Sex + Love

Do It Yourself

What we talk about when we talk about masturbation.

Illustration by Emma D.

Among my friends that are girls, secrets about masturbating make up the largest category of things that I am ill-advisedly made privy to. As soon as things get a little drunk-after-prom or giggly-at-a-sleepover, everyone gets all, “I totally masturbate … isn’t that CRAZY?!”

Having heard this at least 15 times by now, I have a less-than-difficult time accepting each new piece of OMG-so-crazy information. What still manages to blow my mind, though, is the fact that people have chosen to tell their secrets to me. Not only am I the worst secret keeper—whispering in my ear is basically the same as sending a mass text to everyone you know—I also was never exactly on the cutting edge of masturbation myself. While most of my guy friends made it very clear that they had been wanking since the waning days of elementary school, I didn’t even know that female masturbation was a thing until my best friend came clean to me in the fall of freshman year.

“What do you mean you’ve never masturbated?” she asked. “I thought everyone did.”

At that point in my life, the only thing more frightening than touching my own vagina was the possibility of being marked as a “late bloomer,” so I decided to take my lady parts out for a spin. Here are a bunch of questions that I wish someone had answered for me before I started masturbating, as well as relevant anecdotes I gathered from strangers and friends:

1. Is masturbating wrong?

Some things are wrong: e.g., stealing from Claire’s, murder, bullying, control-top pantyhose. Notice what isn’t on this list? Masturbation. Masturbation is a healthy, natural, NORMAL activity. If you try it out, you won’t go blind or grow hair on your palms. Your god of choice will not smite you. Your parents never need to know. The first few times you try it, though, you might feel guilty. This isn’t weird. Lots of people (mostly female-identified people) feel bad about masturbation at first because NOBODY EVER TALKS ABOUT IT. The more that it becomes part of your normal routine, though, the more you’ll realize that it’s just part of being a human, like breathing or farting or scratching your leg when it itches.

Relevant personal anecdotes from real live people:

“My parents never really talked about [masturbation], but I think I knew that generally it was something they probably didn’t approve of. To this day I don’t really know their opinions on it, but it’s OK, because I generally know my own.” –Abbi, 19

“I remember I used to feel awkward, even guilty, about masturbation. I felt like a freak, because I thought no one else did it. All [of my friends] said that masturbation was for weird, nymphomaniac girls because only boys did that. That kept me thinking I was weird and a nymphomaniac for years.” –Laura, 18

2. Am I the first/last person in the world to try this?

I asked a bunch of girls and women I know about their first masturbation experiences, and almost everyone prefaced her answer by saying she was either a “late bloomer” or an “early bloomer.” Hilariously (or perhaps sadly), they said this no matter what age they started. Women who masturbated for the first time at 12, and women who tried it for the first time at 20, both called themselves early bloomers. Other women who started at the exact same ages called themselves late bloomers. I guess this is what happens with something that nobody talks about—everyone thinks they’re weird. But I have some news for you: no matter what age you start masturbating, or if you never start masturbating, in this regard, at least, you aren’t special. You are neither the first nor the last person to try it out. Whatever age you decide to start masturbating, if you do, is “normal.”

Relevant personal anecdote from a real live person:

“I can’t even remember the first time I masturbated. I constantly humped just about everything when I was little … pillows, stuffed animals, etc. I never attached any sexual feelings or concepts to it until about middle school, which was the same time I first fingered myself. For me, I never considered humping or clitoral stimulation to be sexual until about that age.” –Danielle,* 19

3. Why should I masturbate?

The most obvious reason you should try masturbating is because you want to. I tried it because I wanted to be as cool as my friends (OH NO VICTIM OF PEER PRESSURE), but I’m glad I did, because masturbating is fun! And it can contribute lots of great things to your life.

Relevant personal anecdotes from real live people:

“Masturbating has improved my general self-confidence. I am a sexy woman who can meet her own needs!” –Danielle

“Masturbating definitely helped my stress levels and self-confidence.” –Zoë, 24

“When I can’t sleep or am stressed out I masturbate a lot, so I think it helps with sleep and stress.” –Holly, 21

4. So how do I actually do it?

This is probably the only question that I can’t really answer for you. What feels good is a matter of personal opinion. Just like people have different tastes when it comes to food, they have different tastes when it comes to things related to sex. The best advice I can give you is to try a bunch of different techniques and then decide what you like and what you don’t.

There are lots of different ways to masturbate. A good way to start is by using your hands, since that doesn’t cost any money and you hopefully are already familiar with how to operate them. What you specifically do with your hands is up to you:

  • You can stick varying numbers of fingers inside of your actual vagina (this is the part of the body that goes inside of you, like where you would put a tampon or get fingered). Not all women can orgasm from vaginal stimulation, but that doesn’t mean that vaginal masturbation won’t feel good for you.
  • You can also try touching your clitoris. Your clitoris, or “clit,” is located near the front of your genitalia, in front of your urethra (the place you pee from). Use your hands to massage your clitoris. Vary speeds and amounts of pressure that you use in order to determine what you like. You can try spitting on your fingers first;** some wetness can feel good.
  • In the same way that you can finger your vagina, you can also finger your anus (yes, that anus). If you plan on trying this, go slowly and use a lubricant (like spit) to make sure you’re comfortable, as the skin in your anus is thinner and more likely to tear than the skin in your vagina. You might like masturbating your anus, as it’s a good way to indirectly stimulate your clitoris.

(If you aren’t sure where all those parts are, there are some helpful diagrams on this page of the sex-ed site Scarleteen.)

Lots of people find masturbating more than one of these parts of the body at once to be pleasurable. If you are switching between anal and vaginal stimulation, be sure to wash your hands in between. Nasty infections are bad.

If masturbating with your hands is not for you, you might want to purchase a sex toy like a vibrator. Someone in a sex shop (find a friendly, feminist store) will be able to help you figure out the type of toy that is right for you. In most areas you need to be 18 in order to shop in a store for this sort of thing, but let it be noted that sex toys can be ordered online (just sayin’). You also might be living under the same roof as a free sex toy RIGHT NOW, and not even know it: lots of people I consulted sang the praises of “that shower sprayer thing on the end of a hose.” If you have one of these in your bathroom, that might be something worth checking out. Spray it on top of your clit, not into your vagina. Start at a low setting.

Relevant personal anecdotes from real live people:

“Back in the day, I mostly masturbated by lying in bed, face down, with a pillow between my legs, and humping the hell out of it. Eventually, in high school, some friends gave me a vibrator that was meant to be inserted, and I experimented with that quite a bit, including some anal play.” –Ellen,* 33

“I mostly use a vibrator, but sometimes I’m feeling nostalgic and I’ll go back to my hands. I always use my middle finger. It’s weird, but any other finger doesn’t feel as good. And two fingers never really worked for me. One was always falling off the clit and not being a part of the action.” –Amanda, 26

“I like to use my hands. Sometimes I think about buying some sex toys, but I really can’t afford them (I’m on a very tight college budget and I’m currently saving for an exchange year). I prefer clitoral stimulation, which I sometimes alternate with vaginal stimulation.” –Laura

“I have never used a sex toy in my life. I always masturbate lying down, on my stomach, using my hand/pillow/something. I think from the outside it would look something like a WAY, WAY, WAY less sexy version of what’sherhotgirlface in Black Swan. I suppose that would be considered purely clitoral stimulation?” –Katie, 26

5. Do I have to “come”? How do I know if I’ve had an orgasm?

You don’t have to do anything when you masturbate. The success or failure of masturbating has nothing to do with whether or not you orgasm, and everything to do with your enjoying yourself and feeling good.

Orgasms come in different sizes. It is possible for you to have no orgasm, a small orgasm, a large one, or one of any size in between. All of these still qualify as successful masturbation outcomes, if you had fun, killed some stress, or alleviated your boredom. Here are some things that might happen to your body when you orgasm:

  • The inside of your vagina might lubricate itself a lot at once (“get wet”).
  • You could feel a rush as blood flows quickly from other parts of your body to your genitals.
  • Your breathing might get fast; your heart rate could increase.
  • Your vagina (and maybe even some other parts of your body) might contract rapidly in a series of pleasurable waves.

Relevant personal anecdotes from real live people:

“I reach orgasm only about half the times that I masturbate. It’s a success if I have fun, and I always do.” –Danielle

“Truthfully, I have never orgasmed when I masturbate. I’m still in pursuit.” –Sophie, 17

“With masturbation, I come once and am done. I’ve tried going for another orgasm but I just lose interest.” –Ellen

“I almost always orgasm, usually once, but sometimes twice. I guess I do consider it more of a ‘success’ when I do, but at the same time I don’t think it’s a failure if I don’t orgasm.” –Michelle, 18

“I don’t know if I’ve really had an orgasm … it’s just a success if I get a warm and heightened pleasure.” –Abbi

6. Should I watch porn? Is that gross? Am I gross if I like watching porn?

There is nothing weird or gross about watching porn, just as there isn’t anything weird or gross about not watching it. Lots of people enjoy watching porn because it helps them get turned on or into a sexier mindset. Porn isn’t the only way to do this, though.

Relevant personal anecdotes from real live people:

“I fantasize about having sex with different men or women. [I think about] the sex and how it would feel.” –Danielle

“I watch a lot of porn. Like, a lot. I used to think it was kind of a dirty thing that I couldn’t talk to a lot of people about. I felt a lot better about masturbating and watching porn, though, after I started talking to my friends and (now ex-) boyfriend about it.” -Erinn, 19

“[I used to have a] TV with HBO and Showtime in my room—MAJOR PORN TIME USA!” –Katie

“I watch porn sometimes, but honestly, I read fan fiction or erotica at least as often. I’m so in love with my smart phone, [because] now I can read online things, AND be in bed lying down.” –Kelly,* 29

7. If I don’t like masturbating, is something wrong with me?

No! The important thing is to know that there is nothing wrong with giving it a shot. If you try it and you don’t like it, that’s fine! Plenty of healthy and happy people go through periods of their life, and even their entire lives, without masturbating. You should do what makes you feel good, and if that does not include masturbating, then don’t masturbate!

Relevant personal anecdotes from a real live person:

“Sometimes I’ll masturbate multiple times a day, sometimes I’ll stop for weeks. It changes!” –Claire,* 17

8. Is there a way I can refer to female masturbation without sounding like a health-class teacher?

There are tons of ways to refer to female masturbation without sounding clinical. I used a bunch in this article. Here are a few more suggested by some of the people I talked to:

“I always just call it rubbing one out.” –Zoë

“I like having a wank, even though I know that [usually] refers to male masturbation.” –Amie, 26

“My favorite word for female masturbation is the verb to frig, which I believe I first ran into in the works of the Earl of Rochester. I think it’s a 16th- or 17th-century term.” –Ellen

“I’m a fan of jilling off.” –Sophie

“I usually just think of it as getting off, because jilling sounds to me like that last step in making Jell-O, where you let it chill in the fridge.” –Michelle

No matter what you call it, how you do it, or what you think of the result, getting to know the likes, dislikes, mechanics, and nuances of your body is a good and valuable way to become more comfortable with yourself. So go south, young lady, and grow savvy in the things that make you feel good! ♦

* These women asked me to change their names for this article, and I obliged.

** Some of you in the comments expressed concern that using spit as lube might be unsanitary and cause infections. So we checked with our friends at Planned Parenthood and here’s what they said: “It’s not only totally safe to use spit as lube during masturbation or sex—it’s also convenient, readily accessible, and free.” So there you have it. (Good news for the nail biters and thumb suckers out there, too.)

39 Comments

  • darksideoftherainbow October 20th, 2011 7:36 PM

    i loved how honest and straight forward this was while still be super fun aka totally rookiemag. thanks so much for it. i didn’t learn until high school that a lot of girls masturbate. idk why it has always been such a big deal…for me it was like worse than farting hahaha. i’m over that now, tho. i def agree that the reason for the shame and guilt is that girls don’t really talk about it with each other….we totally should! thanks!

  • Bren October 20th, 2011 7:44 PM

    Such a good and informative article! Although I remember reading in Cosmopolitan that you’re not supposed to wet your fingers with your saliva as it can sometimes lead to infections. Either way I’m really glad for this article. :)

  • Veganpop October 20th, 2011 8:06 PM

    THANK YOU! I’ve been wanting an article like this for a supremely long time. Not only for me, but for everyone. I have friends who are abrasively open about their masturbation habits, and some who would rather die than discuss. I fall more into the latter category, but I’m working on it!

    Also, whenever talking about gettin’ it done, I’ve always referred to it as fapping. I don’t know why, but I find calling it that to be (almost) as satisfying as the deed itself.

  • Em. October 20th, 2011 8:10 PM

    I had so many doubts about masturbation when I first had that “oh.” moment in the shower. I wasn’t even sure what was happening and it took me years to talk about it to a friend. This article would have been so helpful at the time!

    The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (http://bit.ly/fKSZaP) has some really nice pdf guides about masturbation, clitorial sex, virginity myths… I think rookie readers will find them interesting. :)

  • Britte October 20th, 2011 8:12 PM

    God, I wish I had this in high/middle school. Still helpful today!

  • AW October 20th, 2011 8:27 PM

    As a guy I’m very pleased with this open talk for girls, thank you!
    There’s nothing more natural that you can do with your body that can help you feel good, get to know your body, relax and even sleep.

    I’m glad the word is out for girls too.

    http://obeyseymour.com

  • healthyobsessions October 20th, 2011 9:28 PM

    I’ve been masturbating since about the age of 13 and it astounds me how many friends I have. I have more self-confidence when I do and a better, positive air about me.

    • healthyobsessions October 20th, 2011 9:29 PM

      *how many friends I have that don’t.

  • fullmetalguitar October 20th, 2011 10:20 PM

    I think this article was great at being actually informative for those who need a little extra explanation, and nice and casual. Also I love that you included the seventh part, since I think a lot of the supporters of masturbation make it sound like if you don’t do it then you’re obviously a prude or not an empowered woman in charge of her own sexuality. I say this mostly because I am one of those who’s not a big fan of it, though I have tried it and and experimented a bit to figure out if it was for me. I don’t know, it’s just hard to get very into it if it’s just me doing it! So yes, thank you for this article, I think it was a pretty perfect way of looking at things!

  • vintage nerd October 20th, 2011 10:29 PM

    I wish i learned this stuff a little earlier! This is so helpful though! I love how honestly open this article is, <3

  • Antonia October 20th, 2011 10:34 PM

    Great article!

    I would suggest that cleanliness be considered for girls new to masturbation.
    Washing your hands helps with staving off infections. Also, all toys should be cleaned according to the manufacturer.

    Don’t use spit for lube! It is not sanitary and can cause infections!

  • Olivia October 20th, 2011 11:50 PM

    this is a fantastic article. i’m so glad this is something that we are talking about!!

  • chilljill47 October 21st, 2011 12:00 AM

    ughh my mom keeps on coming into my study room without knocking and she doesn’t get what a big deal it is because she was all like “oh well i know your not changing in here, what could you possibly be doing that you wouldn’t want me to see?” and i was like “umm i could be MASTURBATING mom!!” and she said, disgusted, “eww, instead of studying?”

    thanks for reminding me that masturbation is not “ew”… because its a little hard to disregard something your own mother says.

    • berry October 21st, 2011 1:02 PM

      ha! :) come on thats sweet, your mum is funny. Enjoy!

  • Roz G. October 21st, 2011 12:31 AM

    so you might probably just dismiss this comment but I thought hey, no harm in posting it!
    we human beings are physically met for shared love and sexual intercourse aren’t we? So why beat around the bush? see I’m all for girl power but this just ain’t the way of getting it… masturbating didn’t make me feel good about myself it just made me feel hollow and hollower… I think by now we all know about these hormones we realease when we have intercourse, that make us feel conected to the other perspn?… when we masturbate those hormones go to waste (so to say) hence the hollow feeling that follows… what you label as “guilt” is not the result of a repressive society but really this feeling that we aren’t doing something right because we aren’t made for self-satisfaction but for shared love, passion and sexual intercourse… Masturbation I think promotes selfishness… you knwo thinking about yourself and that you are the only thing that matters in the world… and let’s face it… the world doesn’t need that at all… so I stand for shared love and experiences which honestly are some of the best things human beings have

    • Anaheed October 21st, 2011 12:40 AM

      Honestly? I don’t think my libido or my hormones have to be shared with anyone. And I don’t think doing something enjoyable for your own sake is harming anything or anyone. I don’t think anyone needs to live their lives for other people, and that includes their sex lives. Sorry but I just really disagree with you, Roz.

    • Roz G. October 21st, 2011 12:55 AM

      it’s just harming you really… just like smoking pot is enjoyable but really winds up hurting nobody for yourself… we human beings are made for going through life by building relationships you know? helping each other out and all… that’s why family and friendship and romantic relationship are so important and so awesome… we are meant to share our feelings and thoughts and yes our sexual pleasure… loneliness it’s a really though thing and I just thing masturbation leads to it… humans can’t make it by themselves and of course I’m not meaning to encourage co-dependency or anything… just the building of nice awesome human relationships… honesty sex is one of the best things in life… and in my opinion things are always best when shared (think movie, cake, tea, view etc) so of course sexual pleasure is too… anyway I just thought you could use a relevant personal anecdote from a real live person

      • Tavi October 21st, 2011 1:17 AM

        I really don’t see how masturbation takes away from having good relationships with other people. It’s important to be comfortable with yourself too, and it’s not like hormones come in a limited supply. Sharing is good, but so are self-love and being able to be alone. I don’t believe anyone *owes* anyone else their hormones. If you think saving them makes your life better, that’s great. Jamie said in her article that masturbation isn’t for everyone. But we would rather let people know they have an option than telling girls they’re selfish for satiating a human need.

    • Anaheed October 21st, 2011 1:08 AM

      I am also a real live person! Thanks for your opinion on all of this, but I have basically the opposite one.

    • Naomi October 21st, 2011 6:17 AM

      i personally don’t like the suggestion that we have to rely on other people for pleasure – i mean sharing things (movie, cake). i enjoy doing a lot of stuff on my own (movies and cakes!!!) and there is no shame in that – throughout every aspect of life and that also includes sexually. there is immense pleasure to be had in both sharing something and enjoying it on your own.

    • berry October 21st, 2011 1:08 PM

      I think Woody Allen once said “People shouldn’t talk bad about masturbation, since its making love to a person we love”
      and this really expresses what I feel.
      But if you don’t then there is no reason you should do it. The point is giving yourself pleasure, if it doesn’t..

  • Kira October 21st, 2011 12:51 AM

    This was awesomely written! I grew up thinking my vagina was disgusting because no one ever talks about them. My mother didn’t even tell me about periods; I had to learn about that from other girls. Hopefully female sexuality will be brought out into the open a bit more and allow women to feel more comfortable about their bodies.

  • ReneeRevolution October 21st, 2011 1:27 AM

    Wonderful article! It’s so great that you are being so open and up front about masturbation. I wish more people were comfortable with it. I really think there would be a lot more happy people in the world if they would just be less uptight and masturbate every now and again.

  • hollysh October 21st, 2011 4:40 AM

    Jamie, you totally forgot to mention female ejaculation! When I come I ejaculate (or squirt, as it is sometimes grossly/colloquially known) probably 90% of the time. The first time this happened, I was masturbating and thought I had peed on myself. It was really shocking and weird and turned me off to masturbating for a while (which really sucked cause I love masturbating). I am always really bummed and angered that female ejaculation is either ignored or turned into some kind of freak show spectacle. Can you go on the record saying that it happens, it’s not weirder than anything else your vagina does and that it’s not gross or bad? I had a hard time with this for a while (before eventually finding a partner who thinks it’s hot) and I hate to think that other girls are going through the same thing.

    • Jamie October 21st, 2011 9:49 AM

      omg you are right i totally meant to and forgot to talk about this

  • Lisa October 21st, 2011 5:24 AM

    To Roz: I understand why you feel that way, but I feel like masturbation makes my relationship a lot better. It’s a lot easier to find out about what you like and how to get an orgasm easily when you’re alone and completely free to experiment. It makes me feel more confident about my own body. I know what I like and I can show that to my boyfriend. Finding out what you like is an exciting part of a new relationship, but when it goes on for too long, it gets really tiring, you’ll start thinking something’s wrong with you, and probably start to dislike sex because it never makes you feel good. (This happened to me!) Well, that’s how it works for me anyway.

    And masturbation can be something you do together. I’m in a long distance relationship (2 different countries), and I only see my boyfriend every few months. Masturbating together is a big part of our relationship, and I’m happy with that. We even run a porn Tumblr blog together. It’s fun. :P

    Anyway, great article! Masturbation and especially female masturbation is really something that should be talked about more.

  • Naomi October 21st, 2011 6:12 AM

    Go Jamie!! This is such a great article. Can I just be your cheerleader from now on?

  • Jamie October 21st, 2011 9:47 AM

    thanks everyone!!!

  • Michelle October 21st, 2011 11:17 AM

    My first exposures to female masturbation were unfortunately late night reading sessions of even more unfortunate lady mags. This led to one particular attempt of putting an electric toothbrush on my clit. I think it was about 6 years before I tried again.

    In summary – highly recommend starting with a non-bristly object!

  • lauraobscura October 21st, 2011 11:50 AM

    I love this article! Masturbation is amazing for de-stressing and helps me sleep. I love masturbating to music and think it brings me to a whole new… Deepness with some music and contentness. It’s fun playing around and experimenting, I’ve made a few mixtapes of music for ‘down times’ and think that could be really interesting thing to explore more. I don’t really associate it with my relationships with others, for me it’s just a special, personal form of relaxation just like a bath or meditation.
    I’ve never spoke masturbation and how I link it with music before either so I think it’s really awesome that this article is so open about it, it makes me feel good!

  • Minella October 21st, 2011 12:27 PM

    The problem is that girls don’t really talk about this with each other, and guys do.
    Seriously, is it just me, or can’t they shut up about it? I’ve heard some weird stuff from just sitting in class and keeping my ears open. Like a guy telling his friends in a disturbingly cheery way about his grandfather walking in on him while he was wanking. Wtf!

    Girls are just too awkward to talk about this sort of thing. It’s all shame of course, but still really weird.

  • berry October 21st, 2011 12:59 PM

    I started when I was 9. I’m allergic to most painkillers and when I got my terrible monthly cramps, masturbating was the only thing that helped whit pain. Try it, surely better than medication..

  • giov October 21st, 2011 1:46 PM

    One thing I would change about my teenage year is exactly this: masturbation. I don’t even know why I didn’t engage in it before someone else showed me how it was done. I think I had blocked sex out completely after a bad experience.

    I think I would have been a much nicer and calmer and happier person in high school if I had masturbated.

    p.s. this sounds dirty in head but I guess that’s not very feminist of me, so I’ll say it: try stimulating the nipples at the same time, works every time for me.

  • andy October 21st, 2011 5:08 PM

    i’m a guy, and i think it’s really good that Rookie brought this subject up.

    i know that when my 6th grade class was talking having sex-ed (boys in one room, girls in the other) a lot of information was omitted for the girls. i was told the girls would have questions about their sexuality, but the teacher refused to answer. it may be my own gender bias, but i’ve always thought that the sexuality of girls has always been at least slightly hidden. a story like this prevents that sort of “unknowing-ness” that there is about sex. thank you.

  • Katig October 22nd, 2011 4:34 AM

    FLICKING THE BEAN!

  • Kennedy October 22nd, 2011 10:44 PM

    Thank you so much for writing an article on this. Masturbating is one of the least talked about topics when it comes to female sexuality, and I’m glad it’s finally being addressed in a positive light for teen girls. I started using the shower to masturbate when I was 4 or 5, but I didn’t understand what I was doing. Up until 6th grade, I didn’t even know what masturbation was. I always thought I was weird for doing it and haven’t told anyone about it since it’s always portrayed so negatively. Thank you for letting other girls know that it’s an okay thing to do, and not to be ashamed of it.

  • Sue Denim October 28th, 2011 9:18 AM

    I never knew what it was called but I first learned what masturbation was from out of the back of a Babysitter’s club book that I had bought from the library. In the back of the book somebody had said to put a pillow between your legs and rub yourself against it because it felt ‘reel gud’. It didn’t work but I gave it the good college try. It felt good, kind of sneaky, naughty and a bit dirty and gross at the same time. I still feel this way and only just properly started masturbating about a year ago.

  • stellar October 31st, 2011 12:41 AM

    it’s amazing how it raises your self-esteem and gives u more self-confidence…it’s all good.

  • figgy May 28th, 2013 9:11 PM

    This article literally CHANGED MY LIFE. It was both informative and liberating and has led to me feeling so much more empowered and loving myself so much more than I though I could. Thanks Jamie and thanks Rookie <3