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This article originally appeared on Health.
Sexual pleasure isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity, writes Wendy Strgar in her new book Sex That Works ($17, amazon.com). “Sexual pleasure is an essential part of who we are as human beings.” Yet many of us struggle to experience true pleasure because we have become disconnected from own bodies, she argues. “We don’t take any responsibility for discovering and communicating what makes us feel good, and then when we aren’t immediately satisfied with our sex lives, we blame our partners.” In the excerpt below, Stragr explains how learning to own your pleasure can make all the difference.
For many of us, taking responsibility for our pleasure begins with healing our relationship with our body. We may think that we can experience true pleasure only when we look a certain way. When I lose ten more pounds, I’ll deserve a little pleasure. If my tan gets a little deeper, then I’ll really be able to feel good.
Actually, the reverse is true: Opening yourself up to more sexual pleasure will make you recognize the beauty in your body as it is, and inspire you to treat it better. And here’s the thing: If you sacrifice your access to pleasure to the false belief that sexual satisfaction will find you when you are fitter or more beautiful, you will miss out on your own life. Make a decision now to stop comparing yourself to the myriad Photoshopped images of models that even models don’t look like. Instead, dedicate yourself now to finding ways to live more deeply in your body.
Sex is something you do with your body, so how you feel about and treat your body is a direct reflection of the respect you hold for your sex life. Resolve to treat your body with a little more attention and loving kindness, and it will reward you by revealing its capacity for pleasure—sexual and otherwise.
If your body needs coaxing, there is something very simple you can do to deepen your relationship with it and explore your pleasure response: masturbate. Even with all the benefits masturbation can bring to a couple’s sex life, it is still a behavior that many people are not comfortable sharing with their partners or even talking about.
In addition to the religious condemnation that has long been associated with self-pleasure, the practice was not long ago considered an affliction that medical doctors used the cruelest of instruments and techniques to control. So it’s not surprising that self-reporting of this behavior still hovers at 30% to 70% depending on gender and age.
Yet there are many benefits to a healthy dose of solo sex. First and foremost, it teaches us about our own sexual response, and personal experience is an invaluable aid when communicating with our partner about what feels good and what doesn’t. The practice of solo sex is helpful for men who have issues with premature ejaculation, as it familiarizes them with the moment of inevitability so that they can better master their sense of control. Masturbation can also be a great balancer for couples with a disparity in their sex drive, and solo orgasm can serve as a stress reliever and sleep aid just as well as partnered pleasure can.
A 2007 study in Sexual and Relationship Therapy reported that male masturbation might also improve immune system functioning and the health of the prostate. For women, it builds pelvic floor muscles and sensitivity and has been associated with reduced back pain and cramping around menses, as it increases blood flow and stimulates relaxation of the area after orgasm.
The one caveat is that masturbation, like anything else, serves us well in moderation. Becoming too obsessed with solo sex play, often enhanced by visual or digital aids, has been known to backfire and lead to loss of interest in the complexity and intensity of partner sex. There are also some forms of masturbation that can make partner sex seem less appealing because the form of self-stimulation is so different from what happens in the paired experience. If you are experiencing less desire or ability to respond to your partner, ask yourself what you can do to make your solo experience more compatible with your partner’s ability to stimulate you.
Excerpted from SEX THAT WORKS, by Wendy Strgar. Sounds True, June 2017. Reprinted with permission.