Masturbation has health benefits that go beyond sexual pleasure, as one woman found out.

August McLaughlin
August 15, 2018

By the time I turned 30, I had read a lot about what to anticipate in the decade ahead. I’d enjoy more confidence and direction, articles assured me, as well as less chaos and a stronger sense of self.

But I didn’t expect these perks to kick in for me within a few months. No “What to Expect in Your 30s” guide prepared me for one particular night between the sheets—or on top of the sheets, actually, with a bright pink dildo in my hand.

The evening started out markedly less exciting. I was home with Zoe, my American bulldog, scrolling Netflix and contemplating a perplexing sense of emptiness. I was blissfully partnered with my husband of a year, who was away working. I loved my newfound writing career more than any work I’d pursued. And the eating disorder that wreaked havoc through my mid-twenties was well behind me.

I was empowered, I thought, and had every reason to feel content, if not joyful. Yet this enigmatic pining visited me too often. I felt like Bridget Jones, only more desperate.

RELATED: Masturbation Relieves Anxiety, Helps You Sleep, and Boosts Your Sex Life. So Why Don't More Women Do It?

I closed my eyes, begging the Netflix gods to suggest something absorbing. Perhaps I shouldn’t have pleaded so hard. I looked up to see Diary of a Nymphomaniac, a French film about a young woman with a voracious sexual appetite. Sucking, fondling, and penetration filled the screen along with the sounds of erotic moans—making it clear to me what my body wanted that I was resisting.

“Why don’t you just use a vibrator?” I recalled my friend Tracy’s words, when she’d suggested that I cut back on casual sex during my acting-modeling days. “I don’t do that,” I’d replied, that being masturbation. I’d also seldom been single since I'd moved to Los Angeles. From high school into my mid-twenties, I jumped from relationship to relationship. When you define your sexuality in the context of people paired, it’s easy to forget that your sexuality is first and foremost your own.

Without a thought, my hand moved between my legs, landing on a prominent swell I could feel through my shorts. As a penetration-preferring gal, rubbing had never done much for me. For a frustrating moment, I tried anyway, feeling more turned on yet less capable of doing anything about it. I needed to be filled up, and not by my measly fingers.

RELATED: These Are the Moves That Really Make Women Orgasm, According to Science

Wait.

The hot-pink dildo! The gag wedding gift was stashed away in a drawer, filed under “maybe someday.” Someday had come. Would I?

With my heart pounding, I raced to the bedroom closet to retrieve it, feeling like a teenager about to entangle my body with someone else’s for the first time. I pulled back the packaging and stared at the pink phallus, sensing a grand adventure.

On the bed, I piled a pillow on top of another and climbed on, positioning myself as though I were mounting a lover. As I welcomed the dildo, wild pleasure filled my body, increasing as I rocked back and forth. I rocked harder, clit to pillow, and within minutes, the familiar burst of orgasm rushed through me: voluptuous volcano eruptus. It was like climaxing in midair—luscious, but with no one to hold or grab onto.

I collapsed  onto the bed, tears streaming my cheeks, observing the flush of my skin. I couldn’t believe it. I had made myself come. Then I did what any rational person would do—I phoned my husband at work to share the news. As awkward as the timing may have been, given that he was surrounded by colleagues, his appreciation was unmissable.

RELATED: What Everyone Is Getting Wrong About Body Positivity

I spent the next hours and days pondering questions I’d never considered. Why hadn’t I masturbated before? Perhaps if I had not learned from an extended family member that I should never touch “down there” during bath time as a child, and that doing so could land me in Hell via a church community, I would have pursued it. Or maybe absorbing the message that sex was reserved for serious (ideally married) relationships and learning nothing about female sexual pleasure in sex ed class at school had stood in my way.

How would masturbating earlier on have influenced my life? I knew it couldn’t replace a partner, but would rocky relationship numbers one, two, and three (okay, and four) have happened had I honed the art of self-pleasure? Would I have struggled as profoundly emotionally?

Looking back, I have no doubt that numerous aspects of my life would have been less difficult and more vibrant. From puberty into my twenties, when I felt equally insecure and desperate for a guy’s interest, solo play could have been a powerful balm, allowing for stress release, more positive body image, and a sense of autonomy. It might even have prevented me from starving myself to the point of near mortality.

RELATED: Real Women Are Spreading a Message About Body Positivity by Embracing Their Thighbrows

That night was a game changer for me, not only because masturbation quickly became a self-care practice I embraced, and I now encourage other vulva owners to pursue as well. Welcoming solo play into my life dusted off a layer of shame and self-doubt that had lingered after years of therapy and self work. It has allowed me to better respect and understand my body, prompted me to prioritize pleasure in other life areas, strengthened my relationship, and made many rough days a bit easier.

I’m approaching my forties now, and I’m not sure what the decade will bring. I do, however, know what I’ll carry into it: an even greater sense of self and confidence that extend beyond the bedroom. Above all, this journey has taught me that when we embrace our sexuality and make time for pleasure, we can lead richer, more purposeful lives.

This essay is based on an experience August McLaughlin detailed in her new book, Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment from Amberjack Publishing.