Sexual Wellness: Embracing the Value of Sex and Masturbation by Betty Butch

So, bear with me here, I want to share a controversial opinion: 

Sex and masturbation are good

(Although choosing not to have sex – or not desiring it in the first place – is totally valid. You do you, friend!)

Sex is not only good, it’s good for you. There are numerous obvious ways in which sexual pleasure is beneficial. It releases dopamine and oxytocin, which improves your mood and relieves stress. It can help with restlessness or trouble getting to sleep (or – in my case – it can help wake you up.) It can lift your self-esteem and body confidence. It can be an expression of affection or a bonding experience with your partner(s). It can help with pain management, including soothing headaches and menstrual cramps. 

There are less talked about benefits, too. Sex and masturbation can boost your immune system, decrease your risk for heart attacks and certain cancers, and sometimes even temporarily alleviate or manage certain symptoms of mental or chronic illness. (Masturbation can help me shake off brain fog, for example.)

But the potential benefits of sex and masturbation aren’t limited to the act itself. Sex positivity – which I recently described as “maintaining a positive and accepting attitude about your sexual choices and the choices of your peers” – can be just as beneficial to personal wellness.

A sex positive outlook takes work to hold onto when media, legislation, and social pressures/expectations shame sexual choices and even try to limit sexual freedoms. Giving yourself permission to express yourself sexually in the ways that empower you helps combat those sex negative influences. It’s a constant exercise in self-love. Sex positivity can improve your self-esteem, empower you to treat sex and masturbation as never-ending opportunities to explore pleasure and intimacy, and push you to value yourself and your needs.  

So, alright. Sex and masturbation are great for you, and so is having a sex positive attitude. But how do we turn these realizations into actions? How do we incorporate the idea of sexual wellness into our daily lives? 

  1. Go out of your way to expand your understanding of sex. I didn’t know about the clitoral complex until fairly recently, despite having a clit myself. Being aware of just how expansive the clitoris is has completely changed how I approach pleasure. And if I didn’t start regularly consuming feminist, sex positive media and keeping up with sexual health news, I would have remained tragically unaware of my own body. So pick up a book, watch a documentary, read a magazine! Sex is worth learning more about – it’s a fascinating and personally beneficial subject. 
  1. Talk about sex with your partner(s) outside of asking “hey, wanna have sex?” I love chatting about sex with my partner and/or friends. Whether we’re debating techniques, discussing something new we’ve heard of (or tried), or just swapping shameless stories, sex positive dialogue goes a long way towards maintaining a healthy, exploratory attitude about sex. If I didn’t send my partner posts from other sex bloggers to talk about, there’s a lot of new, fun things we never would have tried. 
  1. Masturbate as often as you’d like, and with intention. Masturbation carries with it nearly every health benefit of sex, and removes a number of the external stresses. Too often, it’s framed as some frantic, sloppy act borne of loneliness, but masturbation isn’t about solitude: it’s about self-love (or at least self-lovin’.) Prioritize masturbation (yes, even when you’re in a relationship) by making time for it and using it as an opportunity to experience and explore pleasure (or body positivity or submission or spirituality.) 
  1. Spend time naked. When my body confidence takes a hit (whether it’s due to fatphobic media, harassment, or shifts in my self-esteem), I try to spend more time in the nude. Sprawling naked in bed to read a book, cuddling skin-to-skin with my partner, playing video games while nude… My body is my home, and reminding myself of that helps me appreciate all the wonderfully smutty things I can do with it.
  1. Consider sex for more than just pleasure or bonding. Sex and masturbation are wonderful but don’t have to be treated as sacred acts. You can do it for mundane things like exercise, a mood boost, or to cope with aches, pains, and ughs. In addition to potentially helping manage pain, sleep issues, and symptoms of illnesses such as depression, sex can also cure (or ease) hiccups, morning sickness, and headaches. 
  1. Prioritize your sexual health. Hopefully I don’t need to school you on deciding which safer sex barriers are for you (if any – as long as you know the risks, it’s your decision!), and getting tested so you know your status and can accurately disclose it to partner(s). But there’s so much more to sexual health than that! Is a new medication interfering with your sex drive in ways that distress you? Discuss it with your doctor. Is an uncooperative wrist (like mine) impacting your hand sex game? Start pursuing workarounds.
  1. Ritualize your sexual self-care. Lighting candles, grooming routines, picking out lingerie, strapping up – there are countless ways we prepare ourselves, our space, and our partner(s) for sex (or masturbation.) These things don’t need to be rushed at the last second; instead, try taking your time and appreciating them, or even incorporating them as part of your play. My partner helping me buckle my harness is practically a religious experience. Too often, we speed through the “housekeeping” parts of sex; going out of our way to experience everything in the moment helps remind us that sex and sexual empowerment are about more than hurtling towards orgasm
  1. Invest in your sex life. We invest time, energy, and money in things we value, including things like hobbies, pets, and home projects. So why leave sex until the last minute on Sunday night and have routine sex with a vibrator you’ve never liked? It’s okay to value sex! It’s okay to set aside time to “sex the stage” (see my last point), enjoy the journey towards arousal, and to shake things up once you get there. And if you’re unhappy with your toys, it’s okay to try something else! Need ideas? Just like ye olde Blockbuster used to get new releases every Tuesday, Peepshow Toys gets in new toys often enough that it’s worth pursuing the New Arrivals section for something to enjoy with a big bowl of popcorn (I don’t judge.)

These are just a few broad suggestions. Sex, masturbation, and keeping a sex positive outlook to help nourish your self-expression and self-esteem, are highly individual experiences. You may find that it’s difficult to spend time in the nude or get more chatty about sex with your partner(s). Maybe it will get easier with practice, or maybe you’ll decide it’s not for you.

As long as you’re prioritizing consent and your well-being, you’re doing just fine! You may instead discover that you benefit from a more overt pursuit of self-empowerment; maybe you want to attend sex positive workshops, launch a sex blog, or get involved with your local Planned Parenthood Sex Education & Outreach program. You know what will empower you

And maybe you’ll cure some headaches along the way.




Betty Butch is a queer, sex-positive blogger who reviews pleasure products and writes about identity and kink at bettybutch.com. You can find her on Twitter via @betty_butch.


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