Why a Sexual Wellness Expert Believes Masturbation Is a Form of Meditation
"Carving out time for self-pleasure is one of many ways women can hold space to cultivate their life force."
Sundays are a day to recharge and reset by hanging with friends, turning off your phone, bathing for hours on end, or doing whatever else works for you. In this column (in conjunction with our Instagram Self-Care Sunday series), we ask editors, experts, influencers, writers, and more what a perfect self-care Sunday means to them, from tending to their mental and physical health to connecting with their community to indulging in personal joys. We want to know why Sundays are important and how people enjoy them, from morning to night.
Sexologist and CEO and co-founder of sex toy and sex education company, Dame, Alexandra Fine has been interested in sexual wellness for as long as she can remember. "It seemed like a really natural thing to be curious about," the now 33-year-old tells HelloGiggles.
It began when Fine's aunt took her to a party where drag queens and people of all genders of the spectrum were present. "I remember going back to class the next day and discussing it with my friends and getting in trouble by my teacher. It was definitely my first real experience with nonsensical shame," she says. However, the turning point of wanting to pursue sexuality as a career came in middle school when she was slut-shamed by her peers. "After I kissed a few boys one night at a movie theater, everybody was talking about me in the hallway," she says. "It was a vibe of total exclusion in that subtle, middle school way, and I felt very alone. Of course, nothing happened to the dudes, but that kind of sexual double standard led me to pursuing sexuality as a career."
Years later, Fine decided to earn her master's degree in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University, with the goal of creating a company to help make the sexual wellness space feel less taboo. After graduating college, she started making vibrator prototypes in the comfort of her own kitchen and started discussing the possibility of creating a sex toy company with her soon-to-be co-founder Janet Lieberman-Lu (an MIT alumna with years of product development experience). "She knew that sex toys weren't being held to the same standards as other consumer goods and I knew she had the skillset to ensure that they were," Fine says. "It only took one breakfast meeting to know we had the complementary skills to start something special." And that's when Dame Products was born.
"Our mission at Dame is to help people practice pleasure in every aspect of their lives," she explains. They aim to close the pleasure gap and encourage open conversations around sexuality to occur by creating medical-grade silicon-based toys; providing sexual education resources through their blog Swell; hosting wellness-, relationship-, and sex-focused workshops; and connecting with their community through Dame Labs, a digital research facility for customers to test and discuss Dame products. "Sex can feel really good, and I want to help people access that joy," Fine says.
For this week's Self-Care Sunday, we spoke to Fine to learn more about her sexual wellness, her go-to self-care rituals, and what sex toys she's been using as a part of her self-care routine.
HelloGiggles (HG): How do you believe sexual wellness can affect one's mental health?
Alexandra Fine (AF): Sexual wellness affects both physical and mental wellness, and vice versa. If you're anxious, it's more difficult to experience pleasure—and if you're experiencing pleasure, you're less likely to be anxious. We experience all of these within our bodies, which means that they're all a deeply ingrained part of who we each are. I feel so strongly that the more we can acknowledge the overall impact of sexual wellness (or the lack thereof), the more satisfied we'll continue to be as humans.
HG: What are some practices or regimens you'd suggest others do if they feel like their relationship with their sexual wellness is becoming overwhelming?
AF: Meditation and mindful masturbation practices can be helpful. If you notice your mind wandering during sex or self-pleasure, bring it back to the sensation you are experiencing. It may be feeling your partner's lips on your lips and really noticing that sensation. It's similar to when experts say that when you feel a lot of anxiety, wiggling your toes can help you bring you back to your body. Noticing those physical sensations can really help.
Additionally, there is also a lot of breathwork practice out there designed to activate sexual energy. I like to focus, do some kegel exercises, and move energy into my lower chakras and imagine bringing that energy up through me. I focus on whatever I can do to stay present in my body or present to my partner.
HG: What physical activities have you been doing lately to help better connect to your sexual wellness?
AF: Well, I'm a big fan of masturbation. Aside from the researched health effects of masturbation (lowered anxiety, better sleep, pain relief with oxytocin, immune system enhancement, etc.), the key benefit is really giving yourself a chance to get in touch with your own body. It can help you realize likes and dislikes that might be difficult to explore with the pressure (or societal implications) of a partner involved.
I think masturbation is one of our most inherent forms of meditation. You have to stay connected; you have to stay present. Your body is asking you to be present with your body in that experience, and the more present you are with your sensations, the fuller you experience them.
HG: As the CEO of a vibrator company, how do you suggest others feel comfortable using vibrators if they want to add them to their routine?
AF: I believe that holding space for pleasure is thriving. Carving out time for self-pleasure is one of many ways women can hold space to cultivate their life force. Using a vibrator can help vulva-owners understand their own "pleasure map," and can help them enhance their sexual pleasure and communication with their partner. This map might change over time, so checking in with yourself over time is important. Women of all life stages deserve pleasure.
When looking for the right vibrator, it's all about finding a tool to explore your erotic energy––that also feels safe for your body. Take a deep breath and consider what you are looking for. What type of experience do you want this tool to help you unlock? Do you want something to provide internal pressure? Reach where your finger can't? Do you want to use it for more intense solo play? With a partner?
HG: What form of community care do you believe the sexual wellness industry needs at this time?
AF: The industry has been evolving from novelty toys to a more holistic approach to sexual health, and it is turning into a one-stop shop for tools that bring value and pleasure to sex (whether that's solo sex or with a partner). I think more people are beginning to see how sexual pleasure and pleasure products are just part of our general health and wellness experience.
Beyond creating sex toys, our mission at Dame is to help people experience, understand, and explore sexuality as part of their broader well-being—something many haven't been able to do with a partner over the past year. Others who are with their partners express concern about diminished libido and performance the longer we're weathering this pandemic. We take a very holistic approach toward overall wellness, and we know sexuality is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit a very important one. We're proud to have championed prioritizing pleasure and making sure people stayed in touch with their bodies throughout the pandemic, at a time when many folks felt alienated, withdrawn, and scared. That impact alone makes our work worth it.
HG: How is Dame looking to engage in community care now that the world is slowly opening up?
AF: Aside from expanding our offerings in the health space (through our products, educational content, activism, etc.), we're looking forward to being able to connect with our community in person again. Dame Labs has gone completely digital, and we're excited to (hopefully soon!) welcome our members back into our office for research. We're excited for more in-person activations in general since our online workshops have been such a hit throughout 2020. And finally, we're bringing the focus back to our lawsuit with the MTA (who pulled our advertising rights on the subway for vague/sexist reasons) to continue fighting for our right to advertise after what's been a banner year for Dame.
HG: Are there any self-care/sexual products you've been gravitating toward lately during your self-care routine?
AF: My partner and I love using Dame's Pillo, a soft yet firm wedge that supports us in a variety of sex positions. For Dame, it was one of the best-sellers in 2020. Just as a proper chair enables productivity at work and a good yoga block can take a sun salutation to new heights, Pillo offers more support when it comes to sex. Not only does it make sex comfier, but it also angles your body just right to reach new pleasure spots. It comes with a removable cover for easy washing and is soft and discreet enough to also be used as a napping and relaxing pillow. I really get a lot of great use out of it!
HG: What are some self-care practices that have been bringing you the most joy?
AF: Other activities (besides masturbation, of course) that I'd suggest for self-care include thinking of powerful, self-love mantras you can live your life by, drinking lots of water, creating individual and identity-focused routines, and getting some sunlight—and always loving yourself first!
Chanting out mantras can actually move our internal energy throughout our body, enhance positive brain waves, increase endorphins, and block stress in the body. Finding the right mantra is a matter of finding what feels right. When we're experiencing difficult life situations, we can always come back to our unique, individualized mantras in order to bring positivity and self-care to the top of mind. It sounds like a lot but if you can get into it, it'll pay off.