Manual stimulation refers to the use of one or both hands to sexually stimulate the body of a partner. Typically, manual stimulation refers to the stimulation of the genitals, but there are many other parts of the body that are sensitive to erotic touch. This type of sexual activity is very common and is often included in foreplay. Foreplay refers to time spent before sexual intercourse where partners can focus on exploring each other’s bodies and become sufficiently sexually aroused before intercourse. For both males and females, signs of arousal include an increase in heart rate and breathing, erect nipples, and increased muscle tone. Both males and females experience vasocongestion (increased blood flow to the genitals) that causes the penis or clitoris to become erect. In females, vaginal lubrication begins and the labia majora swell and separate. The breasts also become enlarged. In males, the testes swell and the scrotum tightens.
Many males and females can reach orgasm through manual stimulation. However, even though manual stimulation is often included in foreplay, the goal does not have to be penetrative sex or orgasm. There are many benefits to engaging in manual stimulation including the following:
- Getting to know your partner’s body. Touching and feeling your partner’s body will allow you discover what makes them feel good. Active communication is necessary during manual stimulation so both partners know what is comfortable. The best way to find out what your partner enjoys is to ask! See “A Word on Consent” section for more information.
- Reducing the risk of contracting or spreading a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Manual stimulation often does not lead to the exchange of bodily fluids which greatly reduces the risk of contracting or spreading an STI. It is important to remember to wash your hands before and after engaging in manual stimulation to reduce the spread of germs, especially when touching the anus.
- Preventing unwanted pregnancy. Sexual activity without penetration greatly reduces the risk of pregnancy. However, it is important to remember that there is a small chance of pregnancy anytime semen comes in contact with the vagina. If there is a chance of exchanging bodily fluids, all of us here at SexInfo recommend using a barrier method of birth control. The most effective barrier method is the male condom.
There are many benefits to engaging in manual stimulation, whether or not it is a part of foreplay before penetrative sex.
A Word on Consent
Before any sexual activity begins, it is imperative that both partners give consent. Consent is a clear, enthusiastic “YES.” Body language is a useful indicator of whether or not a person wants to engage in sexual activity, however the best way to communicate consent is verbally. Silence is not consent. Even if someone has consented to something in the past does not mean they consent again in the future: consent must be given every time. Consent is not implied, regardless of relationship status (e.g. marriage does not imply consent). Consent can be revoked at any point during the sexual encounter. In other words, consenting to manual stimulation is not consenting to other sexual activities. Consent must be free of force, coercion, or intimidation. Consent is also sexy and fun! Asking for consent shows consideration for another person’s well-being and obtaining consent ensures that partner is excited to be with you sexually.
Sensual Massages and Erogenous Zones
In addition to the genitals, there are many other areas of the body that can be sexually stimulated. An “erogenous zone” is an area of the body with heightened sexual sensitivity. Stimulation of these areas can lead to a sexual response such as arousal or orgasm. For both males and females, erogenous zones of the body include the following:1,2
- The mouth and lips
- Nipples (including the areola and breast)
- The nape of the neck
- Inner thighs
- Ear lobes
- Hips/hip bones and lower abdomen
Stimulation of these areas by the hands or the mouth is a great way to work up to manual stimulation of the genitals. For example, while kissing, moving from the mouth to the neck area can be extremely arousing because it is such a sensitive, vulnerable area.1 Tucking a person’s hair behind their ears is an intimate behavior and kissing or nibbling on the ear lobes can be very arousing as well.
It is important that both partners are sufficiently aroused before manually stimulating the genitals. Another way to arouse your partner is to give a sensual massage. A sensual massage is one that focuses on the partner’s erogenous zones to provide both stress relief and increased intimacy between both partners. To begin, have your partner lay in a comfortable position, face up or face down. Both positions will allow access to different sensitive regions. Begin by massaging the chest, back, arms, and hands. Then gently stroke the breasts and nipples or firmly massage the buttocks in a circular motion. Incorporating massage oil into a sensual massage can make the experience sexier and more comfortable for both partners. When massaging your partner, linger in places that feel pleasurable. Listen and feel for nonverbal signs that indicate what feels good, such as small sighs or muscle relaxation. You can also ask your partner to let you know what areas feel the most pleasurable. The focus of a sensual massage should be incorporating a relaxing and intimate experience into your relationship. It is important to remember that physical indicators of arousal (e.g. erection or vaginal lubrication) happen at different rates for different people—some individuals take longer to become aroused than others. Manual stimulation of the genitals is a natural extension of a sensual massage, but there are a few ways to make manual stimulation more comfortable before beginning.
Preparing for Manual Stimulation
There are several things individuals can do to make manual stimulation more comfortable. Showering and making sure each person’s hands are clean is a great way to start. Begin by taking time for both partners to become aroused by engaging in other activities and stimulating other erogenous zones. Using personal lubricant (also known as “lube”) while manually stimulating both male and female partners will make the experience easier and more pleasurable by reducing friction. All of us here at SexInfo recommend the use of a water-based lubricant because it can be used safely with latex condoms. Although water-based lubricants tend to dry out, they can be reapplied as needed. Water-based lubricants are water soluble, which means they dissolve in water. For this reason, they are incompatible with sexual activities occurring in the water (such as manual stimulation in the shower, bathtub, pool, etc.). Silicone-based lubricants last longer than water-based lubricants because skin and mucus membranes do not absorb them. Additionally, silicone-based lubricants can be used safely with latex condoms and are compatible with water-related sexual activities. However, silicone-based lubricants can cause skin irritation if they are not fully rinsed off after use. Oil-based lubricants are ONLY recommended for use with individuals who have experienced irritation using water- or silicone-based lubricants. Oil-based lubricants cause latex condoms to lose their elasticity, increasing the risk of the condom breaking or slipping off. As mentioned before, all of us here at SexInfo recommend the use of a latex condom anytime there is a chance that bodily fluids will be exchanged during sexual activity. Keeping these tips in mind can help you and your partner have a more pleasurable experience.
Manually Stimulating the Female Body
The vulva is a broad term used to describe the external female genitalia. The mons pubis is the fatty layer of skin covering the pubic bone.3 This area is erotically sensitive and can be included in a sensual massage. The labia majora are the two outer folds of fatty skin that lay on the exterior of the vulva and the labia minora are small folds of skin located between the labia majora. Both the labia majora and minora are erotically sensitive because they contain more nerve endings than most skin tissue. During arousal, the tissue darkens and increases in size due to vasocongestion and can be stimulated for sexual pleasure. The perineum is the area between the opening of the vagina and the anus, below the labia majora.4 The perineum has many nerve endings and many females enjoy stimulation of the perineum.
The clitoris is the most sensitive organ on the female body with the sole purpose of providing sexual pleasure. The clitoris is made up of two parts: the glans (the external, visible part of the clitoris) and the shaft (the inch-long internal part of the organ that runs upward from the glans). The clitoris is about the size of a pearl and is covered, or partially covered, by the clitoral hood, which is a piece of skin found where the two sides of the inner labia meet at the top of the vulva.
The glans and the shaft of the clitoris are made of erectile tissue that fill with blood upon arousal (like the penis). Gentle stimulation of the clitoris can lead to orgasm for many females.
The internal female reproductive organs can also be sexually stimulated. The vagina is a stretchable muscular cavity lined with mucous membranes in the female reproductive system that extends from the uterus to the vaginal opening. Upon sexual arousal, the vaginal walls prepare for entrance of the penis by secreting lubrication, while also lengthening and expanding. If a female is not properly aroused, she will not produce sufficient natural lubrication, which creates friction when inserting anything (including fingers) into the vagina, causing pain. When enough lubrication is present, stimulation of the vaginal walls can be extremely pleasurable. However, the vaginal walls contain far fewer nerve endings than the clitoris, so many females find clitoral stimulation or a combination of penetration and clitoral stimulation more pleasurable than vaginal penetration alone.
The Gräfenberg spot (or G-spot) is an area of heightened sensitivity that is typically located about one to two inches within the vagina on the front (anterior) wall. However, the existence of an exact anatomical location of the G-spot remains controversial among researchers. When a female is aroused, this area swells and may feel more like a ridge than the surrounding tissue in the vagina. Stimulation of the G-spot does not result in orgasm for all females and may actually trigger the urge to urinate. However, for some females, continued stimulation of this area is pleasurable and may result in an orgasm.
How To Manually Stimulate the Vulva and Vagina
The focus of manually stimulating the vulva or vagina, also known as “fingering,” is to provide pleasure for your partner which may or may not end in an orgasm. It is imperative to keep in mind that every female body is different, and every individual has different preferences for how they do or do not want to be touched.
To begin, ensure that your partner is aroused by massaging other erogenous zones (as mentioned above) before focusing primarily on the vulva. Vaginal wetness, physical cues like squirming and thrusting, and verbal cues like moaning are all positive signs that you can move your focus primarily to her vulva.5 Begin by gently touching the areas around the vulva, starting with the inner thigh, using your index and middle fingers in a circular motion. Then stroke the stomach with the same fingers and then move directly above the pubic area. Slowly work your way inwards towards the labia majora (outer lips). At this point you are building the anticipation and excitement of direct stimulation of the clitoris and vagina, which enhances the overall intensity of sensation from start to finish. Once you reach the outer lips, tease her by stroking your index finger in a circular motion around the vulva; make one to two full motions around the vulva then pull back and focus on stroking her thighs again in a circular motion to continue adding to the anticipation.5 After teasing and pulling back, take your index and middle finger and place the fingers directly onto the outer lips of the vagina and gently caress the lips in a circular motion. Continue this motion for about one minute, then use your thumb and middle finger to separate the labia and use the fingers of your other hand to stroke the labia minora (inner lips). You can begin to increase your pace and pressure of your strokes based on any physical or verbal cues indicating pleasure.5 Always use a gentle touch and add lube if necessary to decrease friction and make manual stimulation easier and more pleasurable.6
Gently work your way in, from the labia majora, to the labia minora, and then gently stroke her clitoris. Some females enjoy direct stimulation of the clitoris but for others, the sensations may be too intense. Often, stimulation of the labia results in indirect stimulation of the clitoris which is very pleasurable and less intense than direct clitoral stimulation.
When fingering a female, penetration is optional. Once your partner is aroused and there is plenty of lubrication, ask your partner if it is okay for you to go inside. Start slowly with one finger and pay attention to her physical and verbal cues. If one finger is pleasurable, try inserting another. Keep in mind that penetration without enough lubrication (natural lubrication or lubrication from personal lubricants) can be uncomfortable and even painful, so play close attention to physical and verbal cues. Once inside, there are a few different movements to try that may be pleasurable for your partner:
- Use circular, swirling motions to stimulate the sensitive area inside the vagina. Many females enjoy stimulation just within the opening of the vagina because the first two to three inches inside the vagina are the most sensitive.6
- Stimulate the G-spot. The most common way to stimulate the G-spot is curving your fingers and making a “come hither” motion against the front wall of the vagina.6 Firm, repetitive stimulation can produce an orgasm in many females, so if your partner prefers G-spot stimulation, ask what feels good and then repeat that stimulation for a few minutes.
- Use the rest of the hand (palm) to gently massage the clitoris and labia while your fingers move rhythmically in and out of the vagina.
You can try combining penetration with clitoral stimulation by slipping your fingers in, massaging the G-spot then slipping your fingers back out and up over the clitoris. It is all about finding out what feels best for your partner. Focus on her nonverbal cues to determine what is pleasurable or what may be uncomfortable and if you are unsure, just ask.
Some females will orgasm from manual stimulation alone. As your partner becomes aroused and moves closer to orgasm, breathing will get faster and muscles will tense up. If you notice physical cues of an impending orgasm, continue repeating what you are doing. As mentioned before, firm, repetitive stimulation is a great way to bring your partner to orgasm.
Keep in mind that there is no end goal to manual stimulation: the focus is providing pleasure to your partner and fostering intimacy and closeness.
Manually Stimulating the Male Body
Manual stimulation of the male genitals can be extremely pleasurable and can lead to orgasm in many males. Knowledge about the male anatomy and the most sensitive parts is essential to stimulating your partner in a comfortable, pleasurable way.
Penis shape and size vary widely among males. The glans, or the head, of the penis is the cone shaped structure at the tip. It is dense with nerve endings, causing it to be highly sensitive to stimulation. The foreskin is a thin flap of skin that completely covers the glans unless it is pulled back. Upon arousal and erection, the foreskin typically pulls back to expose the glans (as shown in the image above). Many males are circumcised at birth. Circumcision is a surgical procedure in which the foreskin is removed. There is no scientific evidence showing that removing the foreskin enhances or detracts from sexual pleasure. The corona is the piece of skin that separates the glans from the penis shaft and creates a ridge. The frenulum is the small strip of skin on the underside of the penis that runs from the glans to the shaft. It is one of the most sensitive areas of the penis and stimulation of the frenulum can be very pleasurable. The shaft is the long, cylindrical part of the penis that connects the glans to the base. It is made of tissue that fills with blood upon arousal as the penis becomes erect. Length and girth are variable and do not correspond directly to sexual pleasure. The scrotum is a loose sac of skin that hangs below the penis and holds both of the testes. The skin of the scrotum contains many erotic nerve endings that respond to stroking and cupping.7 The perineum is the piece of skin that connects the scrotum to the anus. Stroking the perineum can be extremely pleasurable during manual stimulation because this area is full of erotic nerve endings. Just as penis appearance varies widely among individuals, preferences for stimulation techniques is going to vary as well. The best way to find out what your partner finds pleasurable is to ask!
How To Manually Stimulate the Penis and Testicles
Manually stimulating the penis is also known as “giving a hand job” or “jacking someone off.” When done with plenty of lube, hand jobs can be a sexy element of foreplay or an erotic act itself. Many males can be manually stimulated to orgasm, although, as mentioned before, the focus of manual stimulation is to provide pleasure to your partner (whether or not it ends with an orgasm).
To begin, have your partner lie on his back. Start slowly by caressing the areas around the base of his penis, such as the hips and inner thighs. Moving slowly builds arousal and anticipation, making the sensations of manual stimulation even more pleasurable. You can also stroke or cup his scrotum or gently rub his perineum. When rubbing his perineum, use the pads or your finger tips or a knuckle so as not to scratch this extremely sensitive area. Then, gently rub some water-based lube on his penis. Be sure that there is enough lubrication present. If you do not have any personal lubricant on hand, saliva can be used. If there is not enough lubrication, the friction between your hand and your partner’s penis may cause discomfort and even pain. Then, firmly wrap your fingers around the shaft of the penis and move your fist up and down in a slow, steady motion.8 Some males may already be erect before beginning manual stimulation and others may become erect while being stimulated. Some males find changes in speed and pressure especially arousing while others may prefer repetitive stimulation. Look for physical indicators of pleasure such as thrusting or a growing erection. You can also ask your partner what kind of stimulation feels best.
Focusing on the most sensitive parts of the penis is another way to increase pleasure. Periodically massaging the frenulum and corona and then returning to stroking the shaft is a great way to increase pleasure and add some variety. You can also incorporate the other hand: while stroking the shaft with one hand, use the other hand to gently massage the scrotum and perineum.
Manually Stimulating the Anus
Anal play is any type of sexual activity involving the anus. Incorporating the anus into manual stimulation is completely normal, although not every person is comfortable with it. Before doing any sexual activity involving the anus, have a conversation with your partner about what each of you feels comfortable doing and receiving.
In order to stimulate the anus in a safe and pleasurable way, it is important to understand the anatomy of the anus. The anus is a short tube at the end of the rectum that is about two to three inches long. Two rings of muscles, known as the external and internal sphincters, control the opening and closing of the anus. Control of the external sphincter is generally voluntary while control of the internal sphincter is involuntary, meaning the individual is unable to control it. Complications with anal sex can arise if the two sphincters are too tense, which can make it difficult (and sometimes painful) for an object such as a finger to enter. Behind the two sphincters lie the anal passage, and then the rectum. Both the anus and rectum have the ability to expand and stretch, although they must be stretched slowly so that they do not tear. Like the penis and the vagina, the anus is full of sensitive nerve endings, which can make anal sexual activity very enjoyable for both males and females. Unlike the vagina, the anus does not expand during arousal (because it is not a sex organ), and thus the sensations of anal sex can be very intense. These sensations can be pleasurable if anal sex is practiced carefully and safely. Also, unlike the vagina, the anus does not produce natural lubrication. This lack of lubrication can cause the tissue of the anus to tear more easily, making penetration extremely uncomfortable and even painful. Copious amounts of personal lubricants on the finger as well as the anus is essential to comfortable and pleasurable anal penetration.
In males, the prostate gland can be stimulated through anal play, which many males find extremely pleasurable. The prostate is located behind the deepest portion of the penis, just below the bladder, about 3 to 4 inches inside the anus.9 The prostate gland is oftentimes referred to as the male G-spot and is believed to lead to or enhance orgasm when stimulated.
How To Manually Stimulate the Anus
Manually stimulating the anus is also referred to as “fingering.” Partners can finger each other during anal foreplay or as a buildup to anal sex, or it can be done solo as part of masturbation.10 Prior to penetration, take time massaging your partner giving them time to relax their muscles. Slide your finger along the anus until your fingertip is over the opening. Bend your fingertip, so that it catches on the internal border of the external anal muscle, and gently press your fingertip into the anal muscle. Hold that pressure for about 5 seconds. Then press the fingernail side of your finger in the other direction while keeping the same orientation of your finger to their body. For example, if your fingertip was pressing in the 6 o’clock direction, use the fingernail side to press in the 12 o’clock direction.10 Hold that pressure for about 5 seconds and then go back to 6 o’clock. Each time you change directions, you are slowly encouraging the anus to relax. As you move from one side to the other, slide in a tiny bit more every 2 or 3 times you change directions. By going slowly like that, it will be much easier for your partner to relax and be ready for penetration.10 When your finger is inside the external anal muscle, it will feel like a ring around your fingertip. To help the internal muscle open up, tickle it gently with your finger for about 30 to 45 seconds. The pressure and speed you want are the same as if you were tickling the tip of someone’s nose. If your partner’s body is ready for penetration, you will feel them open up and your finger will slide in. Once inside a little deeper, keep your finger stiff and press outward from the center of the anus to gently massage in different directions. You can gently vibrate your hand to create a sensation like a vibrator or slowly slide your finger in and out. As your partner relaxes, they might be ready for a second or even a third finger. Slowly slide the first one out, get plenty of lubricant on both fingers, and then slide back in.10
If your partner’s muscles tense at any point, pause and give them a moment to relax. It may happen if they are struggling to relax, the stimulation is too fast or deep, more lubricant is needed, or they have reached their limit. Communicate with your partner about what they want—you may need to be gentler, or they are ready to move on to a different activity.
Like fingering the vagina, it is important to remember that penetration is optional. Some individuals find touching the rim of the anus pleasurable while others enjoy varying degrees of penetration. For example, some find penetration of just one knuckle of one finger pleasurable while others prefer the intensity of two fingers inserted deeper into the anus. Throughout anal play, maintain open communication with your partner to find out what is pleasurable and what may be too much.
Stimulating the Prostate
For males, prostate stimulation can intensify orgasms. During sexual arousal, the prostate starts to fill up with fluid that it releases during ejaculation.9 Many males report that a prostate massage feels like the beginning of an orgasm and that orgasms that come from prostate stimulation feel bigger, more expansive, or more full-body. While some males enjoy prostate stimulation on its own, others need to include the penis in their pleasure.9
The easiest way to locate and stimulate the prostate is through anal penetration. Insert a well-lubricated finger into the anus and curl your fingertip up towards the naval. When a male is aroused, the prostate should feel like a ripe plum: firm, with a little give to it.9 Start by gently massaging the prostate, adding pressure depending on what your partner prefers. The prostate can also be stimulated by massaging the perineum. Less direct stimulation (i.e. external stimulation through the perineum) may result in less intense sensations. However, some males find penetrative prostate stimulation too intense and might prefer stimulation through the perineum. Additionally, prostate stimulation through the perineum may be preferred by individuals who are not comfortable with anal penetration.
Manual stimulation is a great way to increase intimacy with your partner. Whether or not manual stimulation results in an orgasm, there are many benefits to engaging in manual stimulation including decreased risk of pregnancy, stress relief, and reduced risk of contracting or spreading STIs. It is also a sexual behavior that can be used as foreplay leading up to penetrative sex. It is also a fun and pleasurable alternative to intercourse. We hope this article provides a comprehensive explanation of the many ways manual stimulation can be done. For more information about sex, health, and relationships, please explore our website. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to Ask the Sexperts!
- Krischer, Hayley. “7 Awesome Erogenous Zones.” WebMD.com. WebMD. n.d. Web. 14 April 2018.
- Kraft, Sheryl. “Erogenous Zones You Might Be Neglecting.” HealthyWomen.org. Healthy Women: National Women’s Health Resource Center, Inc. n.d. Web. 14 April 2018.
- “What are the parts of the female sexual anatomy?” PlannedParenthood.com. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. n.d. Web. 15 April 2018.
- Knudtson, Jennifer & Jessica McLaughlin. “Female External Genital Organs.” MarckManuals.com. Merck & Co., Inc. n.d. Web. 15 April 2018.
- “Digital Stimulation: A How To Guide.” SexTherapyInPhiladelphia.com. Sex Therapy in Philadelphia. n.d. Web. 16 April 2018.
- Gilmour, Paisley. “How to finger a girl *really* well.” Cosmopolitan.com. Hearst Communications, Inc. 23 Oct. 2017. Web. 16 April 2018.
- “Male Sexual Anatomy.” TheArousalProject.com. The Arousal Project. n.d. Web. 16 April 2018.
- “How Do I Give My Guy a Great Hand Job?” Cosmopolitan.com. Hearst Communications, Inc. 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 16 April 2018.
- “Prostate Play 101: A Guide on How To Find Your P-Spot.” bVibe.com. b-Vibe. 31 Oct. 2017. Web. 18 April 2018.
- “Getting Inside: The Ultimate Guide to Anal Fingering.” bVibe.com. b-Vibe. 27 July 2017. Web. 18 April 2018.
Last Updated: 6 May 2018.