Everything You Need To Know About Mutual Masturbation

Photographed by Lula Hyers.
Sex doesn’t always have to be about giving or receiving — you can just do you, so to speak, and that’s still sex. It’s called mutual masturbation, and it can involve simply touching yourself with an audience, as well as touching a partner’s genitals with your hands or having your partner touch you (or all of these things at once). So why can it feel so intimidating?
For one thing, it can carry all of the taboo, or aura of privacy, secrecy, and shame, that can go along with masturbation. “There’s a lot of stigma around masturbation, even more so than sex, so people can have a lot of nervousness about showing their partner how they like to be touched,” says Allison Moon, a sex educator and author of Girl Sex 101. For another, it can feel really vulnerable. "Often, people have more anxiety touching themselves in front of their partner than having their partner touch them,” Moon says.
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Plus, sometimes it’s hard to remember mutual masturbation is even an option when penetrative sex is a possibility. But, taking the focus off of penetration can let you explore other sensations. And that kind of exploration can make all kinds of sex better. "Sharing mutual masturbation is very, very sexy, but it’s also a way for our partners to know what feels good to us: what it looks like, how we move our hands, how we move our bodies, what part of our bodies we concentrate on. It's a visual of what makes us get off,” says Ignacio Rivera, a.k.a. Papí Coxxx, a sex educator, author, performance artist, and porn star.
Within a relationship, mutual masturbation can be an option when you’re tired but want to feel sexually connected. It also can just be a quicker way to get off together, whether you’re in a relationship or not. Another bonus? "There’s not usually a lot of fluid exchange in mutual masturbation,” Moon says, so it’s great for safer sex.
It’s also easy to fit into your existing sex life. “You can do it in a variety of ways: You can use toys; you can use your hands; you can be creative with it as much as possible. There’s no 'one size fits all' when it comes to mutual masturbation,” says Ieshai Bailey, a certified sex therapist based in Florida who works with people of all genders and sexualities in lots of different relationship configurations.
Less intimidated? Here are some tips on how to get started with mutual masturbation. Even if you’re already doing this — and many people are — there’s always a new tip or trick that can take your mutual masturbation game to the next level.
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more here.
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Bring it up.

Sometimes, just bringing up a new sex act can feel awkward. Try openings like, “You know what would be hot?” or, “Can you show me how you make yourself come?” or, “I really want to see how you touch yourself.”

If having a direct conversation is too intimidating, try filling out a yes/no/maybe list, an all-inclusive chart of sexual acts, which could include mutual masturbation. You and your partner can fill it out separately and go over your answers together. Rivera says that a yes/no/maybe list can make talking about new acts easier, since it makes it a game. “You get to say ‘yes' to things, you get to say ‘maybe' and have a discussion about it, or you get to say ‘no' and ask questions but definitely not shame someone,” Rivera says.

If you already watch porn or read and share erotica, find some that features mutual masturbation, and see if your partner is into it. Or, in the middle of sex, you can guide a partner by starting off with them touching you, and then show them how you touch yourself, Rivera says. Of course, this all hinges on you gaining an understanding of what you like — so explore different ways of touching yourself. We recommend getting acquainted with your clit, if you have one, and trying various vibrator techniques.
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Share what turns you on.

Just like in any type of sex, "checking in before, during, and after is key,” Moon says. Ask about what kinds of touch your partner likes and doesn’t like. “This is a really good question to ask around penetration, too,” she says.

Also, ask which words partners use for their body parts. It means you won’t misgender someone, and makes for hotter dirty talk, because you can use the language that turns them on. “People find words very polarizing for their genitals, so if you come at me using the word 'pussy,' but I want you to call it a cunt, one of those words might really take the wind out of my sails,” Moon says.
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Set the scene.

"Before it happens, set the tone,” Bailey says. “When it’s time to do it, a lot of people may get shy or feel like it’s too much vulnerability for them to express to their partners.” Setting up the scene in advance can make everyone feel less shy in the moment. “Are you touching yourself? Are you talking to your partner? Are you sitting face-to-face in a chair, and the other person is looking at you while you’re doing it? Are you pleasing your other partner?” Bailey says.

One way to start is by emphasizing foreplay, and then bringing mutual masturbation into the mix. “Start off with concentrating on heavy foreplay, and then getting to a point where I would tell them it’d be really sexy if they could show me how they feel good, and then I’d show them as well,” Rivera says.
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Dive in.

For people with vulvas, start by cupping the vulva with your whole hand, using an even pressure and moving in slow circles, Moon writes in Girl Sex 101. (Cupping can also feel good for people with penises — just avoid pressure on the scrotum.) Once you’re warmed up, try using the pads of your fingers to circle the vestibule (the area between the labia minora and the vaginal opening) before moving to the clit. Pay attention to what types of touches feel good, and where, and with what pressure. Make different shapes and patterns, try circling the clit or stroking the shaft, and use lots of lube. (Check out our guides to masturbating with a clitoris and fingering a vagina for ideas on different types of touches, whether the clit is yours or someone else’s.)

For people with penises, just like in a blowjob, start by running your fingers up and down the shaft or in circles around the head. Give all the tissue attention — not only the penis, but also the scrotum, frenulum, perineum (taint), and, with permission, asshole. Use lube, and explore beyond jack-off motions, starting gently before moving to firmer touches or grips. What rhythms feel best or get the best response?

Gradually increase the intensity, and move in whatever ways feel good. Show off your love of double penetration, move your hips in that way that makes you want to come, or flick your partner's nipples with your tongue while your hands are elsewhere (depending on what they’re into). Don’t focus on the orgasm — focus on everything that comes before and after.
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Uncomfortable? Try role-play.

“Sometimes, we want to step outside of ourselves; that gives us permission to do things that are a little scary,” Rivera says. If you can’t get out of your head, try role-playing in someone else’s. "Create a scenario where the characters mutually masturbate for whatever reason, where mutual masturbation is the thing to do,” Rivera says. Not sure whether a partner’s into role-play? Go back to the yes/no/maybe list and add it.
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Have an R&D date night.

Whether you’re in a relationship or sleeping together semi-regularly, Moon recommends devoting an evening to research and development.

“R&D nights are all about one person receiving and one person giving,” Moon says. If a partner has gone through anything recently that might make their body respond differently to touch, or if you’re just not sure about sexual response, mutual masturbation can be a way to learn or relearn what works. “Someone can receive, and it’s not about getting them off; it’s about touching and figuring out what kinds of touch feel good in different ways, and saying, ‘Tonight, it’s all about you, babe.’”

The receiving partner can rank different touches on a scale of one to 10, and everyone can talk about how to make that number higher. "For people who might find themselves in a sexual rut or having a hard time learning about their partners’ bodies, R&D nights are a way to center together,” Moon says.
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Make it super easy to exchange feedback.

Once you’re in the middle of things, Moon says that, if you’re giving, “checking in can be as simple as: Do you like this? Do you want me to keep going? Do you want more lube? Do you want me to keep doing what I’m doing? Do you want me to move to a different place? Is this a good position for you?” Any question that can give clarity can help, and yes/no questions make it easier to get a clear response.

If you’re receiving, give feedback about what you like. "Even if it’s just when you’re doing it, giving a verbal cue that this feels good, or not right there, I like it when you touch me here. You and that person or persons explore that together,” Bailey says.

Feedback can also be a fun way to dirty talk. "Mutual masturbation is different for everyone, so you get to figure out if people like being completely silent, or if they like talking to help out. If someone needs a little help with visualization, try some nasty words," Rivera says. (Need some dirty talk inspiration? Check out our guide here.)
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