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Many of us grew up with the fallacious notion that masturbation was “dirty,” maybe even illegal. Actually, I’m pretty sure no one ever discussed the subject with me, and I certainly didn’t read about it in a textbook, but I somehow learned it on my own. Maybe I thought it was dirty precisely because no one ever talked or wrote about it. Then again, no one talked about breast cancer, homosexuality, and divorce, either.

But now that I’ve had many years of masturbation experience behind me, and women have become a bit more open about discussing their bodies, it’s exciting (excuse the pun) to learn that masturbation is good for our mental and physical health. Yes, it helps create a sense of well-being; improves our sleep; reduces stress, and strengthens muscle tone in the pelvic and anal areas to reduce a woman’s chance of involuntary urine leakage and uterine prolapse (a condition where the uterus drops), according to the Planned Parenthood website.

“Masturbation is necessary. Your genitals, your vulva, your clitoris, your vagina, those are parts of your body that also need to be exercised. You need blood coming into the area. You need the muscles to be stretched,” explains Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus, who has a Master’s degree in public health from Columbia University and is a founder of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality. “When we see a woman who hasn’t masturbated in years, or hasn’t masturbated at all, often she has a lot of vaginal dryness and atrophy that could have been avoided if she had.”

Masturbation is a little less important for women who are in a partnered sexual relationship, and having some kind of sex once or twice a week, Dr. Marcus said. “But it’s really important, at least once a week, for many, many women who don’t have regular partners, or aren’t having sex with regular partners. It keeps you kind of connected to your sexual self, as well as exercises that part of your body. It’s important for your sense of self, whether you’re having sex with someone else or with yourself. The erotic part of your brain is elastic and should get worked like any other part.”

Although 74 percent of 300 women who participated in a recent poll said they orgasmed through masturbation or sex anywhere from one to six times in the past month, 33 percent of the respondents revealed they aren’t aware of the health benefits of masturbation. That figure would be even higher if we didn’t have a world of information (literally) at our fingertips.

We also have the opportunity to choose from a spectrum of products to help prepare us for satisfying masturbation experiences, including vibrators. Just like with a penis, each vibrator will give you different sensations, depending on its size, shape and the intensity with which it moves. It’s important to find one, or even a few, that will give you the maximum pleasure. (A few vibrators, not a few men!)

Last, but certainly not least, you’ll want to use a moisturizer and cleanser to help ensure that your delicate vaginal tissue is hydrated and healthy. While masturbation is great for our health and wellbeing, it’s no fun to do it when you’re dry and itchy, maybe even bleeding.

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