This article was scientifically fact-checked by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz.
There’s something about going through a particularly brutal breakup that makes you feel utterly and completely human. But also totally dead inside. What a combo, huh? My last breakup was—to put it lightly—a doozy (okay, who am I kidding, all of them have been absolute emotional nightmares). I’m great at falling in love, and terrible at falling out of it. As is the case for a lot of people, I went through a phase of passive self-destruction during which I didn’t eat well, isolated myself, and—perhaps most significantly—neglected my body. And, surprise-surprise, none of these things made me feel any better. If anything, I began to feel far more lost and alone than I had in the days leading up to the breakup, those moments in which you just know something bad is coming. But I slowly discovered the most beautiful, and perhaps most obvious solution to my heartbreak was: self-love.
Now, in this case I don’t mean the intellectual, emotional self-love that comes from hours spent journaling and venting your worst thoughts to your closest friends—though that is certainly essential to the healing process. I mean the physical, lust-filled self-love that comes from a healthy dose of masturbation. Are you with me now?
When a relationship breaks down, leaving you in a literal puddle of tears on the floor of your studio apartment, sometimes the best thing to do is yourself—literally. It’s also important to remember that this feeling won’t last forever (yes, I promise) and, on that note, you should probably get up off the floor now. Go ahead and wipe your eyes, adjust your shirt, and find a mirror—behold, it’s you! You are, despite all the pain you feel, still you. And that’s something to be proud of.
There’s something completely liberating and rejuvenating about the process of rediscovering our own bodies after a relationship ends. Especially considering that sometimes it can be hard to shower ourselves with the same kind of adoration and affection that we give to our partners. But finding a way to reignite that personalized passion can kick start you on your journey to enjoying partnered romance once again. At least this was the case for me.
After ending the long-term romance with my ex-partner, I knew that it would be a while before I could safely enter into another relationship, be it casual or not. And this, of course, meant that it would be awhile before I’d be enjoying sex* with someone else. Being that I am one of those people who wasn’t introduced to the magic of masturbation until my early 20s, it wasn’t something that immediately dawned on me as an important method of self-care.
But then, one particularly aggravating evening, I decided to pull out my lovely turquoise vibrator and crack open my too long-forgotten edition of Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus (if you’re not familiar, I recommend you snag yourself a copy ASAP). And though I’m sad to admit it, this movie didn’t exactly come from a place of love and empowerment, but rather from a vengeful “I’ll show him I don’t need him anymore” mentality that, if I wasn’t careful, could have quickly become toxic to my relationship with my own body.
Lucky for me, masturbation truly is magical and soon after this particular self-love sesh, it dawned on me that, yes, my body is indeed my own and that sex doesn’t just have to be shared with a partner (cue a resounding “duh”). This feels obvious now, especially as I write it down, but in my darkest post-break up mind I had forgotten how important sexy, sultry self-love is. Thankfully this started me down a path of rediscovering it, and re-empowering myself in the process.
I began using masturbation as a way to check in with myself—both mentally and physically—and to rebuild much of the self-confidence that I had lost in the flood of rejection that was ushered in by the end of my relationship. This then slowly helped me to discover a few other ways by which to enjoy my sexual self while healing my broken heart in the process. Here are the acts of self-love that I focused on, and how they helped me along through my healing process.
I started masturbating, even when I didn’t really feel like it.
When I was in a relationship, I fell into the habit of playing with my partner rather than playing with myself, not thinking about the benefits of striking a healthy balance between the two. So, as I sought to reconnect with my body, I would try to “touch base” with myself a few times a week, depending upon my schedule. And, honestly, it helped a lot. Not only with the healing process itself, but by reminding me that my body was beautiful and sexual without requiring a partner’s validation (something I had up until that moment consistently craved). It showed me that I deserved to be confident in my own skin. Plus, there’s truly nothing more rewarding than finally figuring out exactly which “buttons” you need to press to get yourself to that sweet moment of satisfaction. And, of course, using a clitoral vibrator make this even easier!
I started wearing lingerie… secretly.
Oftentimes when I’ve talked with others about lingerie and the occasions on which we choose to wear it, there’s this internalized assumption that it’s something to be worn for our partners first, and for ourselves second. This is not the case for everyone, but it was for me for a long time. I would choose to wear something particularly lacy in the hopes that my partner would take it of me later. But does no partner mean no need for lingerie? Not quite. I learned that there is something just as sexy and seductive about wearing a few extra straps under your clothing even if you’re the only one who will ever know. And using this as a way to indulge in your sexuality independent of anyone else is like carrying a small secret around with you all day.
I started taking more nudes.
This is another one of those habits that we often develop with other people’s pleasure in mind. But this changed when I instead started taking them for myself. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t planning to send them to anyone, and sometimes I wouldn’t even keep them for long. But it became fun and empowering to find new ways to admire my body from different vantage points without being preoccupied with someone else’s opinion.
I started enjoying internal solo toys.
This one doesn’t sound as sexy, I know, but there is really something to be said about how under-appreciated Ben Wa balls are. When I tried them, I was pleasantly surprised by how dynamic these little toys can be. I had treated myself to a set of LELO Beads, which feature loose weights inside that roll with your body, meaning that not only are you getting a little workout when you have them in, but you get a nice dose of sensual stimulation in the process. You can wear them around the house, laying down, or during personal play for some added flair. And it’s worth it.
I started giving myself more complements.
Now, this is probably the easiest method of self-love to incorporate into your daily routine. And I say daily because I think it can be important to learn how to lift ourselves up before expecting a partner to help do the same. The saying that you must love yourself before you can love someone else may not always be a requirement to a healthy relationship (because, hey, no one is perfect and we all have our hang ups), but it definitely helps to know how to build yourself up with a few positive affirmations every day, especially when dealing with heartache. Because sometimes, when we’re at our lowest of lows, it helps to be reminded of what we like about ourselves and—therefore—what we have to offer other people.
The beginning of any heartbreak is just that—the beginning. One way or another, we all eventually work our way out of the tunnel of emotional chaos it can send us into. And when we reach the other side we are all the better for it. The most important thing, though, is to take care of yourself throughout the process by embracing healthy, fulfilling habits. And self-love turned out to be one of the most important tools I gained during mine. So, go experiment, find the methods of self-love that work for you, and hopefully you’ll have the chance to indulge in a few pleasurable moments with yourself in the process.
*In this article, for ease of reader understanding, we are using the words sex and intercourse as synonymous, as is done in popular culture in general. Similarly, we use the word “foreplay” the way it is used in popular culture (i.e., the sexual acts such as oral sex that come before intercourse). However, as aptly pointed out by our sex expert Laurie Mintz, we would also like to acknowledge that such language exalts men’s most reliable rout to orgasm and linguistically erases women’s most reliable route to orgasm—clitoral stimulation, either alone or coupled with penetration. Indeed, only between 4% and 18% of women reliably orgasm from penetration alone. We look forward to the day when such language is not commonly used in culture.
Facts checked by:
Dr. Laurie Mintz
Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Florida, teaching Human Sexuality to hundreds of students a year. She has published over 50 research articles and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Mintz also has maintained a private practice for over 30 years, working with individuals and couples on general and sexual issues. She is also an author and speaker, spreading scientifically-accurate, sex-positive information to enhance sexual pleasure.