For starters, it doesn't just feel good—solo play is legit good for you. "Masturbation releases stress and anxiety," says Dr Leah Millheiser, clinical assistant professor and director of female sexual medicine at Stanford University Medical Center.
"We know that you get total-body relaxation after an orgasm, which is great for someone who is tense," she adds. "Masturbation also increases blood flow to the genitals, which is important because blood flow keeps the vagina healthy."
In other words, you should probably consider adding it to your self-care Sunday routine ASAP.
Plus, flicking the bean is crazy-good for your sex life in all sorts of ways. For one, it may help you get more comfortable in bed. "People who don’t masturbate are more likely to have difficulty reaching orgasm with a partner," Millheiser explains.
And if you bring your S.O. into the action, you might feel closer to them—orgasms release oxytocin, a powerful hormone, that make you want to bond with the person next to you, she adds.
Now, all that good stuff said, the only problem is not knowing how to start to guarantee a better finish. (It's not like pleasuring yourself was covered in sex ed, and your parents certainly didn't include female masturbation in The Talk.)
Of course, there's no right or wrong way to masturbate (to each vagina her own!), but these expert-approved tips and tricks will not only teach you how to best pleasure yourself—but also take your self-made orgasm to the next level.
1. Bust out a mirror.
Before you can "rock your body" Justin Timberlake–style, you first have to know your body. "It's essential for women to be able to identify their anatomy," says Janet Brito, PhD, a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist in Honolulu.
She recommends beginning your investigation the old-fashioned way: with a hand-held mirror. That's the best way to see what your vulva **actually** looks like and, even more importantly, identify your clitoris (a.k.a. your new best friend). For many women, the clit—home to some 15,000 (!) nerve endings— is where the masturbation magic happens. That is, once you find it (easier said than done—just ask your ex).
From the outside, all you'll be able to see is the clitoral hood—a flap of skin that retracts during sexual arousal—and the glans clitoris, a little button-like nub.
But that's only the tip of the orgasmic iceberg. Here's what's going on under the hood:
Those are the clitoris' "legs"—they're anywhere from 2.25 to 2.5 inches long and—similar to a penis—can get erect when aroused.
Once you finish your mini sex-ed lesson, Brito encourages you to "touch gently and, with curiosity, label the parts that feel most sensitive, arousing, ticklish, and uncomfortable." Take your time to explore all those parts of your body to figure out what feels good and what's just meh.
2. Set the ~mood~.
You light candles, break out the good lingerie, and put on your fave sex playlist when you're about to get it on with another person, so why not put in the same amount of effort when it's DIY time? You should, says Brito. "Start by creating a relaxing, comfortable space in your home, full of privacy and free of interruption," she suggests.
After all, it's kinda hard to feel sexy if your room's covered in month-old laundry and yesterday's Chinese food containers (no matter how good they might still smell). Plus, Marie Kondo-ing your space can help clear your mind, giving you more room to focus on identifying what feels pleasurable and, consequently, increasing your chances of having that big O, Brito says.
3. Focus on the task at hand (pun intended).
Masturbation is "me" time—plain and simple. So, do your best to pretend the outside world doesn't exist (buh-bye, phone) and tune into what's going on inside your bod. "A woman who can practice mindfulness is much more likely to reach orgasm sooner," says Millheiser. "While masturbating, if you find that your mind is wandering off, recognise that and gently bring it back to focus."
But "you don’t have to turn off your mind to orgasm," notes Nan Wise, PhD, a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist whose study, Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women, outlines how the brain is stimulated by orgasm. Instead, she suggests "paying attention to sensations"—not unlike how you pay attention to your breath when meditating.
That's because using your mind to zero in on the pleasure can seriously enhance your orgasm. (And that's, ya know, kinda the whole point.)
4. Use your imagination.
"Every woman has a different fantasy," Millheiser says. "It doesn't have to be about you and your partner, either." (Maybe it's you and a young Ewan McGregor in that one scene from Moulin Rouge...just me? Okay.)
It also doesn't have to be about whips and chains or whatever you might've read in erotic novels or seen in porn, unless that's what you're into. "This is the time to discover what turns you on—and not judge it," explains Brito. So just let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you.
Some women even fantasize about being with another woman or a girl-on-girl sexual scene, Millheiser says. That's totally normal—and tbh, not that surprising, considering many straight women get off to lesbian porn.
FWIW, if you're a lesbian and you masturbate thinking of a man, that's normal, too. "No matter what your fantasy is, you don't have to question your sexuality," Millheiser says.
5. Experiment with penetration.
"While some women prefer soft clitoral stimulation, others prefer penetration or a combo of the two," says Brito.
If you've just pulled into the self-service station, you might as well try penetrative masturbation—using your fingers, a dildo, or a phallic-shaped vibrator—to see if you like it. If you don't, nbd, you're still one step closer to knowing what you do like.
6. Lube it up.
Lube is great for sex, so yep, it also comes in handy for masturbation (see what I did there?). That's especially true if you're on birth control pills, which can cause vaginal dryness, Millheiser says. FYI: Getting wet is a pretty important part of masturbating because "it makes stimulating your genitals much more comfortable." (Preach.)
In fact, one study found that 50 per cent of people said lube made it easier for them to orgasm.
If dryness is a legit issue for you and you're not using a silicone sex toy, try silicone-based lubes, which last longer and reduce friction, Millheiser says. But if you're just looking for a little extra wetness for more fun—or have a silicone vibe—stick to a water-based formula. (It won't break down your buzzing friend.)
7. Explore your body.
John Mayer wasn't kidding—your body really is a wonderland, specifically your erogenous zones. But you won't know what they have to offer you until you go on a little sexploration.
"Starting with your fingers is the best way to engage in masturbation," Millheiser says. "Especially if you are in the early stages, you want to get to know the areas of your body that makes you tick."
Some people like to rub their clit against the bed, while others like to lay on their backs, she adds. "There is no one position that works for everyone. You have to experiment and find what’s right for you," she advises.
If you're a seasoned pro, consider switching up your masturbation technique. Always on your back? Turn over. Always use your hands? Try a hand-held shower head. According to Millheiser, many women reach orgasm that way.
"Think about what's it's doing," she explains. "It's like a quick and easy vibrator—that pulsating sensation on the most sensitive area on the human body." (Not to mention, it's nice and warm.)
8. Tease yourself.
Getting yourself to orgasm during solo play doesn’t mean you always have to go full throttle. ICYDK, there’s a technique known as "edging," which basically involves masturbating to build up tension in your erogenous zones, then backing off just before you're about to climax.
Wise says it’s a solid way to draw out the pleasure before the grand finale, especially if this isn't your first bedroom rodeo.
9. Play with toys.
The modern vibe is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread (better, even). These days, most vibrators are specifically made to give you that clitoral stimulation you crave, and some even do it by mimicking oral sex. From bullet vibrators to magic wands (that, yes, live up to the name), there are a ton of options out there for you to try.
If you’re timid, Millheiser suggests starting out with a small device called the Womanizer. "I recommend it all the time to clients and friends. It’s a suction cup that uses an oscillating pressure," she explains.
"It's almost as if it doesn't allow you to hold yourself back. It gently pulls an orgasm out of you." (Sounds kinda nice, doesn't it?)
10. Add masturbation to the menu more often.
One study found that women get handsy at least once a week—but you deserve a second helping (or more). Because as one Women's Health writer learned, ya know, firsthand (okay, I'll stop with the puns): the more you masturbate, the more you want to masturbate.
Bonus: She found it puts you in a good mood and helps you sleep better, too. And unlike a relaxing body massage, it does all that...for free.
11. Think outside the clitoris.
"The whole is greater than the sum of our sexual parts," Wise says. Translation: Combining stimulation from multiple erogenous zones (e.g. clitoris, vagina, cervix, nipple, inner thighs, and anus) can add up to some serious pleasure. "Give yourself permission to lay down and let your hands wander," advises Brito.
You don't even have to head downtown. You can actually orgasm from touching your nipples and stimulating your anus. All the more reason to get creative...
12. Enjoy the ride.
Wise says the most important part of masturbation is simply to "savour the sensation" and not set out with the intention of orgasm. "Being in the experience is key," she says. (Remember the tip about focusing with your mind? ...Yep.)
Sorta like with actual sex and relationships, it's best not to go into masturbating with any expectations—even achieving orgasm—because that can make you feel anxious, says Brito.
Still, if you find yourself freaking out because nothing's "happening," especially during your first me-sesh, that's totally normal and completely okay. Remember that you're experimenting and don't need to impress anyone.
Your only job is to "focus on discovering what feels the most pleasurable to you," she says. Take your time, and just feel it out. Literally.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.