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Is masturbation wrong?

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regulargurl16 asks:

In my home, religion was big. Some things were discussed other things weren't. Premarital was a big issue and I was told never to do it, but we never talked about masturbation or anything like that. So is it wrong to do it?

Heather Corinna replies:

This is one of those questions where the only "right" answer is that it's not wrong if it isn't wrong for you.

But I'll give you more than that to work with.

If it's wrong, it's a wrong thing that the vast majority of the population does at one time or another, most starting so young that we don't even remember when we first did it. If it's wrong, it's a wrong thing most people do with some frequency, which doesn't do anyone else any harm whatsoever, and which can have positive health effects (like reducing cramps for women during menstruation, reducing stress, increasing circulation, and helping to prevent prostate cancer in men), and has no negative health effects.

If it's wrong, it's a wrong thing people do which usually results in feeling better about their sexuality, knowing their body better, and having more enriching sexual relationships, by virtue of that comfort, self-knowledge and being able to better communicate sexual likes and dislikes through what's learned with masturbation.

If it's wrong, then we kind of have to be saying that authentic (since we first start doing it without even knowing what we're doing) human (or animal) sexuality in and of itself is wrong, which is pretty questionable since all of us have a sexuality, and nearly all of us have sexual desires of some kind, and those aren't things we can magically make go away. I think it's also pretty iffy to suggest that anything babies do can somehow be wrong (and infants do masturbate): to say a person is doing something right or wrong, we have to also agree that there is an ability to make a conscious choice. While we can and do certainly do that as adults, I think we can easily agree that pretty much none of the activity we do as infants is wrong: sleeping, breathing, crying, feeding, needing to be comforted. To suggest that all of that is fine but this one thing isn't is a real head-scratcher, save when you realize that a lot of the notions that it's wrong are based in one person or group wanting to control another via sexuality -- and through history, a lot of the "right" things that people have done to children and teens to control this "wrong" behaviour -- including things like genital mutilation, verbal and physical abuse -- have been seriously ghastly, directly harmful and seriously inhumane.

If it's a wrong thing to do, then we'd have to say that there is something wrong with someone knowing when they just want to satisfy themselves and choosing to do so, rather than seeking solely or primarily to satisfy themselves on someone else's body. I'd also say that if it's a wrong thing to do, so then would be all the other things we do to comfort ourselves or relive stress or treat ourselves to a sensual pleasure: things like making a meal that tastes delicious, taking a long, hot bath, enjoying a hike in the open air, or having a good snuggle with someone we love.

Obviously -- I'd hope -- I, personally, don't think masturbation is wrong.

Understand that with anything about right and wrong, what any given person tells you is largely going to be their own opinion. Even a religiously-based opinion is still that, opinion.

(Though it should be noted that I can't think of a single piece of religious scripture that says a single word about female masturbation. In addition, an awful lot of religious ideas about sexuality were formulated before the person writing them knew anything at all about how sexuality worked -- so, just like some religious ideas from way back when about the roles of women or basic medicine aren't very applicable today, and are acknowledged by many as not applicable, such is often the case with doctrine and dogma about sex.)

So, what I'm telling you is my opinion, one which is both personal as well as based in all of the work I do and have done in human sexuality. And what I know from both of those things is that overall, masturbation doesn't do anyone any harm, and it does most people an awful lot of good, so long as it's something that feels good to them -- physically and emotionally -- and is something they want to be doing. What I know from all of this, overall, is that masturbation is a way for people to celebrate and enjoy their own bodies that isn't any more detrimental to anyone than jumping into a lake on a summer day.

So, you get to make your own mind up on this, and you're the only one whose opinion should matter here. After all, masturbation is something you do for yourself: it doesn't impact anyone else (save often being helpful later with sexual partners), it isn't about anyone else, and the only person involved with it is you.

Really, this goes for anything about sex, too. Everyone's values differ, and you should be figuring out what your own are, as well as what religion you want to adhere to as an adult. Obviously, once other people ARE involved, it gets a bit more complicated, because we have to think more about what effects our actions may or do have on others, but those choices should be based on a set of values and ethics that we feel comfortable with and which feel right to us, not on sets of ethics and values that belong to someone else.

Here are a couple extra links to help you out, but overall, if you just need someone to tell you it isn't wrong, I'm telling you, it's not, and that we have very good reason to strongly question anyone who tells us that it is.

written 27 Sep 2007 . updated 19 Jul 2012

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