Rubbing one out, spanking the monkey, stroking the one-eyed trouser snake, jerkin’ the gherkin, finger painting, twirlin’ the pearl, tickling the taco…there are thousands of phrases for masturbation, and yet most people are afraid to talk about it. But not us! We’re here to answer all your questions about how to masturbate.
In this comprehensive guide to self-pleasure, we cover what masturbation is, how to do it (for both penis-havers and vulva/vagina-havers), some extra tips, and finally some solutions to common masturbation dilemmas. Let’s get down to it!
Note: We acknowledge that not everyone who has a penis identifies as a man, and not everyone who has a vulva/vagina identifies as a woman, so we have made an effort, where possible, to describe via genitals (i.e. “if you have a penis) as opposed to gender (i.e. “if you are a man”). We get that it’s female masturbation if you identify as female, and male masturbation if you identify as male, regardless of the parts involved.
What Is Masturbation?
Masturbation is, to put it simply, stimulating your own genitals for pleasure. It’s something most people do at least some point in their lives—there’s even some evidence to suggests that fetuses (of both sexes) masturbate in utero!
Masturbation also has a variety of benefits, including but not limited to:
- Relieving stress and promoting relaxation
- Improving sleep
- Promoting positive body image
- Helping you learn what feels good, which can help you have more satisfying sex with a partner
- Strengthening the pelvic floor
- Relieving menstrual cramps (for those with periods)
In spite of masturbation’s sundry benefits, you may have been told that it is shameful, wrong, or harmful. This is unfortunate, and also, in the case of masturbation’s supposed harms, untrue. You won’t get hairy palms, become sterile, go blind or insane, or ruin partnered sex forever through masturbation. So if you want to do it, do it with no fear!
And if you don’t know how to masturbate to get the most out of it, read on, friends.
How to Masturbate: 4 Steps to Self-Pleasure
And now: a four-phase plan for masturbation domination.
Step 1: Find Some Privacy and Time
If you’re gonna do this, it’s important that you have privacy and some free time. You won’t be able to relax if you’re worried someone might burst in at any moment or if you’re operating under a deadline. If you have your own bedroom (and a door with a lock), that’s a great option. If not, you might try a bathroom—even a private shower stall in a communal bathroom can work!
Step 2: Relax and Get in the Mood
Especially if it’s your first self-pleasure rodeo, it’s important that you make yourself feel especially relaxed, because feeling anxious, self-conscious, or stressed will inhibit your ability to feel sexual pleasure. You might want to take a nice warm bath or shower, turn on some sexy music, and/or think about (or look at) something sexy that makes you feel aroused. You can make your relaxation and arousal stage as elaborate or simple as you want—some people might want to take a bubble bath, put on some lingerie, light candles, and set up rose petals before they get to it, while others might be ready to go after a few seconds of picturing a hot celebrity in a steamy shower with them.
Step 3: Get to It!
Once you’re feeling relaxed, open, and aroused, start exploring your body. You don’t necessarily need to go right for your genitals—you can start by touching other sensitive parts of your body—your nipples, your buttocks, your abdomen, your thighs. See what feels good. Then, when you’re ready to move on to genital stimulation:
If You Have a Penis
Most people with penises masturbate by sliding their hand up and down the shaft of the erect penis. If you have a foreskin, you might use the skin to stroke the shaft. If you are circumcised, you may want to use something to lubricate the shaft so your hand slides more easily (many people use lotion, but you could also use a dedicated personal lubricant, baby oil, or vaseline). I advise you to avoid using anything that could irritate the sensitive skin of the penis, like soap or shampoo.
You might want to vary the rhythm, try different kinds of strokes, and/or use a different hand for some variety. Find out what feels good! You don’t have to just focus on the shaft, either. The head of the penis, the scrotum, and the perineum (the skin between the penis and the anus) are all very sensitive. In fact, you can massage the prostate through the perineum, which many people find pleasurable.
If You Have a Vulva
First, an anatomy note: many people refer to the entire complex of female genitalia as the vagina. In fact, the vagina is only the canal that leads inside the body to the uterus.
The name for the complete external female genitalia is the vulva. The vulva consists of several parts. The labia majora are the two “lips” of the vulva. Inside those lip are the labia minora, a second pair of lip-like tissue structures.
At the apex of the labia minora (so, on the side closer to your abdomen), is the clitoris, a small knob of extremely sensitive tissue covered with a hood of sensitive skin. The clitoris has more nerve endings than any other body part—male or female. Below this complex is the urethra, and below that is the vaginal entrance.
You may want to use a mirror to look at your genitalia if you never have before to get a feel for everything. You can also check out the diagram below.
- LM = labia majora
- VV = vulval vestibule
- Lm = labia minora
- C = clitoris
- U = urethra
- V = vagina
- H = hymen
- A = anus
Note there’s a large amount of variation between people, so don’t fret if it doesn’t look exactly like the picture above!
Most people with vulvas feel the most pleasure from clitoral stimulation. You may want to circle around the clitoris, stroke it diagonally, or tap it softly. Experiment with what strokes feel good, and how different fingers feel. If direct clitoral stimulation is too intense, you could try stroking it through the clitoral hood (the tissue around the clitoris). You might also get pleasure from stimulating the labia majora and the labia minora.
As you get aroused, your vagina will secrete fluids (meant to lubricate the vagina in the event of penetration) and blood will flow to the clitoris, causing it to become enlarged.
Some people also like the feeling of having something in their vagina as they masturbate. Don’t feel like you have to penetrate to be masturbating correctly, but if you do want to try it, start with something small, like a finger or a very small vibrator.
You may want to lubricate whatever you’re penetrating with. For your finger, a silicone or water-based lube is fine; for a toy, a water-based lube is probably your safest option as many toys have silicone and silicone-based lubes will degrade them. The tissues of the vagina are very sensitive, so be careful what you put in there! And for any toy that’s been put in any other orifices (yours or someone else’s), put a condom on it before putting it in your vagina. You can also use lube externally if you would like, to help you slide more easily along/around/across the clitoris and your other tissues.
You may have heard people talk about the “G-spot.” The G-spot is a spongy piece of tissue inside the front side of the vaginal canal. You can find the G-spot by inserting a finger in your vagina and curling the finger up—you should feel the sponginess. Some people find that stroking the G-spot is very pleasurable.
The bottom line, no matter what parts you have, is to do what feels good! That is the whole point of masturbation.
Step 4: A Note on Orgasms
An orgasm is a series of genital contractions accompanied by intense pleasure and the release of endorphins. It’s what people are talking about when they say they “come” or “cum.” It’s often considered the most intense part of the sexual experience. For most men/penis-havers, orgasm also causes the release of semen (ejaculation).
For some people, orgasm is the “goal” of masturbation—i.e., they masturbate explicitly seeking the release of orgasm. There are people who, with the right technique, can reach orgasm in around a minute!
But don’t feel like you have to orgasm (or set orgasm speed records) when you masturbate. It’s fine to work up to it, or stop when you’re tired, or whatever you feel comfortable with. In fact, putting too much pressure to bring yourself to orgasm may actually make it harder to do so, because a stressed and anxious brain is not an aroused brain. The more relaxed and comfortable you are, the easier it is to orgasm.
For those with penises, you will probably find that after you have an orgasm, you can’t get another erection for some time afterwards. This is called the refractory period, and it is normal.
For those with vulvas, you might be able to keep stimulating yourself after an orgasm and even have another orgasm (and another and another so on). Or you might feel like you’ve been sufficiently stimulated after one (or even zero). Have as many or as few orgasms as you are comfortable with. There’s no wrong or right when it comes to masturbation and orgasms—having or not having them.
Advanced Class: Masturbation Tips for Boys, Girls, and Humans of All Stripes
There’s far more than one way to do it! Different people get off on different things, and as it’s your body, you’re free to experiment with what gives you the most pleasure.
Here are some other things you may want to consider as you become a pro at self-pleasuring:
Variation 1: Time of Day
You might experiment with masturbating at different phases in the day (assuming the logistics are feasible!) For example, some find that masturbating just before bed promotes a good night’s sleep, while others find that a morning self-love session helps them start out the day invigorated and ready to go.
Variation 2: Method
If you want to introduce something new into your masturbation mix, consider trying a new technique or using a toy or device. Those with vulvas in particular may enjoy an external vibrator on the clitoris or the stimulation of water from a detachable showerhead. Get a vibrator with multiple settings for your first one, though, because you may find that just a little vibration goes a long way! You can also start by using the vibrator outside your underwear to dull the vibrations if the initial sensation is too strong.
Variation 3: Positions
You might also want to try masturbating in a variety of positions. If you normally do it sitting, try standing; if you normally stand, try laying down. And so on. You may discover something new!
Variation 4: Porn
Some people like to look at sexual images or videos or read sexy books to get in the mood. This is perfectly normal, and as with most things, safe in moderation. It’s worth noting that most porn is not a particularly realistic portrayal of actual sex, but it’s not meant to be.
If porn is interfering with your personal relationships or professional and academic commitments, you may need to seek help from a therapist or other professional to discuss your coping strategies. Otherwise, have at it!
If you’re just discovering masturbation, you probably have a lot of questions based on what you’ve heard about from your friends, TV, or movies.
See below for no-nonsense answers to common masturbation questions and dilemmas.
If I Do <Blank>, Am I Normal?
Lots of people worry that a specific masturbation behavior makes them a weirdo. Folks, just so long as whatever you’re doing doesn’t pose a danger to you or others, however you’re getting yourself off is fine and nothing to feel weird about. Everyone’s body (and brain) is different—so everyone is going to have their own unique style of self-pleasure. This is part of what makes human sexuality so exciting!
Am I Masturbating Too Much?
Only you can really answer this question, but you’re probably NOT masturbating too much. Unless masturbation is interfering with your personal relationships or your ability to meet professional and academic obligations, you’re fine—whether you’re wanking once a month or three times a day.
There isn’t really a guideline for how much is normal—different people really do have different sexual needs (aka different “libido” levels). Go with what your body tells you.
If you do think masturbation is taking over your life, you might want to discuss it with a therapist or counselor.
Am I Doing This Right?
The important question isn’t whether you’re doing it “right,” but whether or not it feels good. If it does feel good, then keep on truckin’! If it doesn’t, try to switch up your technique. You might try a new stroke, using a vibrator or other device, or adding lube.
If it feels like nothing is working, you may just be too stressed or anxious to really feel aroused. This may especially be true if masturbation makes you feel ashamed or guilty.
Help! Masturbation Makes Me Feel Guilty.
Many of us were shamed for masturbation growing up, whether by our parents, religious figures, or other sources. If this is the case, you may find yourself feeling guilty or ashamed post-masturbation.
Know that masturbation is a perfectly normal and healthy sexual behavior. But if you are feeling really uncomfortable, you might want to talk to a therapist or counselor to help unpack your feelings about masturbation (and probably sexuality more generally).
I Can’t Orgasm!
As with many things, learning to orgasm from masturbation takes practice. If you find yourself having trouble getting there, you could try different techniques, using different parts of your hand or different fingers, lube, or a vibrator. If you can find something that really gets you going, you will be able to get there eventually with a little patience.
It’s important to realize that (once again) different people have different thresholds for orgasm. Some people can come really easily, whereas others take a bit more work. Don’t be stressed by what you’ve come to expect from other people.
It also helps to not be overly focused on orgasm as a goal. Getting frustrated or anxious about your lack of orgasm will chase the orgasm away! It’s really critical that you are able to fully relax and let go. Try to just enjoy the sensations without worrying too much about reaching some kind of goal.
Can I Injure Myself Masturbating?
If you are wondering if masturbation can make you blind, insane, or any other extreme consequences, the answer is a resounding no. Typical masturbation methods will not put your body at risk.
That said, there are some (minor) injuries/physical consequences that could result from masturbation:
If you use a lube that doesn’t fully agree with the sensitive skin of your genitals, or if you are using a particularly vigorous rubbing technique, you could chafe or irritate your genital skin. If this happens, your best bet is to wear loose, breathable underwear and keep any harsh cleansers or products away from the skin for several days. Soaking in a warm (not hot) bath with no soap or other products in it can also provide some relief. Some people also find an application of aloe vera to be soothing, but be sure to test on your wrist to be sure you don’t have any itching, redness, or other reaction before applying to genitals.
If you use a lot of pressure, particularly with a vibrator, it is possible to bruise the area around your genitals. In this case, leave the area alone for a few days so the bruise can heal. You can also ice the area for relief.
If you are using toys that have been in someone else’s body, or in another orifice of your own body, and it hasn’t been properly cleaned, you can get an infection. Be sure to keep all toys cleaned and stored in a clean, dry place. If sharing toys, always use a condom.
This isn’t so much an injury, but it’s also possible to build up a tolerance to the vibrations from a vibrator, such that stimulation from something other than a vibrator stops bringing you to orgasm. If this has happened to you, don’t panic—if you lay off the vibrator for a couple of weeks and go totally manual, your baseline level of sensitivity will return! (This is something you might be concerned about particularly if you are also having partnered sex).
Can Masturbating Too Hard Desensitize My Penis?
There is an urban myth that masturbating with too hard of a grip will lead to “death grip syndrome,” wherein having an orgasm without masturbating becomes impossible (harkening back to the common “masturbation ruins partnered sex” myth).
Is this possible? Sort of, but mostly no. It’s theoretically possible that if you masturbate only in a highly specific way (a particular grip, speed, etc) such that only that specific kind of stimulation works for you, you may have trouble reaching orgasm with a partner. If you are worried that this is happening to you, introduce some variety into your masturbation routine so you don’t become overly reliant on a particular sensation.
However, it’s far more likely that if you are having trouble reaching orgasm during partnered sex that something else is going on. It could be a medication side effect, an anxiety issue, or a host of other very common medical concerns that have nothing to do with masturbation.
If you are having trouble maintaining an erection or with reaching orgasm during sex, go to a doctor, because it almost certainly has nothing to do with masturbation and can be addressed by a professional.
If I Put <X Object> Into My Vagina, Am I Still a Virgin?
The short answer is yes. Typically, people define virginity as “not having had sex with another person.” If you haven’t had sex with another person, then in common understanding, you are still a virgin.
Here’s the long answer: some people believe (mistakenly) that having an “intact” hymen is what makes a person with a vulva a virgin. The hymen is a thin membrane of tissue that sits just inside the vaginal opening and partially covers the vaginal canal. Every hymen is different—some have more or less tissue there. Some people have a hymen with lots of little holes; others have a hymen with just one slit-like opening in the center, some barely have a hymen at all!
When the vagina is penetrated, the hymen stretches out. If you have thicker or more prominent hymenal tissue, initial penetration may cause your hymen to tear, which may cause a small amount of bleeding, but in general, the hymen is only stretching, not tearing. Regular penetration causes the hymen to stay stretched out, although it can tighten up again over time if the vagina is not penetrated for some time.
The hymen can also stretch (and even partially erode away) from a variety of regular everyday activities, including athletics and putting in tampons. So, your hymen does not = your virginity.
I can’t define for you exactly what losing your virginity means—that’s something you have to decide for yourself. But the bottom line is that mere act of putting a finger, tampon, or toy in your vagina yourself does not somehow take away your virginity.
I Don’t Actually Want to Masturbate. Is That Normal?
Yes! Don’t feel like you have to want to masturbate. Everyone has a different libido and relationship to their own sexuality. So if you don’t feel the urge to self-pleasure, there’s no need to feel weird about it.
The Bottom Line on Solo Strumming
Masturbation, or the self-stimulation of the genitals for pleasure, is very normal and a healthy sexual behavior. It can relieve stress and help you get comfortable with your body and sexuality.
There aren’t any one-size fits all rules for how to masturbate (other than “Enjoy yourself!”), but if you aren’t sure where to start, try the following steps:
- Find privacy and time
- Do something to feel relaxed and aroused
- Touch yourself—take your time and see what feels good.
- Orgasm as many or as few times as you wish.
When you get more masturbation experience, you might consider introducing new positions, techniques, and toys into your self-love sessions.
The most important things to remember, though, is that it should feel good and there’s nothing wrong with it!