What does your self-care routine look like? Bubble Baths? A good book? A facial mask? How about a few minutes of self-pleasure?
In recent years, the term and acts of self-care have exploded in popularity, thanks in large part to the pandemic, which had us in extended locks downs, social isolation, and a decline in mental health. At any moment, it seems there is a post related to self-care on our Instagram feeds.
Yet, even with 58 million #selfcare hashtags on Instagram coupled with the slow erosion around the stigma of mental health, self-care can still be difficult for women - particularly women of color, who often see self-care as selfish.
The term self-care is originally a medical term with roots in the civil rights, women’s, and LGBTQ movements of the ’60s and ’70s. Audre Lorde, a black activist, championed the notion and notably wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” in her 1988 book A Burst of Light.
Back to self-pleasure.
Sexual pleasure is integral to well-being and is just as important as mental, emotional, and physical wellness. In addition to its proven physical and psychological benefits to women, it’s incredibly empowering and should be included in our self-care routine. Experiencing sexual pleasure with a partner is incredibly important for many of us and, by no means does self-pleasure replace that. There are, however, many benefits of solo play and more and more of us are leaning into those benefits. According to a June 2020 report by pleasure product brand TENGA, 84 percent of Americans now recognize masturbation as a form of self-care (compared to 44 percent in 2016)
While orgasm is most frequently the goal and is reached at a higher rate during solo play, self-pleasure as self-care reaches beyond an orgasm. It is an opportunity to create a more personal, intimate, and pleasure-forward experience. It can also be a form of stress relief, self-soothing and an escape from the humdrum of everyday life.
Yet, let’s face it, for many of us that are comfortable with self-pleasure, an orgasm IS the goal. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior determined that “orgasm triggers the release of oxytocin, which may help to relieve stress”. For women who have difficulty reaching orgasms with a partner or who are uncoupled can indulge in self-pleasure to reap the (plentiful) benefits of the big O.
Despite all the reported benefits, women’s self-pleasure has long been fraught with stigma. Historically it was linked to sin and shame instead of pleasure. When the writers of Sex and the city gave us the scenes where Samantha relentlessly pursues the big O, there was a collective clutching of pearls amongst the show’s viewers.
A lot has changed since Samantha’s character challenged us to think differently about women’s pleasure, but we still have some ways to go (Facebook still doesn't allow advertising for sex toys—although it does allow ads for sexual-health companies, like those promoting erectile-disfunction treatments for men). Women-led sexual wellness companies, like Pyper are challenging norms and institutions to give raise women’s sexual wellness to a level playing field.
If you haven’t already, a great way to get started on your self-pleasure-as-self-care journey is to carve out sometime for yourself, even if it’s in the shower, and try to relax. Use a vibrator (ahem, personal massager) or even your fingers to start exploring your body gently and slowly. The more you can experience self-pleasure, without negative feelings attached to it, or as a way to please someone else, the more you'll notice the benefits of it.