Love No LimitMasturbation Opens Women up to Power, Play, and Pleasure

an illustration of a Black woman laying across the couch, naked, with a hand covering her vagina

Illustration by Nicole Medina

Pleasure is a human right; sexual pleasure is natural, not nasty; and self-pleasure (through masturbation) is a radical act, especially for women. Because I so deeply believe in these ideals, I spend as much time as I can advocating for women to experience the kinds of pleasure they deserve. Too often, women are fed scripts that tell them orgasms are some kind of arbitrary thrill that must be delivered by someone else. Rarely are women told that orgasms can be like happy pills—releasing endorphins into the brain that can better our mood—or can help our bodies relax enough to fall asleep. Self-pleasure can help relieve stress, and it can create pathways toward other kinds of pleasure. And since it’s National Masturbation Month, I decided to speak with one of my favorite sexuality educators, Goody Howard of Ask Goody, about why masturbation is so important—whether solo or coupled—and what the best tools are for the trade.

“My favorite benefit of masturbation is that it helps connect us to our pleasure,” says Howard, who has been teaching sex education and sexual health and helping women learn how to cum for more than 12 years. “When you know what feels good to you and communicate it to your partner, it makes you a better lover and makes the sex you have with others even more satisfying.” Self-pleasure is radical for women because, as Goody mentioned, it helps us understand how our own bodies work and what makes them feel their sexual best. The more we know about what brings our bodies pleasure, the more we’re able to center our pleasure when we share our bodies with others. It puts us in the driver’s seat. It teaches us that our pleasure deserves priority.

Get Started with Solo Play

In Howard’s view, it’s never too late to begin practicing masturbation. “The best way to ease into solo play is to indulge in something arousing (a book, song, memory, or good ole porn), put some lube on your hands and vulva, and explore,” she says. My own suggestion to beginners is to get more comfortable with their bodies. Sometimes the greatest masturbation sessions begin with self-touch and mirror time—concentrating not only on the parts of your body that tingle from touch, but also on the parts that make you feel beautiful and sexy. Not only can this kind of play lead us toward pleasure and orgasm, but it can also remind us that our bodies, no matter how they are formed, are beautiful and worthy of passion and praise.

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Masturbation is also a great exploratory tool for women who struggle to orgasm. While most of us are familiar with clitoral orgasms and G-spot orgasms, some of us are not aware that we might need both clitoral stimulation and penetration in order to cum. Other forms of orgasms include those produced through nipple stimulation and anal stimulation. There’s even an orgasm produced through the skin, called frisson. Here’s a good guide on how to find all kinds of ways to make your body cum, with step-by-step instructions. For me, it seems that relaxing and giving yourself space and time to figure it out is the most important aspect of the self-discovery journey. And if you’re still struggling to orgasm, there’s no shame in consulting with a sex coach or a sex therapist. There may be a mental or emotional issue that is blocking you from experiencing the sexual pleasure that you want and deserve.

Bring in the Fun

When it comes to using toys, Goody says you should hold out on using them in the beginning of your masturbation journey. “I don’t really suggest toys to beginner-level bean flippers, because you need to understand your orgasm and pleasure without an accessory first.” I would add that using one’s hands first could also help identify the areas that need to be touched, and in what way, to produce an orgasm. Do you have your deepest orgasms from penetration, or strictly through clitoral stimulation? Fast strokes or holding? Once you figure out what your body likes most, you can shop for a toy to quench that particular thirst.

Purchasing a good lube is the first step to incorporating toys in the bedroom. “We think using lube means that we’re having trouble getting wet,” she says. “Using lube is not just for postmenopausal women. It creates a slick barrier between you and who (or what) you’re fucking and reduces friction to give you a smoother ride.” Choose a lube that considers your allergies and sensitivities. There are silicone lubes and water-based lubes that work well with condoms (in case your mutual masturbation sesh moves into intercourse), and there are natural lubes and edible lubes (for when the hands aren’t quite enough). (By the way, good ole coconut oil from your pantry works great at both removing makeup and moving you closer to climax.)

The more we know about what brings our bodies pleasure, the more we’re able to center our pleasure when we share our bodies with others.

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New York magazine has an article that runs down a list of great lubes. Goody also recommends another tool of the trade: “A purple pleasure cock ring—which I sell on my site—I literally use it all the time. I can use it just for me as a multiplied, handheld bullet or use it as intended and slide it to the base of his penis so we can both have some fun!” Next, she recommends pressing the record button. “I love recording myself and watching it later or sending it to my partner. Phone sex, skype sex, calling right when I’m about to cum so he just has to stand there and listen while he’s at work because he’s not going to hang up in my face, no matter who he’s talking to. It’s powerful.”

Get Each Other Off

And once we gain that knowledge of what works, coupled (or mutual) masturbation can be a great warm-up to sex or a fun main act. Watching your partner pleasure themselves is a great way to learn about your partner’s body, and it can intensify your longing if you choose to look and not touch. Try guiding that session by being vocal about where you enjoy being touched and offering clear instructions on what brings you to orgasm while masturbating and even while having intercourse. If you’re too shy to vocalize what brings you pleasure, Goody suggests a little screen time or a chat on the phone. “Watching something sexy together or having a steamy phone conversation is a great way to start. You can also learn a lot about a person by the kinds of porn they watch.”

The key is allowing things to flow. “Relax and enjoy something visually or audibly arousing and let the magic happen. Explore yourself and make your partner your porn.” Another note: Encourage your partner! Mutual masturbation can also be a great introduction to voyeurism or exhibitionism. The most arousing part of this kind of sex can be watching or being watched. “Encourage each other and tell your partner how sexy they look! Some people are turned on just knowing someone else is watching (and enjoying) their performance,” Goody says.

Power. Play. Pleasure. Orgasms give us so much! I’d love to hear your thoughts on why self-pleasure is important to you. Hit me on Twitter @jonubian! And if you have more pointed questions about achieving the sex you long for, send me an email at


Josie Pickens
by Josie Pickens
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Josie Pickens is a womanist professor, cultural critic, and radio host whose many works explore the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Much of her writing seeks to curate expansive conversations about love, pleasure and healthy relationships. Follow Jo on Twitter: @jonubian.