What Is Mindful Masturbation?
I began exploring the intimate parts of my body at a fairly young age. For years, I was certain there was something wrong with me, that what I was doing was unhealthy and dirty. I believed all those scary myths about masturbation causing acne, infertility, and even cancer. Convinced I'd eventually get an infection, my greatest fear was going to the doctor. I thought she'd somehow know about my secret and tell my parents.
Mostly though, I was convinced masturbation was damaging my future sex life. This belief stemmed from virginity culture and purity messages. In the 1990s, and specifically in my rural corner of the world, abstinence-only education was the only sex education, leading me to believe everything related to sex was off-limits before marriage—masturbation included. It all seemed to be a roadmap for guaranteed issues with your someday spouse.
Of course, this didn’t stop me; it just made me more ashamed. The shame was further perpetuated by the fact that I never heard about women masturbating, let alone having sexual desires. Masturbation, whether mentioned in a vulgar movie joke or as a warning from my small-town pulpit, was something people with penises did; it wasn’t for women.
Years later, I eventually got married, and my partner and I struggled with physical intimacy despite obeying abstinence-only criteria. On the nights when things felt exceptionally defeating, I wondered if our problems were consequences for the times I’d masturbated. I was in my twenties by then and starting to have conversations with friends about sex. Thankfully, these discussions, therapy, and sex books helped me to see how healthy and widely practiced masturbation is—it wasn’t something I need to be ashamed of, and it wasn’t just some private deed for people with penises.
Releasing that shame was transformative for my personal wellbeing, as well as for my marriage. It benefited my partnered sex and allowed me to see masturbation as a safe, judgment-free, and even mindful activity.
Another Word for Masturbation
During this unraveling of harmful narratives, I've wanted to find a better word for "masturbation." While part of me wishes to reclaim it and shout from the rooftops that it's something healthy and normal, I also want to challenge the term and move away from its male- and penis-biased nature, as is common in media and pop culture.
"Self-pleasure" better expresses what masturbation has to offer. It accurately alludes to the voluntary practice of caring for one's sexual desires. Likewise, it defines the act in terms of self-exploration and embodied pleasure.
Whatever you prefer to call it (“solo sex” & “sexual self-care” are other ideas), and whether you're here out of curiosity or because you also have experienced sexual shame, consider this a permission slip. Together, let us demystify self-pleasure and talk about how to practice it mindfully.
What is Mindful Self-Pleasure?
Sexual shame—it's one thing many of us have in common. Not everyone experiences it, but enough of us do. Shame doesn't discriminate based on gender, language, or culture. It can show up in bed with our partner, as well as when we're alone and exploring our bodies. You can thank taboos, misinformation, and flawed constructs for the embarrassment we feel about our innate sexual desires. This is especially true when it comes to solo sex.
Natalie Angier best explains this in "Woman: An Intimate Geography":
"Women are said to have lower sex drives than men," she writes, "yet they are universally punished if they display evidence to the contrary—if they disobey their 'natural' inclinations towards a stifled libido.
How can we know what is 'natural' for us when we are treated as unnatural for wanting our lust, our freedom, the music of our bodies?"
It’s Listening to the Music of Our Bodies
Mindful self-pleasure begins when we release shame and instead listen to the music of our bodies. What does that mean? Simply put, it's self-stimulation without judgment or expectation. The only goal is to remain present in mind and grounded in the physical experience. Similar to other mindful practices, the aim is to focus on the moment and how our body feels.
You can think of it as embodied exploration. Self-pleasure invites us to get acquainted (like really acquainted) with our bodies. For many of us, our understanding of our genitalia comes from dated textbooks, pop culture, and pornography. For example, did you know various studies show that both men and women can't correctly identify the vulva and the vagina? (Vagina 101 for anyone who needs it.)
All bodies, intimate parts included, are different. Vulvas and penises come in an array of sizes, shapes, and colors. Moreover, every sex organ experiences stimulation and pleasure uniquely.
It’s Learning Our Unique Pleasure Preferences
Mindful self-pleasure opens us up to experiencing pleasure specific to our body—which often differs from our default masturbation patterns. We're conditioned to experience sex (both partnered and solo) as linear, with orgasm being the goal. Because of this, we engage in self-pleasure using similar techniques. We rush to touch our most sensitive areas; we rely on specific fantasies; we resort to what we know.
This mindset, while subconscious, means we're missing out on the lesser-known pleasure points of our body (called erogenous zones). Likewise, we're relying on our minds to get us off rather than using our breath and paying attention to what's happening with our bodies.
While there's nothing wrong with our favored methods or a self-quickie (a quick orgasm can be a fail-proof cure for releasing stress and tension), mindful self-pleasure invites us into a slower and more intentional space. Like with mindful sex, there is no goal or measuring stick. We can touch ourselves where it feels good, relishing in the moment-by-moment pleasure.
Think of it this way: when we assume we know the best way to masturbate, we ignore our body's request to break old patterns and try something new. But by slowing down and engaging in mindful touch, we can experience pleasure in new and exciting ways. Best of all, practicing mindful self-pleasure often leads to more confidence in partnered sex. It's a great way to learn about your body and practice pressure-free orgasms so that you can share your findings with your partner.
It’s Not for Everyone
Finally, it's important to note that self-pleasure isn't for everyone. There's no pressure to try it. If you want to explore your intimate areas, that's completely fine and normal. If not, that's great too. Like everything in sex, you get to decide what feels right and which activities you're comfortable with.
Solo Sex Starter Tips
1. Create a safe space.
It may sound silly, but it can be helpful to "schedule" mindful self-pleasure sessions. Impromptu is fun as well, but sometimes you'll want to ensure you have a free house and time allocated to yourself. Plus, it can be exciting to have a self-sex session to look forward to.
Whatever you decide, create a safe and soothing space. I recommend the bedroom or bathroom for ultimate privacy. Candles, dim lighting, soft music, and skin oils can also be useful for setting to mood. Do what feels good for you.
2. Start by getting familiar with your body.
If you feel comfortable, use a mirror to explore and acquaint yourself with your body. Learn about your erogenous zones and the lesser-known arousal points on your body.
You may find yourself subconsciously falling into old touch patterns. When this happens, slow down and think about why it feels good. Is there another method you could try to increase pleasure? For alternative "technique" suggestions, I recommend OMGYes. This platform is a science-based tool that shares women's collective masturbation stories and includes method tutorials.
3. Lube up.
4. Rely on resources.
While one goal of mindful self-pleasure is to clear your mind and focus solely on the pleasure points of your body, resources can help set the mood and ignite arousal. Dipsea, for example, offers sexy audio stories to spark your imagination and heat things up.
Let’s talk about self-pleasure! If you feeling comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear your thoughts about masturbation in the comments below.💛
Kayti Christian (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. Growing up beneath the evergreens in the Sierra Nevadas, she returns to California after a decade split between states—including three years lived abroad. With an MA in Nonfiction Writing, she’s passionate about storytelling and fantastic content, especially as it relates to mental health, feminism, and sexuality. When not in-studio, she’s camping, reading memoir, or advocating for the Oxford comma.