IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStockPhotos; used with permission. Masturbation
Source: IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStockPhotos; used with permission. Masturbation

The most private aspect of sex is what we do with ourselves when we’re alone. Many people feel vaguely ashamed of the act of masturbation. Perhaps they received criticism in childhood from their parents for exploring their bodies, sending the message that they should never masturbate, or at the very least, should feel guilty about doing so.

In reality, though, masturbation is normal, at all stages of life. Children use masturbation for pleasure and to self-soothe with little connotation about sexuality. In puberty, masturbation fantasies start to revolve about mutual sexual give and take, motivating adolescents to weather the fears, risks, and necessary losses about leaving home so they can find their own satisfying relationship. In adulthood, masturbation can become a more complicated issue in our families and relationships. How should we respond if we discover our children doing it? Should it be something we give up when we are fully sexually active? Here are some common facts and myths about it:

1) “If you masturbate it means your marriage isn’t satisfying.” – MYTH

Katie had just discovered that her husband Brian was masturbating in the shower.  He told her that he did it most mornings and she was shocked. Mostly, she worried that he might be doing it because he didn’t think she was sexy enough or sexual enough. He reassured her that it was not about her – he did it because it felt good, because it was quick, because he liked to start his day that way. “Nope, I’m not disappointed in you and I actually see this as a completely separate act than our shared love-making.”

2) “It’s the fastest way to orgasm.” – FACT

Women tell me repeatedly that they can climax in two minutes by themselves but take 45 minutes with their partners. Masturbation is usually prompted by a desire for sexual sensation. Coupled sex might be initiated by the other partner, and though a person might begin a sexual encounter willing to have sex, they may not necessarily want sexual release. Also, a partner may not touch a specific spot accurately, apply pressure correctly, or find the rhythm that will prompt an orgasm. A demonstration might help women learn pressure and rhythm for their male partners too.

3) “If you have an adult relationship, you shouldn’t need masturbation.” — MYTH

Most people masturbate throughout their lives. We have sonograms of babies doing it in the womb and reports of people doing it into old age. Once we are mature or have gone through puberty, we understand the power of sharing our sexual feelings with another. But there are reasons and times a person may want a private moment of sensation – not necessarily a sexual exchange. Maybe they need a little stress relief. Occasionally, people use it to manage differences with their partner in sexual drive. Sometimes, they do it simply because it feels good.

4) “It teaches you about your body.” – FACT

Most boys masturbate and begin to climax once they hit puberty, after their first wet dreams. About 75 percent of little girls learn to have orgasms through masturbation. For women who have trouble reaching orgasm during intercourse, sex therapists might recommend self-discovery as a route to orgasm without the pressure of pleasing a partner (unless the client has a moral objection to masturbation).

5) “You will prefer it to partnered sex.” – FACT and MYTH

Doubtful. Mostly, people say that while masturbation is genitally satisfying, it doesn’t give them the deep sense of completion and connection that coupled sex brings. Sometimes, though, partnered sex is disappointing, and people retreat back into a solitary sex life often using pornography as stimulation. If a partner is withholding or sexual differences cause distress and separates the partners, sex therapy or couples counseling is a helpful route to bring happiness and connection back. 

A girlfriend of mine was struggling to have an orgasm 10 years into the marriage.  I gave her a vibrator for Christmas. Her husband called me and wasn't happy, "Thanks a lot Laurie. Now she has a fine relationship with her vibrator."  I told him to give it time and to trust me. After several months she gained confidence in her body and my buddy called me to thank me and said sex was more erotic than it had ever been.

6) “Children who do it are at risk for being sexualized early.” — MYTH

All children self-stimulate. They explore their bodies through sensation. Touching some places brings delight and other places hurt or discomfort. Children need to be taught that masturbation is a private act, is best when used alone in their own bedrooms, and that their bodies are supposed to feel good. Research shows that age-appropriate education from an informed parent about the body and its sexual function actually results in less sexual promiscuity or risk-taking in adolescence. Excessive masturbation in young children might need consideration to see if the child is anxious, neglected, or stressed.

Masturbation usually begins in childhood and is often a part of an adult’s life even if they have a good and satisfying sexual relationship with a partner. While it may feel shameful to admit, everybody does it at some (most) point(s) in their lives and it is a natural part of being a sexual being.

Laurie's podcast is FOREPLAY - Radio Sex Therapy! Join the conversation you always wanted to have about sex! Expert, fun, not salacious podcasting to show how a man and a woman can talk more easily about sex. 

Popular podcast episodes: How to Feel Sexy through Bodily Functions, Go Oral or Go Home, When She Couldn't Care Less

Online consultations available through Laurie's website, Sex Therapy Online

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