgasm. “My first orgasm is still one of my most vivid, lovely memories,” Erika writes, “it was the first time I ever loved my body.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that if you try masturbating once, you’ll have a life-changing orgasm and suddenly all your old body shame will fade away. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that. But, over time, as you experiment with your body and learn to experience new sorts of pleasure, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to form a close, positive relationship with your body, a relationship founded on comfort, pleasure, and trust, rather than on shame, insecurity, and doubt.
Masturbation can improve your sexual relationships with your partners
There’s a nasty cultural myth that masturbation takes away from your sexual experiences with your partners, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Your partners ARE NOT MIND READERS. Even the most sexually adept partner can’t be expected to guess your sexual needs. This is where masturbation comes in. If you permit yourself to experiment with new techniques, toys, and forms of pleasure in your solo masturbation sessions, the knowledge you gain will transcend your solo sessions into your team activities. You’ll be able to communicate exactly what kinds of touch you like, giving your partners clear instructions on how to give you pleasure. Learning to experience pleasure in your masturbation sessions can make you a better advocate for your sexual pleasure during encounters with partners. Your partners will have the tools and knowledge to give you a mind-blowing sexual experience, and you’ll be more likely to come out of those sexual encounters satisfied. It’s a win-win situation.
Masturbation is a pretty major aspect of human sexuality, but it is often neglected by traditional forms of sexual education. According to a study conducted in 2009 by the University of Chicago, when asked if they had masturbated in the past year, 38% of women said yes, and 61% of men said yes. Clearly, masturbation impacts a large percentage of the population. Whether you are single, dating, or sexually or romantically involved with a partner, masturbation is a healthy, viable sexual option. Now we just need more sex ed programs to include masturbation in their curricula.
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SARA DUECK - STAFF WRITER & EDUCATOR
Sara Dueck (she/her) is a queer, feminist, usually nervous, over-educated millennial with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies. Sara grew up in a small town in Southern Alberta, Canada - deep in the heart of right-wing territory.