Masturbation is one word that cannot be dropped into everyday conversation without making some people feel uncomfortable. In fact, society is so uncomfortable with masturbation; we try to create colloquial slang terms and euphemisms such as “fapping” or “jerking off” or “flipping the bean”.
Why is it that masturbation has such a “dirty” connotation attached to the act?
Historically, masturbation has always been viewed as undesirable behaviour. From chastity belts in the Victorian era to even the invention of cornflakes and graham crackers (the idea was that bland food would decrease sexual desire!), society has actively attempted to suppress the touching of one’s own body. Many scare tactics are used to prevent children from playing with their genitals. Warnings such as loss of vision, gout, sterility, loss of memory, cancer, and even hair growth on the palm of the hands is repeatedly drilled into the brains of the young to ensure no child dares to play with their genitals. Masturbation is also depicted as a negative indicator of an insufficient sex life for adults. There is a common misconception that people who masturbate are sexually dissatisfied, or people who masturbate in relationships are porn addicts/sex addicts.
Men and women, young or old, have consistently been told not to masturbate.
Looking at prevalence rates between genders, there are interesting trends in the data. While rates for men are consistently higher than women, the gap between genders differs in urban areas versus rural areas. Of people surveyed, the percentage of people that reported frequent masturbation is as follows:
- Southern California: 71% Women, 83% Men (Hsu et al., 1994)
The gender difference is small in urban, larger cities. However, as one moves farther away from urban cities and into rural areas, the gender gap becomes larger:
- Kansas: 42% Women, 73% Men (Reinholtz et al., 1995)
- Vermont: 45% Women, 81% Men (Leitenberg et al., 1993)
There is an interesting gap in genders that seems to be correlated to geographical location. The data here implicates that larger cities that tend to be more liberal and diverse are more sexually open, and less shameful towards sexual behaviours. However, an important note is the reliability in data collection. People from more conservative cities may be falsifying self-reports due to social desirability bias. These rates must be taken with a grain of salt, as self-reports may not be truly representative of prevalence rates. For perspective, when looking at the United States as a whole, the prevalence rate is as follows:
- US: 77% Women, 93% Men (Herbenick, 2010)
Interestingly, with Vancouver, Canada being a large, urban city, one would expect a small gender gap in masturbation prevalence. However, the data demonstrates quite a large gap of 32%:
- Vancouver: 48% women, 80% men (Meston et al., 1996)
This suggests the idea that perhaps it is not urbanism that determines prevalence of masturbation, but rather conservatism. Vancouver is known for having a high number of immigrants of different cultures and backgrounds. Many socially conservative or religious cultures may discourage masturbation, and thus results in lower rates.
The reality is that masturbation can be a healthy outlet for expression of sexuality.
People who masturbate are more likely to be satisfied physically and emotionally with their sex lives, and have more sex with their partners. When a person knows their own body better, they are able to coach their partner to better satisfy their needs. Masturbation is a common solution to differing variables in a relationship, such as sexual drive and desire. In fact, masturbation is commonly prescribed in couple’s therapy and has many therapeutic uses in stress relief, anxiety, etc. Masturbation can aid in sexual self-discovery, release of frustration, and a healthy outlet for safe sex. The encouragement of masturbation has even evolved to masturbation classes, to teach women how to orgasm and lead a healthier sex life. As society progresses towards a more pro-sex outlook, the idea of shaming masturbation will grow to be more and more ridiculous.
As many people would love to say, “An Orgasm a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!”
Note: This article is not speaking to masturbation as it pertains to compulsive porn use or compulsive sexual behaviours.
Hsu, B., Kling, A., Kessler, C., Knapke, K., Diefenbach, P., & Elias, J. E. (1994). Gender differences in sexual fantasy and behavior in a college population: A ten-year replication. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 20(2), 103-118. doi:10.1080/00926239408403421
Leitenberg, H., Detzer, M. J., & Srebnik, D. (1993). Gender differences in masturbation and the relation of masturbation experience in preadolescence and/or early adolescence to sexual behavior and sexual adjustment in young adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 22(2), 87-98. doi:10.1007/bf01542359
Meston, C. M., Trapnell, P. D., & Gorzalka, B. B. (1996). Ethnic and gender differences in sexuality: Variations in sexual behavior between Asian and non-Asian university students. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 25(1), 33-72. doi:10.1007/BF02437906
Reinholtz, R., & Muehlenhard, C. (1995). Genital Perceptions and Sexual Activity in a College Population. The Journal of Sex Research, 32(2), 155-165. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3812967
Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14–94. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7 (Suppl. 5), 255–265.
Written by Westland Researcher Adrianna Xue