Women shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about masturbation. In fact, self-pleasure is an excellent form of self-care. The month of May is both Mental Health Awareness Month and Masturbation May, giving us a reason to have important conversations around two topics that can feel taboo.
Mental health is a broad topic, and every individual’s needs are different. People tend to their mental health with medication, therapy, meditation, exercise, and countless other methods. While masturbation isn’t a cure-all, it can and should be a tool in your mental-health and stress-relief kit.
We interviewed five experts about how masturbation can benefit your mental health and become part of your self-care routine. Here are their tips.
Why Women Should Make Time to Masturbate
"Masturbation is the ultimate form of self-care," says Cay Crow, certified sex therapist with Orchid Toys, via email. "It is soothing when you are agitated, releasing built-up tension and emotions. Masturbation can help you sleep when your mind is spinning after a busy day. Consistent masturbation can reduce stress and help you relax."
According to licensed psychotherapist Annalise Oatman of Deeper Well Therapy, women too often deprioritize pleasure, and self-pleasure in particular. "Women are often socialized to look after everyone else first and then nourish or pleasure themselves with whatever scraps of time, energy, or resources are left over," says Oatman in an email interview. "Indulging in some intentional, fully embodied self-pleasuring can be just one of many ways to begin (or end) the day."
Dr. Kate Balestrieri, a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist who founded Modern Intimacy, says that women are also conditioned to compartmentalize sex and masturbation as separate from mental health. However, she says, "I think that when somebody has a healthy relationship to masturbation, there is a likelihood that they also have a positive relationship to their mental health and well-being."
Approach Masturbation Mindfully
Dr. Balestrieri cautions that masturbation should be approached mindfully and "with intention," rather than compulsively. She suggests treating it almost like a meditation practice.
"When we masturbate and practice intentional self-love, we are really investing in ourselves and tuning in to our bodies’ wants,” she says.
Make self-pleasure a special event, says Dr. Balestrieri, especially during Masturbation May. While it’s easy to fall into a routine, don’t be afraid to explore new masturbation rituals. If you normally depend on clitoral stimulation, try nipple stimulation. If you often rely on a vibrator, why not try a nonvibrating dildo?
"Take some time to be more intentional and give yourself permission to take it a little bit deeper, metaphorically or literally," says Dr. Balestrieri.
Dr. Balestrieri suggests a fun exercise to try this month. "I recommend that you find a lube that you love and just practice the art of painting your labia with it, touching the clitoris, exploring the outer parts of your vulva," says Dr. Balestrieri. “Find where there is sensation and where there isn’t. I love to help women find a relationship to their vulva because that gives a whole experience of masturbation that isn’t just orgasm. That’s the biggest gift of masturbation: what it allows us to learn about ourselves."
By exploring your body mindfully, you can start to understand what actually arouses you. “Masturbation can help us better understand ourselves, our desires, what we find exciting, and what pleasure feels like to us,” says Saba Lurie, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner and founder of Take Root Therapy, via email.
Consider Masturbation Part of Your Stress-Relief
Stress can mess with so many parts of our life. Dr. Susan Milstein, who has a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality and serves on the medical review board for Women's Health Interactive, says that masturbation can absolutely be a form of stress relief.
"There are so many benefits of masturbation," says Dr. Milstein over email. "Physically, masturbation will cause the brain to release a number of hormones and chemicals, including dopamine and serotonin. These can make us feel less stressed and can help relieve pain (like period-cramping pain). Emotionally, it can help relieve sexual tension and help us feel less stressed."
In terms of self-care, masturbation also serves as a great way to get some alone time. "Masturbation is something that can be done for yourself, by yourself," says Lurie. "This can be so rewarding for women especially, because women are socialized to spend so much time catering to the needs of others."
Certified sex therapist Crow agrees that masturbation is a wonderful way to shift the focus to your own pleasure. "One of the enormous benefits of masturbation is that you can focus on your own arousal without the presence (and distraction) of a partner," Crow says. "Too many women focus all their energy in sex on their partner’s pleasure. Too many women think of [masturbation] as 'selfish.'"
Breaking the Taboos of Masturbation
One of the goals of Masturbation May — and House of Wise — is to break the taboos that still remain around women’s self-pleasure.
"Sadly, some people still teach that touching your genitals is ‘dirty,’ especially for women," says Dr. Milstein. "We’re also a culture that focuses on male pleasure, so something like female masturbation is often not discussed because we rarely ever focus on female pleasure. How do we break these taboos? We keep talking about female masturbation as something that’s normal and healthy. We need to talk about it in the media, we need to talk about it with our friends, and we need to talk about it year-round, not just during 'Masturbation May.'"
Dr. Balestrieri agrees. "I really would love to see women talking about masturbation with other women more readily," she says. "If we started looking at it as a self-care mandate, I think it would give women a mandate to speak more readily about it."