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Q: In 2012, I suffered a massive stroke, which has not only isolated me but also caused me to be involuntarily celibate. My quandary is, I never learned how to masturbate! Previous to the stroke, my now ex-boyfriend served as my orgasm-giver. However, now that I’m begrudgingly solo, I need some help finding my “happy place” again. Not to mention, I’m currently stuck living with my parents without a lot of privacy. –Starting Out Solo

Carol Queen: You don’t say whether your stroke affected your range of motion or other elements of mobility, so please know that your specific physical condition might affect what you’ll find easiest to do, solo-sex-wise. You also don’t reveal how your ex gave you orgasms—oral sex, dexterous hands, penetrative intercourse, or what. Factor in whatever he did that you liked, since apart from vibrator use, you might have the best luck stimulating yourself in a comparable way. Orgasm is to some extent a learned behavior, and our bodies often respond best to the kinds of touch we’ve already found arousing. 

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Clitoral stimulation is most women’s go-to source of sexual response, and for many, a necessary step on the path to orgasm. Find your clitoris. It’s a bit above the vaginal opening, and it usually protrudes at least a little, though not on everyone. It feels different to touch than the surrounding tissue, although it may not immediately feel arousing. You’ll have to explore to learn more about your preferences. Touching your clit directly might not feel the best at first; going near the clit might be what you like. Some people stroke the clit back and forth, almost like strumming. Others like to circle it, stroke it up and down, or tickle it lightly before adding additional pressure. As arousal builds, stronger sensations will likely feel better than they did at first. Follow the cues of your body as you go; your arousal process will let you know if more is going to be better. Experiment with nipple stimulation and other sensations; a lubricated finger may feel completely different than a dry one. There isn’t one right way to masturbate, so this is by necessity an exploration—and a damned nice one, I must say. 

If your orgasms included penetration, treat yourself to a sex toy from goodvibes.com or other women-centric sites, or see if you can use your fingers to stimulate the first third of your vagina, which is the most sensitive part. Most female masturbation is not primarily about insertion, but if you enjoy it, add it if possible. Try combining penetration with what you’ve learned your clit likes. If you can buy a toy, pick one that offers internal or external options, like LELO’s GIGI. If you want to stick to the clit, the powerful vibrations of the Magic Wand might do the trick.

You can also try running water on your clit and vulva, if you have a hand-held showerhead; just don’t direct the running water up into the vagina. Some people find lying facedown with a pillow, bolster, or even a stuffed animal between their legs allows a no-hands form of masturbation. 

Books that might add to your experience include Betty Dodson’s groundbreaking Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving, Jenny Block’s O Wow: Discovering Your Ultimate Orgasm, and Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot’s I Love Female Orgasm: An Extraordinary Orgasm Guide. I hope other readers will learn from your challenging experience: Learn to masturbate now! 

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Image via The To Do List

This originally appeared in the December/January print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today

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