I first discovered the power of my pussy on the yellow bath rug in my parents' bathroom. Behind locked doors, I self-explored between ballet lessons, The Brady Bunch, and bedtime. I was 6 years old.
Decades later, a daily ménage a moi is a must-do. It's a routine habit, like brushing my teeth or meditating. When St. Vincent sings, "Oh, what an ordinary day / Take out the garbage, masturbate," she speaks to me—and I swoon.
May is Masturbation Month (yes, it's a thing) and it was created to honor US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. After a speech at the United Nations World AIDS Day in 1994, an audience member asked Dr. Elders about masturbation's potential for discouraging early sexual activity. Her frank response, "I think it is something that is part of human sexuality and a part of something that perhaps should be taught," got her fired by President Bill Clinton. Hello, sexual hypocrisy.
According to the Kinsey Institute, only 40 to 60 percent of women masturbate, compared to 95 to 99 percent of their male counterparts. Sure, men have advantages when it comes to getting off. Society expects and encourages male masturbation, and it's much more obvious when they've come. Yet it is a highly stigmatized topic for women, still often considered something "good" girls don't do.
As women, it's high time to own our pleasure. As Woody Allen's character Alvy Singer said in Annie Hall, "Don't knock masturbation, it's sex with someone you love." Here are some tips to help you find your happy ending.
Get to know your body
Sit down with a mirror and play genital show- and-tell, a brilliant concept I learned at a bodysex workshop with iconic Sex for One author and sex educator Betty Dodson, aka the "Mother of Masturbation." When was the last time you sat down and took a good hard look at your pussy? Like got all Nancy Drew in your business and explored every fold, crease, and flap? Pulled back the clitoral hood and revealed that marvelous magic-making bead? Women have the same number of nerve endings in their clits as men have in their dicks, but it's hard to get off if you don't appreciate the skin you're in.
Screw the guilt and shame
A lot of us grew up thinking of masturbation—hell, sex—as abnormal, especially those of us who were caught and scolded. (See: Ms. Pfeuffer with the handheld showerhead in the bathroom.) My slut-shaming started soon after I lost my virginity to a smooth-talking lacrosse player. I was 15. When my mother found out I'd been deflowered, she called me a whore. My father was convinced I'd been raped. Neither would accept it was a consensual act, nor did it spark any conversation about sex. When my mother died two years later, I bought my first vibrator, which got me off faster than Johnny Gill's "Rub You the Right Way" (aptly a top hit at the time). I continued to fumble my way in and out of partners' pants and enjoyed the process well enough. But knowing I could pleasure myself—on my terms, without contracting an STI or getting knocked up—was a powerful tool as I explored my sexuality.
Create a fantasy
For more than a decade, I've fantasized about hooking up with a stranger in a bathroom stall. Like "hike up my skirt and slam me against the wall while you penetrate me from behind" kind of fucking. Preferably with some hair pulling. Sex with strangers is a common fantasy and far less kinky than most of the thoughts in my mental Rolodex of smut. It's fueled countless orgasms, so it's a reliable go-to. Give yourself permission to think about whatever you have to think about to get off.
There's a huge amount of objectification (and other issues) within the porn industry, but there's also plenty of material that isn't offensive. A Ladies' Home Journal survey found that 47 percent of women reported using erotica or pornography to step up their sexual experiences. Once upon a time, I reviewed porn for AVN (aka Adult Video Network), and I still indulge in porn regularly, whether it's via subscription sites or targeted keyword Tumblr searches. Right now, I'm into Girlsway.com, the sexy brainchild of Bree Mills, which features 100 percent girl-on-girl-only pornography. Erika Lust, Tristan Taormino, and Candida Royalle also put out ethically produced porn.
Don't rush it
The female orgasm requires patience. Most women need 20 to 30 minutes of consistent clitoral stimulation to climax. In everyday life, women are multitaskers—we like to tick items off our to-do lists. When going for the Big O, try to be in the moment and focus on your arousal instead of the end result. It's not a race.
There's a huge stigma surrounding lube and women. "Like it's either for old ladies or bad girls," says Jenny Block, author of The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex. Some women are naturally slick, and that's great. But if you're on the drier side, there are solutions. If you haven't found a lube that feels good, you haven't found the right one. Go to your local sex store or buy online, and try out a few samples. A few recommendations: BabeLube, Blossom Organics, and Pjur. If you need to lick your fingers, that's OK too.
Play with toys/tools
If shopping in person for sex toys is intimidating, visit Babeland.com or another online store that has a lot of information, resources, and customer-service reps available via chat or on the phone. Orders arrive in discreet packaging. A few recommendations: (1) Womanizer Pro, which provides a combo of vibration and suction, has been a best seller at Babeland since it arrived last fall—it's tough to look at the tool and understand what it's capable of, but it's rocked my clit stim world. (2) Magic Wand Rechargeable, a cordless version of the classic Magic Wand, actually has more power and is one of my go-tos for getting off. (3) Ina Wave, a sexy device that takes dual-action stimulation a step further with come-hither motion on the G-spot (think finger banging, but with no muscle fatigue).
Play with positions
Until the bodysex workshop, I thought I'd had sex in every imaginable position. (Except DP, my Holy Grail of carnal conquests.) Dodson had a few new-to-me tricks, including the almighty Pillow Fuck. Here's how it works: Place a pillow on the floor (it doesn't work as well on a non-flat surface, like a bed). Spread your legs and straddle it, with the Magic Wand Rechargeable positioned below your clit. Now rock your pelvis, playing with contact and pressure until you find your happy place. Most often, I masturbate on my back with my legs spread wide open, but this on-top-and-in-control position is a solo sex game changer. It allows me to "run the fuck" (one of my favorite Bettyisms) and control the speed, depth, and angle of direct stimulation. For clitoral orgasms, it's one helluva technique.
Why stop at just one?
When it comes to coming, most guys tend to be a one and done rodeo. Some women, though, possess the superpower of being multiorgasmic. If you don't, don't sweat it. Like squirting, this treads on party-trick territory, like ping-pong balls and pussies. A lot of women are multiorgasmic but aren't aware of it; to figure out if you are, after you come, keep doing what you're doing. "If you had a toy in your pussy and a vibrator on your clit, swap out the toy for your fingers," suggests Block. Slow it down or speed it up—that's how you'll figure what works for you.
If you don't have a frequent hands-on habit, there can be a learning curve. Embrace your curiosities and explore. If masturbation isn't your thing, that's okay too. When it comes to sex, you should never ever do something that makes you feel uncomfortable (or unsafe, for that matter). Self-love is not just for so-called bad girls.