Today, hardly anyone believes that masturbating deafens, causes acne or infertility. Yet some people still think that masturbating is unhealthy, would be a sexual disorder, or would get in the way of a normal (sexual) relationship. Research shows that some 10% of young people are more likely to be negative about it. Parents sometimes worry when they notice their child masturbating.
Here we list some misunderstandings and facts about masturbation.
1. Does everyone masturbate?
Yes, or almost everyone. Research shows that ± 95 percent of men and ± 80 percent of women masturbate regularly. According to the Flemish Sexpert study from 2013, men masturbate once to several times a week, women one to several times a month. Masturbation is also very common within a relationship.
2. Is masturbation mainly a men’s business?
Boys masturbate more than girls and they usually start it a little earlier. Research in the Netherlands on young teens found a percentage of 68% of boys reported masturbating, while in girls this percentage was 31%. In later life, there are probably about as many men as women who masturbate or who do it frequently.
3. Is masturbation in children (ab)normal?
There is nothing wrong with your child masturbating every now and then. Research shows that masturbation is a normal part of children’s sexual development. Children start masturbating on average around the age of 12, but many children also say they have done so before. Boys often start masturbating around the onset of puberty, while in girls the spread over age is greater. If you started it later, you do not have to think you are abnormal.
Younger children do it, too. Research shows that 10% of children between the age of 4 and 10 masturbate. Even at a younger age, it happens regularly. All babies grope their genitals. Little boys do it a little more often. Sooner or later, every baby notices that holding their genitals gives a pleasant feeling. This falls under the exploration of one’s own body rather than masturbation.
4. Is masturbation harmful?
There is no evidence that masturbation would be physically or mentally harmful. It does not give you acne, it does not deafen you, it does not cause epilepsy, it does not deform the genitals, and does not wear them out any faster. It does not make you impotent or frigid, it does not reduce sperm production, and so on. In adults, masturbation is considered a safe sexual activity. It can even a person help become more familiar with their own body and their own sexual responses. On the other hand, it is also not a ‘must’: if you do not need it, then that is also perfectly okay.
Also in young children, masturbation is not harmful, neither physically nor mentally. However, it is possible for the genitals to get infected if they are often groped with dirty hands. Frequent rubbing can cause the skin to become red and irritated.
5. Is masturbation healthy?
Masturbation may have some positive health effects, including the following:
- It relaxes, reduces stress, and helps you fall asleep.
- It may strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and ensure good blood flow to the body and especially the lower abdomen.
- It can help against menstrual pain.
- It strengthens your immune system: after orgasm, the number of anti-infection cells in the blood is up to 20% higher. It also lowers your blood pressure and protects you from heart disease.
- The risk of prostate cancer later in life would be lower in men who masturbate regularly at a younger age.
6. How do you react when your child masturbates?
Masturbation or self-gratification is part of the discovery of one’s own body. It is good preparation for a later sexual experience. If it happens safely (not with objects that can hurt the genitals, for example) and in a place where others are not forced witnesses, there is nothing to worry about as a parent. You have to make sure that your child understands that it can be done in some situations and not in other situations.
The child must learn that overt sexuality is not acceptable and that one does not play with their genitalia or masturbate in public.
You can try to distract your child when you see that they want to masturbate. Try to distract it mainly with play or positive attention and preferably with an activity where the masturbating posture is not possible. Once the child is busy masturbating, it becomes more difficult to stop it and will react angrily.
Masturbation in young children can sometimes be a signal of sexual abuse. The sexual abuse is then the reason that the child has discovered that touching the genitalia gives a pleasant feeling. Are there any other signs that your child may be sexually abused? If so, talk to your GP about it.
7. Can you masturbate too much?
Basically not. But isolating yourself three times or more per day to masturbate will lead to a decreased satisfaction. Some children can also experience a compulsive, and very much violent, urge to masturbate. It can grow into an obsession they spend much of the day with. It can hinder emotional and social development. The child closes themselves off from the outside world and hardly comes to play anymore.
With compulsive masturbation, one has to check whether the child has a reason to cut themselves off from the environment so much and ‘escape from reality. For example, if there are a lot of tensions within the family, that can play a role. If parents try to stop a three- or four-year-old child from masturbating excessively, the child may have a tantrum. The child usually wants to be left alone. At the age of six, excessive masturbation usually stops, and the child has developed the social ability to stop masturbating in public. Children with a poor understanding of social situations, such as autistic children, often continue excessive masturbation, including in public.
8. Is masturbating wrong?
For long, masturbation has been considered a dangerous and morally deviant activity, especially in religious circles. However, as knowledge on the matter increase, we have come to see masturbation in a different light. Today, in the west, masturbation is no longer a taboo issue. If not recommended, masturbation is seen as perfectly acceptable and definitely not immoral.
9. Can masturbating give you an STD?
Solo masturbation is usually safe from STIs. However, if done with an infected partner, the infection can be transmitted via contaminated hands.
10. Is masturbating (ab)normal if you are in a relationship?
There is nothing wrong with masturbating while being in a relationship. That is the case with a lot of people. It certainly does not immediately mean that something is wrong or that you are not sufficiently sexually satisfied. For example, research shows that the women who masturbate the most are women who have the most satisfying sex life with a partner. Sometimes the reason for doing solo sex is obvious, for example, if your partner is absent for a long time. You can also masturbate to get to know your body sexually better, to relax, to let off sexual tension.
Partners also do not always feel like having sex at the same time (or not as often). Masturbation does not serve as a substitute but as a supporting function of sex life. It can be a welcome addition to a normal sexual life. How open you are to your partner about this depends on the relationship you have. Keep in mind that it remains a difficult topic of conversation for many people. Even though they know it is actually normal.