It started as nothing more than a convenience. COVID-19 had shut down offices, restaurants, and bars in New York City. Suddenly, my partner was home with me 24/7, and I had no alone time—which meant very little time to masturbate. In the before times, I’d typically masturbate when my girlfriend was at work (I was WFH before it was forced upon us) or out with friends. And although there’s nothing weird or embarrassing about asking your partner for alone time to masturbate—I’ve done it before, and there was never an issue—I didn’t want to explain my horniness every time I wanted to get myself off.
After a few weeks of constant companionship, I realized that the best sex toy for these “unprecedented times” was here all along: my fingers. They made no buzzing noise, so they wouldn’t make it obvious that I was masturbating. And they were on hand (forgive the pun) whenever I was in the mood. I wouldn’t have to fumble awkwardly to grab my vibrator from my bedside drawer. What started as a way to avoid the “I want to masturbate right now” talk with my partner taught me a lot I didn’t know about my body.
When many of us first start masturbating, we use our fingers, the only sex toy we might have available. Yet, over time, we discover toys like vibrators, and some of us never look back. There’s nothing wrong with this; vibrators are fantastic. But such a powerful sensation can easily obscure more subtle types of touch.
I’m not talking about your body getting so reliant on your vibrator that you completely lose the ability to orgasm any other way—the pervasive myth that vibrators desensitize people forever after using them “too much” is untrue. But the power of a vibrator might keep you from figuring out gentler ways you like to be touched.
“Your fingers are made for touching,” Jesse Kahn, L.C.S.W., director and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center, tells SELF. Both your fingers and the areas you’re touching can tell you a lot about what you’re into. Ultimately, your fingers “provide a different sensation than your toys, and can touch you more precisely than a toy can,” Kahn explains.
Using your fingers might also help you rethink your likes and dislikes. For instance, I’ve spent most of my sex life thinking I couldn’t orgasm from having my clitoris rubbed. It always felt too intense. But when I started using my fingers again, I noticed that, yes, rubbing directly on my clit was too intense, but rubbing above it felt nice. I also experimented with pressure and speed. I discovered that fingering does work for me, but the people I’d had sex with before weren’t touching the right places.
Getting back to basics can help you figure out where on your genitals you like to be touched, but there are also other erogenous zones worth exploring. “After we’ve gotten adjusted to masturbating, we kind of decide ‘here’s our groove, here’s what we’re going to do,’ whether it’s with fingers or with a vibrator,” Madeline Cooper, L.C.S.W., an AASECT-certified sex therapist, tells SELF. In her therapy practice, Cooper likes to remind clients of a famous Friends episode where Monica draws a picture of a woman’s body, and Chandler is shocked when she labels not two, not three, but seven erogenous zones.
Many of us are like Chandler, even during solo sex. You might jump right to fingering yourself, bypassing areas like your nipples or other body parts. So if the pandemic has shaken you out of a vibrator-only masturbation routine, why not take it a step further and explore different parts of your body, too?