Female masturbation is still a bit of a taboo subject for some, with historical stigma and shame attached to the idea of a woman enjoying herself sexually – especially by herself. But with growing awareness and education around female sexuality, female masturbation is now becoming something more openly talked about, and actively embraced.
For a woman, masturbation can actually be the gateway to learning how she likes to be stimulated, discovering exactly what she needs in order to achieve that much-coveted female orgasm. Not only does having an orgasm feel pleasurable, but climaxing also comes with a whole host of physical and mental health benefits to boot, and is something every woman should be encouraged to do.
When we have an orgasm our brain sends a signal to our bodies to release various neurochemicals and hormones, including endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine. Endorphins trigger positive feelings and reduce our perception of pain, and can even leave us feeling energised and clear-headed. Oxytocin, or the ‘love hormone’, promotes feelings of affection; and dopamine, often considered to be the ‘pleasure hormone’, is what gives us that feeling of deep satisfaction. Any gym bunnies out there will know all too well the addictive ‘high’ you get after a workout that keeps you coming back for more. Well, that’s because this feeling is down to the same cocktail of hormones released when you have an orgasm, so taking time to regularly get yourself ‘there’ can be a great way to establish and maintain a healthy libido.
As well as leaving us feeling good, masturbating at bedtime can actually be a great way to wind down and get to sleep. Along with the hormones mentioned above, post-orgasm is when our brain additionally releases prolactin, which is what can give us that sleepy feeling, and serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’, which stabilises our mood – both of which are great for sending us off into a sound and soothing sleep.
In fact, having an orgasm is a great all-round way to relieve tension and take care of our mental wellbeing. During sexual arousal, as our bodies build towards climax, our brain switches off the parts associated with decision making and emotion. This allows us to concentrate only on what we are experiencing in the moment, leaving our worries about our mounting ‘to do’ list firmly behind! Try and consider masturbation as an act of self-care – something you do by yourself, just for you, as a way to relax and de-stress. In the same way that having a long soak in a bubble bath might help (a sure-fire win if you combine the two activities!), when we give our minds the opportunity to reset, we are then better able to deal with the strains and stresses of whatever life throws our way.
Building mental resilience contributes to our self-esteem and self-image, and getting to know our own bodies – what we like sexually, and how we enjoy being stimulated – can also help us to feel more confident and empowered, which can go on to help build intimacy and satisfaction with a sexual partner.
Masturbation and orgasm can even have specific benefits at the various different stages of womanhood. Though it may feel like the last thing on your mind when you are on your period, having an orgasm can actually help to relieve menstrual cramps by contracting then releasing the vaginal muscles. This same physiological response to climax can also be useful in supporting your pelvic floor muscle recovery, and a good way to gently figure out what feels good for you sexually post-partum.
For those trying to conceive, bringing masturbation into the bedroom when sex may have become more functional than enjoyable, could help you both to relax and bond (remember that affection-building hormone oxytocin!), and relieve any performance-related anxiety.
During pregnancy, with all those extra hormones whizzing around your body and extra blood flow into your pelvic regions, it’s not unusual for a lot of women to experience a greater degree of sexual arousal than they normally might. But if your high sex drive doesn’t agree with your partner, or the idea of intercourse feels like doing some sort of contortionist routine (especially in those later trimesters), then masturbating is a great way to give you that hormone high your body is craving.
Masturbation isn’t something that has an age limit on it either. During menopause progesterone and oestrogen levels dip, and one unpleasant side effect can be vaginal dryness. By increasing blood flow into the vaginal region through masturbation you can actively encourage your natural lubrication, making this less uncomfortable. Research has also shown that engaging in regular sexual activity, including masturbation, can help decrease cognitive decline (in particular memory) – keeping your brain sharp and your body satisfied!
Masturbation and regular orgasm really do have life-long wellbeing implications, so don’t be shy about getting to know yourself a little better, and remember: whatever way, or time of day, takes your fancy, you can masturbate safe in the knowledge that it not only feels great, but it’s good for your health too!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aimée has a background in Forensic Psychology, working as a family therapist before becoming an editor for Penguin Random House. Specialising in non-fiction, she has edited bestselling books from world-class experts in their field. Most recently she has commissioned self-help titles covering natural remedies, parenting, and mindfulness.