Movie and TV scenes with guys pleasuring themselves stopped eliciting gasps long ago, yet when Marnie gave herself a hand in the bathroom on Girls, everyone seemed shocked. But Marnie (and Natalie Portman in Black Swan and Betty Draper with her washing machine) isn't the only woman pleasuring herself: About 40 percent of women reported masturbating in the past year, according to the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior-we just don't talk about it.

"We do ourselves a huge disservice when we think masturbation is something male-dominated, or that it's a sign of discontent, loneliness, or anything else negative," says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., sex and relationship expert and co-author of The Doctor Moms' Guide to Sexuality, Social Media, and Other Adolescent Realities. Getting in touch with yourself can boost self-esteem and sexual confidence, empowering you to communicate exactly what you need to get the most pleasure with a partner, she adds. In other words, masturbation may be the best thing that ever happened to your sex life.

The Perfect Remedy

Orgasms don't only feel good; they're also good for you, relieving stress and tension, improving sleep, and alleviating menstrual cramps, Levkoff says. [Tweet this fact!] And knowing your body can help you recognize if something's off down there and you need to see your doc.

Learning how your body responds to different types of touch and what you need in order to hit the high notes alone will also take some pressure off of your man when you're together. "Too many women think, ‘Some day my prince will come and so will I,'" says Emily Morse, host of the sex and relationship advice podcast Sex with Emily. Instead, take control and show him during foreplay-touch yourself (a major turn-on for him), then take his hand and guide him. Tell him you'd love to watch him too so you can pick up a few pointers. Talk about win-win.

Master Your Pleasure

Masturbation is all about exploration-there's no one way to do it, so have fun as you find the key to unlocking your own orgasm, Morse says.

To get yourself relaxed and in the mood, you might try watching porn, reading an erotic novel, turning on sensual music, or drawing a bath. When you start to feel turned on, take it slow-just as you wouldn't want a guy to shove his hands down your pants right away, spend a few minutes on your breasts, inner thighs, back of your knees, or earlobes.

Once you're good and warm, begin experimenting with all kinds of touch on your clitoris and vagina, such as tapping, circular strokes, long strokes, and inserting fingers, and alternate from soft to hard strokes, or fast to slow to see what feels good, Morse suggests. You may want to incorporate lube-in study of 2,500 women, those who use some solo or during sex reported significantly higher levels of pleasure and satisfaction.

If you're working on finding out how to make your toes curl, be patient and try not to let your mind wander to anything other than sexual thoughts. You can also check out if touching different body parts such as your breasts, neck, and arms, or doing Kegel exercises amplifies your pleasure and helps you reach the big O, Morse says.

Whatever you do, don't let your me-time become vanilla. Just as with sex and workouts, mix it up since your body is always changing and what gets you off every time lately may not work a few years from now, Morse adds.

Get Buzzed

If you want to take things up a notch, think about adding a vibrator. Women who use toys experience more desire, arousal, lubrication, and orgasms, according to Indiana University research. A simple bullet or other vibe made for clitoral stimulation is good for beginners, or supercharge your sex life with Shape's top vibrator picks.

To triple your pleasure, ask your boyfriend if he'd be up for a threesome with your battery-operated BF. "We have this idea men are threatened by vibrators, but they're not," Levkoff says. "Look at adding a sex toy to your relationship as something that complements sex." Show him how you like to use it, then let him in on the fun. He might find new pleasure zones you never would have discovered yourself. [Tweet this tip!]