Sex

The Single Most Fundamental Sexual Skill

Beyond a personal choice, self-sexing is the basis of joyous partner lovemaking.

Posted Nov 30, 2020

Great sex involves much more than just joining genitals. A mountain of research has consistently shown that the foundation of satisfying lovemaking is gentle, extended massage from head to toe that eventually—after 20 minutes or so—focuses between the legs.

How do we become familiar with whole-body massage? By being cuddled as children, by soaping ourselves as we bathe, and by caressing ourselves during solo sex—and not just down there but all over. Self-pleasuring with gentle touch all over is the single most fundamental sexual skill. If you don’t enjoy touching yourself all over—making love with yourself—it’s difficult to enjoy sex with anyone else.

A Mistaken Legacy of Condemnation

Unfortunately, since Biblical times, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all largely reviled self-pleasuring. Our word “masturbation” derives from two Latin terms: manus, hand, and stuprare, to sully—using the hands to defile oneself.

As if religious condemnation weren’t enough of a deterrent, in 1760 Swiss physician Samuel Tissot published Onanism: A Treatise on the Diseases Produced by Masturbation. Without a shred of evidence, he insisted that solo sex depleted men of precious semen, causing weakness, illness, insanity, and death. The book became an international best-seller and demonized self-sexing throughout much of the world.

Tissot ignored solo sex among women, but throughout history, most, if not all women have also enjoyed touching themselves from scalp to foot, and particularly in one place about midway between them. Ancient Greek pottery shows women inserting dildos, and Lysistrata a play by Aristophanes’ (411 B.C.) mentions it. Today, dildos are still popular, but they run a distant second to vibrators. More than half of adult U.S. women own at least one. From the 1970s through the millennium, most vibes were sold at erotic boutiques and through sex toy catalogues. But since 2000, vibes have gone mainstream. Today, the nation’s largest vibrator marketer is Walmart.

Have you ever munched a Graham cracker? It was inspired by Rev. Sylvester Graham (1794-1851) an early American health guru. His pamphlet, On Self-Pollution (1834), condemned white flour as a cause of that dread affliction, masturbation. One of his disciples created a whole-grain cracker and named it after the sinister minister.

Ever eaten corn flakes? Their inventor was John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943) the physician-proprietor of a health spa in Battle Creek, Michigan. Like Graham, Kellogg insisted that his breakfast cereal prevented solo sex.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) also condemned self-pleasuring. Without evidence, he postulated that it contributes to a host of psychological woes.        

Finally, since 1952, the bible of mental health conditions has been the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It condemned masturbation as “deviant” until 1968.

Since then, most sex educators have maintained there’s nothing wrong with solo sex, that it’s a personal choice. If you’d rather not, fine, but if you feel that itch occasionally—or frequently—that’s fine, too.

Actually, the personal choice catechism is mistaken. Sex for one is much more than an individual option. It’s the bedrock—and bed rocking—foundation of satisfying partner lovemaking.

The Fundamentals

When athletes fall into slumps, coaches urge them to work on the fundamentals. Athletic excellence depends on a firm foundation of basic skills.

The same goes for sexual slumps. For several dysfunctions, sex therapists almost universally recommend treatment programs that include a good deal of self-sexing, among them: arousal problems, premature ejaculation in men, and difficulty working up to orgasm in all genders. Self-pleasuring also helps survivors recover from childhood sex abuse and sexual assault. For more on these programs, see my book, Sizzling Sex for Life.

Other Benefits of Self-Sexing

Self-caressing does more than simply teach us about sexual pleasure. It also promotes:

Relaxation. Deep relaxation helps treat many medical conditions, including: anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Orgasm is deeply relaxing. Regular orgasms, solo or coupled, offer similar benefits, particularly for men, who are more likely than women to use sex to de-stress.       

Intimacy enhancement. Intimacy involves self-revelation, usually with words. But what’s more self-revealing than showing a lover how you make love with yourself? Couples who masturbate for each other usually report deeper intimacy and better partner sex.

Pain relief. Solo or partnered, sex culminating in orgasm reduces pain in two ways. It’s distracting. While sexually excited, people focus less on their suffering. Sex also releases endorphins, the body’s own pain-relievers. One of the nation’s leading causes of chronic pain is osteoarthritis. To manage it, the Arthritis Foundation recommends regular sex.       

Mood elevation. Got the blues? Sex often helps, including solo play. Beyond relieving pain, the endorphins released during sex also have antidepressant action.       

Sleep. Alone or with a lover, sex often improves sleep.       

Blood pressure control. All of the above help control blood pressure. A Scottish researcher found that regular sex reduces blood pressure.       

Bladder control. Many women suffer stress incontinence, urine leakage as a result of coughing, sneezing, or laughing. The cause is weak urinary sphincter muscles that don’t completely close. Orgasms—no matter how your work up to them—strengthen these muscles, reducing leakage.       

Hot flashes. Any sex that produces orgasm helps control this common menopausal discomfort.      

Immune enhancement. Regular moderate exercise boosts immune function. Sex is moderate exercise. Researchers at Wilkes-Barre University in Pennsylvania found that compared with couples who have little sex, those who do it up to twice weekly are less likely to catch colds. However, colds spread by close contact. Sex should increase risk. But the researchers found that something else outweighed the hazard of close contact—the immune boost provided by lovemaking, partnered or solo.       

Prostate cancer prevention. As men’s number of sexual infections increases, so does risk of this cancer. But frequent ejaculations clear germs from men’s genitourinary tracts. National Cancer Institute researchers asked 29,000 men, age 46 to 81, to estimate how often they’d ejaculated throughout life. Compared with those who said once a week since young adulthood, men who ejaculated daily, solo or partnered, were significantly less likely to develop prostate cancer.        

Sperm quality. An Australian fertility specialist asked 118 men with damaged sperm to ejaculate daily for a week. Their proportion of damaged sperm dropped substantially. Before attempting procreative intercourse, he advises daily ejaculations for at least a week.       

Longevity. British scientists tracked 900 middle-aged men into old age. Compared with those who had sex only once a month, those who did it twice a week lived significantly longer. Critics argued the association might not be causal. Sexual frequency often depends on health. Perhaps the more sexual men were simply healthier to begin with, which would explain their greater longevity. But the researchers statistically corrected for this and concluded that regular sex, coupled or alone, really does extend men’s lives—and presumably women’s too.       

Self-pleasuring from head to toe and everywhere in between should not be considered optional. It should be promoted in the interest of public health and pleasure. As long as masturbation doesn’t interfere with life responsibilities or partner sex in a committed relationship, it’s the foundation of sizzling sex and provides many other physical and psychological benefits.

Enjoy yourself.

References

Charnetski, C. and FX Brennan. “Sexual Frequency and Salivary Immunoglobulin A,” Psychological Reports (2004) 94:839.

Davey-Smith, G. et al. “Sex and Death: Are They Related? Findings from the Caerphilly Cohort Study,” British Medical Journal (BMJ), (1997) 315:1641.

Herbenick D. et al. “Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use By Women in the U.S.: Results from a Nationally Representative Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2009) 6:1857. 

VanSyckle, K. “Sex Sells. Walmart Buys In,” New York Times, July 5, 2019.