Wellbeing columnist Erica Chidi Cohen is here to answer our most pressing questions about sex, health and overall wellbeing. Today, she’s tackling the topic of solo sex…
Q. I know this might sound hard to believe, but I’m 30 and have never really masturbated. I’ve tried, but I become too easily distracted, or I honestly just don’t know what to do. I’ve never had an orgasm and I want to. Can you help? — Amelia
A. This is a great question, and you’re not alone. I get this question a lot! Many hetero and queer women struggle with finding comfort in, or simply establishing, a solo sex practice. But you can develop these skills at any time. The first step is to slowly start exploring your body.
I teach a sex class at LOOM, and the first topic is anatomy, since many women know very little about their own bodies. Many of us were introduced to our anatomy in a lackluster sex class, where it was presented via a contraceptive lens vs. being about pleasure.
In quick review, the female genitals are made up of the clitoris, labia minora and majora, vestibular bulbs, the urethra, the vagina and surrounding tissue called the vulva. (Here’s a graphic!) The clitoris is the only organ in the human body dedicated exclusively for pleasure. It’s also the most sensitive organ, containing 8,000 nerve fibers. That’s more than any other part of the body. Most women need it stimulated in order to orgasm; in fact, most can orgasm without ever requiring penetration of their vagina. If you’ve never taken a good look at yours, you might like to. Get a magnifying mirror, and in a unaroused state, part your labia, gaze at your clitoris and gently notice what’s there with a sense of curiosity and compassion.
After that, you can create time and a safe space to practice. There are lots of different techniques worth exploring — it can be a simple as placing your whole palm over your genitals and applying full downward pressure as you circulate your hips in response. Although one of my earliest masturbation experiences was with the Hitachi Magic Wand Massager (a classic!), I eventually learned how to use my hands, and now it’s my preference. Being able to intuitively control the level of pressure and speed when I’m masturbating is something I’ve come to enjoy.
If you want more specific instruction, visit OMG YES, a wonderful educational site for people with vaginas that explores hands-based clitoral techniques, from “circling” (creating consistent circular movements around the clit) or “edging” (increasing pleasure by approaching orgasm and then easing away). It’s one of my go-to teaching resources that shows vaginas of all ages, shapes and ethnicities. Another great resource is O.School, which provides daily live streams about sex, pleasure, combating shame, and recovering from trauma. After all, the more we lift pleasure and positive touch out of the shadows and into daily conversation, the better we’ll all be.
Q. I’ve had the same vibrator for years, but I’d love to switch things up a little, both alone and with my partner. Can you make some recommendations when it comes to toys and lube? I feel out of the loop and I want to know what’s up. Thank you! — Heather
A. When it comes to toys and lube, it’s helpful to ponder what you typically need to orgasm. Are you a clitoris person? Or a penetration person? Or both?
For those in the clitoris camp, my go-to vibrator right now is the Fin by Dame. It was created by two women, and it attaches to your finger. Its lowest rumble setting feels very close to what my own hands would do, and when you’re orgasming you don’t have to quickly pull it away because the vibration is too intense. In fact, you can apply more pressure with your fingers and let the orgasm (which is created by rapid contractions between your pelvic floor and uterus) travel a little deeper.
If you’re into penetration, I love Tantus dildos. They are made from body-safe pure silicone. The Silk Small is 0.8″ wide, which makes it great for just starting out with penetration. The silicone is fairly firm but very flexible because it’s on the smaller side. Lovehoney’s glass dildos are made from borosilicate glass and are also great for beginners. For anyone nervous about glass, don’t be. Glass toys feel extra smooth going in and out of the body. Plus, they warm to your body temperature while using them, which feels great.
On the lube front, I always go with water-based over coconut oil. Why? Coconut oil is antibacterial and antifungal, so it has the potential to disrupt the pH balance in your vagina and cause yeast infections. Instead, I spring for water-based lubes, like Sliquid and Sutil. They get the job done, maintain your pH balance, and feel very close to your natural lubrication.
For everyone: I’d love to hear how you’re approaching sex, what helps you get into the mood, and anything that has helped you find more pleasure in your body.
Erica Chidi Cohen is a doula, educator and cofounder of LOOM. She is passionate about helping people cultivate body literacy and the tools to advocate for their reproductive health and wellbeing, and has guided thousands of people in their transition from pregnancy to parenthood in her practice and through her book, Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Early Motherhood.
Thanks so much, Erica! Do you have a sex, health or wellness question for Erica? Let us know in the comments. And here are 10 things Erica always tells pregnant women, if you’d like to read them.
(Top photo by Raymond Forbes/Stocksy.)