I cannot find any topics [on the site] covering female or male masturbation. Do you plan on writing about this topic in the future?
Thanks for your question. I agree that masturbation is an important topic to address and it’s one that interests a lot of people. Aside from female orgasm, self-love is perhaps the most frequent issue students ask about in my Human Sexuality course. The two most common things that come up with respect to masturbation are fears about whether this behavior is bad for one’s health and whether it creates relationship problems. Let’s take a moment to clear up these concerns.
As a starting point, it’s useful to acknowledge that masturbation is something that the vast majority of men and women have done at some point in their lives.1 Thus, there is nothing inherently unusual or atypical about pleasuring oneself. Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence that masturbation is harmful to one’s health. In fact, if anything, masturbation tends to be linked to better (not worse) physical and psychological well-being! For example, among women, research finds that masturbation is linked to higher self-esteem2 and, among men, it is linked to a lower risk of developing prostate cancer.3 There is also no evidence supporting the urban legends that touching oneself leads to blindness, hairy palms, or tiny genitals. In short, it seems that masturbators have nothing to worry about when it comes to their personal health.
What about masturbation and relationships? Although one might intuitively assume that single people masturbate more than those who are partnered, research has actually found the converse. You may find this surprising, but masturbation is more common among people in relationships compared to those who are single.4 Masturbation therefore appears to be a complement to an active sex life, rather than a substitute for having one. Despite the increased frequency of masturbation in relationships, there are some people who view their romantic partners’ solo sexual pursuits negatively (e.g., they may see it as a sign that their partner is no longer sexually interested in them). However, in the vast majority of cases, this concern is probably not warranted. Masturbation is a normal activity within relationships and, as long as it’s not completely displacing partnered sexual activity, it is not necessarily problematic. Thus, it would be wise not to jump to the conclusion that just because your partner is practicing self-love that they love you any less.
For more information on masturbation, including the question of whether it is possible to masturbate too much, check out this article on The Psychology of Human Sexuality Blog.
1National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, Centre for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7 (Suppl. 5).
2Hurlbert, D. F., & Whittaker, K. E. (1991). The role of masturbation in marital and sexual satisfaction: A comparative study of female masturbators and nonmasturbators. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 17, 272-282.
3Giles, G. G., Severi, G., English, D. R., McCredie, M. R. E., Borland, R., Boyle, P., & Hopper, J. L. (2003). Sexual factors and prostate cancer. British Journal of Urology International, 92, 211-216.
4Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J., Michael, R., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller’s research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.