Pleasure is not a luxury—it’s a necessity for overall wellbeing. This is why wondering how to turn yourself on is just as valuable and vital as wondering how to reduce stress in your life. In fact, sex (solo or with a partner) can reduce stress—something I’ve seen time and time again in my decades of work as a certified sex and relationship therapist and also in the results of fMRI scans in my work as a neuroscientist studying the scientific benefits of sexual pleasure. (I even wrote an entire book, Why Good Sex Matters, about it.)
If you’re looking to invest more in your solo sex game, you’ve come to the right place. And if you don’t already have a masturbation practice, welcome. I’ll walk you through the best proven masturbation tips for how to turn yourself on—and prioritize your mental and physical health in the process.
1. Create a pleasure mindset.
Good sex—even with ourselves—starts outside the bedroom. The first step in creating pleasure is to cultivate a “pleasure mindset.”
What do I mean by that? Designate time and space for feel-good fun. Pleasure of all kinds, not just sexual pleasure, is good for the brain. So block off a few hours each week to do something that feels good. It needn’t involve masturbation or sex of any kind—anything that feels good and is good for you can help you access that pleasure mindset next time you are in the bedroom.
2. Explore a new hobby.
This may not seem like a classic masturbation tip, but it’s actually a powerful way to help you turn yourself on when you do have some alone time. Eroticism starts with having a passion for living. Our “seeking system”—a wired-in core emotion powered by dopamine—is designed by nature to capture our attention and motivate us to pursue our needs for everything from food, shelter and safety, to love and sex. By engaging it, we can help dial up our lust for life, if you will. How do we engage our seeking system? Virtually explore, learn something new, dive into an interest or curiosity.
3. Turn off your phone.
Being present is really the first requirement of getting turned on. So turn off social media, put down the smartphone, and be in the moment. Get your head in the game and your body will follow.
Stress—especially chronic stress—kills the pleasure mindset. The sustained release of the stress hormone cortisol will not only take its toll on your overall health and wellbeing over time, but it will also dampen your sex drive. The good news here is that having sex can reduce our cortisol levels. One more reason to masturbate!
If you need help learning how to relax, here’s a full guide to the breathing exercises I use myself. A Quick tip: By breathing in and out through your nose and making the exhale a bit longer than the inhale, you will harness the power of the nervous system to calm itself.
5. Spend time in the sun.
The hypothalamus is your body’s master hormone machine. It regulates everything, including our appetites for food and sex, our moods, even our waking and sleep cycles. Getting natural sunlight can help stimulate the hypothalamus (and is also linked to lower rates of stress). Not getting enough natural sunlight has contributed to the worldwide epidemics of obesity, depression, anxiety disorders, and stress. A big reason to spend time outdoors all year round!
6. Pay attention to the sensations in your body.
A great way to relax is to start a regular self-attunement practice to help you connect to your body. Take out your journal and answer these questions: What’s on your mind? What’s going on in your body? How’s your emotional state? If you are down or frazzled, don’t worry. Simply giving yourself permission to be exactly as you are, with whatever challenges you’re experiencing, is key to loosening and softening and ultimately releasing the emotions. I call this practice radical acceptance and it’s a powerful tool for wellbeing.
7. Create a playlist.
Music is another really helpful way to relax—and can be hugely helpful in figuring out how to turn yourself on and set the mood. Music—especially an empowering WAP anthem—primes joy. Create a mix of your favorite songs that help you get in the mood for sex and play it next time you masturbate. (You can also play it for your partner when the opportunity arises.)
8. Set the scene.
Create an atmosphere of seduction in your bedroom, just for you. Nice clean sheets, a new comforter or blanket, soft lighting, candles, and incense can all help set the stage for the intention to celebrate pleasure.
I’ve often said, your brain is your most powerful sex organ. You can turn up the volume on pleasurable sensations from your genitals just by using your mind. In my research, participants were able to light up their brain’s pleasure centers by just thinking about genital stimulation.
10. Know your erogenous zones.
Sexual arousal doesn’t just come from stimulating your genitals—the body is full of sensuous hot spots such as the thighs, buttocks, and the small of the back. One you may not have explored before? Your ears. Beyond the obvious pleasures of listening to delicious sounds, stimulating the outer ear can directly activate our brains’ pleasure centers. There’s a scientific reason for this. Turns out that the turn-on from ear sensation is driven by the Vagus nerve—a major component of the calming and restorative side of our nervous system—which my lab has shown is activated during orgasm.
The various parts of the clitoris can unlock a lot of pleasure, while the vagina, cervix, and nipples have a deep resonance on their own. Connect the dots between pleasure places. When you play a number of these keys together, the sensations can blend, combine, and merge, into a crescendo of different types of orgasms.
Regular exercise has long been understood to help boost sexual arousal. So if you want to turn yourself on, show your body some love by walking outside for 15 minutes at least two times per day. Yoga can be an especially erotic exercise practice—focusing on the breath and the energy in the body is a fantastic way to get in an erotic frame of mind. Do it by yourself or with a partner.
13. Focus on connection.
When you are with a partner, sizzle up your interactions. As discussed in my book, creating ongoing sexual potential and lifelong turn-on involves being willing to take risks with partners. Couples who learn how to take risks by penetrating each other’s psyches keep learning and growing together. For example, start with a regular practice of asking your partner about the high and low points of their day. And then go deeper to probe. Cultivating the ability to actively and deeply listen to our partners is hot.
14. Learn to play.
Play is the source of a great deal of our social joy and pleasure—it helps build resilience and enhance your ability to cope with stress. And that applies to both your sex life and your life outside the bedroom. Similar to finding a new hobby, finding ways to get playful in your life can actually help you access that playful pleasure when it comes to turning yourself on. Specifically when it comes to your masturbation practice, think about trying a new sex toy or dressing up in something that makes you feel confident (even if you’re solo).
15. Explore the world of porn.
It’s a myth that women aren’t into porn. In fact, watching porn can help those of us (even moms who’ve lost access to our mojo) jumpstart our libidos. Whether you like visual stimulation, audio porn, or settling in with some delicious erotica, a narrative aid can be a great way to prime yourself for pleasure. Just make sure you’re turning to ethical, feminist sources.
16. Find the right sex toy.
There are plenty of ways to turn yourself on using just your own body and your mind. But a vibrator can also be a wonderful thing to incorporate. In terms of choosing a vibrator, I suggest starting with a simple one without bells and whistles and go from there. In a previous column we explored how to play with settings and experiment with different parts of the body.
17. Just go for it.
Ultimately, the best masturbation tip for turning yourself on is just to do it. As my research has shown, our bodies are wired for pleasurable sensations—and the more you activate the pleasure pathways in your brain, the more you’ll strengthen them. In other words, repeated stimulation is key.
Nan Wise, Ph.D., is AASECT certified sex therapist, neuroscientist, certified relationship expert, and author of Why Good Sex Matters: Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, and More Purpose-Filled Life. Follow her @AskDoctorNan.