A year in isolation is opening people up to the idea that sexual pleasure is an act of self-care. According to a study by pleasure product brand TENGA, 26% of Americans say their views around sex toys have become more positive and 71% report using masturbation as a form of self-care during quarantine. Even before the pandemic, the sexual wellness market was valued at over $74 million and estimated to reach $108 million by 2027.

The shift in the last decade towards a more inclusive beauty industry that promotes self-love has paved the way for female masturbation to shed its taboo status. Celebrities no longer make fragrances for you to smell like them, they make sex toys for you to become comfortable in your own skin. Last October, Lily Allen launched a vibrator with sex tech company Womanizer. A month later, both Cara Delevingne and Dakota Johnson took on creative director roles at sexual wellness brands Lora DiCarlo and Maude, respectively. Upon joining Maude, Johnson told Vogue, “Taking care of your body in a sexual way should be the same as taking care of your body in terms of nutrients, skincare, exercise.” These celebrities are spreading the word—self-pleasure is an accessible and empowering form of wellness. But few mention one of masturbation’s overlooked benefits—it’s also the secret to healthy skin. 

“The effects of masturbation on the skin are often overlooked,” says Dr. Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist and Harvard-trained Mohs surgeon. “When people talk about how sex improves the skin, they really mean orgasms. Whether you orgasm from masturbation or sex, the effects are the same.” The most obvious effect? The post-orgasm glow. “The physical activity of masturbation increases body temperature, which activates homeostatic mechanisms to maintain body temperature, including vasodilation of superficial blood vessels in our skin,” explains Hadley King, MD, New York City-based dermatologist and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Cornell University. “The dilated blood vessels lead to increased blood flow, which allows heat to dissipate from the skin and gives the skin a rosy glow.”

But masturbation has long term skincare benefits beyond causing that immediate glow. “A study by the University of Michigan showed that masturbation may increase estrogen levels which is important to preventing collagen degradation and aging,” says Dr. Henry. “There is a 30% drop in collagen during the first five years of menopause,” explains Dr. King. “This is likely why women start noticing fine lines and wrinkles as they approach or enter menopause.” But good news, “Studies have shown that for women, more frequent masturbation can delay menopause,” says Dr. King. In other words, by delaying menopause, masturbation delays the drop in estrogen that accelerates the aging of the skin. 

Given that masturbation reduces stress and improves sleep, it makes sense that a regular practice would show on our skin. “Masturbation induces relaxation and decreases stress which can contribute to acne,” says Dr. Henry. “Orgasms lead to a release of oxytocin, which lowers cortisol levels, leads to better sleep and helps the skin repair itself,” adds Dr. King. “Studies show that self-pleasure floods our bodies with ‘happy hormones’ like dopamine and serotonin, decreasing the instance of inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea and dermatitis,” echoes Erika Schwass, a Science and Wellness Manager at Consonant Skin+Care.

The all-natural Canadian skincare company is the first to bring the masturbation-skincare connection to the mainstream. “With less than half of Canadian women regularly masturbating, there are a lot out there who are missing out on getting that ‘O’ glow,” Schwass says. “That’s why we’re urging customers to take a more holistic approach to skin care by going beyond the bottle and incorporating masturbation as a step in their skincare practice.”

Last November, Consonant launched the limited-edition Come and Glow Kit as part of their Mask and Masturbate initiative. The self-pleasure kit was such a hit, they’re relaunching the initiative this year with new partners. The upgraded set will include four HydrExtreme Sheet Masks, the Get cLit candle and a luxury pleasure toy from Lelo to pair with Consonant’s “The More You ‘O’” playlist and a new podcast they’ve recorded with psychotherapist, sexologist and Bachelor-Nation personality Taylor Nolan.

“Self-pleasure is a part of self-care, and is just as important to your skin as nutrition. But discussion about nutrition doesn’t have the same stigma as masturbation. We’re here to smash that stigma,” Schwass tells Forbes. Critical of a centuries-old shameful reputation and the lack of discussion about female self-pleasure in the wellness community, Consonant has made it their mission to “open up the masturbation conversation,” says Schwass. “We want our clients to celebrate self-pleasure and self-care, to not feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it.”

But it’s not enough for Consonant to spark the conversation, they want to keep it going. On January 21, they’ll discuss the science and stigmas behind sexual pleasure with sexologist and TV personality Dr. Jessica O’Reilly at their live virtual event Skin + Self Pleasure, hosted by Holt Renfrew. Beyond new products and events, they’ll continue the dialogue with their community, motivated by clients who tell them “masking and masturbating is my new Sunday ritual.”

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