Thanks in part to movies featuring loser teens violating freshly baked pies, masturbation has a rep as a last resort for the desperate and dateless. Not true. It's practically a national pastime--and not just for guys. In a 1993 survey by psychologist Carol Rinkleib Ellison, Ph.D., the author of Women's Sexualities, 75 percent of the fairer sex said they had thrown a party for one in the past three months. And in a 2004 survey by the Berman Center in Chicago, 44 percent of female respondents said they used a vibrator to paddle their pink canoe. We may not talk about it much, but when it comes to shagging ourselves, we girls are anything but shy.
And while you'd think singles would be the ones spending more time with their hands below their belts, studies show that people who are married or live with a partner play with themselves more often than those on the dating circuit. Frequent self-pleasuring has also been linked with high self-esteem, better body image, and a more active sex life. Which is why so many sex therapists encourage clients who are unhappy in the sack to start getting it on alone.
"There's a strong correlation between willingness to explore your own body and bring yourself to orgasm and being willing to explore with your partner and have orgasms together," says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., a New York sex therapist and the author of Sex Detox. "Women who masturbate are usually more comfortable with their bodies and with sex in general."
Any kind of autoerotic activity is better than none, but the payoff for adventurous masturbation is much bigger than a mindless nub rub. "Masturbation is the single best way to discover new and more profound turn-ons that you can later put into play with your partner," says Berman Center founder, sex therapist, and WH advisor Laura Berman, Ph.D. So with the help of top experts, we've outlined a guide to advanced masturbation that could be the best thing to happen to your love life since your college boyfriend finally found your clitoris.
Screw with Your Head
Whether it's imagining Eric Bana licking his way up your thighs or pretending you've been kidnapped by a sex-starved Swedish masseur, finding fantasies that light your fire is key to boosting desire and upping your odds of reaching orgasm alone and in company. "To tune in to a sexual experience, you have to first turn off the parts of your brain associated with stress and anxiety," Kerner says. "And fantasizing is the most effective way to accomplish that." The logic is simple: You can't worry about work, money, or unfolded laundry when your frontal lobe is focused on a reenactment of the train scene in Risky Business.
Have doubts about the power of fantasy? Consider this: Back in 1992, Beverly Whipple, Ph.D., co-author of The Science of Orgasm, along with her colleagues Gena Ogden, Ph.D., and Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D., monitored the blood pressure, heart rate, pupil diameter, and pain tolerance of 10 women who claimed they could think their way to climax. As the subjects fantasized in a lab, seven exhibited the exact physical responses caused by hands-on stimulation. How's that for a beautiful mind?
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On your own, you have all the time in the world to browse through your mental files--reviewing past sexual experiences, erotic movie scenes, fantastical scenarios, or random images that flip your switch. Don't be afraid to go wherever your mind takes you, even if it's to the dark side. "Scenarios involving bondage and domination are totally normal," says sex educator Jamye Waxman, the author of Getting Off: A Woman's Guide to Masturbation. In a study of 178 volunteers at the University of Vermont, 71 percent said they'd had kinky or taboo fantasies. (The rest probably just lacked imagination.)
Once you've freed your dirty mind, use it to your advantage before and during sex. That means scrapping any guilt you feel about thinking of something other than what and whom you're doing at the moment. "Many people feel bad about fantasizing while with their partner," Kerner says. "But fantasy is a tool you can and should use to become completely immersed in your sexual experience." When you're struggling to feel sexy, close your eyes and recall thoughts that made you hot when no one else was around. Try to devote 100 percent of your attention to every detail of that titillating image. By doing so, you'll shift gears and speed your transition from stress case to horny vixen. During sex, naughty thoughts can help you nix distractions. "Female clients complain about 'losing an orgasm' due to a shift in their body or a shift in their thinking," Kerner says. "When you feel that heightened state of arousal slipping away, fantasizing can bring your thoughts back to sex and help nudge you over the edge."
Change Is Good
We're all for going with what works, but if, like 70 percent of the women in a 1983 study at the University of Southern California, you jill off the same way every time, a few tweaks are in order. "By masturbating using a single method, you could be training yourself to be more responsive to one kind of touch," says sex therapist Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D., founder of sexualitysource.com. While that has its benefits-you know that if you rub right there for long enough, your bell will eventually ring--it also has its drawbacks. "Women often feel frustrated because they can orgasm in only a single sex position, usually the female-dominant position, aka cowgirl," Kerner says. "This is usually because the pressure and friction of rubbing their clitoris against their partner's abdomen mimics the most common method of clitoral self-stimulation." Familiarizing yourself with a wider range of feel-good sensations will help turn your bedroom into the playroom that it should be. How do you warm up to new moves? Tweak your routine.
Like Angelina Jolie at a UN conference, the clitoris is practically crying out for attention, but that doesn't mean you should ignore your other bits. Though not as sensitive as that centrally located hot button, the vagina is packed with several layers of nerves that can produce unexpected sweet spots. In a Colombian study of 48 women, 94 percent reported feeling "vaginal erotic sensitivity," especially in the upper front wall of the vagina, where the G-spot is located. And in a 2000 study of 138 women published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, 35 percent said that their partners' penis making cervical contact contributed to their orgasm. "Stimulation of the clitoris may be the most popular way to experience orgasm, but there's more than one pathway to sexual response," Whipple says. "Exploring your own body inside and out is the best way to discover your full orgasm potential."
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You can use your fingers to apply different levels and types of pressure to the walls of your vajayjay--and sex therapists recommend doing so at least once to get a clear idea of your anatomy--but all that wrist twisting could lead to serious carpal tunnel. Reaching your cervix by hand is equally tricky (the best way is to squat, which causes the cervix to push closer to the vaginal opening--but who feels foxy squatting?). Luckily, vibrators can save the day: "I literally write prescriptions for specific types of vibrators," says Berman, who has designed her own line of made-for-women sex tools. She recommends short, curved vibrators for stimulating the G-spot, and long, thin vibrators for zeroing in on areas deep in the vagina. Also handy is a vibrator about the shape and size of your partner's penis, which you can use to discover which angles and thrusting styles will hit your hot spots during doubles. (Check out a list of WH-approved vibrators.)
"It's not that this kind of exploring isn't possible with a partner," Berman says. "But if you're trying to figure out the mechanics of what feels good during sex, it would require patience, muscle control, communication, and staying power on his end." When you have the bed to yourself, you can make endless tiny adjustments--move the vibrator slightly to the left, increase pressure, wiggle it back and forth--without having to direct him like a drill sergeant or worry about pulling his trigger prematurely.
Being able to orgasm during intercourse is a feat in itself (only 30 percent of women are able to reach their peak through penetration alone), but if you're tired of being able to come only when you're on top, make a habit of masturbating while assuming a variety of positions--lying on your back or on your stomach, kneeling upright on the bed, bent over on hands and knees. "This a very helpful exercise," Fulbright says. "You're gathering information about the kind of stimulation you need in each position to achieve orgasm, whether you're stimulating your clitoris or your vagina, no matter if it's with a vibrator, your hands, or some other object, like a pillow." But don't give up just because something doesn't feel amazing right off the bat. "It may take time for your mind and body to respond to new positions and sensations," Fulbright says. "Be willing to go slowly and try something several times." One strategy that works well is to bring yourself to the brink of orgasm using a tried-and-true method, then stop just before you blow. "Quickly switch to a new position in which you've never had an orgasm, then start touching yourself again," suggests sex educator Dorian Solot, co-author of I Love Female Orgasm. "Because you're already fully aroused, finishing in a new way will be much easier."
That all may be a given, but don't forget to love up the rest of your body. Every inch of skin, from your head to your toes, is a potential source of pleasure--you never know which combination of touches will take you to your happy place. And "no one is watching or judging you, so there's no reason to hold back," Kerner says. Suck on your fingers, pull on your labia, gently slap your pubic mound, tickle the inside of your thighs, grab onto a cheek or two… Nothing is off-limits.
Once you've taken masturbation to the next level, you may decide to tell your significant other all about it, and maybe even demonstrate while he watches (which he'd no doubt love--63 percent of vibrator users in the Berman survey said their partners were fully supportive). Too shy? Don't sweat it. "It's great if you're that open with your partner, but many people prefer to keep masturbation private," Kerner says. "As long as you feel good about it, staying mum is perfectly healthy." Whether you blab or not, you'll still be busting into the bedroom with your newly sensitized body, whose dips, curves, and crevices you're more aware of and comfortable with than ever. You'll also have a hell of a lot more confidence in your ability to feel frisky at a moment's notice and have an orgasm when and how you want one. Last time we checked, that's the stuff masterful sex is made of.
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