Twelve Things Science Has Taught Us About Masturbation
May 18, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller
May is Masturbation Month, so let’s talk about self-pleasure! In this post, we’ll explore twelve things scientists have learned from the study of masturbation, including who does it, why, how, and what effects it has on us.
1.) The vast majority of both men and women masturbate. However, men are more likely to report having done it, they tend to do it more often, and they tend to start doing it at a younger age .
2.) People of all ages masturbate. Although younger people are more likely to report doing it (and they tend to do it more often), this is a behavior that occurs across the lifespan. For a look at how masturbation and other sexual practices vary according to age, see here.
3.) Masturbation is prevalent across sexual orientations, and this includes asexual folks. In fact, survey studies of self-identified asexuals have found that most of them report masturbating; however, the nature of their masturbation may be quite different than it is for sexual persons. Specifically, some asexuals engage in what is called non-directed masturbation, meaning masturbation without accompanying erotic fantasies.
4.) Across genders, people tend to masturbate for similar reasons. Research finds that the most common motives for men and women alike are feeling horny and seeking pleasure. However, there are a number of other potential causes, including feelings of frustration, loneliness, and the lack of or absence of a partner.
5.) Sex toys—and especially vibrators—are often used as part of masturbation among women. Women have been using them for a very long time, too: the vibrator was reportedly the 5th electric device approved for home use after the sewing machine, fan, teakettle, and toaster. In other words, people had vibrators in their homes long before they had televisions and vacuum cleaners!
6.) Of course, vibrators aren’t just for women. A national U.S. survey found that 17% of men reported having used a vibrator during masturbation before. This survey also found that men who used vibrators reported better erectile functioning, more sexual desire, and more satisfying sex lives.
7.) Survey research has found that clitoral stimulation (as opposed to vaginal penetration) is most women’s preferred masturbatory technique.
8.) Despite what you may have heard in the popular media about a growing epidemic of “porn-induced erectile dysfunction,” research has found that there is no strong or consistent linkage between men’s porn use during masturbation and their erectile function (see here and here for more).
9.) Another popular idea about male masturbation that isn’t supported by the data is that abstaining from this activity boosts testosterone. The evidence is—at best—very mixed and the overall trend in the data actually suggests that being sexually active in general might increase testosterone. For a review of the evidence, see here.
10.) Frequent masturbation could potentially be good for your health. Study after study has found that masturbation tends to be linked to better physical and psychological well-being. Learn more about the potential health effects of masturbation here.
11.) Women who masturbate report better sex lives and relationships than non-masturbators. According to a study of women published in the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, “masturbators had significantly more orgasms, greater sexual desire, higher self-esteem, and greater marital and sexual satisfaction, and required less time to sexual arousal.”
12.) When we’re masturbating, our perception of what is sexually attractive changes. Specifically, research has found that heightened sexual arousal through masturbation can make almost anything and anyone seem more sexually appealing. There are some fascinating and important implications of this effect for the development of fetishes and kinky sexual interests.
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 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. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.02012.x
Image Source: 123RF/lculig
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >