Masturbation means stimulating one's own genitals, often to the point of orgasm. Masturbating can relieve sexual tension and reduce stress. It can also induce pleasure, enhance sexual satisfaction with intimate partners, and promote rest and relaxation.
People of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations masturbate. Even young children have been known to masturbate, as they learn to explore their bodies. It is common for people to masturbate alone, or in the presence of a consenting partner.
Although masturbation may conflict with some religious or cultural teachings, "solo sex" rarely has negative consequences. Masturbating obviously doesn’t result in pregnancy and only rarely increases the risk of an STD, usually when sex toys or other objects are used. Frequent masturbation has no other harmful physical effects. However, if the frequency with which a person is masturbating interferes with work, relationships, or other aspects of everyday life, they may benefit from the help of a medical or mental health professional.
Many people find it difficult to talk about masturbation. There are stigma and shame attached to the concept; some cultures and religions teach young children that it’s wrong to touch themselves. However, masturbating is a perfectly healthy and normal activity in which many people engage.
Masturbation is generally regarded as a safe way to relieve sexual tension without risking disease or an unwanted pregnancy. It gives people an opportunity to experiment sexually. They can get to know their own bodies and learn what feels good to them—and what they’d rather avoid.
Masturbation mostly becomes an issue when it affects someone’s work performance, relationship, or overall health. Often, couples come up with their own reasons for what makes masturbation problematic. These may include masturbation taking away from shared sexual experiences or making a partner less available, using masturbation to avoid existing relationship issues, or keeping masturbation habits secret from a partner.
Injuries with masturbation are rare but can occur; these may include soreness, bruising, or cuts. Individuals should be careful of using objects that are too hard or sharp to masturbate, as these might do damage. Some people may suffer emotional harm, such as shame or guilt, because masturbation conflicts with their religious or cultural beliefs. But masturbation itself is both healthy and safe.
The physical act of masturbation in and of itself is not harmful. However, it is less clear whether using pornography (or sex dolls) may decrease male resolve to seek out relationships with an actual partner. Some people, primarily young men, admit that they find porn and masturbation adequate to fulfill their sexual needs, thus avoiding intimate relationships. In this case, as in every case, correlation is not causation, and it is possible that men who have problems finding partners in the first place are then turning to masturbation and pornography, or that a third factor better explains both porn use and a failure to seek out intimate relations in the real world.
Frequent masturbation is usually not the source of a couple’s sexual problems, but rather a symptom of poor communication about sexual needs. Some people find it easier to pleasure themselves than to have an honest dialogue with their partner about what arouses them, what turns them off, and the logistics of making sure both parties feel sexually satisfied.
When approached honestly and respectfully, masturbating can be a healthy part of a couple’s sex life, producing either neutral or positive effects. It can spur greater intimacy with a partner and even help couples who suffer from differences in their desired sexual frequency. Having masturbation as an option can relieve the pressure when a partner isn’t up for sexual activity.
It is normal for even young children to explore their bodies; they find masturbation pleasurable and an effective way to self-soothe. Children need to know that masturbation is a private act that is meant to feel good and not hurt. If a child’s masturbation seems excessive, parents should watch for signs of anxiety or depression.