By Sierra Aceto

Ladies, this one’s for you.

We’ve all heard about the importance of self-care in a compulsorily careless world. From skin care, to sleep, to journaling, to exercise, there is an ever-growing list of options to choose from when it comes to taking care of ourselves.

Many of these habits are helpful to remind us how life used to be before we got tangled up in work, school and the general stress of being a human being. These practices persuade us to focus more on what makes us feel good, even when we might feel really bad. And something that makes practically everyone feel pretty damn good, all while spending time focusing solely on themselves, is masturbation.

This may not have been what you expected, but masturbation has a whole set of positive effects, including increased confidence, better sleep and stress reduction. And these are just a few of the reasons why it should be the newest member of your self-care routine.

Isn’t masturbation just for boys?

For all of you ladies out there who have never considered masturbating or have assumed that it’s just a dirty habit reserved for boys, you have been sorely misinformed. Just as the female orgasm has been devalued and ignored, female masturbation has been shunned and shamed in a misogynistic society that is grossly offended by the reality that men cannot provide a woman everything she needs.

Taking the time to masturbate means taking the time to focus on yourself, return to your body and refocus your energies. Just like with any self-care routine, it prioritizes taking care of yourself before taking care of others.

What would I get out of it?

Besides the expected feelings and sensations of satisfaction, a regular self-pleasuring practice also provides a plethora of health benefits. In addition to the formerly-mentioned stress relief, self-esteem boost and great night’s sleep, the hormone release from masturbating also helps to reduce pain and improve your mood. No matter your job or how active and healthy you are, we could all use a little less pain and more feel-good moments.

Part of masturbating is getting acquainted (or reacquainted) with your body. It is so rare that we put in the time to truly get to know every aspect of ourselves. By exploring through self-love, we start to understand a little bit more about who we are, what we like and what we’re curious about.

How do I start?

It can be daunting to dive straight into the world of masturbation and porn and sex shops. For some, it will be a lot of new information to take in. If you’re a true rookie, take a few hours to yourself, with yourself. Whether it be in the shower, in your bedroom, clothed or naked, take some time to explore — quite literally feel around for what feels good and what doesn’t. Sometimes watching porn helps to get you going, sometimes pure imagination does the trick.

Now, masturbation isn’t magic. You may not reach an orgasm right away, or even during the first few times you try it out. Be patient, be curious.

And when you’re ready to explore some more, consider incorporating toys into your practice (they work with your partner, too). When you have a better understanding of what you enjoy, you can decide between dildos, vibrators, butt plugs and the rest of the wide variety of toys that can enhance your self-love experience. When you know what feels good, you can focus on it, which means more focus on making yourself feel good more often.

Now, masturbating doesn’t mean you can’t also have a satisfying sex life.  According to women’s health journalist S. Nicole Lane, 56% of women agree that they experience a “better orgasm” from masturbating, but 68% would still prefer to have sex with a partner for the emotional and physical intimacy.  Exploring yourself through masturbation is just the first step to improving your overall sex life. When you can more fully understand your own needs, you can communicate with your partner, and they can help you get off just as well as you can by yourself.  It’s a win-win situation, if you ask me.

If you’re looking for inspiration and live in the Boston area, HerCampus has provided a list of four reputable toy shops to give a visit here.

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to do your research. Masturbation is as much an empowering experience as it is a pleasurable one. By subverting the social constructs that tell you it’s dirty or pointless or whatever else, you reclaim another part of yourself that may have gotten lost in a history that habitually disregards your desires.