Masturbating is a totally normal and healthy pastime, and because it helps you explore what turns you on, it can greatly improve your sex life. But despite the fact that most people masturbate, we still don’t talk about the habit enough, particularly when it comes to women and masturbation — from how often women masturbate to their preferences for engaging in the act.

According to research by TENGA, a designer of pleasure products for men, women masturbate on average eight times per month — or about twice a week, compared to men who masturbate about 15 times a month, or every other day. Of course it’s important to remember that everyone’s different, and for a lot of people, sex drive ebbs and flows, influenced by stress, health and external factors: It’s about whatever works for you. But in the spirit of talking about masturbation more, and educating on self-love habits, Bustle spoke with sexologist Dr. Carol Queen who shared five things to know about women and masturbation.

1.Masturbation Means Different Things For Everyone

“Just like when people think about sex as more than just intercourse, what arouses and pleases them on their own can be different things,” Queen tells Bustle. Getting comfortable for a session of self-love looks different for each person depending on what turns them on, what fantasies they want to explore, and how they prefer to reach orgasm.

How women masturbate varies significantly from person to person: Some prefer to use toys, like vibrators or dildos — and vary the speed and intensity depending on what they need to climax — while others stick with a trusty hand. Some focus on the clitoris, while others try for a blended orgasm, stimulating the G-spot as well (with toys or manually). Some watch porn, while others may read erotica. Some may slip into lingerie or pleasure themselves quickly still wearing their work clothes. Anything goes!

2. It Can Help Relieve Menstrual Cramps

Masturbating isn’t just about getting off. The act actually has several health benefits, including relieving pain and menstrual cramps, relaxing us and improving our mood, similar to how you might feel after physical exercise — and some women use it partly to reap those benefits.

“Sexual arousal stimulates blood flow and releases feel-good neurochemicals, like endorphins and oxytocin, [which can inhibit coritsol, the stress hormone], in a way that helps us with pain and discomfort,” Queen explains. “As arousal builds, it also alters how touch and sensation might feel.” Overall it changes your brain and body chemistry, and it’s distracting too, which can help change your day around if you’re in a funk.

3. Some Women Prefer It To Sex

According to the TENGA survey, 30% of women said they prefer masturbating to sex. “The orgasm gap — the idea that it’s more common for a cis man to have an orgasm during a sexual encounter with a partner than it is for a woman — could be one reason why some women would prefer masturbation to sex,” says Queen.

When you’re by yourself, it can be easier to focus on what feels good, particularly if you get nervous or distracted during sex with a partner. Queen also notes that having sex with another person brings with it emotional complications that not everyone with a sex drive feels equipped to deal with. “For some people, [self-love] is the right choice,” she says. Again, everyone is different.

4. Most Women Do It — And At All Ages

OK, most everyone masturbates. But if you need numbers, 81% of female participants in the TENGA survey said they’d masturbated at some point in their lives. And getting older doesn’t mean you outgrow the pastime.

“It’s a part of someone’s life as long as they want it to be,” says Queen. She adds that as we get older, our bodies change, whether through pregnancy, menopause, or things like taking SSRIs or birth control pills, in a way that can affect our relationship to arousal — and that’s totally fine. “Masturbating can be a great practice to figure out what changed, if anything,” she says.

5. It Can Be A Way To Explore Arousal And Sexuality

The solo act of masturbation makes it an ideal practice to indulge in fantasy, explore what turns you on, and (without judgment) “try on erotic possibilities that haven’t been part of your own experience yet that turn you on or you might want to do,” says Queen. Particularly for women who feel like their sexual identity or their desire may be shifting, but aren’t totally sure, masturbating is a safe space to learn more about what they want before sharing it with a partner. And gaining confidence in your arousal means you’re on the path to more satisfying sex when you are ready for it.

Expert:

Dr. Carol Queen, staff sexologist at Good Vibrations

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