Masturbation is the self-stimulation of the genitals with a hand, sex toy, vibrator, or other object for sexual pleasure. Masturbation can be done alone (solo masturbation) or at the same time as a partner (mutual masturbation). There are many methods of masturbating, as well as methods of arousal while masturbating. Some individuals enjoy fantasizing while others prefer watching erotic videos or reading erotica. While masturbating, some prefer penetration while others prefer clitoral stimulation, and some individuals may enjoy a combination of both. Masturbation is a very helpful way for one to explore and get to know their own body. By using masturbation to explore the body, individuals can learn what feels good for them, so that they can both fulfill themself and show their partner how they enjoy being stimulated.
Masturbation and self-exploration are great tools for overcoming difficulties with arousal and orgasm. Orgasm is the intense, pleasurable sensation experienced at the climax of sexual arousal involving the rapid contraction of the vaginal muscles. On average, individuals with vulvas struggle more with achieving orgasm than individuals with penises. Self-exploration and solo masturbation are great ways to find out what is pleasurable and are often when individuals with vulvas experience their first orgasms. However, while orgasm is a very pleasurable sensation, it does not need to be the goal of partnered or solo sexual interaction; sex and masturbation can still be fun and normal in the absence of an orgasm. Pressure to achieve orgasm can cause nervousness and anxiety that make it more difficult to achieve orgasm. Shifting one’s goal from orgasm to enjoyment will help sex and masturbation become more relaxing and fulfilling experiences, which will also increase the likelihood of achieving orgasm. Having a good understanding of the anatomy of the vulva can be very helpful for experiencing sexual pleasure and orgasming.
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The vulva is the external female genitalia, which contains the vaginal opening, or introitus. All vulvas vary in color, size, shape and appearance. Every part of the vulva is sexually sensitive to some extent. Understanding the anatomy of the vulva can help individuals feel confident and comfortable with both their sexuality and masturbation. While engaging in self-exploration and learning what feels good, understanding what parts of the vulva are more or less sexually sensitive can be very helpful. While some areas may be too sensitive to touch directly, pain upon touching any part of the vulva is not normal.
The clitoris is the most sexually sensitive area of the vulva, containing an estimated 8000 nerve endings.1 Stimulation of the clitoris is a very popular method of achieving orgasm, as it leads to orgasm more frequently than vaginal penetration does for many people with vulvas. The clitoris is pearl sized and covered by the clitoral hood. It is surrounded by the inner and outer lips (the labia minora and labia majora) and is located where the two inner lips meet. Both the inner and outer lips are sexually sensitive, but do not contain as many nerve endings as the clitoris. Between the inner lips is the vestibule, a smooth area on which the urethral opening and the vaginal opening, or introitus, are found. While pornography and the media tend to depict masturbation as individuals with vulvas using a dildo for vaginal penetration, the more common method is clitoral and vulval stimulation. That being said, some individuals can experience orgasm from penetration and repeated stimulation of the g-spot, an erogenous spot located on the front wall of the vagina. The existence of the g-spot is still unconfirmed by sexologists, and not all individuals with vulvas are able to locate their g-spots.
Once an individual understands their anatomy and what feels best for them, they will be able to enjoy the many benefits of masturbation and orgasm.
Benefits of Masturbation
Masturbation is a healthy, normal activity and can be beneficial to the body in numerous ways. Masturbation increases blood flow throughout the body and causes the release of endorphins, which are the brain hormones responsible for pleasure.2 Masturbation can therefore relieve stress, provide the mind with healthy distraction, and activate the pleasure areas of the brain. Masturbation can also improve one’s sex life. Becoming familiar with one’s body, sexuality, and pleasure can increase personal comfort and confidence, leading to positive sexual experiences. Furthermore, learning how to pleasure the body and how to have an orgasm can be an empowering experience.
Masturbation can also assist with postmenopausal sex. Individuals with uteruses undergo various changes during menopause, some of which increase sexual difficulty and discomfort. Masturbation can help by preventing vaginal narrowing, which can occur during menopause, and increasing sexual desire.3
In addition, masturbating to orgasm can help relieve period cramps, and masturbation in general can be an enjoyable and mood-boosting experience.2
How to Masturbate
While this is not an exhaustive list of techniques, here is a list of the basics to help get started. These techniques can all be adjusted to one’s own preferences. There is no right or wrong way to masturbate, and everyone masturbates differently. Do what feels good and pleasurable.
Masturbation, though normal and healthy, is something that should be done in a private space. Masturbation in a private, safe, and comfortable setting can make the experience more enjoyable. Knowing that there is plenty of time with no risk of being interrupted by a phone call, roommate, or other distractions can help with relaxation and enjoyment. Masturbation is the perfect opportunity to relax and focus on oneself.
Some individuals enjoy lighting candles or listening to music. Some fantasize about their sexual desires or imagine sexual scenarios to get aroused, while others watch, listen to, or read erotic videos and stories.
To start masturbating, an individual can find a comfortable position, and start softly touching the body, paying careful attention to the areas of the body that are most sensitive. By doing this, one may discover what parts of their body feel best to touch, squeeze, or rub. Making sure to wash the hands before touching the vulva and vagina are important for preventing infections. If an individual chooses to insert their fingers into the vagina, they should make sure that their nails are cut short to avoid scratches or injuries. Having lubricant (preferably water-based) nearby can also be helpful when starting masturbation in case additional lubrication is needed.
Additionally, individuals can use a mirror to help understand their anatomy better if they feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar with their body. When using a mirror, try to identify the lips (labia majora and minora), clitoris, and vaginal opening. The mirror should be positioned so that the vulva can be seen. One can also try touching different areas of the vulva to get to know their sensations. Making sure to use lubricated fingers will make the vulva less likely to become irritated or sore and the sensations more pleasurable.
If any pain is experienced, then being gentler, using more lubricant, going more slowly, or temporarily stopping masturbation may help. Masturbating should not be painful in any way, so if discomfort is experienced, try to understand why. Being nervous can cause pain, particularly if one is engaging in penetration of some kind.
The goal of this activity is to enjoy one’s own touch and body as much as possible. Some further tips include moving the hips back and forth, arching the back, breathing deeply or moaning, fondling the breasts and nipples, and clenching and rubbing the thighs together. Once one feels that they are aroused enough, and once they have learned what areas of the body feel best to touch, they can begin masturbating.
Masturbating with Fingers
A good position in which to begin masturbating is lying down in a comfortable position. From here, begin to stroke the inner thighs and gradually bring the fingers closer to the vulva. Run the fingers along the outer and inner vaginal lips. Try massaging the mons, which is the fleshy area on top of the pubic bone where the pubic hair is.
To locate the clitoris, run the index finger along the inside of the vaginal lips, up toward the navel. Start just above the vaginal opening and move up. The clitoris is partially hidden under a hood of skin and should feel like a firm bump. Touching the clitoris will likely feel good, however due to its high sensitivity some individuals prefer indirect stimulation rather than direct. If one’s clitoris is too sensitive for direct stimulation, they can rub or stroke the shaft of the clitoris through the clitoral hood, or massage the labia, which will stimulate the clitoris indirectly. One can also put their two fingers in a “V” shape and slide the fingers and hand gently up and down, with a finger on either side of the clitoral shaft, for indirect stimulation.
The fingers can be used to rub the vulva at whatever speed and pressure feels best. Some people prefer more pressure, while others prefer softer strokes. As one becomes more aroused, their vagina will become lubricated. Vaginal lubrication is a clear, slippery fluid that can be used to make masturbation more pleasurable. As one becomes more aroused, the sensations they experience during masturbation should become more intense and pleasurable. If the vagina is not producing adequate natural lubrication, using artificial lubricants or saliva can be helpful.
One can also alternate between stimulating the clitoris and touching other parts of the vulva such as the lips, vagina, and mons. Using both hands, or different parts of the same hand, can allow stimulation of both the vagina and the clitoris simultaneously. The vagina can be stimulated by touching the vaginal opening and through fingering. For an individual’s first time fingering themselves, it is advised to wash their hands, go slow, and make sure that there is enough lubrication. Feeling mild discomfort is normal, but severe, sharp pain is not. To locate the vaginal opening, move the fingers between the inner lips. Use one or two fingers to massage the vaginal opening before inserting one or two fingers into the vagina. The outer third of the vagina is the most sensitive region, so it is not necessary to go deep in order to feel stimulated. The fingers can be moved in a circular motion, an in and out motion, a stroking motion, or any motion that is pleasurable. If the fingers are moved to the front wall of the vagina, it may be possible to find and stimulate the g-spot. An easy way to locate the g-spot is in a squatting position or by lying on the back. The g-spot is located about two to three inches deep on the front wall of the vagina and is best stimulated via direct pressure on the vaginal wall closest to the navel. Motioning the fingers in a “come here” motion, which is continually bending the tip of the middle and pointer finger to meet the palm, is one way to stimulate this region of the vagina.
After becoming familiar with the anatomy of the vulva, learning what type of stimulation one prefers is the next step to maximizing pleasure during individual and partnered sexual activity. The following are suggestions for methods that can be used to discover what types of stimulation an individual may prefer.
Different Patterns of Stimulation
The clitoris can be stimulated in a variety of patterns and directions. One method is to move the fingers as though different letters of the alphabet are being traced until a motion that feels good is found.
Different Amounts of Pressure
Start with gentle pressure and slowly increase the amount of pressure as arousal increases. Alternate between firm and gentle pressure until the pressure and rhythm that is most satisfying is found.
Other Methods of Masturbation
Manual masturbation is just one method for going solo. Pillows, the bathtub and shower, and sex toys are just some of many other methods used to masturbate.
Some individuals enjoy masturbating by rubbing their vulva against a pillow or a similar object. This can be done by placing a pillow between the legs and rubbing the clitoris and vulva against it. This can also be done in a laying down position, or a sitting position using a thrusting motion into the pillow. One can also sit on the edge of a chair, or place the pillow on top of a chair, and rub the clitoris and vulva against it. Masturbation with a pillow can be done with or without clothing on, depending on how much stimulation is enjoyed.
The bathtub is a great place to masturbate, either with the aid of the faucet or manually with fingers. Many find the bathtub to be a warm and relaxing environment, promoting comfort during masturbation. To masturbate using the faucet, one can climb into the bathtub while it fills with water, lie on their back with knees bent, and allow the water to flow on the clitoris. Adjust the temperature until it is comfortable, and experiment with moving the vulva and clitoris in different places under the stream of water. The level of stimulation can be adjusted by trying different positions (legs together, legs apart, knees more or less bent), by filling and draining the level of water in the tub, and by adjusting the intensity of the water flow. One can also masturbate in the shower by directing the stream of a handheld shower head at the clitoris, adjusting the water temperature and pressure until satisfying stimulation is found.
Vibrators and Dildos
Vibrators are sex toys that can be held near or against the clitoris or inserted into the vagina. Dildos can also be inserted into the vagina and used to explore pleasurable and stimulating angles and positions. There is a large variety of vibrators and dildos on the market, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are tailored to a multitude of preferences. Vibrators and dildos can be used simultaneously. Vibrators have been reported to produce more intense orgasms and more multiple orgasms than other methods of masturbation, however some individuals prefer manual masturbation or water massage.4
Be sure to use lubrication along with dildos, vibrators and other sex toys, as lubrication will allow for more pleasurable stimulation. In addition, dildos, vibrators and other sex toys should be cleaned with warm water and body-safe soap after every use. Do not submerge electrical parts in water unless instructions explicitly say that the toy is waterproof. Hydrogen peroxide can be used for an extra level of sterilization, as long as it is completely rinsed off before use. Sex toys should be used with a condom if the toys are made of porous material, such as rubber or jelly, which result in the buildup of bacteria despite being cleaned. Silicone is the safest and least porous material for sex toys. If multiple partners are using the same sex toy, a new condom should be used for each partner.
Masturbation is often a taboo subject, particularly for individuals with vulvas. Myths surrounding masturbation were prominent in the 18th and 19th century. These myths, which were used to convince individuals with vulvas to not masturbate, include that masturbation can cause an enlarged clitoris, that it can masculinize individuals who masturbate, and that it can cause pregnancy.5 Despite the fact that these myths have proven not to be true, the negative views around masturbation remain. Despite the stigma that exists around masturbation, and the stereotype that masturbation is a masculine behavior, masturbation is common and healthy for both individuals with vulvas and individuals with penises.
Vaginal penetration while masturbating can stretch the hymen, which is the membrane that partially covers the vaginal opening. Though the hymen has cultural significance for many people, it is not a reliable method of determining someone’s virginity. The appearance of the hymen varies from person to person, and can be stretched by intercourse among other activities, such as horseback riding, biking, using a tampon, and masturbation.
People define virginity in different ways, and it is up to the individual to decide on their personal definition of virginity. Penetration via masturbation does not necessarily indicate a loss of virginity, whether or not the hymen was stretched. All individuals have the choice to define their virginity however they feel appropriate. Virginity loss can vary between all types of penetration (vaginal, anal, oral) and a variety of methods (fingering, penetration with a penis, penetration with a dildo or other object, vibrator, water, pillow, manual stimulation). Virginity loss does not necessarily include penetration.
Masturbation is a fun, natural and healthy activity. Understanding one’s own body and what feels good can improve an individual’s sex life, as well as increase comfort and confidence. Different methods of masturbation can be explored until the most pleasurable method is found. When an individual is familiar with their body and what they find pleasurable, they can choose to masturbate in front of their partner(s) to show them what techniques they enjoy most.
Feel free to check out this video of helpful and fun masturbation tips!
- Thomason, K. “10 Things You Never Knew about the Clitoris.” Health. (2015).
- Parenthood, Planned. “Is Masturbation Healthy?” Planned Parenthood,
- “Vaginal Atrophy,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019).
- Herbenick D;Reece M;Sanders S;Dodge B;Ghassemi A;Fortenberry JD; “Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
- Smith, L. “Masturbation and the Dangerous Woman.” Wonders and Marvels. (2013).
Last Updated: 01 December 2020.