If you’re like most people, you’ve probably heard the following myths… Masturbation can make you go blind. Pleasuring yourself can give you hairy palms. Solo sex is for lonely losers who can’t find a partner. In a recent episode of The Righteous Gemstones, Danny McBride’s character tells his TV son that a “masturbation alarm” goes off in heaven when he touches himself and all his dead relatives can see his shameful acts from above. Oof!
So, let’s get something straight, right off the bat. Masturbation is not sinful, shameful, immoral, immature, unhealthy, uncommon or bad in any way. In fact, pleasuring yourself has a ton of physical, emotional and mental health benefits, all of which we’ll get to a little later. But you may be wondering – if masturbation is actually a good and natural part of the human experience, how did we get to the point where it’s synonymous with sin and shame?
If you’re into history and you want to research the social and sexual mores of the 18th and 19th century, there’s a ton of fascinating information on the subject. Just pick a rabbit hole and dive in. For our purposes in this blog post, we’ll stick to a quick 10,000-foot view to shed some light on how we got to this ridiculous place.
While masturbation is as old as history itself, the conflating of self-pleasure with insanity, disease and sin started way back in the 1700s. That’s when a treatise entitled The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution began warning young men that if they insisted on this evil act, they would suffer from premature ejaculation and possibly even become impotent. The treatise went on to say that these conditions, caused by masturbation, would render them “ridiculous to women.”
In fact, most things that were deemed pleasurable in the 1800s were seen as sinful and anything seen as sinful was also thought to be unhealthy. These views were preached by an influential American Presbyterian minister named Sylvester Graham, who asserted that masturbation was also particularly dangerous because in absence of a real-life partner, the offender was forced to imagine erotic images for sexual stimulation, which could cause the brain to become inflamed.
As absurd as all this sounds, the stigma of masturbation has stuck with us. Because masturbation isn’t a means to procreation, it’s still condemned as sinful by many major religions. In addition, most people get zero sex education, which would reinforce the fact that masturbation is a normal part of life. We may have come a long way in the last 300 or so years, but we still have a ways to go when it comes to normalizing natural sexual behaviors and destigmatizing the simple act of touching oneself for sexual pleasure.
Everybody’s Doing It
In 2018, TENGA, a sexual health and wellness company that designs and sells pleasure products, conducted the world’s largest ever study on masturbation. It compiled data from more than 13,000 people in 18 countries who were between the ages of 18 and 74. Their research found that Americans underestimate how many people engage in masturbation by about 10 percent. Globally, that number rises slightly to 11 percent.
The truth is that 92 percent of American men masturbate, 76 percent of American women masturbate, and 78 percent of the world’s adults masturbate. Similarly, the study found that we also underestimate the number of men who use sex toys to aid in solo sex. While 80 percent of American men think sex toys are useful, only 53 percent of Americans think that sex toys are useful to men when they masturbate.
Much of these disparities and misconceptions are rooted in a deep-seated sense of shame around the act of masturbation as well as unhealthy gender stereotypes. Dr. Chris Donaghue, a TENGA brand ambassador had this to say about the findings in the study, “It’s important we realize being empathetic and open to the needs of yourself and those around you isn’t weak or taboo, but rather a necessity to break down social stigmas and allow everyone to be their authentic selves.
Unlike Sylvester Graham in the 1800s, we now know that masturbation is associated with many health benefits. For men, research shows that frequent ejaculation from sex or masturbation is associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer. A 2016 study showed that ejaculating more than 20 times per month could lower the risk of prostate cancer by about 20 percent. That’s a significant decrease!
In addition, masturbation resulting in orgasm has been shown to aid the immune system by stimulating infection-fighting cells called leukocytes. Solo sex can also help to diminish stress and tension, improve the quality of sleep and fight headaches. Plus, sexual stimulation in general causes the body to release the natural feel-good chemical called oxytocin, which can help to temporarily alleviate pain.
Masturbating has mental health benefits as well. The endorphins that are released during sexual activity can help to diminish symptoms of depression and boost a person’s overall mood and feelings of well-being. Many people report that masturbation not only helps them to relax, but it also helps them to feel less lonely and less bored.
It’s a common misconception that if someone has a satisfying sex life, then they don’t need to masturbate. In reality, people who have satisfying sex lives often have higher levels of sexual desire, which encourages more sexual activity in general, including partner and solo sex. Many couples also enjoy engaging in mutual masturbation or get turned on by watching their partners masturbate. Self-pleasure is also a good way to explore your body to figure out what feels good, which can also enhance sex with your partner.
If you’re between partners, are in a long-distance relationship or simply have a higher sex drive than your partner, solo sex can help to bridge the gap. It’s empowering to know that you don’t need to rely on another person to fulfill your sexual desire. You have the tools do it all by yourself. Plus, masturbation doesn’t carry the same risk of STIs as partnered sex does.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you feel like you’re having to masturbate too much and you’re getting a little bored with yourself, try incorporating sex toys to spice things up a bit. There are always new and fun ways to explore your body, and when you’re ready to have sex with a partner, you can let them in on all the erotic and stimulating things you’ve discovered.
It’s All Good
The bottom line when it comes to pleasuring yourself is that it’s all good. There are no wrong ways to do it and there are no bad consequences. If anyone tells you any differently, they’re wrong. Full stop. Feelings of guilt or shame have no place in your head, in your bedroom or in modern society. So, let’s all collectively decide to leave those myths back in the 18th century where they belong – once and for all. Take that Sylvester Graham.