Everything you ever wanted to know about masturbation, from the physical benefits to how it may help boost self-confidence & tips to make it work for you & your sexual wellness

Politics and finances are topics we now readily bring up in polite company. The thing we simply don’t discuss? Whisper it: masturbation.

According to statistics, around 27% to 40% of women and 41% to 65% of men masturbate each month, but with stigma still attached to self-pleasure, that may not be the full picture.

While conversations have opened up slightly on the subject, there continues to be an overall negative view of the practice.

“Understanding that sexual self pleasure is related to both sexual health and sexual wellbeing – and therefore a vital part of both our physical and emotional health – is incredibly important,” explains Dominnique Karetsos, co-founder and CEO of the Healthy Pleasure Group (HPG).

“We at HPG define healthy pleasure as sexual self-fulfilment. Beyond a person’s sexual behaviour, sexual self-fulfilment means having access to high standard sexual health information, education and care, while also recognising your right to sexual pleasure, satisfaction and intimacy, without fear of shame or embarrassment.”

The more people talk about sexual self-fulfilment and all of its facets, the less taboo it’ll become. So, with this in mind, here are the essential need-to-knows about masturbation, from its benefits to common myths. Plus, we ask sex positive influencer Lou Featherstone for her take on self-pleasure and her tips for getting more from this most intimate form of self-care.

What is masturbation?

Put simply, masturbation involves touching your genitals or other sensitive areas of the body for sexual arousal or pleasure.

The NHS describes it as a healthy and natural expression of your sexuality and pretty much the ‘safest’ sex you can have.

“It’s finding out what you love and embracing it,” says Lou. “It’s a time when you can be completely intimate with yourself and learn to love your body.”

What are the mental & physical benefits of masturbation?

Aside from feeling good, the healthy perks may also encourage you to get curious and explore yourself.

It can relieve stress

Self-pleasure can be a healthy stress release. Orgasms trigger the release of dopamine and oxytocin in your body – chemicals that create feelings of contentment and happiness, and may reduce the presence of the stress hormone, cortisol.

It may help aid a better night’s sleep

Masturbation has a similar relaxing effect if you’re having trouble sleeping, the experts at Hanx tell us.

As well as the increased levels of dopamine and oxytocin, the post-orgasm release of the chemical prolactin can cause a state of drowsiness and slumber.

It may help quell menstrual cramps

An orgasm releases the body’s natural pain relievers – dopamine and serotonin – so you can skip the hot water bottle by raising the temperature in a different way.

It can boost your self-confidence & sex drive

One study revealed how spending time on self-pleasure can boost confidence and sexual desire, as well as increasing satisfaction with your partner and sex life.

“Masturbation helps when having partnered sex as you can tell them what you love, rather than it being a guessing game for them,” says Lou.

“After many years of always putting my partner first and treating sex as a ‘performance’, I discovered more about my body and needs from masturbation and self-pleasure. I learned about my own body and its amazing abilities and gave myself the time I deserved, reconnecting with my sexuality in a way I didn’t think possible alone.”

It’s good for your vaginal health

Masturbation increases blood flow to the genitals, which is important as blood flow helps keep the vagina healthy. One study[1] showed using a vibrator can even help increase general sexual function.

It’s the safest sex possible

“Of course, [when masturbating] you’re missing the physical intimacy of another person, but you skip risking pregnancy (if that isn’t the plan) and STIs, so you get all the pleasure, without the worry,” says Lou.

The different types of masturbation

Put it this way: there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
• On your own: “Solo is pretty straightforward and arguably the most common. It involves just you and whatever you choose to assist,” says Lou. “It’s where you can be completely intimate with yourself.”

• With a partner: “Mutual masturbation involves masturbating solo or together with a partner present,” says Lou. “This can be a great way to learn what they love firsthand, watch what they do and what gets them off and replicate it. It can also be a great way to get intimate with no risks involved.”

• Hands only: “Using hands is typically how people start their masturbation journey and it’s a great way to learn about your body – inside and out,” says Lou.

Then there are sex toys: “There are many toys that can give your self-love session an extra buzz, including phallic, pulsating and vibrating,” explains Lou.

Tips for getting the most out of self-pleasure

• “Masturbation isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity,” says Lou. “Everyone is different and everybody is different.” However, research indicates that clitoral stimulation can be key for many in order to reach orgasm. Use a mirror if you need some help locating it.

• Find what works for you. You may want to “start with fingers and then start to experiment with vibrators and toys when you know what kind of sensations you enjoy in which area”, suggests Lou.

• “Stimulating all the senses helps,” explains Lou. “I treat masturbation sessions almost like a spa day. Run yourself a bath with oils and scents, light a candle, put some music on, get involved in the experience. It really does make a difference.”

• The sexperts at Hanx suggest setting aside 15 to 20 minutes, so you’re not rushing. If you’ve got somewhere to be, you’re running late or your flatmate is in the room next to you, you’re probably not going to be able to get in the zone. Find a time when you’re completely free and comfortable.

• Hanx also recommends a water-based natural lubricant. It can enhance the sensations you’re feeling, reduce friction and make it easier to reach the pace you prefer.

How often can it be beneficial to masturbate?

According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, there’s no “normal” frequency for masturbation. It depends on the person and, while some may masturbate daily, weekly, or monthly, others may choose not to masturbate at all. Providing a person doesn’t masturbate so much that it negatively affects their relationships or it interferes with their daily life, then any amount of time spent self-pleasuring is fine. 

5 self-pleasure picks to set the scene
Durex Naturals Water Based Pure Lubricant Gel

• Size: 100ml
• Water-based

• No added fragrance or colours

• pH friendly

With prebiotics and a pH-balanced formula to help maintain healthy skin balance when you’re getting intimate, this 100% natural and moisturising lube has no added fragrance or colours, so it’s kind to skin, while aiding a smoother experience.

Lelo 8 Function G-Spot Massager - GIGI 2

• 8 vibrating settings

• Ultra-smooth, sleek silicone

• Fully waterproof to a depth of one metre

• USB-rechargeable

• Suitable for adults

Gently curved and with a flattened tip that works in harmony with your anatomy, this Rolls Royce of sex toys targets your sensitive G-spot area with ultra-powerful vibrations in eight nerve-tingling settings. Its waterproof silicone exterior works in the bed or bath, so you can explore your pleasure wherever you feel most relaxed.

Lovehoney X Romp Switch Clitoral Suction Simulator

• 6 intensity levels

• Splashproof

• Run time: 300 minutes

• Suitable for adults

This clitoral stimulator harnesses Pleasure Air Technology, treating your clitoris to six tantalising intensity levels of sensation and allowing you to find out which vibration works best for you and your pleasure.

Westlab Mindful 100% Natural Bath Salts with CBD

• Size: 1kg

• Vegan-friendly

Scatter two to three generous, fragrant handfuls of these salts into your tub for a blissful bathing session that will help get you in the mood. The blend of magnesium-rich Epsom and Himalayan salts is infused with frankincense and bergamot essential oils to help you truly relax and emerge feeling calm and centred.

Sanctuary Spa Signature Collection Tri-Wick Scented Candle

• Triple wicked

If your mind’s wandering and relaxation is proving out of reach, try lighting a candle to help set the mood. Opening with a sparkling citrus accord, this candle’s fragrance transforms into an elegant floral heart and sensual base with delicately warm and musky tones – it’s the ultimate switch-off scent to help turn you on*.

*Never leave a burning candle unattended. Keep a burning candle out of reach of children and pets.