Quickies: Masturbation

Masturbation is a word used to describe when people explore and express their sexuality by touching themselves, without a partner.

People often do that by touching their genitals, but masturbation can involve any body parts. Masturbation is about touching your own body in whatever ways feel good to you.

Many people have been masturbating since they were little. Some people start, or do so more often, when they are in or around their teen years. There’s nothing wrong with masturbation. It’s even good for us in some ways.

Masturbation doesn’t:

  • Cause permanent changes to the body or hurt someone (unless someone injures themselves)
  • Stop someone’s genitals or body from growing
  • Release “stored up” sperm or sexual fluids

Masturbation can:

  • Help relieve menstrual cramps or other muscle tension
  • Be relaxing or soothing
  • Help someone learn how to orgasm or make it easier to orgasm
  • Be a kind of self-care
  • Improve sex with partners by giving someone a better sense of what feels good to them and more comfort with their own body
  • Help improve sexual self-esteem and body image

How do people masturbate?

People usually masturbate in spaces where and when they feel safe and comfortable. It also should be in a place that’s private. It’s only something to do with other people with their consent.

There’s no right or wrong way to masturbate. What someone likes isn’t always the same. It can change from day to day or from one time of life to another. Many people touch both their genitals and other body parts. Many people fantasize before or during masturbation. Some people use sexual media with masturbation.

Some ways people masturbate with their genitals are:

  • By touching them with hands and fingers (sometimes with lube)
  • By using something to safely surround the penis
  • With vibrations to the penis, scrotum, vulva, clitoris, anus or general genital area
  • By putting fingers, sex toys made for vaginal use or other safe objects into the vaginal canal
  • By putting fingers, sex toys made for anal use or other safe objects  (safe objects for the anus MUST have a flared base) on or inside the anus
  • By doing something that stimulates the whole genital area, like “humping” a pillow

Some basic ways to keep masturbation physically safe are:

  • Don’t use anything that might cut, scrape, or burn you, or that has very harsh suction.
  • Wash your hands before and after you masturbate.
  • If you use toys or other objects, be sure and clean them with something safe for your body first. You can also use condoms or other latex barriers with them to help prevent bacterial infections.
  • If anything starts to hurt during masturbation, stop.

Can you masturbate too much? There’s no one right or wrong amount of masturbation. There’s just what feels right for each person. You should probably cut back, or change your habits if masturbation is keeping you from doing other things you enjoy, like being with friends or participating in your other interests. If it’s interfering with your responsibilities, causing injury or emotional distress, or getting in the way of your sleep, then you might want to slow down. If you don’t want to masturbate but feel like you can’t stop, or if you have conflicted feelings about it, you can talk to a mental healthcare provider.

If feels good to you and good for your life, however often you masturbate is probably just fine.

What if masturbation doesn’t feel good?

There are a few reasons masturbation may not feel good. A person may not have found what feels good to them yet, and just needs to keep experimenting. Masturbating when you’re not really into it often won’t feel good. Some people have trouble physically doing the things that feel good. Feelings of shame or guilt about masturbation can make it feel bad, too. Sometimes if we’re tired, stressed, distracted, ill or upset, it’s just not the right time for us to masturbate.

If or when masturbation isn’t something a person wants to do, no one ever has to do it. Masturbation is optional, not mandatory. People can be fine and healthy whether they masturbate or not.

For more information about masturbation and related topics

Some good outside resources on masturbation

  • The Big Book of Masturbation: From Angst to Zeal by Martha Cornog

Teachers, caregivers, therapists, peer educators and other sex and relationships education providers: you're welcome to use the PDF handout version of this article for free, in any of the work you do, so long as it is provided to learners at no cost, is not used for profit, and you print it exactly as provided, including the copyright and other attribution.

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