Masturbation is the erotic stimulation of one's own genitals for pleasure.
Masturbation is the self-stimulation of the sex organs, most often to the point of orgasm. Sixty to ninety percent of adolescent boys and 40 percent of girls masturbate. Although people's attitudes about masturbation differ widely, there is no evidence that masturbation is in any way physically, psychologically, or emotionally harmful. For many young people, masturbation is an opportunity for private sexual exploration before deciding to engage is sexual activity with another person. It is also considered the safest form of sex in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Masturbation allows a healthy way to express and explore one's sexuality and to release sexual tension without the associated risks of sexual intercourse, according to many healthcare providers. They also agree that masturbation is a natural, normal, and healthy way of self-exploration and sexual expression.
It is increasingly recognized among mental health professionals that masturbation can relieve depression and lead to a higher sense of self worth. Masturbation can also be particularly useful in relationships in which one partner wants more sexual activity than the other, in which case masturbation provides a balancing effect.
Many conservative religious groups teach that masturbation is a sinful practice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2352, lists masturbation as
The discussion of masturbation has been controversial for hundreds of years and still is to some extent in the early 2000s, more so in the United States than Europe and other Western nations. Children caught by their parents masturbating are often punished and told it is a sin. In fact, there is no mention of the word "masturbation" or "self-pleasure" in the Bible. Children are also often told it is wrong or unhealthy, myths that are not supported by medical research.
In the early 2000s, masturbation has become more accepted for both males and females yet there is still a stigma about discussing it openly. College courses on human sexuality include materials and discussion of masturbation, and many parenting manuals deal with ways to affirm a child's self-pleasing habits rather than degrading or punishing the child. Many sex therapists believe that to have better sexual experiences with a partner, an individual needs to learn to masturbate first since it is the best way to learn what one likes and does not like in his or her sex acts.
Most people think of masturbation as a very personal and private act involving using only the hands to manipulate the genitals. Ways of masturbating common to both males and females include pressing or rubbing the genital area against an object, inserting a finger or other object into the anus, and stimulating the penis or clitoris with electric vibrators, which can also be inserted into the anus or vagina. Some males and females enjoy touching, rubbing, or pinching their nipples while masturbating, and both sexes also sometimes use lubricants, such as hand lotion, to improve the sensation.
Masturbation in males
The most common form of masturbation, especially in circumcised males, is to wrap one or both hands or several fingers and thumb around the erect penis and stroke it up and down until ejaculation. This action results in no direct stimulation of the head of the penis and ejaculation is achieved almost entirely from stimulation of the penis shaft and its contact against the underside of the head of the penis only. In uncircumcised males, it is most common to grip the skin of the penis and move it up and down, resulting in repeated sliding of the foreskin back and forth over the head of the penis until orgasm is reached.
Another common method is to rub the erect penis against a smooth surface, such as a mattress or pillow until ejaculation is reached. Less common masturbation techniques include use of an artificial vagina or other "sex toy."
In 2003, an Australian research team led by Graham Giles of the Cancer Council published a medical study that concluded frequent masturbation by males may help prevent the development of prostate cancer and that it would be more helpful than ejaculation through sexual intercourse because intercourse can transmit diseases which can increase the risk of cancer instead.
Masturbation in females
Females most commonly masturbate by stroking or rubbing the vulva, especially the clitoris, with hands and fingers until orgasm is reached. Females also may use running water to stimulate the vulva or insert fingers or a hard object into the vagina. Many women are only able to achieve orgasm through masturbation. Some women can experience sexual stimulation simply by crossing their legs tightly.
One enduring myth is that female masturbation can lead to decreased sensitivity of the clitoris resulting in a decrease in the frequency and intensity of female orgasm. However, the evidence points the other way and suggests that women who have engaged in masturbation have a better understanding of their own genital anatomy and can guide their sexual partners in appreciating the specific sexual acts that contribute to female orgasm.
Infancy and toddlerhood
Some and probably all children are capable of what appear to be sexual responses even in earliest years. Most infants probably explore and fondle their own genitals, but not in a goal directed way. Masturbation by infants is also referred to as gratification disorder or infantile masturbation. It is sometimes mistakenly identified by physicians for epilepsy. A study published in the March 2004 issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood reported the median age at first symptoms was ten and one-half months, with an age range of three months to five years and five months. The median frequency was seven times a week and the median length was two and one-half minutes. Masturbation in infants is difficult to recognize because it often does not involve manual stimulation of the genitals at all, the study reported.
Occasional masturbation is a normal behavior in preschool-age children and most commonly occurs
"It is impossible to eliminate masturbation in a child. Accept the fact you're your child has learned about it and enjoys it," the advisory states. "The only thing you can control is where he or she does it. A reasonable goal is to permit it in the bedroom and bathroom only. . . . If you completely ignore the masturbation, no matter where it's done, your child will think he or she can do it freely in any setting."
As a child grows, masturbation to orgasm becomes more and more likely. Researchers and experts disagree on how many children masturbate before adolescence. Most children seem to have the biological capacity to derive pleasure from self-stimulation. Masturbation becomes almost universal at puberty in response to normal surges in sex hormones and sexual drive. Most studies suggest that approximately 94 percent of teenage males and about 70 percent of teenage girls admit they masturbate. The actual number of youngsters who masturbate is believed to be higher, since the use of the word "admit" in surveys can imply wrong-doing.
Most males learn to masturbate during adolescence; fewer females do. Some sex therapists believe that girls who do not masturbate miss an important step in their sexual development, since masturbation provides an opportunity to learn how one's body responds to erotic stimulation. Because boys usually masturbate and girls often do not, boys are more likely to learn a sexuality that is genitally focused. Boys learn their sexuality in a context with other boys who bestow a sense of esteem on them. Boys often masturbate with another boy or group of boys. This in itself does not imply homosexuality or bisexuality. Girls who masturbate almost always discover it alone. Girls generally talk among themselves about masturbation but do not perform with other girls or in front of others. There is no peer support for sexual exploration or reward for teaching orgasm. Boys emerge from adolescence both sexually advantaged and disadvantaged. They are practiced at having orgasms and comfortable with the physical aspects of sex. They are less adept at handling emotional relationships with girls.
There is no credible scientific or medical evidence that manual masturbation is damaging to either one's physical or mental health. The exception to this includes some cases of Peyronie's disease in which aggressive manipulation, such as inversion during adolescence, and bending or twisting of the penis, results in a localized benign tumor, distorting the erectile appearance.
Contrary to popular myth, masturbation does not make the palms hairy or cause blindness or genital shrinkage. It has also been alleged that masturbation can reduce sensitivity in the male penis. This statement is also false. The only side-effects recorded are that repeated masturbation may result in tiredness or soreness, which tend to make repeated masturbation self-limiting in any case and that the volume of ejaculate is temporarily reduced in men after multiple ejaculations until normal semen volume is regained in a day or so. Also, people from a socially conservative or religious background may experience feelings of guilt during or after masturbation.
Studies show that kids who feel they can talk with their parents about masturbation and other sexual issues—because their moms and dads speak openly and listen carefully to them—are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior as teens than kids who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject. Parents should explore their own feelings about sex and masturbation. Parents who are uncomfortable with the subject should read books or articles on masturbation and discuss their feelings with a trusted friend, relative, physician, or clergy member. The more parents examine the subject, the more confident they will feel discussing it. If a child has not started asking questions about masturbation, parents should look for a good opportunity to mention it.
While children need to know the biological facts about masturbation, they also need to understand that sexual relationships involve caring, concern, and responsibility. If parents discuss with their children the emotional aspect of a sexual relationships, the children will be better informed to make decisions later on and to resist peer pressure.
When to call the doctor
In the vast majority of cases masturbation is considered to be a normal activity but the following scenarios may suggest that a problem exists:
- If a child masturbates frequently and appears to be relating to adults in a sexually precocious manner.
- If masturbation becomes a compulsive activity and the person is driven to do it at certain times each day and it almost becomes a ritualistic activity, at the exclusion of almost all else.
- If masturbation takes place in a public place.
Circumcision—A surgical procedure, usually with religious or cultural significance, where the prepuce or skin covering the tip of the penis on a boy, or the clitoris on a girl, is cut away.
Clitoris—The most sensitive area of the external genitals. Stimulation of the clitoris causes most women to reach orgasm.
Ejaculation—The process by which semen (made up in part of prostatic fluid) is ejected by the erect penis.
Genital—Refers to the sexual or reproductive organs that are visible outside the body.
Infantile masturbation—The masturbation by infants, also called gratification disorder.
Orgasm—Another word for sexual climax. In the male, orgasm is usually accompanied by ejaculation but may be experienced as distinct from ejaculation.
Peyronie's disease—A disease of unknown origin which causes a hardening of the corpora cavernosa, the erectile tissue of the penis. The penis may become misshapen and/or curved as a result and erections are painful.
Vulva—The external genital organs of a woman, including the outer and inner lips, clitoris, and opening of the vagina.
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Ken R. Wells