In most parts of the world, female masturbation is a very taboo subject. In Europe, during the 18th and 19th centuries, it was believed that masturbation could cause an enlarged clitoris, ‘masculinized’ women, and pregnancy without intercourse.1 It has been shown that these myths are not founded in science.
Although masturbation is seen as a stereotypically male behavior, it is common for females to masturbate. In Western countries, female masturbation is becoming less stigmatized. However, it remains a very controversial topic in much of the world. According to a survey by conducted in 2008 in the United Kingdom, 9 out of 10 women ages 18 to 30 indicated that they masturbate, and two-thirds of these women said that they masturbate three or more times a week.
What Is Female Masturbation?
Masturbation is the self-stimulation of the genitals with a hand, sex toy, vibrator, or other object for sexual pleasure. Masturbation done at the same time as a partner is called mutual masturbation. Because no two women are alike; it is likely that no two women masturbate in the same way. Some women enjoy fanaticizing while masturbating while others prefer watching erotic videos. Some women enjoy penetration while others prefer clitoral stimulation. Masturbation can also be a very helpful way for a woman to get to know her body.2 It allows females to explore their body and learn what feels best for them. Once a woman is comfortable with her body and learns what she likes, she can show her partner these techniques.
"Sex for one" is an excellent place to begin when trying to overcome difficulties with arousal and orgasm. It is a great way for women to reach orgasm, especially if they have never had one before. An orgasm is the intense, pleasurable sensation experienced at the climax of sexual arousal. It involves the rapid contraction of vaginal muscles in females. The first step to reaching orgasm is understanding how to effectively provide pleasurable stimulation. There are many parts of the female’s genitalia and each differ in how sexually stimulating they are. This means that there are many different ways of reaching orgasm. The clitoris is the most sexually stimulating area of the female’s genitals and can be a great place to start when exploring one’s body. It can become difficult to orgasm if you feel pressure to “achieve” orgasm or if you are nervousness or anxious about it. You may orgasm or you may not, and both are okay. It takes time for some people to learn how to orgasm and that is normal. Orgasm should not be the only goal. The goal of masturbation should be to feel good and have fun!
Masturbating in a safe and comfortable setting can make the experience much more enjoyable. Some women feel more comfortable when they choose to masturbate in a situation where they have plenty of time and know that they will not be interrupted by a roommate, telephone, boss, etc. It is beneficial, especially for a woman who has just started masturbating, to be able to relax and focus only on herself. Many women feel that these opportunities to take time for themselves are few and far between, but it is important to find the time to get in touch with your body.2
The popular media tends to focus on the vagina as being at the center of female pleasure. Women are very often depicted using a dildo when masturbating. Because of this, some men and women have come to believe that vaginal penetration is the only way (or the most significant way) for a woman to gain sexual pleasure. This belief illustrates the male phallocentric fallacy.3 Contrary to popular belief, a majority of females find that stimulation of their clitoris is more pleasurable and leads to orgasm more frequently than vaginal penetration does.
Understanding one’s own anatomy can allow people to feel more comfortable with their sexuality, to feel more free to express themselves through sexual behavior, and to feel more relaxed because they understand what their body is doing. Female masturbation is often less understood than male masturbation because of the difference in genitalia between males and females.
The clitoris is pearl sized and covered by the clitoral hood. The clitoris is surrounded by the inner and outer lips (labia minora and labia majora) and is located where the two inner lips meet. The clitoris contains an estimated 8,000 nerve endings and is the most sensitive area of a female’s genitals. The small size of the clitoris causes it to be frequently overlooked because a number of people do not know what the clitoris is or where it is located. The space between the inner lips is called the vestibule. This area contains the vaginal opening, or the “introitus”, which is the opening of the vagina. The vagina is a stretchable muscular cavity that is lined with mucous membranes. It extends from the uterus to the vaginal opening. The cervix of the uterus forms the interior end of the vagina, while the vulva and labia form the exterior end. The vagina is capable of self-lubrication. The hymen may slightly cover or surround the vaginal opening.
The labia majora and minora are unique to each female and can vary in size, shape, and color. All of the parts of female genitalia are sensitive in different ways, but it should never hurt to touch anywhere.
Benefits of Female Masturbation
The following list explores some of the benefits of female masturbation:
- Masturbating increases blood flow throughout the body and causes the release of endorphins, which are brain hormones responsible for causing pleasure. In this way, masturbation offers stress-relief as it is able to distract the mind while activating the pleasure areas of the brain.2
- It can improve your sex life. Masturbation can increase sexual comfort and confidence by helping a person learn what feels good. This can lead to positive sexual experiences.2 Masturbation can be a self-empowering activity where a female can learn to give herself pleasure and not rely on anyone else.
- It can assist postmenopausal sex problems. Females undergo various physical changes during menopause. Research done by Judi Chervenak shows masturbation can help. Often, menopause causes the vagina to narrow, which can make intercourse painful. Masturbation can help prevent vaginal narrowing and even increase sexual desire, among other things.2
Now that you have been informed about some of the benefits of female masturbation, here is some information about how to get started!
How to Masturbate
This is not an exhaustive list of techniques, but it is a list of the basics to help get started. You can make these techniques your own – every woman masturbates differently! There is no wrong or right way to masturbate, as long as it is done safely. Do what feels good and have fun!
Some women enjoy lighting candles or listening to some music to create a mood. If you do not feel aroused, you can try thinking about situations that turn you on. If fantasizing is not enough for you, it is also common for women to watch, listen to, or read erotic videos and stories.
Depending on what feels best for you, you can start exploring yourself and feeling yourself over your clothes, or you can take your clothes off right away. Find a comfortable position, and start softly touching your body, paying careful attention to the areas of your body that are most sensitive. By doing this, you may discover what parts of your body feel best to touch, squeeze, or rub. Make sure to wash your hands before you touch your vulva and vagina to prevent any infections. If you choose to insert your fingers into your vagina, make sure your nails are cut short so that you do not scratch and injure yourself. Having lubricant (preferably water-based) nearby can also be helpful when you start masturbating in case you need some additional lubrication.
If you are not familiar or comfortable with your body, you can use a mirror to help you better understand your anatomy. Position the mirror so that you can see yourself and try to identify your lips (labia majora and minora), clitoris, and vaginal opening. You can try touching different areas of your vulva to feel what sensations they give you. Make you sure to use lubricated fingers, as this will make your vulva less likely to become irritated or sore, and will make the sensations more pleasurable.
If you experience any pain, try being more gentle, using more lubricant, or going more slowly. Masturbating should not be painful in any way, so if you are experiencing any discomfort, try to understand why. Being very nervous can cause you to feel more pain, particularly if you are engaging in penetration of some kind.
The goal of this activity is to enjoy your own touch and body as much as possible. You can try moving your hips back and forth, arching your back, breathing deeply or moaning, foldling your breasts and nipples, or clenching and rubbing your thighs together. Once you feel that you are aroused enough, and once you have learned what areas of your body feel best to touch, you can begin masturbating.
Masturbating With Your Fingers
A good way to start is to lie down in a comfortable position, and to begin stroking your inner thighs. Gradually bring your fingers closer to your vulva. Run your fingers along the outer and inner vaginal lips (labia majora and labia minora). Try massaging your mons, the fleshy area on top of your pubic bone where the pubic hair is.
To locate your clitoris, run your index finger along the inside of your vaginal lips, up toward your navel. Start just above the vaginal opening and move up. The clitoris is partially hidden under a hood of skin. Under your fingers, the clitoris should feel like a firm bump. Touching your clitoris will feel good and sensitive. Some women do not enjoy directly touching the clitoral glans because it is so sensitive. The method you choose when touching your clitoris will depend on how much stimulation you enjoy. You can rub or stroke the shaft of the clitoris through the clitoral hood, or massage the labia, which will stimulate the clitoris indirectly. You can also put your two fingers in a "V" shape and slide your fingers and hand gently up and down, with a finger on either side of the clitoral shaft, for indirect stimulation. You may want to alternate between stimulating your clitoris and touching other parts of your vulva such as your lips, vagina, and mons. You can also stimulate your vagina by touching your vaginal opening and fingering yourself.4 If this is your first time fingering yourself, you will want to go very slow and make sure that you are well lubricated. Feeling mild discomfort is normal, but severe, sharp pain is typically not.
You can use your fingers to rub yourself at whatever speed and pressure feels best to you. Some people prefer more pressure, while others prefer softer strokes.4 There is no right or wrong way to do this, as long as it feels good to you. As you become more aroused, your vagina will become lubricated. Vaginal lubrication is a clear, slippery fluid that can be used to make masturbation more pleasurable. Increased arousal and vaginal lubrication will help the sensations you experience from touching yourself to become more and more intense and pleasurable. Sometimes when the vagina does not produce enough natural lubrication, it helps to use an artificial lubricant such as K-Y jelly, or you could even use saliva.
You can also manually stimulate your vagina while masturbating. To do this, move your fingers in between your inner lips and locateyour vaginal opening. Use one or two fingers to massage the opening while enjoying the sensations. Next, you can insert one or two fingers into the vagina. The outer third of the vagina is the most sensitive, so you can take your time massaging the vaginal walls without going deep. You can move your finger(s) in a circular motion, an in and out motion, a stroking motion, or combination of motions. If you would like, you can slide your fingers deeper into your vagina and again use whatever motion feels good to you. You can also move your fingers to the front wall of the vagina to locate the G-spot. The G-spot is an erogenous area in the female vagina. Proper stimulation of the G-spot can lead to very pleasurable sensations and, in some women, orgasm. Sexologists have discovered that it is easiest for a female to locate her G-spot when squatting or laying on her back. The G-spot is located about 2 to 3 inches inside the vaginal canal on the front wall of the vagina. To stimulate the G-spot, you should exert pressure on the vaginal wall closest to your navel. You can do this by making the “come here” motion with your fingers. Rhythmic motions over this erogenous area can be extremely pleasurable and lead to orgasm.
Additionally, you can use a combination of vaginal and clitoral stimulation by using both hands to masturbate. The fingers of one hand can enter the vagina while the other hand massages the clitoris. You can also do this using only one hand. The fingers can be inserted into the vaginal canal while you exert pressure and rub against the clitoris with the edge of your palm or wrist.
Experimenting with Clitoral Stimulation Techniques
Knowledge of female anatomy is an important piece of the puzzle, but knowing the type of stimulation that you prefer is just as important in order to be able to have pleasurable sexual experiences (by yourself or with a partner). The clitoris is very sensitive, so it is important to pay attention to how your body feels. Here are some suggestions that might help you discover what you like.
Different Patterns of Stimulation
Try stimulating the clitoris in a variety of ways, including circular patterns, up and down, and back and forth. If you are having trouble thinking of different patterns, you might want to think of your ABCs. Move your finger(s) as if you are tracing different letters in the alphabet, starting with A. Once you find a letter that feels good, you can keep tracing that letter. This can be a fun and effective way to discover what patterns of movement you prefer.
Different Amounts of Pressure
Females enjoy differing levels of pressure on their clitoris depending on their body and their level of arousal. You can try starting with gentle pressure and increasing amounts of pressure as you become more aroused. You can even try alternating between firm and gentle pressure.
Other Methods of Masturbation
In addition to manual stimulation, you can also use other objects, such as a pillow, bathtub, or sex toy to masturbate.
Some females enjoy masturbating by rubbing their vulva against an object. The combination of pressure and friction can be very pleasurable for some women. Try placing a pillow between your legs and rubbing your vulva, and particularly your clitoris against it. You can do this by either laying on your side, or lying or sitting on top of the pillow and thrusting into it. Some women prefer to sit on the edge of a chair, or place a pillow on top of a chair, and rub their clitoral/vulva area against it. You can do this with or without clothing and underwear on, depending on how much stimulation you enjoy.
For some, the bathtub faucet or shower-head can be an excellent way to masturbate. The bath is also a great place to touch yourself with your fingers, as you will feel warm and relaxed. To masturbate using the faucet, while you are filling the bathtub with warm water, climb in, lie on your back with your knees bent up so that the water flows onto your clitoris, and relax. Make sure that the water is at a comfortable temperature, and experiment with moving your vulva and clitoris in different places under the stream of running water. You can adjust the level of stimulation by trying different positions -legs together, legs apart, knees more or less bent - or by filling and draining the level of water in the tub. Adjusting the intensity of the water flow can also provide different sensations. Other variations on the "water massage" technique are to direct the stream of a handheld showerhead at the clitoris or to adjust the strength of the water flow.
Your Vibrator or Dildo
There are many different vibrators and dildos on the market, tailored to a multitude of preferences. A vibrator can be held near or against the clitoris or even be inserted into the vagina. A vibrator can be used at a variety of different settings and intensities. Dildos can also be inserted into the vagina. They come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. You can use the dildo to explore pleasurable and stimulating angles and positions. Dildos and vibrators can be used with a partner and both can be great tools to achieve G-spot stimulation. Many women enjoy stimulation from a dildo and a vibrator simultaneously. While vibrators have been reported to produce more intense orgasms and more multiple orgasms than other means of masturbation,5 some women may prefer the feel of fingers or water.5
While using your dildo or sex toy, relax and focus on the sensations that make you feel good. When using dildos, vibrators, or other sex toys, be sure to use enough lubrication. The lubrication will allow for more pleasurable stimulation.
Be sure to properly clean off dildos, vibrators, and other sex toys with warm water and soap after every use. Do not submerge electrical parts in water unless instructions explicitly say that the toy is waterproof. You can use hydrogen peroxide for an extra level of sterilization, but be sure to completely rinse the peroxide off. Sex toys - dildos especially - should be used with a condom, because some toys are made of porous rubber that does not allow them to be completely cleaned. Silicone is the safest and least porous material for sex toys. Furthermore, if multiple partners are using the same sex toy, a new condom should be used for each partner.
While masturbating, you can choose to penetrate your vagina, which could stretch the hymen. The hymen has cultural significance for many people, but it is not a reliable or trustworthy way to tell if someone is a virgin or not. Hymens can look very different depending on the woman. Some may look as though they have already been stretched. Furthermore, the hymen can be stretched in a variety of ways including sexual intercourse, intense exercise like horseback riding or biking, tampons and pads, and masturbation (particularly fingering).
Each person defines virginity in a different way, so penetration through masturbation, even if the hymen stretches, does not necessarily mean a loss of virginity. For example, a woman can choose to identify as a virgin, even if the hymen stretches, if she has never had sexual intercourse, but masturbates (whether by vaginal penetration or clitoral stimulation). Every woman can define virginity however she feels is appropriate for her situation and what that entails regarding all types of penetration (vaginal, anal, oral) and through the variety of techniques (fingering, penis penetration, dildo, vibrator, water, pillow, manual clitoris stimulation, etc.).
Wrapping It Up
No matter how you choose to masturbate, doing so can be an extremely rewarding experience. Learning about your body and what feels good to you is very valuable and will benefit you in future sexual encounters. Experiment with different methods so that you can find the one(s) that bring you the most pleasure. You can also try masturbating in front of your partner, so that they can learn the techniques that work best for you. Masturbation and mutual masturbation are even more helpful if you have a difficult time reaching orgasm with your partner. If there is a technique not described here that you think could benefit other women, please share it with us!
1. Smith, L. “Masturbation and the Dangerous Woman.” Wonders and Marvels. (2013).
2. “Survey: 92 Percent of Women Like to go ‘Solo’.” Fox News. (2008).
3. Valverde, M. Sex, Power, and Pleasure. (1985).
4. Chatel, A. “12 Techniques Women Use to Have an Orgasm, According to OMGYES,” Bustle. (2015).
5. Davis, C.M., J. Blank, H. Lin, and C. Bonillas. "Characteristics of Vibrator Use Among Women." Journal of Sex Research. 33(1996): 313-320.
Last Updated: 01 February 2017.