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Why Some People Never Masturbate

Not everyone indulges in self-pleasure. Here are several explanations why.

Key points

  • Research findings vary on how many people masturbate. While most people masturbate, some claim they never engage in the activity.
  • Reasons include adherence to partnered sex, religiosity, pain from sex, sexual trauma, genital dysphoria, and meanings placed on masturbation.
  • No one should be judged either for masturbating or for choosing to not indulge in self-pleasure.

Statistics on how many people masturbate vary from study to study. One study will have the percentage in the high-80s to mid-90s, and the next will have a radically lower number. It depends on the demographic of the study’s sample, how the questions were phrased, and whether respondents answered honestly. There is the well-worn joke that 95 percent of people masturbate, and the other 5 percent are lying.

Furthermore, studies conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic offered numbers that, when compared to results from studies outside the pandemic frame, revealed quite a shift in self-pleasure habits. The truth is, stats coming from the pandemic need to be considered solely within the frame of the pandemic. Pre, during, and post-pandemic numbers, taken together, may eventually reveal the pandemic numbers to be outliers and not a continuing trend.

Prior to the pandemic, a cross-cultural study by Tenga surveyed 10,000 adults in nine countries about their masturbatory habits. Eighty-four percent of the respondents reported having masturbated (91 percent of men and 78 percent of women). Early in the pandemic, many researchers hypothesized that there would be an increase in masturbatory activity during the pandemic due to additional time at home in a quarantine environment. Boredom and loneliness would have more hands slide south.

A study by the Kinsey Institute (Lehmiller, Garcia, Gesselman, and Mark, 2020) found that there was actually a reduction in masturbatory practices during quarantine. Twenty percent reported not having masturbated since the beginning of the pandemic, vs. 2.4 percent reporting not having masturbated in the previous year. Contrary to these findings by the Kinsey Institute, Tenga’s survey conducted during the pandemic found 37 percent of people masturbated more early in the pandemic. This number rose to 42 percent as the pandemic went on. Nevertheless, Tenga did find that masturbation rates were gendered as women reported a decrease in pandemic masturbation.

Ikon Republik/Pexels
Source: Ikon Republik/Pexels

Returning to the old joke that 5 percent of people claim to not masturbate, this is only a joke. Yes, most people do masturbate, but despite the disbelief by some, not everyone masturbates. This includes whether the social system is engaged in a global pandemic or not.

Some people do not masturbate and/or have never masturbated. And, no, someone who doesn’t masturbate is not broken. They do not all have deep-seated issues they are not addressing. They are not simply "frigid." Such immediate conclusions unfairly accuse and shame those who choose to not touch themselves.

There are several explanations offered by those who do not or have never masturbated. A few of these socio-psychological explanations include:

  • Some individuals masturbate because they have no interest in partnered sexual activities. Masturbation is their relief of sexual arousal. Others only have an interest in partnered sexual activities and no interest in going it alone.
  • Some people are so committed to their partners that they believe that self-pleasure would be a form of infidelity.
  • Religiosity plays a role in the decision to not masturbate. Those who are exceptionally committed to a religion that forbids masturbation may choose to adhere to the tenets of their religion.
  • In the process of socialization, individuals are shaped by others to be socially acceptable members of a community. Part of the socialization process is being sexually socialized in adherence to the sexual norms of the given society. If shame is embedded in masturbation during the socialization process, some may abstain from touching themselves to forgo socially learned feelings of shame. Again, religion may have a part in this process as members and leaders of the religion are socializing agents.
  • Pain associated with any form of sex is a reality for some people. Avoidance of pain keeps some individuals away from both partnered sex and masturbation.
  • Depending on where an individual sits on the sexuality-asexuality spectrum may determine their interest in self-pleasure. Those who claim to have no sexual urges will also have no interest in masturbating. For demisexuals, a strong emotional connection with another is required for sexual arousal—sans the connection, there is no arousal.
  • Sexual trauma plays a role in how individuals approach their sexuality. A disinterest in masturbating may have origins in sexual trauma.
  • Having a negative view of one’s genitals (genital dysphoria) may sway a person from partaking in masturbation. Genital dysphoria can be particularly frustrating for those who want sexual relief, but cannot override the negative feelings that impact their ability to act on arousal.
  • Some are affected by the myths surrounding masturbation. How many boys grew up hearing that if they touched themselves, they would grow hair on their palms? While they may have believed it in youth, and they disregarded it by adulthood, the myths may have had a negative impact on them that continued through the years. In my own work, I have interviewed people who were influenced by the myths they heard, and it affected their desire to touch themselves. One female respondent was led to believe that “only men masturbated.” This was enough to keep her from pleasuring herself.
  • Finally, people place different meanings on things and react to those things in response to the meanings. The excellent book by Laura M. Carpenter, Virginity Lost (2005), addresses the different meanings individuals place on the concept of “virginity.” It is no different for masturbation or the argument of whether oral sex is actually sex. The meanings people attribute to masturbation shape the reality of their sexual activities. For instance, some believe that arousal by touching yourself is not masturbation as long as you don’t bring yourself to orgasm. So, if asked if they have ever masturbated, their answer would be “no” if they have never brought themselves to orgasm—while others would claim they do, in fact, masturbate. The same applies to those who claim to never masturbate even if they mutually masturbate with a partner. They view masturbation as a solo effort. If they are with a partner, even though they are touching themselves, they are not, by their own definition and meaning, masturbating.

Not everyone masturbates. But there should be no judgment of those who do not any more than there should be of those that do—shaming is never appropriate in either instance. If the choice to not masturbate negatively impacts your life, there are many resources available to you. The choice to masturbate or not is just that—a choice. Your sexual self is, ultimately, a self-construct.

References

Lehmiller, J.J., Garcia, J.R., Gesselman, A.N., & Mark, K.P. (2021). Less sex, but more sexual diversity: Changes in sexual behavior during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Leisure Sciences, 43(1-2), 295-304.

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