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In 2021, there are myriad ways to masturbate. There are toys that suck, whirr, and pulsate. There are shower heads, strap-ons, and even jewellery that doubles as a vibrator. But sometimes, the best thing you can do for your erogenous zones is take it back to the basics. Yes, we mean getting hands on, and touching yourself without sex toys.
“This is a great way to explore the whole body, and get in touch with what you like,” explains Holly Richmond, PhD, a somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist. “I love, love, love sex toys, but there are so many avenues towards pleasure… Wanting to touch yourself with your hands is natural in every sense of the word.”
Pleasuring yourself without sex toys is also a great way to figure out what turns you on, says Myisha Battle, certified sex and dating coach. “We could all benefit from becoming more versed in what works for our specific body, and this is a way to do that," she says.
If you're used to using a toy to masturbate, or if you don't have much experience touching yourself at all, getting started can be intimidating. Thankfully, experts have some great rules of thumb (er, hand) for exploring what feels good for you.
Set the mood
Once you get started, you'll know intuitively what feels best to you. But it's easier to pick up on your body's cues if you're already turned on when you're touching yourself, Battle says.
You can do whatever you normally do to set the mood. Listen to sexy music or erotica, pull out a romance novel, cue up your favourite porn, or simply dim the lights, fire up a candle you love, and slip into something that makes you feel sexy (even if that's just your sheets).
Explore your body
When you start to touch yourself, think outside of the usual hot spots. “I tell my clients to explore their whole body. Most people tend to speed ahead to the genitals, but the whole body has erogenous zones," Richmond says. She suggests starting with a scalp massage. Then touch your ears, neck, mouth, nipples, and hips.
Once you make your way below the belt, continue teasing yourself. Touch yourself without immediately hitting your most sensitive areas, and without penetration, Richmond adds. "You're seeing what feels good," she says. “Oftentimes one side of the labia is more sensitive than the other, for example."
Even after you spend some time on the genitals, keep moving. "I also suggest just going down the legs," Richmond says. "Some people really get erotic pleasure from feet, too. So my advice: Start from top to toe.”
Take it slow
When using a sex toy, people often go right for the bang, pow, ooooooh my God. “If you have a toy you like, it’s probably because it’s giving you the type of stimulation you know you want, and it’s relatively easy to get from low-grade turned on to orgasm," Battle says. "With manual stimulation, you’re probably going to incorporate more of a build up than you would with a toy.”
In other words, this is not the time for a self-love quickie. The journey from deciding to masturbate to having an orgasm will take longer. That's not a bad thing or a sign that something is wrong; in fact, that's one of things many people learn to love about accessory-free masturbation.
Experiment with the most sensitive spots
If the clitoris was an astrological signs, it'd be Cancer. That’s because it's extra sensitive. So is the glans. The clit has 8,000 nerve endings, says Richmond. The head of the penis has 4,000.
To start, use your fingers to touch areas around the clit or penis head, rather than right on it. Try pressing your index and middle fingers onto the outside of the labia majora (the outer lips) over the clitoris and rubbing in a circular, up-and-down, or back-and-forth motion. Or use your hand to rub the lower shaft of the penis rather than the head. Experiment with pressure and speeds, Richmond says.
You can also try grinding against a pillow. You can straddle one lengthwise, tilting it so it's pointing up toward your butt (rather than up toward your belly button). "If the pillow tilted downwards, it will rub more against the labia and entire vulva rather than directly on the clitoris," Richmond says.
Some people with a super-sensitive clitoris may find that vaginal penetration works best to get them off, since it stimulates their clit indirectly, so experiment with putting your fingers inside you too.
If this all feels good and you're comfortable trying a more direct touch, go for it. You can always back off if you don't like the way it feels. Separate your labia majora and minora, and find your clitoris with your fingers. Experiment with what feels best — pressing down on it with the pads of your fingers or your palms, using your fingertips to rub in a wide circle around it, rubbing up and down over it. "While stimulating you can use your index finger on the clitoris, and insert the middle finger into the vagina," Richmond suggests. "Or use your other hand for dual pleasure — one on the clitoris, one for penetration."
People with penises can do the same with the glans. Squeeze it, use your hand to stroke it as though you were opening a doorknob, or rub it in an up and down motion.
“Many people don’t think to use lube for solo sex, but it can be equally — or differently — sensation-enhancing,” says Dulcinea Pitagora, PhD, an NYC-based psychotherapist and sex therapist who uses the pronouns they/them.
If you don’t have lube on hand, they say it’s advisable to do some research on whether it’s safe to use whatever oils or lotions you do have, before using them to masturbate.
Mix it up with positions
For some people, position matters almost as much as touch. Richmond recommends trying a few different ways of sitting and lying to find the one that feels best. “If you’re new to masturbating, I'd recommend you lay on your back, grab a mirror if you’ve never seen yourself before, and really explore what you’re touching,” she says.
Other positions to try: “Lying on your back, your side, your stomach — that can be great if the grinding motion feels better for you,” Richmond says. Experiment with your legs open wide, or held closely together, or elevated. Try it standing, in the bathtub, leaning against a wall. You may be surprised by what you like.
Use the Internet
Porn, erotic podcasts, literotica — all of that can be great. But nowadays, there are some really creative resources online designed to help people learn to masturbate. We're thinking of apps like Dipsea, which Battle says is akin to the Headspace of getting turned on. It offers guided arousal “meditations.” You'll be led through pleasure-inducing moves while the teacher helps you focus on the sensations in your body. The app has a library of erotic audio stories to listen to, too.
Battle also recommends the website OMGyes, which teaches people how to mimic masturbation patterns that have been scientifically shown to stimulate orgasm.
Don’t make the big O your end game
Masturbation (like partnered sex) doesn’t have to end in orgasm. As Pitagora puts it: “It can simply be about pleasure, self-love, and self-exploration.” If you’re someone who has a preferred toy, you may find it harder to orgasm from touch alone at first. Richmond says this is not because your body is less sensitive now or can't reach orgasm without an accessory, but because you've just gotten used to one specific method. At first, you might feel frustrated, but remember: It's about the process, not the O.
If you're not getting off, Battle recommends asking yourself: Am I in a good headspace? Do I feel relaxed, or am I stressed? Am I doing this because I want to relieve that stress, or because I’m turned on? Stress and pressure are surefire libido killers. While a strong vibrator could be enough to get you there even if your head isn't in the game, it may be harder to override your mind when you're using your hands alone.
“People want to have orgasms for many reasons,” Battle says. “But if they go into it with the explicit desire to have one, it can become difficult. Goal-oriented sex of any kind is not as pleasurable. So you have to go in with an open mind… When you’re using your hands, remember: This is for me. It's something that makes me feel good.”