I admit it. I have touched myself. It started a very long time ago. Perhaps it might be taboo to admit, but I have enjoyed every encounter of self love that I have had the pleasure to experience. I have another confession: touching myself has been my greatest journey to self awareness. Yes, masturbation can lead you to a greater sense of yourself and overall well being.

I’m not fond of the word "masturbation,” which has roots that mean “to pollute oneself”. I prefer to say "self pleasure.” You might have no problem with the word or the act, or maybe just thinking about petting yourself makes you cringe. Either way, it’s time to start thinking about self pleasure in a new light.

When I was training as a sexological bodyworker, we had an assignment to do self pleasure exploration everyday for a week. It was a very powerful experience. I had loved myself the same way since I was a teenager, I found it difficult to cultivate a “practice of self-awareness” at first. I felt self-conscious even though I was alone. I had always been good at touching myself, but now I was fumbling.

The first day I made myself a bubble bath and lit candles. I put on some relaxing music, and I started to just touch my own hand. That’s all. That was my self pleasure practice for the day. It started me thinking about what we define as masturbation. I discovered in that week that I have an entire body that likes touch and pleasure. (I also discovered that I had a repetitive pattern injury in my knee stemming from my masturbation habit!) I developed a lot of awareness around my body, my breath, my habits, and most importantly I developed a way to tell my partner how to I liked to be touched.

May is an entire month dedicated to solo sexuality. There are many men and women who are celebrating the safest form of sex and sexual empowerment through the art of self pleasuring. I invite you to join us as we discover that self pleasure can be a pathway to greater self awareness and sexual health. Here are some ways to practice this art:

1. Set aside time to give yourself a sensual massage, make it a long sensual journey that includes your whole body.

2. The next time you are self pleasuring notice your breath. Are you breathing? Notice your body tension. Are you relaxed or tense? Notice your thoughts. Are you present with yourself or drifting off somewhere? Once you notice these things, see if you can deepen your breath, stay present with the sensations in your body, and relax while being highly aroused.

3. Break a habit or pattern. If you always use one hand, change things up. Use both hands or the opposite hand. If you always stroke or rub the same way, try something different. Try touching other places on your body. Include all of your body. If you always use your hands try a variety of sex toys, such as a vibrator. If you always use a vibrator, try a dildo or a kegel sexerciser. You get the point.

4. Create a ritual. Set an intention for you self pleasure experience. Perhaps you want to love yourself more, get in touch with your sexuality or enjoy life more? Whatever the case, setting an intention can be very powerful. After you set your intention begin breathing in and out of your mouth. Notice each breath, notice your body. Next, begin some self touch. You can work your way to orgasm or just relish the pleasure of the moment. Some of my favorite self pleasure rituals involve Firebreath Orgasm, Tantric Practice, Erotic Trance Dance and Taoist Erotic Massage.

5. Keep a journal. I find it very valuable to journal about my experiences. I love to write about what I noticed, what I discovered about my body, what thoughts or ideas came into my consciousness while I self pleasured. This can be a great practice in helping you to overcome shame around touching yourself.

You may be really surprised at the benefits of a self pleasure practice. I have noticed that my skin glows, I feel more energized, and my libido is boosted. The grandmother of female masturbation, Betty Dodson, amazes me. She looks at least 20 years younger than she is, and she has more vitality than most young adults. She is filled with aliveness. So not only does self pleasure help you gain more self love and greater self awareness, it helps you improve your health and longevity!