Let’s Talk Masturbation
There are mixed messages about masturbation. On one hand, masturbation is promoted as a strategy for sexual exploration, pleasure, and a safe option to prevent unwanted pregnancy or the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Yet, on the other hand, there are cultural and societal barriers to discussing, learning, and accepting masturbation as a sexual activity. The topic is very taboo, so let’s dive into the reasons why we should talk about it, and often.
Reason 1: Masturbation is a normal sexual activity
Due to cultural and spiritual beliefs about masturbation, some believe it’s wrong to engage in any sexually gratifying activity outside of marriage and that they should only receive pleasure from their partner. These messages create tension between the shame and pleasure aspects of masturbation. Studies show that although women have reported masturbating, they feel guilt or shame about it. Some women are embarrassed to discuss how masturbation is pleasurable and desirable.
Outside of cultural and spiritual beliefs, societal norms about masturbation tend to favor men over women. Sexuality education materials don’t often cover the topic. Women report having a difficult time accepting masturbation as a normal sexual activity.
Reason 2: Masturbation can lead to an increase in orgasms
Masturbation can be done either solo or with a partner. Mutual masturbation allows partners to be engaged in sexual activity in a variety of ways. Each partner can pleasure themselves while the other watches, which can improve the sexual experience. Sexual exploration allows partners to learn each other’s bodies. Partners can also take turns pleasuring each other or do it together at the same time.
For women who engage in penetration, that alone may not lead to an orgasm. Clitoral stimulation may be needed before, during, and/or after penetration. Masturbation during sexual experiences may increase the likelihood of orgasms, improve the orgasm experience, or lead to multiple orgasms.
Reason 3: Masturbation myths and benefits
First, let’s address the myth that masturbation desensitizes the body. Studies show that masturbation with or without sexual toys, like vibrators, will not desensitize the clitoris, vagina, penis, or anus. In fact, masturbation can increase sensitivity, improve orgasms, and pleasure.
Now, let’s get into the many benefits of masturbation. Studies indicate that masturbation has been proven to improve sleep, relieve stress, elevate moods, help with relaxation, release sexual tension, improve sexual exploration, and, of course, provide pleasure.
Masturbation has also been used in sex therapy to improve sexual health. A study in the Journal of Sexuality and Disability found that women with disabilities and a history of sexual abuse reported masturbation as a coping strategy to help regain sexual autonomy and self-acceptance.
Masturbation can take place across the lifespan. Of course, all sexuality information should be discussed at age-appropriate levels. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Children may begin exploring their bodies early in life (this is normal).
- Individuals may engage in masturbation with or without a partner (whether they are in a relationship or not).
- As people age and/or if individuals have sexual difficulties, they may choose to engage in masturbation.
The more we talk about masturbation, the easier it will be to have healthy conversations. If you missed the Masturbation Affirmations, check them out here.
Ashley TownesPhD, MPH, Epidemiologist at Centers for Disease Control
Dr. Townes has experience working as a Community Health Educator and Disease Intervention Specialist in Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. She has worked on several initiatives related to the dissemination of national HIV prevention and care campaign materials tailored for African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and transgender women of color. Dr. Townes has taught collegiate-level Human Sexuality courses, served as an Epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health, and currently works as an ORISE Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention’s Epidemiology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA.
Ashley’s research background includes work on the sexual experiences of African American/Black women accessing health information and utilizing sexual health services. In 2018, she received grant funding from the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health to translate sexual health research data into educational materials. Her career interests are aimed at providing quality sexual education and working towards health equity.