Sex ed might end in high school, but maybe it shouldn’t. After all, just because you’ve had sex for years—decades!—and perhaps even given birth to children doesn’t mean you have all the answers, especially when it comes to taboo topics like masturbation. We’re here to help. Whether you’re an old pro or simply curious, here are five things you should know about masturbating in midlife and beyond.
You’re not too old to try it for the first time.
- That said, both Ghodsi and Castellanos advise starting slowly, noting that newbies should explore pleasure instead of just focusing on getting off. “Lots of women buy a vibrator and mash it against the clitoris so they orgasm quickly, but they don’t learn to appreciate and feel the sensitivity of touch,” says Castellanos. “By having a slower, more intense orgasm that you let build and build and build, you learn to maintain sensitivity and figure out how your body can reach intense amounts of pleasure with average stimulation.”
- Whether you’re new to the game by choice or circumstance (like divorce or death of a partner), it’s never too late to start. In addition to feeling good and keeping you healthy, masturbation can help relieve stress, make you feel sexy, and teach you what areas of your body give you the most pleasure, which can enhance your overall sex life, says Pari Ghodsi, MD, an ob-gyn at the San Fernando Valley at Northridge Hospital in Los Angeles. You’ll learn what you don’t like as well.
It’s good for your health.
- Castellanos explains that it’s especially important if you don’t have sex regularly with a partner. If that’s your situation, her “prescription” is to get a small, plastic vibrator, put lube on it, and place it into your vagina on a low setting for about 10 minutes. You can contract the pelvic floor muscles (kegels) to exercise them while you’re doing this. And remember, you don’t need anything crazy—no huge vibrator with the fastest setting. “Hard, plastic bullets are a great option for this,”.
- “The body operates on a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ model,” explains Madeleine Castellanos, MD, an AASECT-certified sex therapist in New York City and author of Wanting to Want: What Kills Your Sex Life and How to Keep It Alive. “Masturbating increases blood flow, which helps support all the tissues in that area of the body.”
You may be less sensitive than you once were.
- The way you think about yourself also plays a role in arousal. “After menopause, there are a bunch of women who think ‘I don’t have to worry about my period or getting pregnant ever again… This is great!’ But others think that their womanhood is gone, and that no one will ever find them sexy again,” says Castellanos. “That feeds into their self-image, which can decrease sensitivity over time.”
- Menopause affects sensitivity both from a hormonal and mental standpoint. Physically, there’s a decrease in hormones, including testosterone, which can translate to less sensation in the clitoris, explains Castellanos.
Don’t be surprised if you want it more than you used to.
- As women get older, some of them become more comfortable with masturbation because they’re more comfortable with their bodies than they were when they were younger, says Ghodsi. Many also find that they have more alone time, since they’re less likely to be caring for young children who are notorious privacy invaders. Everyone is different, but if you find that you have more time and/or a stronger desire to masturbate compared to when you were younger, it’s totally normal.
Consider switching from a water-based lubricant to a silicone-based one.
- Important side note: While having sex with a partner and using condoms, stick with a water-based lube; silicone can break down latex and cause condoms to tear. Our pick: water-based (flavored!) NaturalLove Organic Personal Lubricant.
- Unlike a water-based lube, silicone-based lube has oil in it, which creates a slick layer that coats the inside of the vagina and can make masturbation feel better as you get older. (Here are 8 times you definitely need to use lube.) Estrogen levels drop a lot at menopause, and “once a woman hasn’t had a good level of estrogen for a while, she won’t experience as much moisture from sexual arousal and the inside of the vagina can be dry,” says Castellanos. “The tissues down there get a little thinner, and she might even experience burning or irritation from friction.” (This organic feminine moisturizing balm from Rodale’s helps moisturize, rejuvenate, heal, and protect sensitive vulva tissue with a blend of coconut oil, shea butter, and collagen-repairing avocado oil.)