When I was sixteen, I visited a psychic at the Royal Adelaide Show. I’ve never really believed in that sort of thing, but it sounded like fun at the time. I chose some cards from her tarot deck and she told me that I would soon experience a sexual awakening. That I would discover what the female body could do.
I think she may have been reading someone else’s fortune, because fast-forward five years into the future and, while I’d had sex a handful of times, I still hadn’t even masturbated.
Yep. You read that right. I run a sex toy business with my husband, and I was a late bloomer when it came to all things sex and masturbation.
While I’ve obviously since become well-acquainted with my body, this post is here for anyone who still hasn’t. Or maybe you have, but you’re too shy to admit it. Hopefully reading this will give you the confidence you need to give yourself a hand without shame.
What is masturbation?
For the uninitiated, masturbation is when a person stimulates their genitals for sexual pleasure. This can be done in a variety of ways. If you have a penis, you may stroke your shaft or touch the entire area, including your balls and taint. For anyone with a vagina, you may rub the whole vulva, insert fingers into the vagina or simply touch your clitoris. Some people also use sex toys, either inserting them or pressing them against the area as they vibrate.
Masturbation is a very personal experience and sexual pleasure is different for everyone. Whatever you do or choose to start doing is entirely up to you – if it feels good and it’s not hurting anyone, why not go your hardest?
What is a “normal” age to start masturbating?
The vast majority of kids discover the pleasure their genitals can bring by age six. In the past, friends have shared with me stories of playing on tyre swings or grinding on playground monkey bars a little too inappropriately as they discovered what their body could do.
By our teenage years, many discover that they don’t just have to grind up against random objects – instead, they start exploring their bodies in the privacy of their bedrooms, recognising that self-stimulation is an expression of their developing sexuality.
Then there are people like me who completely missed the boat on self-discovery during their teen years. It wasn’t that I intentionally tried not to – I just never even thought to try. I was a pretty boring kid, to be honest. I read Lord of the Rings three times and had an enormous crush on Aragorn (still do, to be honest). I also played with Pokemon cards and spent a lot of my spare time writing fanfiction about various witches – whether it was based on the Wicca series, Charmed or T*Witches.
Of course, I can hardly “blame” these hobbies on my lack of interest in masturbation. What was more likely a contributing factor was that I’d never had sex education, my extra-curricular music lessons filling up the time I would have otherwise been in those classes.
That being said, from what I understand, those classes typically only focused on pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). Pleasure was never considered. Sexual chemistry between partners was never considered. Masturbation sure as hell wasn’t.
Interestingly, I also know some people now in their thirties who still haven’t masturbated – or very rarely do – and they were quite sexually active at a young age. So it goes to show you there’s no rhyme or reason to it.
Do most people masturbate?
Short answer: Yes.
But as some of you may know, whether they admit to it is another question entirely.
Masturbation is widely accepted in popular culture as a thing that definitely happens. It frequently comes up in sitcoms, romcoms and stand-up shows, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone willing to share their experiences openly without making a joke of it (luckily, Steve and I have no shame).
But times are changing – and as you would expect, Millennials are the most likely to admit to masturbating. Approximately 72% of women aged 25-29 and 84% of men in the same age group have admitted to giving themselves a helping hand at least once in the past year.
For comparison, only 46% of women aged 60-69 have admitted to having a menage a moi.
So, why the secrecy? Why the shame? It could be a result of all the random myths that people have shared over the years. While a lot of these myths have been scientifically dispelled, they still persist. Some of the more common ones include:
- Hairy palms
- Impotence later in life
- Erectile dysfunction
- Penis shrinkage
- Penis curvature
- Low sperm count
- Loss of feeling in clitoris
- Disease or infection
- Mental illness
- Physical weakness
On top of these myths, some people believe if you masturbate, you’re oversexed, promiscuous or sexually deviant. This view is quite pervasive across a range of cultures, which can definitely influence people’s choice to disclose their masturbation habits.
Benefits of masturbation
On the flip side, there has actually been plenty of research highlighting the benefits of masturbation. So if you haven’t done it before, or you feel embarrassed about doing it, take a look at the following list:
- Releases sexual tension
- Reduces stress
- Helps you sleep better
- Improves your self-esteem and body image
- Helps treat sexual problems
- Relieves menstrual cramps and muscle tension
- Strengthens muscle tone in your pelvic and anal areas
How much is too much?
Some people masturbate every day, or even multiple times a day. Others masturbate closer to once a week, or once a month, or just every now and then.
For women, your cycle can influence when you feel like doing it as your hormone levels fluctuate. In fact, some women find they’re most horny during their period. If this sounds like you, but you’re squeamish about your menstrual flow, here’s a pro tip: you can stimulate your clitoris and vulva with a tampon in – and it’s great for menstrual cramps!
Realistically, masturbation only becomes too much if it gets in the way of your job, your responsibilities or your social life. While some of us are probably guilty of bailing on plans in favour of staying home and touching ourselves, if you’re doing this frequently and it’s becoming a problem, it may be worth speaking to your doctor or therapist.
Is it okay to masturbate when in a relationship?
Another short answer for this one: Definitely.
Both Steve and I masturbate. Most married or de facto couples do, and many find it an enjoyable part of their relationship. It’s a perfectly normal part of life and it doesn’t mean your partner isn’t satisfying you. In fact, one study found women who masturbated had happier marriages compared to those who didn’t.
Masturbation is also a great way to help you figure out what you like sexually, and therefore what you need from your partner in bed. Where do you like being touched? How much pressure feels good? Do you like it fast or slow, or a mixture of both? If you don’t know how to make yourself orgasm, it can be difficult to explain to a partner how to get you there.
In long-term relationships, sex can sometimes feel like a lot of effort, particularly if you’ve had a stressful week at work and you’re exhausted. It can be tempting to just touch yourself instead. While this is perfectly normal from time to time, it can lead to a break down in the intimacy of your relationship if it becomes the norm.
That’s why some couples instead perform mutual masturbation. A quicker and less strenuous option than penetrative sex, you can lie side-by-side in bed and do your business – maybe with a sex toy or two – before finishing, giving each other a quick cuddle, and falling asleep. Sounds like the ideal solution after a long day!
Whether you choose to masturbate or not – and how often you do – all depends on what’s right for you. You could be a late bloomer like me, or you could have been doing it since you were a child; either way, it’s not something to be ashamed about. And it doesn’t have to stop just because you’re married or in a relationship!
So next time you feel like giving yourself a hand, remember all the benefits – and that almost everyone else is doing it too, whether they admit to it or not – and enjoy. I know I will!