There are a ton of alternative names for masturbation—solo sex, dotting the i, having a ménage á moi, wanking off, tossing off, and rubbing the nub, to name just a few—but there are even more misconceptions about it. Below, sexual health experts spill the truth tea on masturbation.
(Spoiler alert: it’s healthy, normal, and very common for people of all genders to do).
Masturbation: A Definition
Before we bust some masturbation myths, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what masturbation is, exactly.
“Masturbation is the common and healthy practice that involves touching yourself in order to bring yourself sexual or erotic pleasure,” explains sexual health expert Dr. Lyndsey Harper Ob/Gyn, Founder & CEO of Rosy, a sexual health wellness technology platform.
From genital stroking and hole filling, to fantasizing and sensual dancing there are many ways to masturbate. And so long as your way of masturbating isn’t harming anyone else, it’s completely kosher.
5 Common Masturbation Myths, Busted
Below, we sort fact from fiction of fanny finger painting.
Masturbating Is Unhealthy
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! “Masturbating can be extremely healthy,” says Dr. Harper. “There are health benefits to touching yourself including decreased anxiety, better sleep, improved heart health, and an overall greater sense of well-being,” she says.
The only time masturbating becomes unhealthy is when it is actively interfering with the rest of your life. For example, if wanking off is keeping you from getting to work on time or interfering with your hygiene habits, it’s entered not-so-healthy territory. On a similar note…
There Is A “Right” Number Of Times To Masturbate
*Buzzer noise*. “There is no right amount of masturbation, just like there is no right amount of partnered sex,” says Dr. Harper.
However, if masturbating begins to feel as compulsory as eating, drinking water, or sleeping, then it’s a habit you may want to take a closer look at. It’s possible, she says, that masturbating is covering up an underlying anxiety, or helping you avoid facing in your life. In these instances, working with a sex therapist or sex-positive therapist may be helpful.
Masturbating Can Cause Blindness
Fear-mongers may have effectively, well, mongered fear with this one. But masturbation absolutely does *not* cause blindness. “Self-pleasuring is not going to cause blindness… I have no idea where that nonsense came from,” says Felice Gersh, MD, author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones and Happiness
The only way masturbating could lead to sight-changes is veryyy roundabout. Ready? “In theory, if a person has genital gonorrhea or chlamydia, touches themselves, immediately touches their eye, gets their bodily fluid into their eye, transmits the infection, and never gets treated, they could lose their eyesight,” she explains.
Indeed, both gonorrhea and chlamydia can be transmitted to the eyeball, which is a mucosal surface quite like the genitals. And left untreated, eye gonorrhea and chlamydia can lead to blindness. However, before you get to that point, typically the STI (err, ST-eye) will reveal itself with other symptoms like sensitivity to light, prolonged red eye, increased eye discharge, and eye pain. And as Dr. Gersh says, “Ideally, people will get STI tested so that if they have an STI of the genitals or eye, they can get treatment.”
Of course, washing your hands after a little one-on-one time is a good move, too.
Solo Sex Can Ruin Partnered Sex
Quite the contrary! Maintaining a masturbating practice while in a relationship can actually make partnered play more pleasurable, according to Dr. Harper. “Touching yourself teaches you how you like to be touched, and once you know that insight you can communicate those preferences to your partner or future partner,” she says.
In fact, according to one study published in The Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, people in relationships actually play genital DJ more than single folks, suggesting that solo sex commonly functions as a complement to (not replacement for!) partnered nookie.
It’s also worth noting that many people have solo sex for different reasons than they have partnered sex. It’s common for someone, for example, to masturbate to ease menstrual cramp or to de-stress, but to engage in partnered play to foster intimacy in their relationship.
Masturbating Decreases Genital Sensitivity
“No, masturbating does not decrease sensitivity,” says Dr. Gersh. And that stands whether you’re masturbating with your hand, a vibrator or non-vibrating toy.
Your body *can* become accustomed to a specific kind of sensation. If, for example, you always masturbate on your back with your vibrator at setting 3, you may notice that over time orgasming is easiest and fastest when you’re in that position. However, that does N-O-T mean your genitals have de-sensitized (or that you’ve become addicted to your vibrator!).
That probably sounds scarier than it actually is. In fact, it’s quite similar to running! If you run the same route, at the same pace, at the same time of day enough times, eventually that route will begin to feel easier compared to other routes!
If you'd like to avoid having one masturbation method “work” better than others, much as you would to keep from plateauing during run training, keep your practice full of variety!
Masturbate on your stomach, back, side, and while standing. Use all settings on your vibrator. Try using non-vibrating toys. Use different kinds of lubes and arousal oils. Call on different erotic aids to get you going. Do it at different times of day.
How To Masturbate To Maximize Pleasure
Once more for the people in the back: There are no wrong ways to masturbate! And actually, ridding yourself of any shame you have about h-o-w you masturbate, have masturbated, or want to masturbate is one of the best ways to boost the pleasure potential of your solo sesh.
Beyond that, though, the key to pleasurable solo sex sexperimentation! As Dr. Gersh puts it, “Everybody has different preferences, so finding what you like may take some trial and error.”
You might, for example, try using lube like the b-Vibe Natural Water-Based Lube. Or, you might explore anal masturbation with the help of a butt plug like the b-Vibe Vibrating Snug Plug or a string of anal beads like the b-Vibe Triplet Anal Beads. If you know you enjoy internal or external vibration, you might even try incorporating a rideable vibrator like The Cowgirl.