“Don’t forget to breathe.”

It is the best sex advice I have ever received, and it came from the lips of someone I could never hope to sleep with—my blowjob instructor, Coco La Crème.

At first blush, her instruction could be mistaken as patronizing, even dull (this was a fellatio workshop, after all). There I was, sitting on a steel fold-away chair with a silver phallus partway down my throat, flanked by two other women mimicking the same action.

So I inhaled one long, deep breath through my nostrils.

And I swear on the bucket of those sullen-looking dildos at the front of the classroom that, at that very moment, a shaft of light busted the window open and shone its bright white revelation directly on me: La Crème’s wisdom should be applied with or without a dick in your mouth.

If you’re like me, you might count yourself among the latter bracket. For me, masturbation did not always come easy (pun intended and relished). My first phallic instrument, which was given to me by my mum, was dubbed “The Wizard” because the blue plastic had been molded into the shape of a wizened sorcerer.

“You like Gandalf!” she buoyantly explained. I mean, she’s wasn’t wrong.

As a teenager, playing with myself was just a tactile experiment on nerve endings and sensations. Any sexual misadventure for the better part of high school (and, admittedly, some years beyond that) was more to sate intrigue than to fulfill an erotic want.

It’s hard not to feel silly about this, thinking on it now.

Now, I take pleasure in masturbation. I’ve learned to lay down my arms and surrender to, well, myself—let loose and give in with a resounding “Yes!” (Often literally, sometimes loudly.) This implies a significant difference in the calibre of my orgasm.

Sometimes it is purely physical: a lift, a tightening, and then a shudder most animal. Then there are those transcendent events. You know the type; when the hot blood pumping through your veins is the same lava that formed the tectonic plates, and the salt from the grains of sweat forming between your thighs is the very same sodium chloride that gives seawater its metallic taste. The French call it la petite mort (“the little death”).

Breathing—in fits and starts; in jaw-locking gulps; in calculated streams through the little crack in my lip that splits because my front tooth overlaps the other—has made the difference. Call it my makeshift tantric ritual.

I recall laughing, almost hysterically, the first time I polished the pearl successfully. Laughing felt alien, but good. Why had I been impersonating that tortured, pained expression on the visage of so many adult film actors? Was my brain so porn-addled?

Gone are the days when masturbating, particularly for women, was punted outside the frontiers of most social norms. It is typical and healthy and we’re all doing it.

And that’s just fine.