A solo session is more than just an easy way to put a smile on your face. It’s the secret to busting through mental blocks and finding new ways to rack up big orgasms during sex a deux.

By By Nicole Beland, Photography By Joe Zeff Design (Women’s Health)

Thanks in part to movies featuring loser teens violating freshly baked pies, masturbation has a rep as a last resort for the desperate and dateless. Not true. It’s practically a national pastime–and not just for guys. In a 1993 survey by psychologist Carol Rinkleib Ellison, Ph.D., the author of Women’s Sexualities, 75 percent of the fairer sex said they had thrown a party for one in the past three months. And in a 2004 survey by the Berman Center in Chicago, 44 percent of female respondents said they used a vibrator to paddle their pink canoe. We may not talk about it much, but when it comes to shagging ourselves, we girls are anything but shy.

And while you’d think singles would be the ones spending more time with their hands below their belts, studies show that people who are married or live with a partner play with themselves more often than those on the dating circuit. Frequent self-­pleasuring has also been linked with high self-esteem, better body image, and a more active sex life. Which is why so many sex therapists encourage clients who are unhappy in the sack to start getting it on alone. 

“There’s a strong correlation between willingness to explore your own body and bring yourself to orgasm and being willing to explore with your partner and have orgasms together,” says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., a New York sex therapist and the author of Sex Detox. “Women who masturbate are usually more comfortable with their bodies and with sex in general.”

Any kind of autoerotic activity is better than none, but the payoff for adventurous masturbation is much bigger than a mindless nub rub. “Masturbation is the single best way to discover new and more profound turn-ons that you can later put into play with your partner,” says Berman Center founder, sex therapist, and WH advisor Laura Berman, Ph.D. So with the help of top experts, we’ve outlined a guide to advanced masturbation that could be the best thing to happen to your love life since your college boyfriend finally found your clitoris.

Screw with Your Head

Whether it’s imagining Eric Bana licking his way up your thighs or pretending you’ve been kidnapped by a sex-starved Swedish masseur, finding fantasies that light your fire is key to boosting desire and upping your odds of reaching orgasm alone and in company. “To tune in to a sexual experience, you have to first turn off the parts of your brain associated with stress and anxiety,” Kerner says. “And fantasizing is the most effective way to accomplish that.” The logic is simple: You can’t worry about work, money, or unfolded laundry when your frontal lobe is focused on a reenactment of the train scene in Risky Business. 

Have doubts about the power of fantasy? Consider this: Back in 1992, Beverly Whipple, Ph.D., co-author of The Science of Orgasm, along with her colleagues Gena Ogden, Ph.D., and Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D., monitored the blood pressure, heart rate, pupil diameter, and pain tolerance of 10 women who claimed they could think their way to climax. As the subjects fantasized in a lab, seven exhibited the exact physical responses caused by hands-on stimulation. How’s that for a beautiful mind?