Masturbation

Masturbation is the deliberate stimulation of one's own genitals to achieve sexual arousal and pleasure. It is done at least occasionally by a majority of both men and women.

In one recent national study, 95 percent of men and 89 percent of women reported having masturbated. It is the first overt sexual act for the majority of men and women, although more women than men engage in sexual intercourse before they ever masturbate.

A Common Sexual Behavior

Most men who masturbate tend to do so more often than women, and they are more likely to report always or usually experiencing orgasm when they masturbate (80 percent to 60 percent respectively). It is the second most common sexual behavior (coitus being first), even for those who have a regular sexual partner.

Most children—often from the time they are infants onward—find the occasional stimulation of their genitals sensually pleasing, but do not come to understand this behavior as "sexual" until late childhood or adolescence.

During adolescence, the percentage of both sexes who report masturbating increases dramatically, especially for males. Most people continue to masturbate in adulthood, and many do so throughout their lives.

No Physical or Mental Harm

The term masturbation conjures up many myths about its damaging and debasing nature. Its negative images may be traced as far back as the word's Latin origin, masturbare, which is a combination of two Latin words, manus (hand) and stuprare (defile), thus "to defile with the hand." The built-in notion of shame and uncleanliness implied by the defiling portion of the word has remained in the modern translation—even though medical authorities have been in agreement for some time that masturbation causes no physical or mental harm. Nor is there any evidence that children who engage in self-stimulation are in any way harmed by it.

The fact that this important source of sexual pleasure is still regarded by some with guilt and anxiety is partly due to ignorance of the fact that masturbation is not harmful and partly due to centuries of religious teaching that it is sinful.

In addition, many of us have received negative messages about masturbation from our parents or have even been punished when caught masturbating as children. The cumulative effect of these influences is usually confusion and guilt that is often difficult to sort out. About the only time masturbation can be harmful is when it becomes compulsive. Compulsive masturbation, like all other compulsive behaviors, is a sign of an emotional problem and needs to be addressed by a mental health specialist.

So, contrary to ancient and popular beliefs, masturbation does not lead to unbridled lust, does not make you blind or deaf, give you the flu, drive you crazy, grow hair on your hand, make you stutter, or kill you. Masturbation is a natural and harmless expression of sexuality in both men and women and a perfectly good way to experience sexual pleasure.

Masturbation May Improve Sexual Health

In fact, some experts argue that masturbation improves sexual health by increasing an individual's understanding of his or her own body and of what is erotically pleasing, building self-confidence and fostering self-acceptance. This knowledge can then be carried forth to make for a more satisfying sexual relationship with one's partner, both through each partner's comfort with mutual masturbation, and because of the ability to tell each other what is most pleasing.

It is a good idea for a couple to discuss their attitudes about masturbation and to calm any insecurities a partner may have if the other should sometimes favor masturbation over sexual intercourse. In some relationships, masturbation may be mutually acceptable. Done alone or in the presence of a partner, the act can be pleasing and add to mutual intimacy if it is not experienced as a rejection. Like most behaviors, without proper communication, the act of masturbation can be used as a sign of anger, alienation or displeasure with the way the relationship is progressing.

Overcoming society's negative stereotypes and one's personal feelings about masturbation can allow men and women the freedom to explore and experience their own sexuality in a private, satisfying manner. One word of caution: in keeping with the practices of safer sex, masturbation with a partner can be an enjoyable alternative to intercourse, as long as you avoid contact with your partner's semen or vaginal fluids, especially if you have any cuts or open sores.

Copyright 2002 Sinclair Intimacy Institute

 
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