May is Masturbation month, a movement started by a sex-positive and women-friendly toy store, Good Vibations in California back in May 1995. It has grown and now is internationally celebrated, with World Masturbation occurring on May 28. Masturbation is for everyone. Masturbation is healthy. Masturbation forms part of a healthy relationship.
Who Masturbates and How Often?
Everyone masturbates is my short answer. According to the latest data from the Sex in Australia study, 72% of men and 42.4% of women reported masturbating in the last 12 months (1). This is an increase on the 2003 results where 64.6% of men and 34.9% of women reported they masturbated in the last 12 months (2). It is not possible to explain why more people are reporting they masturbate – I hope because more people are letting go of past taboos on masturbation.
People who participated in the national survey were also asked about the masturbation frequency in the last four weeks. The average number of times men masturbated in the last four weeks was 6.3 times and 3.1 times for women (1). Approximately 20% of men and 18.5% of women reported masturbating between one and three a times a week. Less than one per cent of women (0.2%) reported masturbating daily while 2.1% of men indicated they masturbated daily (1). You can see more about how often people masturbate in the box text to the right.
Masturbation Frequency in the Past Four Weeks
|n = 9,985||n = 9,703|
|Less than once/week||26.7%||18.5%|
|Daily or more often||2.1%||0.2%|
Masturbation by Age Group
|n = 10,056||n = 10,038|
Adapted from Richters et al. (2014).
Masturbation rates are highest among younger people with around 85% of men aged between 16 and 19 years and also 20 to 29 years masturbating in the last year (1). The rates are lower for young women, with 30.8% of 16-19 year olds reporting masturbating, increasing to 48.3% for 20-29 year old women. These rates drop to 46% for men aged between 60-69 years and 26.5% for women in the same age bracket. Check out the box text to see masturbation through the ages (1).
So we know men report masturbating at a higher rate than women. This is true no matter what age (1). Single people masturbate at higher rates than people in relationships. People in remote areas masturbate more frequently than people in major cities. People in regional Australia had the lowest levels of masturbation (1).
Question: Is it okay to Masturbate while in a Relationship?
Yes. Masturbation is normal and healthy. I frequently explain to couples masturbation and sexual intimacy/intercourse need to co-exist in a relationship. Our reasons for masturbating are different from our reasons for having sex with a partner. Masturbation in a relationship is not about rejection of the partner. It is about acceptance of the individual. Masturbation can be about exploring our self-sexuality, or even a way to feel good when stressed or tired. It can be about just “knocking (or rubbing) one out” because we are feeling horny. A partner is not responsible for giving us all our orgasms. When we engage in solo masturbation play it is about us as individuals and nurturing soothing ourselves. When we engage in couple sex play it is about our partner and soothing and nurturing the relationship. A healthy sexual relationship includes solo masturbation.
I have worked with some heterosexual couples where the man believes his partner is responsible for his every orgasm; that he should not have to masturbate. This is problematic. It places a strain on the relationship and forces the woman to be responsible for her partner’s every sexual need. This is a not a healthy sexual relationship; it is a sexually dominated relationship. A healthy sexual relationship is about a shared intimacy and meeting each other’s needs. Sometimes only one partner may be horny – this does not translate to a need for partnered sex – go masturbate.
As one of my colleagues said once, “No man ever dies from blue-balls!” and I like to add, “we masturbated before we began having sex.”
It is also important to acknowledge some women believe their partner should not masturbate and this is an act of betrayal. I can only re-iterate that masturbation is healthy and is about the individual. It is okay for a partner to masturbate – it does not necessarily detract from the couple’s sexuality and in some cases can enhance it. When masturbation is the only form of sexual expression in a relationship then I would suggest there is a problem. A healthy relationship includes a healthy sex life and a healthy sex life includes healthy masturbation.
Question: Why Don’t Women Masturbate as Often as Men?
There are double standards when it comes to women’s and men’s sexuality. Some women were brought up being told “Nice girls don’t do that”. I often hear women tell me about how they were told, “Not to touch down there,” or that it was dirty, or even worse still they would get an infection. These lies are still repeated today. As with any genital play, solo or partnered, using clean hands or toys is good sense, as does urinating afterwards, which helps to wash out the urethra reducing the likelihood of an infection.
It is okay for women to masturbate, in fact it is a good way for the woman to learn about her body so she can show her sexual partner what gives her pleasure
My child keep touching themselves when watching TV. What do I do?
Pamela Stephenson recounts in her book Sex Life of a foetus masturbating during a routine scan. Babies touch themselves, as do children. It is not so much sexual as it is pleasurable. It is natural and okay. It is the reaction of the parents and care-givers which often-times is not okay. The messages we receive in childhood influence our adult sexuality, so giving positive or neutral messages will assist children to feel positive about their bodies and sexuality. It is okay for children to masturbate.
If you have a child, or even an infant, and they begin touching themselves in front of you, I suggest you gently say, “How about you do that in your bedroom.” This message gives no judgement and allows the child to know it is okay and masturbation is an act which is done in privacy.
Masturbation is normal and healthy. Masturbation is an act we engage in throughout our lives for different reasons. It is okay to masturbate no matter what sex you are. It is okay to masturbate when in a relationship. A healthy sexuality includes masturbation. May is masturbation month so why not go masturbate and find a new way to enjoy yourself.
Remember a healthy life includes healthy sex life. And a healthy sex life means knowing about our bodies.
Dr Christopher Fox is a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist at Sex Life Therapy in Melbourne. He has clinics in East Melbourne and Frankston.
(1) Richters, J., de Visser, R.O., Badock, P.B., Smith, A.M.A., Rissel, C., Simpson, J.M., & Grulich, A. E. (2014). Masturbation, paying for sex and other sexual acitivities: The second Australian Study of Health and Relationships. Sexual Health, 11, 461-471.
(1) Richters, J., Grulich, A. E., de Visser, R.O., Smith, A.M.A., & Rissel, C. (2003). Sex in australia: Autoerotic, esoteric and other sexual practices engaged in by a representative sample of adults. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 27, 2, 180-190.
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