Stress and Sex

Helping women decrease stress and enhance desire.

Masturbation: Not Just Monkey Business

Masturbation is a mentally and physically healthy activity for women.
I first discovered the Proboscis Monkey during graduate school when I happened upon a picture of this large-nosed creature. Having a similarly prominent organ in the center of my face, as well as being married to a like-faced fellow, I felt instant kinship with this unique creature.
However, it is only recently that I learned about the masturbation habits of this endangered primate.

My daughter came home from high school, announcing that she had actually learned something interesting in Human Geography that day. She informed me that when they feel stressed, Proboscis Monkeys masturbate. Although I couldn't verify this information about what motivates monkey masturbation, multiple searches informed me many animals masturbate- both when partners are available and when they are not. Many sources pointed to Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl as a reference, and here I was able to verify that both male and female monkeys masturbate.

Before delving further into the research on masturbation among human females, let's define it. Masturbation is manual stimulation of either your own or another person's genital organs for sexual pleasure. According to fellow Psychology Today blogger Noam Shpancer, in his blog "The Masturbation Gap," we have many more words for male than for female self-stimulation. I thus did a search to see if I could find a term to use with this blog. The most common one I found was "Jilling Off" and my favorite was "Coming Into Your Own." Still, for the rest of this blog, I will stick to the common term: masturbation. Although Dr. Shpancer aptly states, "What you don't have words for you do not own or understand," my goal with this blog is to help women own and understand masturbation, even while my search for a better word continues. Thus, a few important research-based facts about female masturbation:

  • Women masturbate less than men do. According to data from the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, conducted at Indiana University, 82% of 20 to 24 year-old men had masturbated in the last year, whereas 64% of these same aged women had done so. In the 40 to 49 year-old age group, 76% of men and 65% of women said they had masturbated in the last year.

 

  • Masturbation isn't just for the young. According to the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, approximately one-third of 60 to 69 year-old women reported recent masturbation. Among women older than 70, masturbation was reported by more than half who were in a non-cohabitating relationships.

 

  • Although the common myth is that masturbation is what women without partners do, this isn't true. According to a blog about masturbation myths by the well-known and consistently accurate Corey Silverberg, a study of Redbook readers found that 68% of married women masturbated.

 

  • Masturbation is a mentally and physically healthy activity for women, with many of these benefits due to the fact that women often orgasm during masturbation. As summarized by Carrie Levine, a certified nurse mid-wife writing for Women-to-Women, in her blog about the "Health Benefits of Self-Cultivation" (another great term!), masturbation is a great cure for insomnia, as well as a terrific stress reliever. Carrie also explains that masturbation is associated with better heart health and lower risk of Type-2 diabetes. Additional health benefits of orgasm that I list in my book, A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex, include enhanced bladder and vaginal health, increased pain tolerance, and relief from pain itself, including menstrual cramps.

 

  • These results were echoed in Ellison's survey over 2000 women from their teens through their nineties: many reported masturbating to relax, to get to sleep, and to relieve menstrual cramps.

 

 

  • Masturbation increases sexual satisfaction, with one way it does so through increasing one's ability to fully immerse in the sensations of sexuality. In A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex, I label a full physical immersion in the bodily sensations of sex as "Mindful Sex." Practicing this complete present focus during masturbation can help you achieve this state more quickly during sex with your partner.  

 

  • Masturbation helps women become orgasmic. When women masturbate, they increase their comfort with their own bodies and, importantly learn what turns them on. This is why masturbation is a central component of effective treatment programs that help women learn to have orgasms. (See for example, Becoming Orgasmic, a research-supported method to do just what the title says). The first step to becoming orgasmic is having knowledge of what brings you to orgasm, and the second step is being able to tell or show your partner. As I point out in my last Psychology Today blog, Orgasms: You Can't Fake it Till You Make It, most women require direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm, and this is why when researchers ask women how they masturbate, most report touching their clitoris.

This brings us full circle back to the monkeys. According to Bruce Bagemihl's book, when female monkeys masturbate, they touch their clitoris. Clearly, these lady monkeys know how to please themselves. Maybe, if my daughter's Human Geography teacher was right, they also know the benefits of masturbation-at least so far as its stress relieving qualities go. Clearly, masturbation is an important, self-affirming sexual activity. Masturbation is no monkey business.

Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., is the author of A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex: Reclaim Your Desire and Reignite Your Relationship.

more...

Subscribe to Stress and Sex

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.