What you need to know:
There are thousands of nerve endings across the body designed to receive the sensation of pleasure (and around 4000 just in the penis, and 8000 in the clitoris- the female penis equivalent - women are quite frankly sitting on Ferraris!).
When these nerve endings receive touch that feels pleasurable (the type of touch is different for every person) the nervous system moves into a relaxed parasympathetic state.
Blood flows to the area of the body where the sensation was received, resulting in more pleasure. A pleasure feedback loop ensues.
This can be very healing.
The body in this low stress state, awash with the connection-happy hormone oxytocin, also releases antibodies to fight disease. In fact studies show those who experience sexual pleasure regularly (alone or partnered) take fewer sick days from work!
Science therefore gives you full permission to prioritise giving your nerve endings pleasure. Hurrah!
… But let’s also step back a moment and acknowledge history and culture are also in the room, and sometimes they give us a very different message.
A lot has been said about what pleasure in the body means depending on where you grew up in, and the beliefs you inherited by friends and family.
If this section is already feeling a bit uncomfortable and perhaps ‘wrong’ because we are talking about pleasure, you’re not alone and it’s OK. We react accordingly our belief systems. If your belief is that masturbation, or receiving pleasure outright, is not the done thing, then of course it’s normal that this section will feel challenging.
I suggest as with all the lessons here, approach this with curiosity, in full confidence that it is your choice on what to try. Take what ideas feel appropriate for you.
If you would like to explore these uncomfortable feelings further, you might benefit from seeing a sexuality counsellor, or learning about the mechanics of shame and what helps. As a starting point for this I recommend Brenee Brown’s TED talk.
Five things I wish everyone knew about pleasure:
You do not need an erection to experience orgasm and sexual pleasure.
I’ve had clients nearly fall off their chairs when I tell them that they can orgasm without erection or ejaculation (and in my perfect world, the healthcare system is designed to tell people this crucial information). Orgasm operates on a completely different nervous system to erections.
We are creatures of habit and adaptation.
You can learn different ways of experiencing sexual pleasure, it just takes time, experimentation and practice. Especially after physical function changes, sensations in other parts of the body may feel heightened so I encourage you to go exploring.
But remember, it’s masturbation not MUSTerbation.
Exploring sensation should not be a chore. You do not need to masturbate when you pump for example even though many men do and find it makes it enjoyable. Pumping just for exercise by manually moving blood in and out is still helping keep the tissue stretched and in good condition.
What to do next?
Three ideas to enhance pleasure.
Add a lubricant that feels good to you. This is the simplest ‘pleasure hack’ in a way. Same motions and routine but it’s like adding your favourite spices, salts and flavours to food. This is an especially easy way for women experiencing vaginal dryness (which every woman will at some point in their lives simply due to ageing, hormone changes or potentially medical treatments). Read the Lubricant Guide for more information.
Add vibration. Vibrators usually bring up images of single women with pink twirly phallic shaped objects. But vibrators come in all shapes and sizes and in fact, many vibrators are designed for male as well as female pleasure. A vibrator is simply a tool for adding extra exciting pleasure signals to the nerve endings encouraging even more blood flow. If you have not used a vibrator before then I recommend this one, it’s called the We-vibe Match. The shape is multi-functional, and if you have a female partner, they can enjoy it too!
If you think you’d like to buy a vibrator to use with your partner too, watch this webinar I recorded on how to choose and use a couple’s vibrator! It’s 30 minutes long but you can skip to different questions by clicking on the blue timestamps in the description. (note for male-female partnerships).
Lastly, go back to basics and add all body massage before sexual activity. This encourages blood to flow into the nerve endings in the skin so they are primed for sensation.