Ask the Doctors: Tips for Masturbation?

I’m a male who has never masturbated before looking for advice on technique and how to approach it. I’m 18 and I’m still having problems — I come from a religious family.

Sometimes coming from a conservative religious family and/or community is enough to affect a person’s sexual feelings, and certainly can limit the amount of both information and support one has access to. In some cases, people who have gotten in trouble for touching themselves while young can have emotional or psychological after-effects –shame, guilt, or even worse, especially if they were punished or humiliated.

Masturbation and  erotic pleasure are natural, experienced by most people at some time in their lives (if not life-long), and it is your right to experience these things, although it’s important that you have enough privacy to do so safely, especially if you have ever had any of the negative experiences I mentioned above. Privacy is also important because you want to make sure your solo sexual explorations cannot be observed by others; unless another person actually consents to see you, it is inappropriate to do this in someone else’s view.

There are many ways to masturbate, and every person is different in the amount of time he or she takes, kinds of touch preferred, kind of lubricant used, and whether or not to incorporate sex toys — to name just a few of the different elements that create variety in different kinds of solo erotic experiences. You can get started very simply: With some time and privacy, sit in a comfortable chair or lie down (lying flat might be more relaxing); doing this nude will probably make it easier. Letting your mind wander at first, run your hands over your body — not just on your penis, but all over, to see what kinds of sensations feel best, and on what parts of yourself. Gradually tune in to which sensations feel most erotic — this is the part at which lots of guys choose to touch, squeeze, and stroke their penis. A (usually) lighter touch on the testicles may also feel good to you. Don’t be in any hurry — just explore. Men who get right to it when they masturbate, and stroke off quickly, run the risk of teaching themselves to orgasm quicker than they (or possible future partners) might want.

Many people fantasize when they masturbate — think of erotic scenarios or sexual thoughts. This is a common and often really enjoyable part of masturbation. At first, though, try not to go in that direction right away — instead, stay with your awareness of your body and what feels the best to you. These sensations might be relaxing, exciting, or both at once. When I went to China to do some lectures about 15 years ago, I was pleased to hear the English word “masturbation” translated as “self-comfort” — for some people, this process, done mindfully, is part of self-care, almost like meditation.

Once you have explored the sensation of your hands on your penis, try adding lubrication — either water-based or silicone lube made for sexual purposes, or even just unscented lotion or oil from the kitchen. Some guys prefer to masturbate “dry” — that is, without lubricant — but many really love the sensation of oil or lube. (Please be aware that if you have sex with another person, oil is not good to use as a lube; among other effects, it will break down the latex in condoms.) We have all of our lubricants here.

Stroke slowly, and try it faster to see how different the sensations are. Grasp your penis firmly or with a light amount of pressure. Most men, particularly younger ones, will get erections when they (or another person) stimulate/s themselves this way, although even with no erection these sensations can feel good and erotic. (I should note here that I am referring to consensual, desired touch from another person — it is very possible not to respond with sexual arousal when touch is not desired or is frightening, although sometimes arousal occurs even under this sort of condition.)

Once you get into a kind of touch you especially like, feel free to fantasize, letting any sexual thoughts in your mind enhance your feelings. At this point, you might more into a period of greater intensity where you want to speed up or grasp more firmly and you may feel the sensations of orgasm coming closer. The muscle tension in your body increases, too. This is often also called a “climax” because that describes it pretty well: increasingly intense sensation, coming to a peak. Something like the way a sneeze works, but way nicer. Orgasm in men is often accompanied by ejaculation, but it doesn’t have to be; it is possible for a guy to feel this peak of pleasure without ejaculating.

Here are some other self-pleasure variations, instead of stroking with the hand:

–Some men like to use cloth or other kinds of material to stroke with, because of the differing ways it feels: real or fake fur, silky material, leather, rubber gloves — pretty much anything that feels interesting.

–Some men like the feel of vibration. This and other sensation will probably feel especially intense on the head of your penis; there are more nerve endings there, so it’s the most sensitive part.

–Some guys like to use penis sleeves, cock rings, or other sex toys. Some are shown here.

–Some men lie on their stomachs and thrust and rub against the bed (or whatever they’re lying on) in a no-hands mode.

–Many men use their “spare” hand to touch other parts of their body that feel erotic to them: nipples, face, belly, testicles, anus — anything that adds to the sensations in a good way. (And other guys use both hands on their penis to maximize stimulation there.)

–Some men like anal sensations and use plugs, dildos (or vibrators with a base), plus lube, for this purpose–or just a finger or two. This is safe as long as fingernails are trimmed and items used are not scratchy or breakable.

Here are some book and video suggestions — all of these address masturbation (or, in the case of the video, “penis massage”) at more length. The Dodson book is for men and women (and everybody!); Litten’s book is especially aimed at males.

Dr. Betty Dodson, Sex for One

Dr. Harold Litten, The Joy of Solo Sex

Joseph Kramer, Best of Penis Massage (DVD)

Since I mentioned a video and I’ve also talked about fantasy, let me say something about porn. Porn is definitely a good companion for masturbation, but I would like to suggest that you start without it, for two main reasons. First, especially if you’re just getting started masturbating, it’s good to pay attention simply to what your body likes and prefers. Porn can take your focus and make this harder to discern. Second, it’s pretty common for men (especially younger men who have not already had a good deal of person-to-person sexual experience) to get the scenarios and images of porn pretty much lodged in their consciousness so that it can be more difficult to learn a new partner’s (or your own) actual individual patterns and preferences.

I think it’s preferable to get into erotic sensation and experience for itself, and then add porn’s many interesting distractions later, if at all, so that you have something real to compare it to. Porn often does not adequately represent sexuality in real life, and it’s not intended to be an educational template for that — though so many people today, lacking good sex education, treat it as though it is informational. It is not primarily educational, it’s entertainment. (Put another way, once you have learned to drive a car, you can watch car chase movies with more perspective.)

If I have not explained anything adequately or your own experience so far does not seem to be addressed here, please feel free to let me know. And please do have a look at Scarleteen.com, if you haven’t already. It is an online community of young people discussing sexuality and is full of good information and perspectives.


We’re dedicated to getting you the information you need about sex, pleasure and your health. If you have any questions, please email our staff experts, Dr. Carol Queen and Dr. Charlie Glickman, at education@goodvibes.com! For product-related questions, please email or call our customer service staff at customerservice@goodvibes.com.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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