There’s one super-healthy thing women are doing more of in bed, and yet most of us don’t talk about it all that often: masturbating. According to a Kinsey Institute study, more than half of women ages 18 to 49 reported masturbating at least once every three months, and in SKYN Condoms’ 2015 Millennial Sex Survey, 83 percent of millennial women reported self-pleasuring—and a third of them are doing it several times a week.
While more women—both single and partnered-up—may be catching onto the masturbation movement (there are even apps encouraging women to “get in touch with themselves”) there are still plenty who shun or are ashamed by the act. The idea of women getting off on their own has been stigmatized for years—a Planned Parenthood report found that people have historically perceived masturbation as having negative mental or physical health consequences. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Women who aren’t indulging in a little “me time” now and then aren’t just missing out on the obvious pleasure—they’re neglecting the considerable health benefits masturbation provides for us sexually and mentally. Here are the major ones to know about.
1. Masturbation helps you learn about your body—and can improve your sex life.
One of the biggest benefits of self-pleasure is its educational purposes, says sexologist and host of the Sex with Emily podcast, Emily Morse, Ph.D. “A woman learning her own body is the first step in cultivating an amazing sex life. It increases your sexual awareness and helps you feel more comfortable in your sexuality, thus helping you enjoy sex more,” she says.
2. It keeps your pelvic region toned.
Masturbation helps keep our pelvic floor strong enough to perform, says sex therapist, Kat Van Kirk, Ph.D. “The pelvic floor is made of muscle, and provides support to your pelvic organs, in addition to playing an important role in pregnancy, childbirth, intercourse, continence and pelvic organ prolapse.” What better way to work this vital region?
3. It makes it easier to orgasm.
Speaking of the pelvic floor, having a strong one means more orgasms. In fact, Morse says women who struggle to climax may benefit from practicing more self-pleasure. “Stronger pelvic floor muscles lead to more frequent orgasms, not only during masturbation but also during intercourse,” she says. Kat adds that masturbation can improve circulation and lubrication, which are also crucial to reaching the Big O. And the proof is in the numbers: The SKYN survey shows that 89 percent of women say they reach orgasm during sex. Sounds like all that self-exploration is paying off!
4. It boosts your mood.
Who doesn’t feel amazing after a good climax? With masturbation, you don’t even have to peak to feel incredible. Masturbating increases blood flow through your body and releases feel-good chemicals including dopamine and oxytocin. These chemicals also help relieve stress, says Morse. “There’s a reason many women choose to masturbate when they’re stressed out or anxious after a long day. When you climax, these endorphins will invoke an inner sense of calm,” she says. Who needs drugs when you have your hand?
5. It strengthens your relationship with your partner.
Masturbating in front of each other is often a huge turn-on for your partner, says sex columnist and host of Girl Boner Radio, August McLaughlin. “The more you understand your own body sexually, the more pleasure you can experience with a partner. You can not only make sure you’re feeling fabulous as you play, but guide him or her in the right direction when pleasing you,” she says.
6. It strengthens your relationship with yourself.
When you know how to make yourself feel great without anyone else’s help, you’re not just boosting your mood; you’re also boosting your overall confidence and body image. “Masturbation can help you feel more self-assured and empowered in your own sexuality,” says Kat. Makes sense—masturbation is sex with someone you love, after all.