Conscious self-pleasuring is something I find myself recommending to clients and participants on a regular basis. With this post, I hope to create a resource on the subject, exploring why I believe it’s a vital part of the individual sexual journey, what gifts it holds for intimacy, and how one might go about it. So grab your lube of choice, and lets get started.
For many of us, the word is all too quick to conjure up sticky teenage pleasures soaked in saliva and shame.
In a way, this is precisely why it is a vital component of adult sexuality, crying out to be confronted, and explored consciously and creatively. The majority of our unconscious sexual habits develop during our early erotic experiments.
For example, Barbara Carrellas talks about the “quick and quiet” rule that we develop as teenagers, learning to get our pleasure as quickly and quietly as possible before anyone notices, and how that rule messes with our ability to breathe, move, and make sound in sex – all components vital for the expansion of our energy and pleasure. The impact of these physical habits can range from simply not experiencing as much pleasure as we have the capacity to during orgasm, to difficulties in being sexual with a partner such as those resulting from Traumatic Masturbatory Syndrome.
Inextricably linked with the physical impact of these early sexual awakenings are the emotional and psychological ones. Our sexuality can so easily become tied up with shame and guilt, depending on the messages we absorbed about it when we were first becoming aware of it, which can in turn lead to a shutting down or repression of our capacity for pleasure. Or what we find desirable may be shaped by the material or experiences available to us at the time; if this material is drawn from fiction or pornography, this can cause a great deal of confusion around our sexuality – particularly when we are faced with having sex in an adult, loving relationship. Needless to say, if those early experiences are impacted by abuse of any sort, the potential for confusion, suppression, and shame is multiplied, just as any abuse of our sexuality further down the line leaves an inevitable mark on our erotic potential and expression or lack thereof.
In seeking to reclaim masturbation, we seek to begin again from scratch. Just as our earliest experiences developed into habits that may or may not serve us as sexual adults, we hope that, by developing new practices, we can in time come to create a new set of more pleasure-giving habits.
However, doing so can be no small feat. Our brain relies on the creation of habits to get us through our daily lives. Each time we learn how to do something, a pathway is created in the brain, a pathway that becomes the automatic way we do the thing in question if we do it often enough. Once the habit has stopped being something we’re learning to do, and become an established pathway, it belongs to our unconscious mind, and it is near impossible to change. The only thing we can do to change our behaviours is create a new habit – and, just like making the old one did, this takes practice; since that practice is competing with a previously learned behaviour, it is harder to learn than the original behaviour was.
The reason I’m saying all this is that, by the time many of us start thinking about making changes to our sexuality, masturbation is a habit that has years of history behind it. So whether this article is appealing to you, and you’re thinking that the idea of accessing greater pleasure and becoming a better lover through jacking off sounds great, or whether you’re reading this and feeling fundamentally terrified, I ask you to be oh so patient with yourself if you choose to embark on the process of trying to create new pleasure habits; your old ones have had years to get established. It is likely this will take some time – and if the first few attempts are leaving you with a sense of failure rather than fireworks, I urge you to be patient, and keep trying. See if you can assign your pleasure the same care and attention you might give any new skill you were attempting to learn; if we all assumed that our first stint behind the wheel was indicative of our future capacity to drive, none of us would bother to learn.
Having established the need for compassion towards the self, let’s take a look at how we might go about changing our erotic habits through the magic of masturbation.
I’d like you to think back to the best sex you’ve ever had. If good sex doesn’t feel like something you have had yet, then tune into a fantasy that feels really good to you, that makes your whole body feel a little melty. Notice the qualities that characterise that memory or fantasy – what is it about this encounter that makes it special, intense, pleasurable for you?
I’m going to suggest that they might fall into one or more of the following categories:
Looking back at the “quick and quiet” rule so many of us learn to adhere to, it’s not really surprising that our self-pleasuring, or experience of sex in general, doesn’t quite meet our anticipations or imaginations of pleasure. Pleasure depends on sensation; when we are clenching our muscles, shutting our physical selves down, and holding our breath, it’s not really surprising our pleasure is short, sweet, and localised. If, on the other hand, we allow our bodies to move, and we breathe deeply, then we allow sensation to expand, and to move freely and deliciously around the body. Slowing things down – at least initially – also helps with this; the more time we give ourselves to register a sensation, the more we have of it, and the more we can open to it. If your initial experiences of masturbation have made it hard for you to receive pleasure from intercourse, you might experiment with alternating your usual habits with different sensations you’ve experienced during sex, thus beginning to accustom your body to associating these with pleasure.
As for doing things quietly; if breath is a way to extend pleasure, sound is a way to amplify breath – so give yourself permission to make some noise!
So next time you’re masturbating, give yourself the gift of time to slow things right down, breathe deeply, move your body, and keep relaxing those muscles and letting that pleasure go a little deeper.
Something that comes up time and again when I ask clients the “best sex you ever had” question is a sense of closeness, connectedness, and love. And yes, I hear you, a desire for true intimacy with another might be precisely the reason you don’t want to mess around with self-pleasuring. Bear with me. How would it be to approach yourself as a beloved during masturbation? How would it be to treat yourself with the same tenderness and temerity? How would it be to spend the time and effort on yourself that you might on a first date – and how might that change your experience? Only one way to find out…!
Thing is, if you can make tracks in loving yourself, you’ll find it much easier to let in another. If you take the time to find out what feels good to you, you stand a much better chance of working out what feels good to someone else, and communicating to them what feels good to you, and generally achieving more pleasure all round. And if your life isn’t currently bursting with people willing or capable of giving you all those yummy squishy feelings, empowering yourself to give them to you can only improve things, right?
I’m going to hazard a guess that your “best sex” moment of choice also featured a certain sense of liberation, possibility, and the simple freedom to be yourself.
Never underestimate the power of permission. It is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other, and if we can learn to give it to ourselves, we become unstoppable – not just in sex, but in life. Thus, instead of slipping into your usual rhythms and routine when you are next self-pleasuring, I invite you to take a moment to be still with yourself, and ask yourself the simple question “What would feel good right now?”. Follow that for a bit. Then pause, and pose the question again. And repeat. Keep taking the time to check in with yourself. Allow yourself to be surprised by answers that arise spontaneously. Explore, experiment, enjoy – and perhaps take what you have learned into the next time you make love with someone else.
So; expand your pleasure with breath, movement and sound; honour your emotions with tenderness and time taking; and give yourself permission to explore the fullness of your desire in the moment, rather than making presumptions about what you enjoy, or aiming for a particular goal. No one likes to be treated like a goal post!
I recommend exploring all of this in what I have taken to calling “me-dates” – which is to say, dates with your self. Again, just as you would put time and effort into learning a new skill, or taking a new love interest somewhere special, make time and space for the re-learning of your own pleasure, and the honouring of yourself. Get committed to deepening your relationship with you, and expanding your knowledge and capacities as an erotic being. Treat yourself as you would like to be treated.
If you would like to play with something a little more ritualised, here’s something I created a few years back that focuses on bringing unconditional divine love to bear on those parts of us that we so often seek to hide away from the imagined wrath of a divine parent. Caution: This meditation assumes the existence of an unconditionally loving divine cosmos, and may induce side-effects such as self-acceptance and heart-ons.
PS: If you would like to learn how to use your newfound masturbatory powers for magical purposes, check out the Making Love with God weekend intensive workshops.
An experiment in self-loving
Take some time to take sex apart, and identify the manifest components of your own pleasure (for example, I find warmth and silky textures work for me). Create a chunk of space and time for yourself that includes as many of those components as you can easily manage.
Before you begin to self-pleasure, place one hand on your heart and the other on your genitals, thus establishing a connection between the two. Breathe deeply, be aware of that connection, and set an intention to really “make love” to yourself in the self-pleasuring that follows.
Find a sense of compassion in your heart for yourself, and cultivate a feeling of acceptance and love for your genitals and your pleasure.
Now imagine that you are leaning back into a warm and infinite being, with an even vaster heart than yours, who is loving you with total abandon in this moment, and cannot wait for you to begin to feel yummy as you play with yourself.
Begin to self-pleasure. Give yourself complete permission. Take your time. Pamper yourself. You are allowed to feel even more pleasure with each moment that goes by, so keep asking yourself what you would like now, and now, and now…
Keep breathing. This will spread the pleasure around your body, help you to relax into giving yourself permission, and make the feelings last longer and feel stronger.
Every minute or so, bring your awareness back to your heart, and breathe into feeling love for yourself. Then be aware of the infinite smiling playful being who is holding you and encouraging you in your pleasure (you might feel its warmth, or hear its words of encouragement, or see it smiling at you). Then focus back on the pleasure.
Yes, keep breathing even now. I promise it will feel even nicer.
Once you feel complete, relax back into the arms of that being that adores you, encourages your pleasure, loves your sexuality… And allow yourself to drift off on a warm wave of that love.