Self-pleasure has a complicated reputation. Many narratives around the act exist to deter people from masturbation. There is a long list of myths surrounding the act. It ranges from a belief you’re having sex with demons to the potential of blindness.

Some people have taken to Google with their questions on the topic. During the pandemic, people worried about their health. Many of the top questions searched surrounding masturbation during that time were about the effects it may have on your immune system. This shows that there are so many unknowns about the act. The topic may be taboo; however, there are people available who are ready to share their knowledge on the topic.

Sex expert and owner of Sarah Riccio believes masturbation is natural and shouldn’t be kept a secret.

Masturbation is a completely normal activity that can serve as the ultimate form of self-care and strengthen intimacy,” she says. “When a person brings themself to orgasm, their body is flooded with oxytocin and dopamine, hormones that create feelings of love and happiness. This can spark a boost in self-confidence, make them feel more empowered in their sexuality and deepen their understanding of how they like to receive pleasure.”

21Ninety asked Riccio to answer some of the most Googled questions surrounding masturbation. She offered her expert opinion to give internet users some peace of mind.

Photo credit: Lucas Da Miranda

21Ninety: Is masturbation normal?

Sarah Riccio: [While] masturbation goes against the belief of some religions, it is a harmless expression of a person’s sexuality. A person can use their own hands or sex toys. It is a completely healthy, common and normal activity to enjoy, and people should feel reassured that many others do it themselves.

21N: How should you masturbate?

SR: There are many different ways to masturbate. How you approach this depends on what makes your body feel good.

Masturbation provides a good opportunity to learn about your own body. You also learn about your sexual desires without the complications that can occur when with a partner. The general ways include touching the clitoris, touching the glans, exploring inside the vagina, as well as tugging back and forth on the penis. Some people like to explore with sex toys, and these are made for all genders.

21N: How much masturbation is too much?

Riccio: Masturbation is a healthy pastime and allows a person to relax and please themselves. As long as this remains enjoyable, there is no limit to the number of times you can do it. However, understanding whether the impulse to masturbate interferes with your day-to-day life will help you to decide if your habit has become unhealthy.

Factors including, having masturbation on the brain 24/7, using it as an escape or doing it at inappropriate times or places are all signs that you have developed an unhealthy habit. It is vital to recognize this and perhaps spend your time on other activities to distract yourself, such as going for a walk or writing in a journal.

21N: How do you masturbate without porn?

Riccio: Without porn, masturbation can light up your imagination. The creative part of your brain goes into overdrive when you’re alone. That means your mind churns out vivid ideas and images during masturbation to help bring exciting scenarios to life. The next time you get off on a great fantasy during solo time, don’t forget to thank your prefrontal cortex.

Some people are too reliant on pornography, which is a manufactured sexual experience. When spending too much time masturbating to this, you reduce your ability to use your own mind as a visual aid. Weaning yourself away from pornography will spark vivid images in your mind perhaps of past positive experiences or fantasies that you can discover.

This article has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.