By Anthea Levi
Maybe masturbation is a regular part of your sex life and you do it so often you never give it a second thought. Or you don’t do it nearly as often as your body wants you to, but you want to work it into your routine. Whatever your situation, getting busy with yourself is something all women should embrace as normal and healthy—though not everyone is comfortable with the idea of it.
“It’s an age old problem of societal normalization,” says Holly Richmond, PhD, somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist. “Boys are brought up to think masturbation is the norm, but it’s not talked about for girls.” That’s a real shame, especially since self-stimulation can deliver a host of mind-body benefits. To set the record straight, we’ve rounded up 9 fascinating facts every woman needs to know about masturbation. Start reading… then show yourself some love.
Women in their late 20s masturbate the most
Millennials in this age bracket are the most likely to say they masturbate, at least. Indiana University’s most recent National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that 72% of women ages 25 to 29 lent themselves a hand at least once in the past year. (Guys in the same age group also had the highest rates of masturbation as well, at 84%.) For comparison, only 60% of 18- and 19-year-old women and just 47% of women between 60 to 69 reported having a menage a moi.
Yet 20% of women have never done it
Another 2015 survey found that approximately 22% of women said they’d never masturbated. Like, ever.
More men do it than women—and this might be why
An average of 81% of men between ages 18 and 49 said that they’ve masturbated alone at least once in the past year, according to the Indiana University survey. What’s behind the masturbation gender gap? One theory has it that since boys touch themselves every time they pee, they grow up with less reservations about touching down below for pleasure.
Body image issues may also explain it. “Women tend not to compartmentalize things when it comes to their body image,” explains Richmond. “So depending on how she feels about her body, she may be more or less likely to masturbate.”
Masturbation can improve your sex life
A longstanding myth has it that having orgasms via solo sex will make it harder for you to climax during intercourse. “It’s actually the opposite,” says Richmond. “The more you masturbate, the more sex you’re going to want to have.”
Why’s that? Orgasms (including those you give yourself) stimulate the release of sex hormones, increase blood flow down below, and get your brain in the mood to get busy. Plus, practice makes perfect. In other words, you’ll be more likely to reach orgasm during sex with a partner when you know exactly the kind of touching and stroking your body needs to get there, adds Richmond.
Additional evidence that solo sex leads to more sex: Research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that women who reported masturbating in the last four weeks were actually more likely to have had intercourse in the last month.
It’s good for other health issues too
Just like regular intercourse, sex with yourself delivers serious health benefits—from reduced menstrual pain (thanks to a release of endorphins) to lower stress levels to improved sleep. There’s even some evidence that masturbation might increase the release of disease-fighting white blood cells, making it possibly the hottest cold remedy we’ve ever heard of.
Masturbation helps mental health
“Masturbating can release feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine, which give you a rush of pleasure,” explains Richmond. “If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, this wash of good feelings can act as a distraction and take your mind off whatever is bothering you.” Masturbating works like mindful meditation, keeping you from focusing on the future and instead anchoring you into the present moment.
There are endless ways to self-pleasure
No one has done a study that we know of, but anecdotally speaking, it seems that every woman has a different way of doing it. “I’m still hearing about new ways women masturbate!” Richmond says. Some women rely on vibrators, pillows, or the stream of water coming from a shower head or bathtub faucet. “Lots of women find this pleasurable because they are so relaxed while they do it,” she explains. “Getting in the bath and luxuriating a bit helps bring sensuality into the experience.” Plus, you’ll never have to replace the batteries in your faucet.
Some women recline on their backs, others on their stomachs; some touch inside the vagina while others keep their hand (or two) on the vulva or clitoris, she adds. There’s no right way—and experimenting can help you find what works for you.
Just don’t masturbate in public—it’s illegal
We’re all for hands-on action, but keep it behind closed doors, please. There are federal laws against obscene behavior in public, and no matter how good it is for you, masturbation definitely counts as far as law enforcement is concerned.
Sentencing can vary depending on how and where you were caught self-stimulating. One Cincinnati woman pulled over for masturbating while on the road was charged with a misdemeanor of driving under “impaired alertness.” At Oregon State University, a female student faced a fine of $6,250 and up to one year in jail after she released a video of herself masturbating in the campus library.
Views on female masturbation are changing (for the better!)
In a candid 2017 interview with Bust, actress Gina Rodriguez admitted she used to feel guilty about masturbating. These days? Not so much. “It’s okay to look back in retrospect and be like, it wasn’t good that I felt bad about touching myself,” Rodriguez said.
The Jane the Virgin star isn’t the only one who has come to embrace female masturbation. According to Richmond, popular culture is driving the idea that self-pleasure isn’t for men only; she credits the Sex and the City episode about the rabbit vibrator with putting jilling off in the spotlight. “That was a major moment in mainstream television where people saw women masturbating.”
Since then, female masturbation has taken center stage off screen too. “Now we have writers, gynecologists, sex therapists, and psychologists all taking about and understanding the benefits of masturbation,” says Richmond. The upshot of all that talk? “When women know their bodies better, they can have better sex, both with themselves and with partners.”