If you search for ways to make your sex life more exciting, you’ll likely come across a bunch of strategies for partners like trying new positions or playing with sex toys for couples. Advice about mixing things up in the masturbation department, on the other hand, is harder to come by (pun very much intended). That’s a real shame, because exploring self-pleasure is just as important—maybe even more so!—as exploring partnered sex.
Sure, a lot of people have their solo-sex moves down pat and might not see a need to fix something that ain’t broke. For others, shame around masturbation—a common sex concern—may factor into hesitation about getting yourself off. Whatever your approach to your masturbation routine may be, there’s a case to be made for a change of pace.
Learning a new technique could teach you something about your body or help you feel pleasure in a new way. And if you’re in the process of figuring out how to turn yourself on or orgasm, a little sexual self-exploration could help get you there.
“Experimenting with new masturbation techniques is a way to discover important elements of what you like (or don’t), to stretch yourself sexually in a completely safe context, and to stay engaged with your body and desires—which can change over time,” Carol Queen, sex educator and staff sexologist at Good Vibrations, tells SELF. Just like you can get into a sexual rut with a partner, your masturbation routine can become stagnant, which may leave something to be desired, Queen adds.
Mixing up your methods can also show you how to have more flexibility in the ways you experience pleasure with partners, Casey Tanner, LCPC, CEO of queer-affirming, sex-positive therapy practice the Expansive Group, tells SELF. “If you always masturbate with a vibrator while on your back, for example, your body may not have a framework for orgasming when you're on top or when someone is going down on you,” she says. “The more you can learn to relax into different positions and sensations solo, the more likely you'll be able to orgasm in different positions during partnered sex.”
There’s no wrong way to get yourself off, of course, and if you’re happy with your current moves (or lack thereof), you—uh—do you. But for those of you who are turned on by the idea of shaking up your masturbation routine, we asked 15 sex experts to share their hottest tips. Consider their advice your masturbation inspiration.
1. Get to know your clitoris (it bears repeating).
We know this is old news to most people who have one, but the clitoris can be key for solo satisfaction: According to a 2017 survey of more than 1,000 women published in the Journal Sex and Marital Therapy, three quarters of people with vulvas say clitoral stimulation is either necessary for orgasm or enhances the experience. But if you haven’t taken the time to really get to know your clitoris, it’s worth the effort, since different ones respond to different kinds of touch. Some, for instance, might prefer direct pressure, while others may prefer suction, Marla Renee Stewart, sex expert for sex toy shop Lovers and women’s studies instructor at Clayton State University, tells SELF. “When it comes to figuring out what works best for yours, finding the right toy can help in your exploration,” she says.
If you want to experiment with direct pressure, you can try a wand vibrator, and if you’re into suction, you might prefer a toy that uses pulse technology, like the Satisfyer One Night Stand ($10) or the Satisfyer Luxury Haute Couture ($100).
2. Get intimately familiar with your vulva, in general.
Even if you’re a seasoned masturbator, getting to know all of your parts is the foundation for a satisfying self-pleasure routine, Incia Rashid-Dawdy, LCPC, a therapist at the Expansive Group, tells SELF. Many of us received inadequate sexual education growing up, so getting back to basics can help you explore your pleasure potential more fully. “Understanding what contributes to pleasure makes it easier to seek it out for ourselves,” Rashid-Dawdy says. If you need a vulva refresher (or never learned about it), she notes, “I often suggest checking out this simple ‘Vagina Anatomy 101’ guide from period-product brand Lunette to my clients.” You may learn, for example, that the labia minora—the inner vaginal lips—also house pleasure-producing nerve endings, so touching that area might feel fantastic as a build-up (or alternative) to more-intense clitoral stimulation.
3. Don’t limit lube to partner penetration.
If you like (or want) to incorporate penetration into your masturbation routine, lube can help a dildo or finger go in much more easily, naturally. But a lesser-known fact is that it can also enhance clitoral stimulation, sex educator Erica Smith, MEd, tells SELF.
“When your vulva is slippery, it’s a lot easier to explore with your hands, and it also reduces friction on the clitoris, which some can find painful or unpleasant,” Smith explains. She also suggests using lube with any kind of insertive toy, even if you have natural lubrication and don’t think you “need” it. “It’s not really about needing it, but about adding it as an enhancement,” she says. If you’re using toys, Smith recommends water-based lube, since silicone formulas can break down silicone sex toys. And FYI: If your masturbation exploration involves latex (in, say, a condom you put over a toy), you’ll want to avoid oil-based lube, which can cause the material to deteriorate.
4. Prioritize foreplay for solo sex too.
Tuning in to your body’s sensations (and getting out of your head) is key for enjoying masturbation—and sex in general—and one way to develop this type of mindfulness is to expand your definition of self-pleasure beyond sexual touch, Bianca I. Laureano, AASECT-certified sexuality educator, tells SELF. This could mean using a scent you enjoy in the bath and paying attention to changes in the temperature of the water, or applying lotion and noting how different parts of your skin feel, she says.
Exploring physical sensations in this way can be particularly beneficial for fat people, who are often excluded from our culture’s views and portrayals of sexuality. Experimenting with non-sexual self-touch can be an opportunity to reinforce the idea that they deserve to feel good and experience pleasure, Laureano says.
If you’re not yet comfortable with masturbation, easing your way in with nonsexual touch can also be a nonthreatening way to get started, Laureano adds. You can try small things at first, like massaging your hand or wearing clothing with textures you enjoy. “Often, masturbation requires a level of comfort and safety,” Laureano says. “Starting from a place that’s less intimidating welcomes more expansion to find that comfort in touching ourselves.”
5. Put your hips into it.
Since many of us masturbate lying down, focused on what we’re doing with our hands, moving around might sound like multitasking—but it can also have huge pleasure payoffs. Moving your pelvis (and your body in general) can get your heart rate up and increase blood flow, including to the genitals, Queen says. “You can writhe, wiggle, or thrust your hips,” she suggests. “That motion will increase circulation, and more blood flow—particularly to sexually sensitive areas—can heighten arousal.”
Late sexologist Betty Dodson popularized this circulation-boosting masturbation technique with her “rock and roll” method, which involves lying on your back, thrusting your pelvis up and down, and squeezing your vaginal muscles in time with your thrusting.
You can also experiment with your own movement method, tuning in to your body—which can help you tune out cultural ideas of what being turned on is supposed to look like—to notice what feels good and natural to you. In other words, masturbate like no one’s watching.
6. Give yourself the full-body treatment.
While the clitoris is the center of many vulva owners’ pleasure, solely focusing on it excludes other body parts that can seriously up your enjoyment—think of the difference between a foot rub and a total body massage. “Exploring different parts of your body—with your hand or a vibrator—can create a slow build to orgasm, or you might find yourself having different types of orgasm that you haven’t experienced before,” sex educator Nat DiFrank tells SELF. “This exploration can also be really helpful for people who experience gender dysphoria or have sexual trauma that might make touching or centering genitals uncomfortable.”
Some body parts you might consider including in your masturbation session: your nipples, chest, neck, thighs, labia, perineum (the space between the vagina and anus), and anus. “Play with variations in sensations like light, medium, and hard touch by fluttering your fingers, pinching, slapping, or grabbing,” DiFrank suggests.
7. Remember that sex toys can be a lot of fun.
Sex toy shame is, thankfully, at least somewhat lifting culturally in the US, but embarrassment isn’t the only reason you might not be embracing them. Maybe you’re getting off just fine without a toy, or you don’t know where to start with one. If your fingers feel better to you, by all means, do your thing, but many people find that toys add to their pleasure both alone and with a partner, Laurie Mintz, PhD, sex therapist and author of Becoming Cliterate, tells SELF. One 2009 study on more than 2,000 women in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that participants who used vibrators reported better overall sexual functioning, including increased arousal and more frequent orgasms.
And in case you’re concerned, vibrators are unlikely to become “addictive,” replace your partner, or desensitize your clitoris, Dr. Mintz adds. They can, however, “give you the type of stimulation most likely to lead you to experience orgasm,” she says.
Not sure where to begin with toys? “I strongly recommend starting with a clitoral vibrator, particularly one with multiple speeds and patterns,” she says. “But, if you know you like combining external and internal stimulation, then go with a rabbit vibrator.”
8. Know that less might be more—pleasurable, that is.
Given all the clichés about the “elusive female orgasm,” it’s no wonder many of us think we need to blast our clitorises with vibration on the highest setting to get off. But clits are super responsive—you may not even have to touch yours directly to feel intense pleasure. “One of the biggest mistakes I see people with vulvas make is thinking they need to make direct contact with their clitoris,” Vanessa Marin, LMFT, sex therapist and creator of online orgasm course Finishing School, tells SELF. “For a lot of people, the clitoris is too sensitive for that.”
And even if you’re feeling just fine with powerful stimulation, experimenting with different levels of intensity can help you get to know your body even better. Marin suggests experimenting with keeping your underwear on when you masturbate or touching the areas around the clitoris with your underwear off. “You can also try rubbing through the labia, or even circling around (but not directly touching) the clitoris,” she says. If you require (or simply like) more stimulation, there’s nothing wrong with that either, but it can help to get a sense of your sensitivity level first, so you can find your sweet spot.
9. Free your mind; the rest will follow.
Another way to become more dialed in during your sexy self-time is to stop hyper-focusing on reaching orgasm. “Letting go of that agenda allows us to discover new pleasurable terrain and increase our erotic intelligence,” says somatic sexologist Jaiya. She suggests setting aside just 10 or 15 minutes for goal-less masturbation, during which you can stimulate different parts of your vulva and surrounding areas with different types of touch, varying the speed and pressure. “You can explore around the clit, the pubis mons, inside the folds where your inner thighs meet with the pelvis,” she says. When your attention starts to drift, bring it back to your body to tune into the sensations you’re feeling. You might actively avoid orgasming (more on that below) or allow it to happen if it happens on its own; the key is not to force it, she adds.
10. Know that if you build it, you will (be more likely to) come.
And speaking of orgasms, prolonging the climb can make them that much more intense once you get there, Dorian Solot, sexuality educator and co-author of I Love Female Orgasm, tells SELF. Plus, it can be a fun way to stretch out your me-time. Solot recommends playing what she calls the “game of 10:” “Masturbate until you get close to orgasm but stop before letting yourself climax—that’s one,” she explains. “Pause to let your arousal fall back a bit, then change to a new position and masturbate close to orgasm again—that’s two. Repeat (in a different position each time, if you want) until you reach 10 and finally let yourself enjoy the blissful release!”
11. Seek out porn that’s ethical and sexy.
“There’s a lot of stigma and shame around porn usage, but if you’re mindful of seeking out ethical porn, you can find content with much more realistic and positive messages around pleasure, consent, and body image,” Rashid-Dawdy says. “Visual and audio stimulation can be a game changer in terms of pleasure.”
It’s important to note that just because porn is labeled as “ethical” or “feminist,” it doesn’t mean everyone involved was treated fairly and respectfully. With a little digging, though, it’s possible to find content that’s ethically produced and doesn’t go against your personal values, according to Rashid-Dawdy. One smart strategy is to look for content that’s produced or directed by someone who has worked as a performer, and a simple way to do that is to see whether any of the performers featured in the video were also involved in its creation, as SELF previously reported. (We’ll also leave SELF’s list of hot audio porn options here for your listening pleasure.)
12. Eliminate distractions.
Distractions can take up a lot of mental energy—energy that could be dedicated to getting into the self-pleasure zone. “Noisy neighbors? Pop some headphones in and play some audio erotica or sexy songs, depending on your mood,” Rashid-Dawdy suggests. “If you can’t focus with a sink full of dirty dishes looming over you, do them beforehand to clear up some of your mental bandwidth.” Also be sure to put your phone on Do Not Disturb. As Rashid-Dawdy says, “Getting a call from Mom when you’re about to orgasm is not ideal.” Oh, and speaking of technology, she also offers this friendly reminder: Charge your sex toys! A dead battery is another masturbation buzzkill.
13. Just add water—with a showerhead or not.
The showerhead is a self-pleasure icon and for good reason: “Detachable showerheads with multiple speeds can be a wonderful way to engage in self-love,” Markie Twist, PhD, marriage and family therapist and AASECT-certified sexuality educator, tells SELF. “You can control the speed, pressure, and there’s no cleanup.”
If your showerhead isn’t up to the task, though, your bath faucet can also offer plenty of pleasure. “You can lie down on your back and put your feet up on either side of the faucet with the water flowing between your legs, onto your clitoris, and into your vaginal opening,” Dr. Twist says. A gadget like the Waterslyde ($35), which attaches to your faucet, can help direct the water wherever feels best—like creating your own mini waterpark of self-amusement.
14. Experiment with temperature play.
Adding a little heat (or chill) can stimulate your nerve endings—and arousal, Shemeka Thorpe, PhD, sexuality researcher, tells SELF. “Learn if your body likes cooling sensations, warming sensations, or both,” Dr. Thorpe says. One way to do that is to drop a stainless steel or glass sex toy in a pot of hot (not boiling!) water, or to stick it in the freezer for five minutes or so, as SELF previously reported. You can also try running your toy of choice (or your hand!) under hot or cold water for a minute or two. Just make sure it’s not too hot or cold to the touch—things are extra sensitive down there, as you know.
15. Seduce yourself like you mean it.
You know how meals can be more satisfying when you prep and cook all the ingredients yourself, set the table, and play some food mood music? Masturbation is often better if you can engage more of your senses, too, Janet Brito, PhD, AASECT-certified sex therapist, tells SELF. So consider making a ritual out of self-pleasure: “Change your sheets, turn on some music, or dim the lights,” she suggests. “Let yourself be taken by the sensory experience and make it all about self-care, self-love, and embracing pleasure.”
To feel each sensory experience more intensely, Dr. Brito suggests applying some of the principles of mindfulness to your masturbation sessions. This can mean noticing and becoming curious about your bodily sensations and erotic thoughts, as well as being nonjudgmental about your experience. “Try to let yourself release guilt and shame,” she says. “If negative thoughts arise, imagine yourself placing them on a cloud or in a stream that carries them away, which can help you detach from them.” (And if sexual fears or insecurities are regularly getting in the way of your pleasure, you might need to practice sexual self-acceptance or consider working through these issues with a therapist if that’s accessible for you.)
“Applying mindfulness to your masturbation practice helps you stay present with yourself and shut out pesky distractions that can get in the way of pleasure,” Angel Russell, sex educator and founding member of the Community Sexual Health, Education, and Research Initiative at the University of North Florida, tells SELF. They suggest starting a basic daily meditation practice (a meditation app can help get you started) to learn mindfulness techniques that you can apply to your solo sex sessions. You might notice how each touch feels against your skin, for example, and try to bring your mind back to those sensations each time it starts to wander.
16. Explore new sex positions solo.
If you’ve ever had an extra fun time in bed with a partner thanks to a new-to-you sex position, you won’t be surprised to learn that one of the best masturbation tips is to switch up your moves. “Different positions bring different sensations and can create more intense orgasms,” Meka Nicole, LPC, sex educator, tells SELF.
Nicole suggests sitting on your knees for greater range of motion and easier full-body exploration, getting on all fours for increased leg and pelvic muscle tension (which can intensify sensations in those areas), and sitting in a chair for better access to the vulva. “Making love to yourself can be just as adventurous as making love to someone else,” she says. Knowing that you have novel positions to look forward to can also up your masturbation anticipation, so the experience is even more pleasurable when you finally get yourself alone.
This article was originally published on SELF.