Do you remember the first time you masturbated? I do. I was seven, maybe eight. Home with a fever, I spent the day completely submerged under my duvet. Boy Meets World was on in the background, and well, suddenly there I was jerking it to Topanga (which, according to Hinge, was apparently everyone’s childhood crush).
While my commitment to rubbing the nub has fluctuated quite a bit in my life—depending on factors like whether or not I was in a relationship, my stress level, and how busy I was in my job as a journalist—I started masturbating more after my ex and I broke up six months ago.
But here’s the thing: I’m a multitasking masturbator. I’m never just touching myself. Instead, my solo romps always involve scrolling through email, watching IG stories, or even studying for my CrossFit certification. Basically, if it can be done one-handed, I’ve probably done it masturbating.
When I disclosed this info during a sexting sesh with my long-distance-crush, I (and probably she, TBH) realized how not sexy my solo-sex life had become. In the interest of research, I reached out to a sex expert to find out how and why I’d let masturbating become so…blah.
“That’s our sex and pleasure-phobic culture talking,” California-based Jill McDevitt, PhD, resident sexologist at sex toy emporium CalExotics, explained to me. “Masturbation continues to be seen as taboo. For women, seeking pleasure is seen as self-indulgent, frivolous, irresponsible, and so on.” She suspected that I’d absorbed those messages and therefore fell into a self-love rut.
So when my editor asked me to cover the “7-Day Sex Challenge” from the people at Bulletproof (makers of the popular Bulletproof coffee), I was intrigued. The challenge was to have sex every day for a week and see how it improved mental and physical health, which is something the brand (and scientific research) supports. I proposed turning it into a masturbation challenge, and m editor was all for it. With that, I set out to give my clitoris the attention it deserved.
Before embarking on the challenge, I wrote out a few rules to keep my do-it-all tendencies from robbing me of sexual bliss. First, no phone use in bed. There are way better things to do with a second hand than scroll, I reminded myself. Second, I had to go at it for at least 30 minutes a day.
Third, I needed to experiment. As someone who often writes about sex as it relates to wellness, I’ve had the opportunity to test-drive various sex toys and lubes. But truthfully, I usually stick to my hand. This challenge felt like the perfect excuse to test different vibrators. Finally, I made pleasure my goal, not orgasm. I have a really hard time making myself climax, so I set this rule to take some of the pressure off and just enjoy myself. With those set in place, I plowed ahead into the week.
Day one: setting a sexy mood
The first evening, I set the mood by lighting a candle that reminds me of my first love (teakwood and tobacco), drawing the blinds, throwing on lingerie, dimming the lights, turning up Niykee Heaton, and putting my phone on airplane mode.
I’d had the heat on all afternoon (I’m convinced I do my best writing when I’m sweating), so I was comfortable even in my completely sheer Diddy. I eased my hand beneath the waistband and started to play. I dragged my fingertips diagonally along my labia, letting the pressure hit my clitoris indirectly. It felt good.
But still, my thoughts drifted to my to-do list: Did I respond to that email? Do I have a source for that story I’m working on? I tried to bring myself back to the present by switching rhythms. I used circular motions and moved my fingers up and down, but while I started to get slightly more into it when I went back and forth, I couldn’t escape being distracted.
Days two and three: using sexts as inspo
I didn’t tell my long-distance fling that I was embarking on this experiment. But she did provide ample “foreplay” (or as much as she could with 500 miles between us). Thanks to our two-day sexting sesh, I went into day two of the challenge pretty horny.
Not only that, but thanks to our textual foreplay, my to-do list was the last thing on my mind. For the full 30 minutes for both nights, I replayed her words over and over again in my head while feeling my clitoris swell under my hand. When the alarm (which I set to play Bon Iver) went off, I felt a serious sense of calm. I lulled off to sleep in five minutes flat…and found my new pre-bed ritual.
Day four: trying a clitoral vibrator
I decided to road-test a new clitoral vibrator I had on hand (ahem). A friend told me it felt exactly like receiving oral sex, and while I don’t typically like my clitoris directly stimulated, I wanted to give it a go.
The best way I can describe it is that it felt like getting butterfly kisses. It was soft, gentle, and pleasurable in an almost-relaxing way. I spent the half hour switching back and forth between the vibe (and its 11 settings) and my hand. Did I come? No. Did I find a toy I would more than happily include in both my solo- and partnered-sex future? Oh yeah.
Day five: on all fours
For the first four days, I kept it classic. I reclined on my back and reached my hand down. But on the fifth day, I experimented with positions. I got on all fours, using one arm to stabilize myself and extending the other between my legs. After 10 minutes, I added a finger vibrator, which honestly felt amazing. The first setting was subtle enough to keep me from getting overstimulated while also leaving me highly aroused.
But touching yourself on all fours is basically like doing a one-armed high plank, and my arms got tired. So with a few minutes left, I flipped over and ran my hands along my body, dipping between my legs only to feel how wet I made myself.
When the alarm went off, I felt weirdly proud. McDevitt had predicted I would feel this way. “Masturbating can improve self-esteem in women,” she said. “There’s a relationship between touching yourself and positive body image, as well as feelings of self-love and self-worth.”
Day six: sex toy test-drive
After deciding to keep it hands-free today, I was itching to get to it. First, I put in my ear buds and started streaming Dipsea, an app that offers sexy audio stories to turn women on. Then I pulled out six vibrators and organized them on my bed from least intense to most intense—to make sure that my clitoris wouldn’t get too hyped too quickly and tap out.
Have you ever received a variety box of chocolates? This was similar. I took a “bite” of one. If I didn’t like it, I moved on. If I liked it, I took a few more bites. I’m really glad I did, because I found two new favorite vibes.
For my last solo romp, I decided to romance myself like I did the first night: I plugged in the fairy lights, I turned on Banks, and I put on something black and lace before heading south. I got seriously into the sensations my hands were bringing me. I played around with pressure, I arched my back, and I even moaned. It really felt good.
I wish I could tell you that after 30 minutes of this, I came for the first time all week. I didn’t. But afterward, covered in my own slickness, I contemplated what I did get out of the challenge: a weeklong conversation with my body about what truly brings me pleasure.
What the masturbation challenge taught me
Having solo sex every day made me feel mildly less stressed overall, and I definitely slept better. But McDevitt encouraged me not to only focus on the health benefits. “Masturbating is good for anxiety and stress reduction,” she said. “And it can relieve menstrual cramps and improve sleep. But sometimes I fear that we overly talk up these non-sexual benefits as a way to justify it, as if pleasure for pleasure’s sake isn’t valid. It is.”
That was my biggest takeaway: some damn good feelings. For three and a half hours, my pleasure was the only focus—not emails or deadlines, not a partner’s pleasure. And in a world that’s constantly pulling me in different directions, I gotta say: It felt great to shut that out and get down with my bad self.
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