Illustration: D’Ara Nazaryan

The Pleasure Principle

10 Things a Sexologist Wants You to Know About Masturbation

Self-pleasure is a revolutionary act

This article is part of The Pleasure Principle, ZORA’s ultimate guide to solo sex, self-pleasure, and self-love. Take our Sex Survey to share your experiences.

Who says spending time alone has to be boring?

As we all reckon with the very real (and very depressing) possibility of spending more time in quarantine and socially distant isolation, now is as good a time as any to spend some time really getting to know yourself. And what better way to do so than engaging in some solo self-play?

“One of the many benefits of masturbation is an increased sense of self,” says Shamyra Howard, a New Orleans-based licensed clinical social worker, therapist, sexologist, and relationship expert. “[Solo sex] fills us with relaxation, we experience less stress, we’re more motivated, we feel good, we’re more in tune to the things around us, and we’re more likely to seek out other pleasure-inducing activities.”

But this is about more than just spending a couple of feel-good minutes in bed. Intimate alone time should leave you more feeling educated about your body and more empowered about what makes you feel satisfied in and out of the bedroom.

“A lot of people when they hear self-pleasure, they automatically think of masturbation, and that is an all-time favorite form, but if we’re really going to talk about self-pleasure as it relates to Black women, we need to talk about engaging in activities that are satisfying to you. It’s all about giving yourself permission to do things that feel good,” Howard says.

Making your self-satisfaction a priority takes practice, and thankfully, Howard has provided a step-by-step guide of tricks to try and things to remember to make your pleasure a #1 priority.

Take yourself on a date

Before you jump into bed, Howard recommends taking some time to woo yourself and get to know yourself intimately.

“It all begins with a deeper sense of self that comes from exploration. The more we explore ourselves, the more we learn about ourselves. So start with meditating on the things that you like outside of sex,” our sexologist suggests. “If you’re a person with a vulva, make sure you have a date or two or 10 with yourself. Get a mirror, make sure you’re looking at your vulva, explore it, see what the parts are. Really get to know yourself.”

Don’t rush!

“Before you even touch your vulva, start from the top of your head because that’s where pleasure is going to start flowing from first. Give yourself a scalp massage; allow yourself to get relaxed,” Howard recommends. “Then you want to move your hands down to your temple, down your neck, maybe down to your throat area, put your fingertips into your chest, move over your breasts, rub your stomach in a circular motion, all while paying attention to how this feels with no expectations.”

Remember: You’re taking this time to warm yourself up and get yourself ready for more eroticism. Anticipation is the name of the game.

Orgasm is the icing on the cake, but you don’t need to have an orgasm to have a pleasurable sexual experience.

Comfort is key

No need to whip out the heavy-duty toys just yet! Starting with your hands is a good method to learn more about your body as you play. Howard walks us through it:

“You want to just rest your hands on your mons, the area above the vulva where the most hair grows. You want to massage that area. And then you can move down to your vulva area and the labia area. What does it feel like? What’s the texture, what’s the temperature, what feels good? If you want to stop there, you can. Or you might want to move toward the pleasure palace which is the clitoris and see how much pressure and stimulation you need to orgasm.”

What you want to do is become very curious about your own body and pay attention to your own body cues and the texture, temperature, pressure, and pleasure that you’re giving yourself.

Engage all five senses

Do you find yourself too distracted to really enjoy solo play? You can bring yourself back to the present moment by tuning into your five senses.

“If you are in the moment and an intrusive thought pops up like ‘Oh my gosh! I forgot to cook the cornbread for dinner!’ then you can go back to your senses: What am I feeling? What’s the pressure? What am I smelling; is there a candle lit? Engaging all senses allows your experience to be heightened.”

And just because you’re playing by yourself doesn’t mean you can’t get a little kinky. “You can even remove some senses,” Howard adds. “For instance, if you’re engaging in solo sex and you decide to blindfold yourself or use earplugs or allow ice to melt and drip, anything to bring you back to the present moment.”

Orgasm is not the goal

“If you’re going to have a goal for masturbation, allow it to be to experience all the pleasure you can get out of the encounter you’re engaging in,” Howard advises. “Orgasm is the icing on the cake, but you don’t need to have an orgasm to have a pleasurable sexual experience.”

Every time you experience pleasure, you are inciting a revolution.

There’s no wrong way to play

“If you like masturbating by putting a pillow between your legs and rubbing your legs together or you like sitting on top of a washing machine or sitting in the tub and letting water just really plummet down on the clitoris, then that is the way you like it,” Howard says. “As long as it’s not something that’s causing you any pain or harm, as long as you’re doing things that are safe for your body, there’s no wrong way to play.”

Play it safe!

While you don’t want to put any limits on your sexual pleasure, you also want to make sure that you’re keeping yourself safe. Howard has the following recommendations:

“You want to make sure before you try anything new or kinky that you do some research so you know exactly what you’re doing and what you’re going to need in order to care for yourself. Make sure that you’re using body-safe materials. Make sure to use condoms (yes, even in solo play!) and know which lube to use with which toys. Make sure that if you’re engaging in any kind of anal play that you’re using items that have a flared base so nothing gets stuck in your butt, and make sure that you’re not switching toys from the vagina to the anus or the rectum.”

And of course, be sure to wash your hands before and after!

Good sex shouldn’t hurt

Don’t get discouraged if things don’t feel right if it’s your first time. Remember, this is all about learning what your body needs.

“Unfortunately, our male-dominated society has taught us that it’s okay, that we’re supposed to feel pain during sex, especially if it’s the first time. It might feel different or awkward or uncomfortable, but you should not experience pain,” says Howard. “If you’re experiencing pain in solo sex, you want to make sure you tune into that pain, and if it persists, you should see a gynecologist and talk about that. After you have more information about it, try again.”

There’s power in reclaiming your pleasure.

Ask an expert

If you’re still feeling a bit unsure, Howard recommends seeking the help of a professional, like a gynecologist or even a sex therapist.

“Everyone can benefit from a sex therapist or therapy in general (because) our sex life is directly correlated to our overall health and wellness,” she says. “If you go to a sex therapist, you can have someone to help break things down to you and help you uncover more about yourself so you’ll be able to show up and teach other people how to show up for you as well.”

Self-pleasure is a revolutionary act!

Remember, you’re doing more than just playing; you’re teaching yourself how you want to be treated and how you want to show up in the world. Seriously!

“If you think about what Black women have historically been taught about ourselves and our bodies and how we’re not supposed to show up as sexual beings or how [sex] is supposed to be about our cishet male partners, you will understand how much power there is in reclaiming your pleasure, and you’ll allow masturbation and pleasure to show up as a revolutionary act,” Howard says. “Every time you experience pleasure, you are inciting a revolution, you are experiencing a revolutionary act.”

We want to hear from you! Take the ZORA Solo Sex Survey to share your experiences with self-pleasure.

Senior Platform Editor @ZORAmag | book lover | fangirl | Black woman | Terp

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