This article was originally written for the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. It has been retitled to reference the great Cyndi Lauper.
Masturbation can be broadly defined as sexually pleasuring one’s self. Masturbation can include but is not limited to stimulation of body parts, fantasizing, watching pornography, reading erotica, using sex toys, and experiencing pain, pleasure, and/or orgasm for the purposes of sexual pleasure.
Masturbation of the genitals can be internal or external; there is no right way to masturbate the physical body. It can also use nothing more than imagination and fantasy. You may find yourself lost in a stimulating daydream, turning yourself on without physical stimulation.
Masturbation may start very early in life, going so far back that you do not even remember when you started. It may also start later in life, such as when reaching puberty, or when exploring with a partner or object. Everyone starts at a different time in a different way.
Orgasm is not the end-all-be-all of masturbation (or sex, for that matter). I did not orgasm while masturbating by hand until I was 22; for me, orgasm through masturbation was only possible when using toys, which I did not own until I was 19. Touching myself simply felt really good, and I loved taking the time to just fantasize and daydream and touch myself.
Experiencing masturbation can be very empowering, giving a sense of independence because you rely on yourself for pleasure, and don’t have to worry about feeling shamed by someone else for your turn ons and fantasies. It can help you get to know and appreciate your body as well as associate positive feelings with it. Being comfortable with your body is essential to decreasing sexual anxiety so that you can focus on increasing sexual satisfaction. This sexual independence can be excellent for cultivating body positive feelings, which can increase confidence.
There is no right way to masturbate. You can be submissive or dominant in masturbation, dirty talk to yourself, touch yourself, daydream, feel your body’s reactions to your thoughts. You can use sex toys to help you get off or imagine yourself in certain role-playing situations. Always remember that your brain is your biggest sex organ; you don’t even have to touch yourself to experience sexual pleasure.
While generally known to be a solo activity, masturbating with a partner, or mutual masturbation, can be highly rewarding. You can teach your partner(s) how you each like to be touched or turned on while building your confidence and easing performance anxiety. Masturbation also provides a sexual outlet when your partner(s) prefer not to participate or are unavailable for sexual activity. Mutual masturbation will not lead to pregnancy or (depending on who is masturbating who, how, and with what barriers) sexually transmitted diseases.
Positive sexual attitudes as well as orgasmic capacity have been linked to masturbation. The only downside to masturbation is the guilt and shame associated with it from disapproving members of society. However, positive portrayals of masturbation can be found in various media, including television shows and movies.
In Pleasantville, people are living their lives in a black and white tv world. As the people begin to challenge their normality, they become technicolor. A main character pleasures herself through masturbation, and changes from a black and white television character to a technicolor person, who sees the complexity of life.
In Sex and the City, Samantha doesn’t allow others to shame her for her sexuality. When her favorite vibrator quits, she sets out to get it replaced, and in so doing, meets other customers shopping for vibrators. She gives her opinion on each of the toys, allowing the other customers to make more informed decisions for their benefit.
Masturbation has been linked to increased physical and mental health through pleasure, building self esteem, and helping with tension and stress release. It allows for relaxation, can help with falling asleep, and even plays a part in pain reduction. Sexual arousal takes priority in the brain over pain, with the release of endorphins acting as natural opiates by reducing pain. This is part of the reason why sex and masturbation are highly recommended for vagina owners who are on their period; not only can period pain be relieved through masturbation, but orgasmic contractions allow blood to discharge from the uterus, which periodically eases congestion and cramping.
Many people believe that sexual activity should be strictly limited to reproduction and marriage. Masturbating is regarded as taboo by so many people, and I have never understood why. While my chronic illnesses often made me feel out of control, my experience of sexual pleasure was always up to me, something I had complete control of.
Always remember that no matter what your religion or other beliefs, you have the right to sexual consent. You are the owner of your body, and have the right to decide how to approach the sexual activity of your body. Your parents, your lover, your family, your friends have no right to make decisions about your personal sexual consent concerning masturbation. Sexual activity with a partner may be limited by the law in certain situations, but masturbation is completely your own.