The "M" Word

Published by Andrew Aaron on Monday, 14th February 2011 - 12:00PM in Sex Therapy

["Sex", "sexuality", "masturbation", "relationship", "sex therapy"]

Our relationship with ourselves is no different than any other love relationship; sex can be a way to express love. Pleasuring ourselves is one way to nourish a positive relationship within. Yes. I am writing about masturbation. Shocked? Strongly associated with shame and embarrassment, masturbation remains a hidden act, intensely private, about which few rarely admit or speak. Yet it is widely, commonly practiced. The derisive nicknames: jacking off, jilling off, diddling, spanking the monkey and choking the chicken point to the associated shame, and the reason masturbation is kept a secret.

Unborn babies have been observed pleasuring themselves in utero. Infants and young children naturally explore their genitals...a practice often discouraged with the slap of a parental hand. Masturbation is a normal part of human sexual development, which if discouraged, can have long term negative effects on adult sexual health, such as increased likelihood of future sexual dysfunction and dissatisfaction.

Attributed to the famous sex researcher William Masters, of Masters and Johnson is the quote,"99% of men masturbate and 1% lie about it." After questioning 3019 women, Shere Hite, who completed a large study of female sexuality in 1978, found that 82% of the female respondents masturbated at least occasionally. Such research suggests that sexually pleasuring oneself is not just normal, but is common. It is only in the public realm that masturbation is rare.

Giving ourselves sexual pleasure facilitates a positive connection with our bodies and our sexuality. Some view it solely as a substitute for partner sex. Yet many experience masturbation as a distinct and vital activity which stands alone, giving each of us a sense of control over our sexuality and pleasure. The healthy frequency of solo sex ranges broadly from twice daily to twice annually. Both ends of the spectrum may represent a point of health. Masturbating frequently is unhealthy if it interferes with daily responsibilities, harms personal health, is compulsive, or co-opts a healthy sex life with a partner. Infrequent self-pleasuring signals a health problem if it represents shame about one's body or sexuality, is due to an absence of sexual desire or accompanies a dissatisfying partner sex life.

Benefits from self-pleasuring are many and varied, such as the development of sexual skills and body-awareness that can be used to guide and educate a partner while creating sexual success. It may facilitate greater sexual abilities, such as increased female orgasmic potential or improved male ejaculatory control. In fact, masturbation is a practice encouraged by sexual health professionals as a way of helping sexually-dysfunctioned individuals to become functional. Women who do not give themselves self-love are less likely to be orgasmic. Some use self-pleasuring as pure and simple method of stress reduction. Because being single does not mean that sexual desire stops, masturbation helps those cope who do not have an available sexual partner.

Do you and your partner include masturbation in your together experiences? Many couples do not because of it's strong negative stigma, while considering self-stimulation as too intimate or embarrassing to even share with the lover. It may be a new, intimacy-deepening activity to add to your sexual repertoire.

The most noble service masturbation provides, however, is helping relationship partners who possess widely varying sexual needs. Such couples, often wracked with conflict about how frequently sex should happen, would break-up at a much higher rate if masturbation did not help to fill the void created by the difference between the high sexual need of one partner and the low interest of the other. Female partners who are comfortable with masturbation are far more likely to enjoy sex, be enthusiastic and playful lovers, but also be active in a healthy and satisfying sex life.

Masturbation is a healthy, simple, no-cost, pleasurable, loving gift to yourself. When combined with orgasm, which it almost always is, it is very good for your health, so long that it is free of shame. It can be argued that if we were not meant to give ourselves sexual pleasure, we would have been born with shorter arms! 

This article was first published in SoCo Magazine as part of the monthly column, "Under The Sheets." Andrew Aaron, LICSW 508-997-6091 x106


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