It’s common and accepted knowledge that men masturbate. Jokes about hidden porn stashes and sticky sheets saddle boys as soon as they hit middle school—and as soon as boys can, everyone pretty much assumes that they are.
That hasn’t always been the case for women, however.
High-end sex toys and a more liberal sexual culture mean that masturbation is more acceptable for women than ever, and yet a woman pleasuring herself still carries a lot of stigmas. A 2008 survey said 80 percent of women were never taught that masturbation is a normal and healthy activity. Many women say they feel shame when masturbating, and it’s common to hear women who do masturbate say that they’d never do it while in a relationship or that they worry a partner will be turned off by their habits.
It’s also likely that many women were simply never taught how to masturbate. Because when it comes to vaginas, pleasure is not one-size-fits-all.
The question of “how women masturbate” is incredibly broad considering the differences in genitalia among gender identities. Not all women have vaginas. Not all vagina-havers are women. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be talking mostly about masturbating with a clitoris and vagina, both because that’s what a lot of women are working with, and because how to masturbate with a penis has been well-covered.
Why is masturbation important?
“Masturbation is the foundation for all sexual activity. It’s how we first discover and learn to like our genitals,” sex educator Betty Dodson told the Daily Dot over email.
It’s quite common for children to masturbate as they explore their bodies. Dodson says allowing children to masturbate is important, especially for their future sexual health. “When it’s inhibited, we end up with a population of pre-orgasmic women. Pleasure is a learned art form.” And one that women often aren’t encouraged to learn.
With most masturbation techniques, the goal is to achieve orgasm, and most people achieve orgasm by stimulating an erogenous zone. For our purposes, those include the clitoris, G-spot, U-spot, anus, and breasts. Clitoral stimulation is probably the most common, as it’s the easiest to do without the use of sex toys, and given that the clitoris is basically a little button full of nerve endings, it feels good for most people.
According to Dodson, “Using [your] hands with some kind of organic massage oil” is the best way to start out. But like with most sexual adventures, it’ll probably require some trial and error to figure out how many fingers you prefer, what motions and pressure feel best, and what position you want your body to be in. But lube is a good idea, as you don’t want to spend half an hour rubbing yourself raw and then waddling through the rest of your week, avoiding eye contact so as not to answer any questions about your gait.
Onto the mysterious G-spot! While the visible part of the clitoris is the aforementioned little button, it’s actually a “multiplanar structure with a broad attachment to the pubic arch and via extensive supporting tissue to the mons pubis and labia.” Which is to say, a sprawling organ that provides multiple points of pleasure. The theory is that this is what the G-spot actually is—another part of the clitoris that is stimulated by touching a few inches deep into the front vaginal wall, between the vaginal opening and the cervix.
Vaginal or G-spot orgasms are powerful, but for many, they’re harder to obtain because it’s a hard spot to hit. Most penises are not shaped to stimulate that point, and it can be hard to reach with your own fingers (though Cosmopolitan suggests using the “gyno position” if you want to try). That’s why many sex toy companies have designed curved dildos specifically for G-spot stimulation, or toys that stimulate the G-spot and clitoris at the same time.
The U-spot and A-spot
While the G-spot is well established as an erogenous zone, the U-spot and A-spot are still being researched. The U-spot, the skin around the urethra, is said to be a sensitive area for many women, and exploration of that patch can certainly be something to incorporate into masturbation.
The A-spot refers to the Anterior fornix erogenous zone, which is located at the deepest part of the vagina, which many fingers and dildos can’t reach depending on the position. Experts say that sitting up on a dildo, rather than using it lying down, may be your best bet.
Aside from stimulation within the vagina, many women find anal stimulation to be an enjoyable part of masturbation. Anal play is most often associated with men because it stimulates the prostate gland, but some women have reported achieving orgasm through anal stimulation, and if not, it still can feel good.
One of the biggest turn-offs of anal play is the threat of poop, so, according to Bad Girl’s Bible, it pays to be thorough. “You can minimize the potential of any messy situations by preparing properly first. Generally, all you need to do is ensure a bowel movement earlier in the day. Clean thoroughly with wet wipes or a shower. If you want to be especially thorough, a small anal douche can rinse out the canal of any matter that might be remaining,” they write.
If you’re new to anal play, go slow, go small, and use a lot of lube. There are butt plugs and flared dildos that can be used explicitly for this purpose, but the anus is tight and going straight for the size of dildo you use in your vagina can be painful. Start with your fingers, or a very narrow dildo, and work up to using something bigger if you like the way it feels.
It also pays to be gentle. The skin inside the anus is much more delicate than that in the vagina, and it’s prone to tearing. If you use your finger, be sure to cut and file your fingernails first, both to avoid any tears in the anal lining, and to minimize bacteria that may get caught under your fingernails. You may even want to put a condom over your fingers to protect yourself further.
Can you orgasm without being touched?
It seems impossible, but according to some, it’s totally a thing. The technique is credited to Barbara Carrellas, who came up with the concept in the 1980s as the height of the AIDS crisis in New York as a safe way of being sexual and intimate. She says orgasm without touch is “achieved with a combination of breath, imagining (either by visualization or sensory feelings), sound, and squeezing the muscles of the pelvic floor,” and can be mastered with a little practice. She says it’s good for “people with erectile dysfunction, women who have had clitorectomies, and anyone with a physical condition that makes genital orgasms difficult or impossible.” On an episode of TLC’s Strange Sex, Carrellas performed this technique in an MRI, and brain scans showed the exact same brain activity as an orgasm obtained by genital stimulation.
So, how do women masturbate? It’s as many ways as there are women. What turns us on is different for everyone, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s not something women do.