I asked one of my favorite sex therapists everything you wanted to know about masturbation, from how it can make you better at sex, to if jerking-off actually makes your vagina tighter. Hmm… By Karley Sciortino.
This article was created in partnership with TENGA.
Exciting news: May is National Masturbation Month (Slutever’s favorite month, obviously). If you’re just finding this out now, then you have a lot of celebratory jerking-off to catch up on.
In honor of the non-sacred (yet oh-so-heavenly) pastime of self-pleasure, I had a particularly sexy conversation with Dr. Chris Donaghue—a doctor of clinical sexology and human sexuality, as well as a sex therapist and author—about the benefits of jerking-off, and how being a skilled masturbator can make you better at sex. It was so exciting for me to talk to Dr. Donaghue, because his book Sex Outside the Lines was very influential to me—it made me feel like it was OK to be my kinky horny self, and that contrary to popular belief, being a perv makes you interesting, not gross. Who knew? So, if you ever felt like you needed a reason to jerk-off, read on.
Karley: A big message that I took from your book Sex Outside the Lines is that there’s no such thing as “normal” when it comes to sex. Being a sex therapist, do people often come to you wanting to know what’s “normal” in terms of masturbation?
Chris: I always try to back people off from making being “normal” their goal. I know it sounds cliche, but the goal should really be getting comfortable with who you are sexually, and finding beauty in the diversity that you bring.
Karley: Is it possible to masturbate too much? (Asking for a friend.)
Chris: Today there is a vast industry that uses terms like masturbation addiction, porn addiction and sex addiction. Well, none of those are real—none of those things are recognized by any of the diagnostic manuals or professional psychiatric associations. So the question about “normal” masturbation tends to covertly mean: “Am I an addict?” And I tell people: NO! Masturbation is so important, for many reasons. For one, it’s a recognition of autonomy and sexual freedom. Whether you’re partnered or not, solo sexuality is yours and yours alone. Masturbation and fantasy is a beautiful space to let your mind engage in whatever you want, and not have to worry about sights and sounds and smells and other people’s feelings. Also, biologically masturbation is so important—the earlier you masturbate, and the sooner females orgasm solo, the sooner they’ll be able to do so with a partner.
So you wanted to know: can you masturbate too much to that point that it’s a problem? Well, yeah, anything can be a problem, if it’s getting in the way of other important priorities you have in your life. But I jokingly say all the time: we allow for so many hours and dollars to be spent on so many useless things—watching crappy programs on television, and spending money on extra pairs of shoes we don’t need—so why do we get so upset when we find out someone’s masturbating as a priority for their day, or if they’re spending a lot of money on it, or if they’re putting a lot of hours into it. It’s a product of our society being sex-phobic.
All TENGA products shot by Aria Eastwood.
Karley: Do you think that sexual fantasies exist within a political vacuum? Is there any fantasy that’s “wrong”? Like AKA my BDSM gangbang fantasy?
Chris: I think everything is political. Sex is one of the most political things we have. I actually steer couples and individuals toward kinks and taboos, pointing out that the mundane and the habitual is so boring sexually. If we’re going to be married and maybe monogamous for decades upon decades, then we have to be comfortable finding these supplementary ways to spike our arousal. Fantasy—and masturbation with fantasy—is really the one safe space to engage in whatever you want, because it doesn’t necessarily impact another person, ya know? Taboos and kinks can be really healing. And there’s a lot of beautiful work being done on how kink and BDSM are really empowering and healing for female bodied and identified people, and it’s not a reenactment of patriarchal violence or abuse; it’s actually the opposite
Karley: Phew, I feel better now. So does masturbation have other secret benefits that I don’t even know about? Like can I masturbate myself to enlightenment, basically?
Chris: I’ve prescribed masturbation to clients for a multitude of reasons—whether they are unable to orgasm, or they’re having body issues. A lot of people come into my office with sex phobia because of early family training that sex is bad or dangerous, or a deeply religious background or whatever it is, and I say, “Let’s start with sexuality just in terms of yourself.” I say, “What kind of things turn you on?” And I’ve actually had people say to me, “I don’t even know.” It’s like wow, that’s a really important thing to explore because that’s a core part of who you are.
Karley: Do you think that masturbating can make you better at sex?
Chris: Studies show that the sooner you masturbate and the earlier you are orgasmic, the better outcome you’ll have within partnered sex. It makes sense—if you are really comfortable with your body, and with touching your body, then that’s the best position from which to be with another person. There’s a lot of vulnerability in partnered sex, and in order to have great sex that allows you to enjoy yourself and have orgasms, you really need to be relaxed. And in order to be relaxed you have to be comfortable with what you’re giving to the other person; you have to be comfortable with the faces and the sounds you’re going to make, and with what your body looks like. And so masturbation is the way to begin that process.
Karley: I heard a rumor that masturbation makes you vagina tighter. Yay or nay?
Chris: Yes! Especially as we age, masturbation is great for pelvic floor and vaginal tone; it keeps you lubricating; it helps you to reach orgasm quicker and easier. But also I love the non-health benefits of masturbation—that it’s pleasure seeking, self-esteem building, and body esteem building. I also like the idea that for women, masturbation is not about a man, or even a female partner—it’s really just for you.
Karley. Also jerking-off is great for reducing stress. Like if I’m ever having a panic attack I’m just like, “Whatever I’ll just cum and it’ll be fine.”
Chris: Right. But you’re not going see masturbation listed an approved anxiety coping skill listed on the brochure at the anxiety clinic!
K: This month, TENGA is asking people to go “above and beyond” with their masturbation, and to promote it on social media with the #DoItInMay hashtag. Do you think it’s important for us to talk openly about masturbation, in order to make jerking-off seem normal and healthy (rather than something shameful you do in the basement when your parents are at church)?
Chris: The #DoItInMay hashtag is great because it’s promoting masturbation rather than hiding it. TENGA’s campaign is also about you committing to masturbating more frequently, engaging in that dialogue, not lowering your voice or having shame about it. Also, whenever someone uses #DoItInMay on social media, TENGA will donate $2 to Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), an organization committed to providing Americans with accurate and comprehensive sex-ed. And they’re donating $1 for every person who signs up for the masturbation pledge at Doitinmay.com.
Karley: In recent years, it’s become almost “cool” and feminist to have a vibrator—sex toys for women have been rebranded as being empowering. However, for men it’s been a slower shift. I think a lot of people still think that sex toys are “for girls.” Why is that?
Chris: I agree. A lot of guys are even afraid of their female partner’s toy being introduced into their dynamic, right? Guys really struggle to acknowledge that sometimes they’re not enough—that sometimes the penis isn’t enough. Penetration alone does not get most people off. I also try to remind guys that women’s arousal takes far longer, and if the way you generally masturbate is all rush rush get it done, then you’re not training yourself to have the skill-set needed to be with a partner. Try a toy, take your time, touch your whole body, slow it down!
Karley: That’s so true. I never thought about that—that masturbation is a great way to build stamina, and learn sexual self control. So besides the whole religious thing, why do you think people have shame around masturbating?
Chris: We live in such a productivity-obsessed culture, where everything is framed in terms of “how much money is it making you”—it’s so capitalistic, and masturbation is the antithesis of that. I think it’s really powerful and revolutionary for someone to say “I’m gonna push something back so I can take time to myself and masturbate, or use a sex toy.” That’s so feminist. To say “forget capitalism and consumerism and productivity, I’m going do something for me.” There’s something so radical in that.