In the absence of an acceptable partner, masturbation is a reasonable and appropriate source of sexual enjoyment as well as a method of releasing sexual tension. At midlife and thereafter, women may choose this form of sexual release as the shortage of available men gives way to the general shortage of men in an aging population. Masturbation may also be the sexual outlet of choice, over and above available partners. Masturbation is also a good way of getting started for women who, because of estrogen depletion, experience arousal too slowly to begin sexual activity at the same time as a mate. It is also a loving way to express sexuality for men or women during the illness of either partner or in instances when the desired amount of sexual activity differs for each partner.
There is no right and no wrong when it comes to sex. Society’s very recent acceptance of individual sexual preferences has also lifted the taboo on masturbation. Just as children need to be assured that there is nothing wrong with masturbation, so older persons need to know that it is not an improper activity for them. Although there is less disapproval of masturbation today than in prior times, there is still significant discomfort with the issue. However, if we agree that sexuality is basic to life, then masturbation must be included as one of our natural sexual outlets. According to one study, nearly half of the women questioned indicated that they masturbated in their fifties, and this amount decreased to about one-third of the women at age seventy and over. Two-thirds of the men involved in this study masturbated in their fifties and this amount dropped to 47 percent at age seventy or greater. Those achieving orgasm ranged from 83 percent of the women at age fifty to 74 percent when they reached their seventies and beyond. In their fifties, 91 percent of the men reached orgasm. At age seventy and later, 73 percent of the men who masturbated reached orgasm.
Mutual masturbation is another way to enhance your sex life when you want to, or when other possibilities are limited because of illness or injury. It involves each partner giving each other pleasure until such time as they are both ready to join in whatever way is possible for them.
The techniques for masturbation are as varied and individual as what brings you satisfaction and pleasure. Do not be afraid to experiment. Self-experience and self-pleasure are valuable safe sex techniques. You do not actually need to have sexual relations with another person to feel sexually fulfilled.
In the study by Masters and Johnson that we mentioned earlier, it was found that each of the female volunteers masturbated differently. So you need to try and see what feels good to you. You may use your fingers and hands in caressing motions in whatever position feels best. Some women stroke or press, covering their entire genital area, whereas others find that stimulating the clitoris feels best. Hands and fingers can provide intense stimulation by stroking and rubbing the external genitals, by the fingers’ gentle thrusting motion in the vagina, or by a combination of both. There is no preferred way of self-stimulation; only personal preferences apply.
Vibrators also provide stimulation and excitement to many sensitive areas of the body and can be used in many ways. They come in both electric and battery-operated models and in shapes as different as women are unique. They also sidestep the old taboo of not touching oneself for women who find it is a lingering problem. These are available for purchase in pharmacies and most department stores, as well as offered in catalogues too numerous to mention.
Jacuzzi jets or hand-held shower heads playing directly on the clitoris can offer sexual pleasure, and for some women so does the crossbar of a bicycle or the back of a horse when riding. Do not be afraid to try to seek sexual pleasure by yourself or to engage in a satisfying fantasy life that may stimulate you in different ways by “dream” imaging. Erotic books, movies, and videotapes may also be used to heighten your sexual excitement. Just remember, there would not be so many erotic items available if they were not in use. If you are not sure of how to start your process of experimentation, there are many good books available that offer specific instructions and techniques for masturbation, such as L.G. Barbach’s, For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality (New York, Anchor/Doubleday, 1976) and Sex Is Not Simple by Stephen B. Levine (Ohio, Ohio Publishing Co., 1988). You can also try to find a support group for women that deals with sexuality.