You started this in your mother’s womb. You might have even continued in spite of the fear tactics, embarrassment, secrecy and shame that became associated with it as you grew up. It’s such a private thing that many people do not share this part of themselves with their partners. The majority of sex education classes disregard it. You don’t brag about it to your friends. It’s masturbation.

The art of self-love is completely downplayed; there is no glamour associated with masturbation. For the hundreds of thousands of books on sex positions with a partner or partners, the literature detailing the techniques and suggestions to finding satisfaction with oneself is very dismal. Yet what could be more important? The key to having great sex with someone is knowing what great sex is for you.

“My design was to write upon the disorders occasioned by masturbation, or self-pollution. … Besides, is not the crime sufficiently proved, when it is demonstrated to be an act of suicide?” This is what a prominent doctor named Samuel Auguste David Tissot wrote in 1766 in “Onanism: Or, a Treatise on the Disorders Produced by Masturbation: Or, the Dangerous Effects of Secret and Excessive Venery,” his essay on masturbation. For hundreds of years, people believed epilepsy, seizures and insanity were just some of the illnesses caused by masturbation. The scary thing about these beliefs and erroneous medical disorders is that they haven’t changed drastically over the centuries.

It was just a little over 50 years ago — when the first Kinsey studies came out — that masturbation became publicly discussed on a large scale. Still, the topic isn’t openly lauded. Many children are told that if they touch themselves their genitalia will fall off or they will become blind. Many people do not masturbate because they fear they will lose interest in their partner, while others simply think that masturbating is unhealthy.

So, let’s clear up the confusion and state the facts.

Fetuses masturbate. Little kids masturbate. Dolphins masturbate. Every gender and non-gender masturbates. People over 100 years old even masturbate. Masturbation relieves tension, stress, headaches and cramps. It heightens your mood after, or in the middle of, a long and crappy day. Masturbation helps you go to sleep. For women and men, masturbation boosts hormone levels and releases endorphins that give you that great feeling and make you glow for the rest of the night and/or day.

The key to great self-loving is exploration. Find out what you like best, in the position and location that you prefer. Try different fantasies, read erotic stories and watch different types of porn to see what peaks your interest. Whether in the shower, in the car, classroom or bed, sex with yourself can lead to new aspects of enjoyment in every area. The wonderful thing about masturbation is that it involves only you; there is no need to make room for another person in the bathroom stall — just be aware there are public indecency laws.

Discover the ways that you respond to soft touch, warm liquids, hard surfaces, on your knees or with your hands handcuffed to the bed. (This can be done if you have safety handcuffs that unclip in the middle.) Body pillows can be rubbed against; the shower head can give you amazing sensations. Check out your kitchen and see how sweet and sour sauce feels on the inside of your arm. But be sure to keep the sugar above the belt — this can produce yeast infections in both men and women — and the oils away from latex condoms as oil breaks down latex. Try more than one finger, both hands and even your feet.

And don’t forget the anus; it’s full of nerves, and the delights that can be found with a finger or a butt plug are just waiting for you. However, remember that anything you play with anally needs to have a flared base because the rectum does not have an ending. You don’t want to lose your toy or carrot mid-orgasm.

Involve parts of your body beside the nether regions. Suck on your fingers, bite your shoulder and spank your own ass. Find out what gets you going and what may get you off. You can also use a sex toy such as a vibrator or a flogger; just remember to clean the object after use. Using a condom on the toy can decrease mess and ease clean up. Just don’t mix silicone lube with your favorite silicone toy as the liquid silicone will potentially melt your toy — that includes the lubes on the condoms.

Masturbation does not need to be done alone. Mutually masturbating while watching your partner can enhance the act, and it can also make you aware of more ways your partner likes to be pleased. Additionally, mutual masturbation can also create a greater sense of closeness. Still, please be aware that when a partner is present, fluids may fly and potentially transmit an STI, so use a condom. Masturbating with a partner can also balance out the sexual needs of partners if one partner has a higher sex drive than the other partner.

Masturbation: the cure for your aches and pains, the excitement at the end of your day, the sex act that does NOT spread STIs, the relationship builder and confidence booster. It feels good. Go ahead; brag about it.

Nicolette Pawlowski is a member of Sex Out Loud and a graduate student pursuing her master’s degree in educational policy studies. Love this column about self-love? E-mail any thoughts or questions to [email protected]