Masturbation with a vulva – Gustav Klimt's Woman seated with thighs apart (1916)
Masturbation with a penis

Masturbation is the sexual stimulation of one's own genitals for sexual arousal or other sexual pleasure, usually to the point of orgasm.[1] The stimulation may involve hands, fingers, everyday objects, sex toys such as vibrators, or combinations of these.[1][2] Manual stimulation of a partner, such as fingering, a handjob or mutual masturbation, is a common sexual act and can be a substitute for penetration. Studies have found that masturbation is frequent in humans of both sexes and all ages, although there is variation. Various medical and psychological benefits have been attributed to a healthy attitude toward sexual activity in general and to masturbation in particular. No causal relationship is known between masturbation and any form of mental or physical disorder.[3]

Masturbation has been depicted in art since prehistoric times and is mentioned and discussed in very early writings. In the 18th and 19th centuries, some European theologians and physicians described it as "heinous", "deplorable", and "hideous", but during the 20th century these taboos generally declined. There has been an increase in discussion and portrayal of masturbation in art, popular music, television, films, and literature. Today, religions vary in their views of masturbation; some view it as a spiritually detrimental practice, some see it as not spiritually detrimental, and others take a situational view. The legal status of masturbation has also varied through history and masturbation in public is illegal in most countries.[4]

In the Western world, masturbation in private or with a partner is generally considered a normal and healthy part of sexual enjoyment. Animal masturbation has been observed in many species, both in the wild and in captivity.[5][6][7]


The English word masturbation was introduced in the 18th century, based on the Latin verb masturbari, alongside the slightly earlier onanism. The Latin verb masturbari is of uncertain origin. Suggested derivations include an unattested word for penis, *mazdo, cognate with Greek mézea μέζεα, "genitals", or alternatively a corruption of an unattested *manusturpare ("to defile with the hand"), by association with turbare "to disturb".[8][9]


While masturbation is the formal word for this practice, many other expressions are in common use. Terms such as playing with yourself, pleasuring oneself and slang such as wanking,[10] jerking off,[11] and frigging are common. Self-abuse and self-pollution were common in early modern times and are still found in modern dictionaries. A large variety of other euphemisms and dysphemisms exist which describe masturbation. For a list of terms, see the entry for masturbate in Wiktionary.


Two vibrators in a sex shop

Masturbation involves touching, pressing, rubbing, or massaging a person's genital area, either with the fingers or against an object such as a pillow; inserting fingers or an object into the vagina or anus (see anal masturbation); and stimulating the penis or vulva with an electric vibrator, which may also be inserted into the vagina or anus. It may also involve touching, rubbing, or pinching the nipples or other erogenous zones while masturbating. Both sexes sometimes apply lubricating substances to intensify sensation.

Reading or viewing pornography, sexual fantasies, or other erotic stimuli may lead to a desire for sexual release such as by masturbation.

Some people get sexual pleasure by inserting objects, such as urethral sounds, into the urethra (the tube through which urine and, in men, semen, flows),[12] a practice known as urethral play or "sounding".[13] Other objects such as ball point pens and thermometers are sometimes used, although this practice can lead to injury or infection.[14] Some people masturbate by using machines that simulate intercourse.

Men and women may masturbate until they are close to orgasm, stop for a while to reduce excitement, and then resume masturbating. They may repeat this cycle multiple times. This "stop and go" build-up, known as "edging", can achieve even stronger orgasms.[15] Rarely, people quit stimulation just before orgasm to retain the heightened energy that normally comes down after orgasm.[16]


Common positions include lying on back or face down, sitting, squatting, kneeling, or standing.

The most common masturbation technique among males is to hold the penis with a loose fist and then to move the hand up and down the shaft. This type of stimulation is typically all that is required to achieve orgasm and ejaculation. The speed of the hand motion varies throughout the masturbation session.

Male masturbation techniques may differ between males who have been circumcised and those who have not. Some techniques which may work for one individual can be difficult or uncomfortable for another. For males who have not been circumcised, stimulation of the penis typically comes from the "pumping" of the foreskin, whereby the foreskin is held and slid up and down over the glans, which, depending on foreskin length, is completely or partially covered and then uncovered in a rapid motion. The outer foreskin glides smoothly over the inner foreskin. The glans itself may widen and lengthen as the stimulation continues, becoming slightly darker in colour, while the gliding action of the foreskin reduces friction. This technique may also be used by some circumcised men who have sufficient excess skin remaining from their circumcision.

Francis, King Consort of Spain (right) masturbating while his wife, Isabella II, engages in sexual relationships with Carlos Marfori, her Overseas Minister. Satirical caricature by Bécquer, 1868

For circumcised males, on whom the glans is mostly or completely uncovered, this technique creates more direct contact between the hand and the glans. To avoid friction, irritation and soreness from this resulting friction, some may prefer to use a personal lubricant, masturbation cream, or saliva.

The shaft skin can also be slid back and forth with just the index finger and thumb wrapped around the penis. A variation on this is to place the fingers and thumb on the penis as if playing a flute, and then shuttle them back and forth. Lying face down on a comfortable surface such as a mattress or pillow, the penis can be rubbed against it. This technique may include the use of a simulacrum, or artificial vagina.

Prostate massage is one other technique used for sexual stimulation, often in order to reach orgasm. The prostate is sometimes referred to as the "male G-spot" or P-spot.[17] Some men can achieve orgasm through stimulation of the prostate gland, by stimulating it using a well-lubricated finger or dildo inserted through the anus into the rectum, and men who report the sensation of prostate stimulation often give descriptions similar to females' accounts of G-spot stimulation.[18][19] Prostate stimulation can produce more intense orgasms than penile stimulation.[18] Stimulating the prostate from outside, via pressure on the perineum, can be pleasurable as well.

Anal masturbation without any prostate stimulation, with fingers or otherwise, is also one other technique which some men enjoy. Since the muscles of the anus contract during orgasm, the presence of an object holding the sphincter open can strengthen the sensation of the contractions and intensify orgasm.[20] The practice may be pleasurable because of the large number of nerve endings in the anal area, and because of the added stimulation gained from stretching the anal sphincter muscles while inserting the finger. A good quality personal lubricant is advisable to both increase the pleasurable sensation and aid insertion. Some people prefer to simply stimulate the outer ring of the anus, while others will follow this by inserting one or more fingers.

There are many other variations on male masturbation techniques. Men may also rub or massage the glans, the rim of the glans, and the frenular delta. Some men place both hands directly on their penis during masturbation, while others may use their free hand to fondle their testicles, nipples, or other parts of their body. The nipples are erogenous zones, and vigorous stimulation of them during masturbation usually causes the penis to become erect more quickly than it would otherwise. Some may keep their hand stationary while pumping into it with pelvic thrusts in order to simulate the motions of sexual intercourse. Some may lay in the prone position and rub their genitals against the bed sheet or other surface, a technique called prone masturbation.[21] In a bath or shower a male may direct water via a handheld showerhead at his frenulum, testicles, or perineum. Others may also use vibrators and other sexual devices more commonly associated with female masturbation.

A somewhat controversial ejaculation control technique is to put pressure on the perineum, about halfway between the scrotum and the anus, just before ejaculating.[citation needed] This can, however, redirect semen into the bladder (referred to as retrograde ejaculation).


See also: Fingering (sexual act)

Female masturbation involves the stroking or rubbing of a woman's vulva, especially her clitoris, with an index or middle fingers, or both. Sometimes one or more fingers may be inserted into the vagina to stroke its frontal wall where the G-spot may be located.[22] Masturbation aids such as a vibrator, dildo, or Ben Wa balls can also be used to stimulate the vagina and clitoris. Many women caress their breasts or stimulate a nipple with the free hand and anal stimulation is also enjoyed by some. Personal lubricant is sometimes used during masturbation, especially when penetration is involved, but this is not universal and many women find their natural lubrication sufficient.

Like males, common positions for female masturbation include lying on back or face down, sitting, squatting, kneeling, or standing. In a bath or shower a female may direct water via a handheld showerhead at her clitoris, vulva, or perineum. Lying face down one may use the hands, one may straddle a pillow, the corner or edge of the bed, a partner's leg or some scrunched-up clothing and "hump" the vulva and clitoris against it. Standing up, a chair, the corner of an item of furniture, or even a washing machine can be used to stimulate the clitoris through the labia and clothing. Some masturbate only using pressure applied to the clitoris without direct contact, for example by pressing the palm or ball of the hand against underwear or other clothing. In the 1920s, Havelock Ellis reported that turn-of-the-century seamstresses using treadle-operated sewing machines could achieve orgasm by sitting near the edge of their chairs.[23]

Women can stimulate themselves sexually by crossing their legs tightly and clenching the muscles in their legs, creating pressure on the genitals. This can potentially be done in public without observers noticing. Thoughts, fantasies, and memories of previous instances of arousal and orgasm can produce sexual excitation. Some women can orgasm spontaneously by force of will alone, although this may not strictly qualify as masturbation as no physical stimulus is involved.[24][25]

Sex therapists will sometimes recommend that female patients take time to masturbate to orgasm, for example to help improve sexual health and relationships, to help determine what is erotically pleasing to them, and because mutual masturbation can lead to more satisfying sexual relationships and added intimacy.[26][27]


Gerda Wegener's 1925 artwork "Les delassements d'Eros" ("The recreations of Eros"), which depicts sexual activity by two women

See also: Non-penetrative sex

Mutual masturbation involves two or more people who sexually stimulate each other, usually with the hands. It can be practiced by people of any sexual orientation, and can be part of other sexual activity. It may be used as foreplay, or as an alternative to sexual penetration. When used as an alternative to penile-vaginal penetration, the goal may be to preserve virginity or to avoid risk of pregnancy.[28][29]

Mutual masturbation can be practiced in pairs or groups with or without actually touching another person for example:

Frequency, age, and sex

Frequency of masturbation is determined by many factors, e.g., one's resistance to sexual tension, hormone levels influencing sexual arousal, sexual habits, peer influences, health and one's attitude to masturbation formed by culture; E. Heiby and J. Becker examined the latter.[31] Medical causes have also been associated with masturbation.[32][33][34]

Different studies have found that masturbation is frequent in humans. Alfred Kinsey's 1950s studies on US population have shown that 92% of men and 62% of women have masturbated during their lifespan.[25] Similar results have been found in a 2007 British national probability survey. It was found that, between individuals aged 16 to 44, 95% of men and 71% of women masturbated at some point in their lives. 73% of men and 37% of women reported masturbating in the four weeks before their interview, while 53% of men and 18% of women reported masturbating in the previous seven days.[35]

The Merck Manual says that 97% of men and 80% of women have masturbated and that, generally speaking, males masturbate more than females.[36]

Masturbation is considered normal when performed by children,[37][38][39] even in early infancy.[32] In 2009, the Sheffield NHS Health Trust issued a pamphlet called "Pleasure" which discussed the health benefits of masturbation. This was done in response to data and experience from the other EU member states to reduce teen pregnancy and STIs (STDs), and to promote healthy habits.[40]

In the book Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America, by Strong, Devault and Sayad, the authors point out, "A baby boy may laugh in his crib while playing with his erect penis". "Baby girls sometimes move their bodies rhythmically, almost violently, appearing to experience orgasm." Italian gynecologists Giorgio Giorgi and Marco Siccardi observed via ultrasound a female fetus possibly masturbating and having what appeared to be an orgasm.[41]

Popular belief asserts that individuals of either sex who are not in sexually active relationships tend to masturbate more frequently than those who are; however, much of the time this is not true as masturbation alone or with a partner is often a feature of a relationship. Contrary to this belief, several studies actually reveal a positive correlation between the frequency of masturbation and the frequency of intercourse. A study has reported a significantly higher rate of masturbation in gay men and women who were in a relationship.[35][42][43][44]

Coon and Mitterer stated: "Approximately 70 percent of married women and men masturbate at least occasionally."[45][46]

Evolutionary utility

Female masturbation alters conditions in the vagina, cervix and uterus, in ways that can alter the chances of conception from intercourse, depending on the timing of the masturbation. A woman's orgasm between one minute before and 45 minutes after insemination favors the chances of that sperm reaching her egg. If, for example, she has had intercourse with more than one male, such an orgasm can increase the likelihood of a pregnancy by one of them.[47][48] Female masturbation can also provide protection against cervical infections by increasing the acidity of the cervical mucus and by moving debris out of the cervix.[48]

In males, masturbation flushes out old sperm with low motility from the male's genital tract. The next ejaculate then contains more fresh sperm, which have higher chances of achieving conception during intercourse. If more than one male has intercourse with a female, the sperm with the highest motility will compete more effectively.[49][50][51]

Health effects

The medical consensus is that masturbation is a medically healthy and psychologically normal habit.[52][53][54][55][56][57][58][59] According to the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, "It is considered abnormal only when it inhibits partner-oriented behavior, is done in public, or is sufficiently compulsive to cause distress."[60]

In the US, masturbation was a diagnosable psychological condition until DSM II (1968).[61] The American Medical Association declared masturbation as normal by consensus in 1972.[62]

Masturbation does not deplete one's body of energy[63] or produce premature ejaculation.[64]

General benefits

Sex therapists will sometimes recommend that female patients take time to masturbate to orgasm, for example to help improve sexual health and relationships, to help determine what is erotically pleasing to them, and because mutual masturbation can lead to more satisfying sexual relationships and added intimacy.[26][27]

It is held in many mental health circles that masturbation can relieve depression and lead to a higher sense of self-esteem.[65] Masturbation can also be particularly useful in relationships where one partner wants more sex than the other – in which case masturbation provides a balancing effect and thus a more harmonious relationship.[66]

Mutual masturbation, the act by which two or more partners stimulate themselves in the presence of each other, allows a couple to reveal the "map to [their] pleasure centers". By watching a partner masturbate, one finds out the methods they use to please him- or herself, allowing each partner to learn exactly how the other enjoys being touched. Intercourse, by itself, is often inconvenient or impractical at times to provide sufficient sexual release for many people. Mutual masturbation allows couples to enjoy each other and obtain sexual release as often as they need but without the inconveniences and risks associated with sex.[66]

In 2003, an Australian research team led by Graham Giles of The Cancer Council Australia[67] found that males masturbating frequently had a lower probability to develop prostate cancer. Men who averaged five or more ejaculations weekly in their 20s had significantly lower risk. However they could not show a direct causation. The study also indicated that increased ejaculation through masturbation rather than intercourse would be more helpful as intercourse is associated with diseases (STDs) that may increase the risk of cancer instead. However, this benefit may be age related. A 2008 study concluded that frequent ejaculation between the ages of 20 and 40 may be correlated with higher risk of developing prostate cancer. On the other hand, frequent ejaculation in one's 50s was found to be correlated with a lower such risk in this same study.[68]

A study published in 1997 found an inverse association between death from coronary heart disease and frequency of orgasm even given the risk that myocardial ischaemia and myocardial infarction can be triggered by sexual activity.

The association between frequency of orgasm and all cause mortality was also examined using the midpoint of each response category recorded as number of orgasms per year. The age adjusted odds ratio for an increase of 100 orgasms per year was 0.64 (0.44 to 0.95).

That is, a difference in mortality appeared between any two subjects when one subject ejaculated at around two times per week more than the other. Assuming a broad range average of between 3 and 5 ejaculations per week for healthy males, this would mean 5 to 7 ejaculations per week. This is consistent with a 2003 Australia article on the benefits against prostate cancer. The strength of these correlations increased with increasing frequency of ejaculation.[69]

A 2008 study at Tabriz Medical University found ejaculation reduces swollen nasal blood vessels, freeing the airway for normal breathing. The mechanism is through stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and is long lasting. The study author suggests "It can be done [from] time-to-time to alleviate the congestion and the patient can adjust the number of intercourses or masturbations depending on the severity of the symptoms."[70]

Solo masturbation is a sexual activity that is nearly free of risk of sexually transmitted infections. (Exceptions: there is some risk if one uses a sex toy that was previously used by someone else. Also, one's hand could spread herpes from one's mouth to genitals or vice versa.[71]) With two or more participants, the risk of sexually transmitted infections, while not eliminated, is much less than with most forms of penetrative sex. Support for such a view, and for making masturbation part of the American sex education curriculum, led to the dismissal of US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders during the Clinton administration. Some EU Nations promote masturbation in their sex education curricula.

Sexual climax, from masturbation or otherwise, leaves one in a relaxed and contented state. This is frequently followed closely by drowsiness and sleep – particularly when one masturbates in bed.[72][73][74]

Some professionals consider masturbation to function as a cardiovascular workout.[75] Though research is still as yet scant, those suffering from cardiovascular disorders (particularly those recovering from myocardial infarction, or heart attacks) should resume physical activity (including sexual intercourse and masturbation) gradually and with the frequency and rigor which their physical status will allow. This limitation can serve as encouragement to follow through with physical therapy sessions to help improve endurance. In general, real sex slightly increases energy consumption, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.[76][77]


Those who insert objects as aids to masturbation risk them becoming stuck (e.g. as rectal foreign bodies). Men and women can fall prey to this problem. A woman went into a German hospital with two pencils in her bladder, having pierced her urethra after inserting them during masturbation.[78]


Solo masturbation, or masturbation involving individuals of the same sex, cannot produce pregnancy. Masturbation involving both a man and a woman (see mutual masturbation) can result in pregnancy only if semen contacts the vulva.


A man whose penis has suffered a blunt trauma, severe bend or other injury during intercourse or masturbation may, rarely, sustain a penile fracture[79][80][81] or suffer from Peyronie's disease.[82] Phimosis is "a contracted foreskin (that) may cause trouble by hurting when an attempt is made to pull the foreskin back".[83] In these cases, any energetic manipulation of the penis can be problematic.

A small percentage of men suffer from postorgasmic illness syndrome (POIS), which can cause severe muscle pain throughout the body and other symptoms immediately following ejaculation, whether due to masturbation or partnered sex. The symptoms last for up to a week.[84][85][86] Some doctors speculate that the frequency of POIS "in the population may be greater than has been reported in the academic literature",[87] and that many POIS sufferers are undiagnosed.[88]


Further information: Hypersexuality

Compulsive masturbation and other compulsive behaviors can be signs of an emotional problem, which may need to be addressed by a mental health specialist.[89] As with any "nervous habit", it is more helpful to consider the causes of compulsive behavior, rather than try to repress masturbation.[90]

Masturbation among adolescents contributes to their developing a sense of mastery over sexual impulses, and it has a role in the physical and emotional development of prepubescents and pubescents.[91] Babies and toddlers will play with their genitals in much the same way as they play with their ears or toes. If such play becomes all-consuming, it may be necessary to look for an underlying cause of this, such as the child being tense and in need of comfort, or that others may be overreacting and thus reinforcing the habit. It could be caused by a low-grade urinary tract or yeast infection. The child may be overstimulated and in need of soothing, or understimulated and bored.

Alongside many other factors—such as medical evidence, age-inappropriate sexual knowledge, sexualized play and precocious or seductive behavior—excessive masturbation may be an indicator of sexual abuse.[92][93]

Cultural history

Main article: History of masturbation

Ancient world

Detail of a krater, dating to c. 560-550 BC, showing a satyr masturbating, a common scene in many ancient Greek pottery paintings[94][95]

The sexual stimulation of one's own genitals has been interpreted variously by different religions, the subject of legislation, social controversy, activism, as well as intellectual study in sexology. Social views regarding masturbation taboo have varied greatly in different cultures, and over history.

There are depictions of male and female masturbation in prehistoric rock paintings around the world. From the earliest records, the ancient Sumerians had very relaxed attitudes toward sex.[96] The Sumerians widely believed that masturbation enhanced sexual potency, both for men and for women,[96] and they frequently engaged in it, both alone and with their partners.[96] Men would often use puru-oil, a special oil probably mixed with pulverized iron ore intended to enhance friction.[96] Masturbation was also an act of creation and, in Sumerian mythology, the god Enki was believed to have created the Tigris and Euphrates rivers by masturbating and ejaculating into their empty riverbeds.[97] The ancient Egyptians also regarded masturbation by a deity as an act of creation; the god Atum was believed to have created the universe by masturbating to ejaculation.

The ancient Greeks also regarded masturbation as a normal and healthy substitute for other forms of sexual pleasure.[98] Most information about masturbation in ancient Greece comes from surviving works of ancient Greek comedy and pottery.[94] Masturbation is frequently referenced in the surviving comedies of Aristophanes, which are the most important sources of information on ancient Greek views on the subject.[94] In ancient Greek pottery, satyrs are often depicted masturbating.[94][95] According to the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by the third-century AD biographer Diogenes Laërtius, Diogenes of Sinope, the fourth-century BC Cynic philosopher, often masturbated in public, which was considered scandalous.[99][100][101] When people confronted him over this, he would say, "If only it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing my belly."[99][100][101]

Among non-western perspectives on the matter, some teachers and practitioners of Traditional Chinese medicine, Taoist meditative and martial arts say that masturbation can cause a lowered energy level in men. Within the African Congo Basin, the Aka, Ngandu, Lesi, brbs, and Ituri ethnic groups all lack a word for masturbation in their languages and are confused by the concept of masturbation.[102]

Development of the contemporary Western world view

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Masturbation was depicted in 19th-century Shunga prints, such as this piece by Kunisada
Self-portrait of Egon Schiele in 1911, depicting masturbation

18th century

Onanism is a hybrid term which combines the proper noun, Onan, with the suffix, -ism.[103] Notions of self-pollution, impurity and uncleanness were increasingly associated with various other sexual vices and crimes of the body (such fornication, sodomy, adultery, incest and obscene language); in reaction to the 17th-century libertine culture, middle-class moralists increasingly campaigned for a reformation of manners and a stricter regulation of the body. Paradoxically, a crime that was secret and private became a popular and fashionable topic. Moreover, writers tended to focus more on the perceived links with mental and physical illnesses that were deemed to be associated with the sense of moral outrage. Attention increasingly shifted to the prevention and cure of this illness which perilously sapped men of their virility[104]

The first use of the word "onanism" to consistently and specifically refer to masturbation is a pamphlet first distributed in London in 1716 and attributed[105] to Dutch theologian Dr. Balthazar Bekker, titled "Onania, or the Heinous Sin of self-Pollution, And All Its Frightful Consequences, In Both Sexes, Considered: With Spiritual and Physical Advice To Those Who Have Already Injured Themselves By This Abominable Practice." The Online Etymology Dictionary, however, claims the earliest known use of onanism occurred in 1727. In 1743–45, the British physician Robert James published A Medicinal Dictionary, in which he described masturbation as being "productive of the most deplorable and generally incurable disorders" and stated that "there is perhaps no sin productive of so many hideous consequences".[106] One of the many horrified by the descriptions of malady in Onania was the notable Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot. In 1760, he published L'Onanisme, his own comprehensive medical treatise on the purported ill-effects of masturbation. Though Tissot's ideas are now considered conjectural at best, his treatise was presented as a scholarly, scientific work in a time when experimental physiology was practically nonexistent.

Immanuel Kant regarded masturbation as a violation of the moral law. In The Metaphysics of Morals (1797), he made the a posteriori argument that "such an unnatural use of one's sexual attribute" strikes "everyone upon his thinking of it" as "a violation of one's duty to himself", and suggested that it was regarded as immoral even to give it its proper name (unlike the case of the similarly undutiful act of suicide). He went on, however, to acknowledge that "it is not so easy to produce a rational demonstration of the inadmissibility of that unnatural use", but ultimately concluded that its immorality lay in the fact that "a man gives up his personality … when he uses himself merely as a means for the gratification of an animal drive".[107]

19th century

By 1838 Jean Esquirol had declared in his Des Maladies Mentales that masturbation was "recognized in all countries as a cause of insanity."[108][109] Doctor John Harvey Kellogg and Rev. Sylvester Graham were among those who proposed that circumcision and eating a bland, meatless diet would curb masturbation.[110] The medical literature of the time also described more invasive procedures including electric shock treatment, infibulation, restraining devices like chastity belts and straitjackets, cauterization or – as a last resort – wholesale surgical excision of the genitals.

Medical attitudes toward masturbation began to change towards the end of the 19th century when H. Havelock Ellis, in his seminal 1897 work Studies in the Psychology of Sex, questioned Tissot's premises.[111]

20th century

In 1905, Sigmund Freud addressed masturbation in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and associated it with addictive substances. He described the masturbation of infants at the period when the infant is nursing, at four years of age, and at puberty. At the same time, the supposed medical condition of hysteria—from the Greek hystera or uterus—was being treated by what would now be described as medically administered or medically prescribed masturbation for women. In 1910, the meetings of the Vienna psychoanalytic circle discussed the moral or health effects of masturbation,[112] but its publication on the matter was suppressed. Concerning Specific Forms of Masturbation is a 1922 essay by another Austrian, the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. In the seven and a half page essay Reich accepts the prevalent notions on the roles of unconscious fantasy and the subsequent emerging guilt feelings which he saw as originating from the act itself.

By 1930, Dr. F. W. W. Griffin, editor of The Scouter, had written in a book for Rover Scouts stating that the temptation to masturbate was "a quite natural stage of development" and, citing Ellis' work, held that "the effort to achieve complete abstinence was a very serious error." The work of sexologist Alfred Kinsey during the 1940s and 1950s, most notably the Kinsey Reports, insisted that masturbation was an instinctive behaviour for both males and females. In the US masturbation has not been a diagnosable condition since DSM II (1968).[61]

Thomas Szasz states the shift in scientific consensus:[53][54][113] "Masturbation: the primary sexual activity of mankind. In the nineteenth century it was a disease; in the twentieth, it's a cure."[55]

In the 1980s Michel Foucault was arguing masturbation taboo was "rape by the parents of the sexual activity of their children". However, in 1994, when the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, mentioned as an aside that it should be mentioned in school curricula that masturbation was safe and healthy, she was forced to resign,[114] with opponents asserting that she was promoting the teaching of how to masturbate.

21st century

Both practices and cultural views of masturbation have continued to evolve in the 21st Century, partly because the contemporary lifeworld is increasingly technical.[according to whom?] For example, digital photographs or live video may be used to share masturbatory experiences either in a broadcast format (possibly in exchange of money, as with performances by "camgirls" and "camboys"), or between members of a long-distance relationship. Teledildonics is a growing field. Masturbation has been depicted as a not-uncomplicated part of "Love in the 21st Century" in the BBC drama by the same name.[115]

In modern culture

Sperm donation

Male masturbation may be used as a method to obtain semen for third party reproductive procedures such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation which may involve the use of either partner or donor sperm.[116][117]

At a sperm bank or fertility clinic, a special room or cabin may be set aside so that semen may be produced by male masturbation for use in fertility treatments such as artificial insemination. Most semen used for sperm donation, and all semen donated through a sperm bank by sperm donors, is produced in this way. The facility at a sperm bank used for this purpose is known as a masturbatorium (US) or men's production room (UK). A bed or couch is usually provided for the man, and pornographic films or other material may be made available.[118]


In the UK in 2009, a leaflet was issued by the National Health Service in Sheffield carrying the slogan, "an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away". It also says: "Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes' physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?" This leaflet has been circulated to parents, teachers and youth workers and is meant to update sex education by telling older school students about the benefits of enjoyable sex. Its authors have said that for too long, experts have concentrated on the need for "safe sex" and committed relationships while ignoring the principal reason that many people have sex. The leaflet is entitled Pleasure. Instead of promoting teenage sex, it could encourage young people to delay losing their virginity until they are certain they will enjoy the experience, said one of its authors.[119][120]

The Spanish region of Extremadura launched a programme in 2009 to encourage "sexual self-exploration and the discovery of self-pleasure" in people aged from 14 to 17. The €14,000 campaign includes leaflets, flyers, a "fanzine", and workshops for the young in which they receive instruction on masturbation techniques along with advice on contraception and self-respect. The initiative, whose slogan is, "Pleasure is in your own hands" has angered local right-wing politicians and challenged traditional Roman Catholic views. Officials from the neighbouring region of Andalucia have expressed an interest in copying the programme.[121]

The text book Palliative care nursing: quality care to the end of life states, "Terminally ill people are likely no different from the general population regarding their masturbation habits. Palliative care practitioners should routinely ask their patients if anything interferes in their ability to masturbate and then work with the patient to correct the problem if it is identified."[122]


The prosecution of masturbation has varied at different times, from virtually unlimited acceptance to complete illegality. In a 17th-century law code for the Puritan colony of New Haven, Connecticut "blasphemers, homosexuals and masturbators" were eligible for the death penalty.[123]

Often, masturbation in the sight of others is prosecuted under a general law such as public indecency, though some laws make specific mention of masturbation. In the UK, masturbating in public is illegal under Section 28 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. The penalty may be up to 14 days in prison, depending on a range of circumstantial factors.[124] In the US, laws vary from state to state. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Alabama upheld a state law criminalizing the distribution of sex-toys.[125] In the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, masturbating in public is a class 3 misdemeanour.[124] In 2013, a man found masturbating openly on a beach in Sweden was cleared of charges of sexual assault, the court finding that his activities had not been directed towards any specific person.[126]

In many jurisdictions, masturbation by one person of another is considered digital penetration which may be illegal in some cases, such as when the other person is a minor.

There is debate whether masturbation should be promoted in correctional institutions. Restrictions on pornography, used to accompany masturbation, are common in American correctional facilities. Connecticut Department of Corrections officials say that these restrictions are intended to avoid a hostile work environment for correctional officers.[127] Other researchers argue allowing masturbation could help prisoners restrict their sexual urges to their imaginations rather than engaging in prison rape or other non-masturbatory sexual activity that could pose sexually transmitted disease or other health risks.[128]

Religious views

Main article: Religious views on masturbation

See also: Religion and sexuality and Sperm in vain (Judaism)

A temple relief at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, India features a couple in a sexual embrace with a man and a woman masturbating to either side.

Religions vary broadly in their views of masturbation, from considering it completely impermissible (as in Roman Catholicism)[129] to encouraging and refining it (as, for example, in some Neotantra and Taoist sexual practices).

Rites of passage

The Sambia tribe of New Guinea has rituals and rites of passage surrounding manhood which lasts several years and involves ejaculation through fellatio often several times a day. Semen is valued and masturbation is seen as a waste of semen and is therefore frowned upon even though frequent ejaculation is encouraged. The capacity and need to ejaculate is developed or nurtured for years from an early age but through fellatio so that it can be consumed rather than wasted. Semen is ingested for strength and is considered in the same line as mothers' milk.[130][better source needed]

Other cultures have rites of passage into manhood that culminate in the first ejaculation of a male, usually by the hands of a tribal elder. In some tribes such as the Agta, Philippines, stimulation of the genitals is encouraged from an early age.[131] Upon puberty, the young male is then paired off with a "wise elder" or "witch doctor" who uses masturbation to build his ability to ejaculate in preparation for a ceremony. The ceremony culminates in a public ejaculation before a celebration. The ejaculate is saved in a wad of animal skin and worn later to help conceive children. In this and other tribes, the measure of manhood is actually associated more with the amount of ejaculate and his need than penis size.


Even though many medical professionals and scientists have found large amounts of evidence that masturbating is healthy[52][55][56][57][58][59][64][61] and commonly practiced by males and females, stigma on the topic still persists today. In November 2013, Matthew Burdette, after being filmed masturbating, committed suicide.[132][133][134]

In an article published by the nonprofit organization Planned Parenthood Federation of America it was reported that:[135]

Proving that these ancient stigmas against masturbation are still alive and felt by women and men, researchers in 1994 found that half of the adult women and men who masturbate feel guilty about it (Laumann, et al., 1994. p.85). Another study in 2000 found that adolescent young men are still frequently afraid to admit that they masturbate (Halpern, et al., 2000, 327).

Popular culture

Religious ecstasy illustrated as masturbation by Félicien Rops (1833–1898)
Masturbation, 1911, copper engraving by Mihály Zichy
Political Masturbation on Mass Media and Television, by Danny Sillada, 2009


In popular music, there are various songs that deal with masturbation. Some of the earliest examples are "My Ding-a-Ling" by Chuck Berry and "Mary Ann with the Shaky Hand" and "Pictures of Lily" by The Who.[136]

More recent popular songs include "Rosie" by Jackson Browne, "Una luna de miel en la mano" by Virus, "I Touch Myself" by the Divinyls, "Very Busy People" by The Limousines, "Dancing With Myself" by Billy Idol, "Everyday I Die" by Gary Numan, "You're Makin' Me High" by Toni Braxton, "Holding My Own" by The Darkness, "Vibe On" by Dannii Minogue, "Orgasm Addict" by the Buzzcocks, "Captain Jack" by Billy Joel, "Blister in the Sun" by Violent Femmes, "Longview" by Green Day, "M+Ms" by Blink-182, "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too" by Say Anything, "Touch of My Hand" by Britney Spears, "Fingers" and "U + Ur Hand" by P!nk,[137] "So Happy I Could Die" by Lady Gaga, "Masturbating Jimmy" by The Tiger Lillies, "When Life Gets Boring " by Gob, "Get a Grip" by Semisonic, and "Darling Nikki" by Prince. The 1983 recording "She Bop" by Cyndi Lauper, was one of the first fifteen songs ever required to carry Parental Advisory sticker for sexual content.[138] In a 1993 interview on The Howard Stern Show, Lauper claimed she recorded the vocal track in the nude.[139] Some[140] have argued that Billy Joel's song "The Stranger" is about masturbation. The song "Masturbates" by rock group Mindless Self Indulgence also deals with the concept of auto-erotic activity in a punk framework.


The 1858 schoolboys' novel Eric, or, Little by Little was a tract against masturbation, but did not mention the subject except extremely obliquely as "Kibroth-Hattaavah" a place mentioned in the Old Testament where those that lusted after meat were buried.

In October 1972, an important censorship case was held in Australia, leading to the banning of Philip Roth's novel Portnoy's Complaint in that country due to its masturbation references. The censorship led to public outcry at the time.[141]

Further portrayals and references to masturbation have occurred throughout literature, and the practice itself has even contributed to the production of literature among certain writers, such as Wolfe, Balzac, Flaubert and John Cheever.[142] Perhaps the most famous fictional depiction of masturbation occurs in the "Nausicaa" episode of Ulysses by James Joyce. Here the novel's protagonist Bloom brings himself to covert climax during a public fireworks display after being aroused by a young woman's coy exhibitionism.


In the Seinfeld episode "The Contest",[143] the show's main characters enter into a contest to see who can go the longest without masturbating. Because Seinfeld's network, NBC, did not think masturbation was a suitable topic for prime-time television, the word is never used. Instead, the subject is described using a series of euphemisms. "Master of my domain" became a part of the American lexicon from this episode.

Another NBC show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, had a character known as the Masturbating Bear, a costume of a bear with a diaper covering its genitals. The Masturbating Bear would touch his diaper to simulate masturbation. Prior to leaving Late Night to become host of The Tonight Show, Conan O'Brien originally retired the character due to concerns about its appropriateness in an earlier time slot.[144] The Masturbating Bear however made his Tonight Show debut during the final days of Conan O'Brien's tenure as host of the Tonight Show. It was clear by then that Conan O'Brien was being removed from the show and he spent his last shows pushing the envelope with skits that typically would not be appropriate for the Tonight Show, one of which was the Masturbating Bear.[145] After much debate on whether or not he would be able to be used on Conan O'Brien's new TBS show, Conan, the Masturbating Bear made an appearance on the very first episode.[146]

In March 2007 the UK broadcaster Channel 4 was to air a season of television programmes about masturbation, called Wank Week. (Wank is a Briticism for masturbate.) The series came under public attack from senior television figures, and was pulled amid claims of declining editorial standards and controversy over the channel's public service broadcasting credentials. However, its constituent films may yet be shown by the channel at a later date.[147][needs update]


Depictions of male and female masturbation are common in pornography, including gay pornography. Am Abend (1910), one of the earliest pornographic films that have been collected at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction,[148][149] starts with a female masturbation scene. Solo performances in gay pornography have been described in 1985 as "either or both active (tense, upright) and/or passive (supine, exposed, languid, available)", whereas female solo performances are said to be "exclusively passive (supine, spread, seated, squatted, orifices offered, etc.)".[150] Solo pornography recognized with AVN Awards include the All Alone series[151] and All Natural: Glamour Solos.[152]

Other animals

Main article: Masturbation in animals

Masturbatory behavior has been documented in a very wide range of species. Individuals of some species have been known to create tools for masturbation purposes.[7]

See also


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  8. ^ Dally, Peter (1975). The Fantasy Factor. George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Limited. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-297-76945-3.
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  28. ^ See here [1] and pages 47–49 for views on what constitutes virginity loss and therefore sexual intercourse or other sexual activity; source discusses how gay and lesbian individuals define virginity loss, and how the majority of researchers and heterosexuals define virginity loss/"technical virginity" by whether or not a person has engaged in penile-vaginal sex. Laura M. Carpenter (2005). Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences. NYU Press. pp. 295 pages. ISBN 978-0-8147-1652-6. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  29. ^ Bryan Strong; Christine DeVault; Theodore F. Cohen (2010). The Marriage and Family Experience: Intimate Relationship in a Changing Society. Cengage Learning. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-534-62425-5. Retrieved 8 October 2011. Most people agree that we maintain virginity as long as we refrain from sexual (vaginal) intercourse. ...But occasionally we hear people speak of 'technical virginity' … Other research, especially research looking into virginity loss, reports that 35% of virgins, defined as people who have never engaged in vaginal intercourse, have nonetheless engaged in one or more other forms of heterosexual activity (e.g. oral sex, anal sex, or mutual masturbation). … Data indicate that 'a very significant proportion of teens ha[ve] had experience with oral sex, even if they haven't had sexual intercourse, and may think of themselves as virgins'.
  30. ^ "Mutual Masturbation". 12 June 2006. Archived from the original on 22 May 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2010. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help) — A biographical collection of data for a sociological repository on the topic of mutual masturbating to study changes on the activity over time.
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  34. ^ Lopez-Meza, Elmer; Corona-Vasquez, Teresa; Ruano-Calderon, Luis A.; Ramirez-Bermudez, Jesus (2005). "Severe impulsiveness as the primary manifestation of multiple sclerosis in a young female". Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 59 (6): 739–742. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1819.2005.01446.x. ISSN 1323-1316. PMID 16401253.
  35. ^ a b Gerressu, Makeda; Mercer, Catherine H.; Graham, Cynthia A.; Wellings, Kaye; Johnson, Anne M. (27 February 2007). "Prevalence of Masturbation and Associated Factors in a British National Probability Survey". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 37 (2): 266–278. doi:10.1007/s10508-006-9123-6. ISSN 0004-0002. PMID 17333329.
  36. ^ George R. Brown, MD. "Overview of Sexuality". Merck Manuals Consumer Version. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  37. ^ Jacqueline L. Longe, ed. (7 June 2011). "Masturbation". The Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy Through Adolescence. Vol. 4 (Second ed.). Detroit, Mich.: Cengage Gale. p. 1404. ISBN 978-1-4144-8641-3. OCLC 712621295.
  38. ^ Thomas H. Ollendick; Carolyn S. Schroeder (6 December 2012). "Masturbation". Encyclopedia of Clinical Child and Pediatric Psychology. Boston, MA: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 359. ISBN 978-1-4615-0107-7. OCLC 913623298.
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  42. ^ Heilborn, Maria Luiza; Cabral, Cristiane S. (2006). "Sexual practices in youth: analysis of lifetime sexual trajectory and last sexual intercourse". Cadernos de Saúde Pública. 22 (7): 1471–1481. doi:10.1590/s0102-311x2006000700011. ISSN 0102-311X.
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  52. ^ a b Porter, Robert S.; Kaplan, Justin L., eds. (2011). "Chapter 165. Sexuality and Sexual Disorders". The Merck Manual of Diagnosis & Therapy (19th ed.). Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., A Subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc. ISBN 978-0-911910-19-3. ((cite book)): External link in |chapterurl= (help); Unknown parameter |chapterurl= ignored (|chapter-url= suggested) (help)
  53. ^ a b Patton, Michael S. (June 1985). "Masturbation from Judaism to Victorianism". Journal of Religion and Health. 24 (2): 133–146. doi:10.1007/BF01532257. ISSN 0022-4197. PMID 24306073. Social change in attitudes toward masturbation has occurred at the professional level only since 1960 and at the popular level since 1970. [133] ... onanism and masturbation erroneously became synonymous... [134] ... there is no legislation in the Bible pertaining to masturbation. [135]
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  56. ^ a b Shpancer, Noah (29 September 2010). "The Masturbation Gap. The pained history of self pleasure". Psychology Today. Retrieved 27 June 2013. The publication of Kinsey's and Masters and Johnson's research revealed that masturbation was both common and harmless. Many studies have since confirmed this basic truth, revealing in addition that masturbation is neither a substitute for "real" sex nor a facilitator of risky sex.
  57. ^ a b Coon, Dennis; Mitterer, John O. (2014). "11. Gender and Sexuality". Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior (14 ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 363. ISBN 978-1-305-54500-7. Is there any way that masturbation can cause harm? Seventy years ago, a child might have been told that masturbation would cause insanity, acne, sterility, or other such nonsense. "Self-abuse," as it was then called, has enjoyed a long and unfortunate history of religious and medical disapproval (Caroll, 2013). The modern view is that masturbation is a normal sexual behavior (Hogarth & Ingham, 2009). Enlightened parents are well aware of this fact. Still, many children are punished or made to feel guilty for touching their genitals. This is unfortunate because masturbation itself is harmless. Typically, its only negative effects are feelings of fear, guilt, or anxiety that arise from learning to think of masturbation as "bad" or "wrong." In an age when people are urged to practice "safer sex," masturbation remains the safest sex of all. ((cite book)): External link in |chapterurl= (help); Unknown parameter |chapterurl= ignored (|chapter-url= suggested) (help)
  58. ^ a b Sigel, Lisa Z. (Summer 2004). "Masturbation: The History of the Great Terror by Jean Stengers; Ann Van Neck; Kathryn Hoffmann". Journal of Social History. 37 (4): 1065–1066. doi:10.1353/jsh.2004.0065. ISSN 0022-4529. JSTOR 3790078. Stengers and Van Neck follow the illness to its fairly abrupt demise; they liken the shift to finally seeing the emperor without clothes as doctors began to doubt masturbation as a cause of illness at the turn of the twentieth century. Once doubt set in, scientists began to accumulate statistics about the practice, finding that a large minority and then a large majority of people masturbated. The implications were clear: if most people masturbated and did not experience insanity, debility, and early death, then masturbation could not be held accountable to the etiology that had been assigned it. Masturbation quickly lost its hold over the medical community, and parents followed in making masturbation an ordinary part of first childhood and then human sexuality.
  59. ^ a b Wood, Kate (March 2005). "Masturbation as a Means of Achieving Sexual Health by Walter Bockting; Eli Coleman". Culture, Health & Sexuality. 7 (2): 182–184. ISSN 1369-1058. JSTOR 4005453. In the collection's introductory chapter, Eli Coleman describes how Kinsey's research half a century ago was the first in a series of studies to challenge widely prevalent cultural myths relating to the 'harmful' effects of masturbation, revealing the practice to be both common and non-pathological. Subsequent research, outlined by Coleman in this chapter, has shown masturbation to be linked to healthy sexual development, sexual well-being in relationships, self-esteem and bodily integrity (an important sexual right). As such, the promotion and de-stigmatization of the practice continue to be important strategies within sexology for the achievement of healthy sexual development and well-being.

    The collection concludes with two surveys among US college students. The first of these was based on limited quantitative questions relating to masturbation. The findings suggest that masturbation is not a substitute for sexual intercourse, as has often been posited, but is associated with increased sexual interest and greater number of partners. The second of these surveys asks whether masturbation could be useful in treating low sexual desire, by examining the relationship between masturbation, libido and sexual fantasy.
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  62. ^ Planned Parenthood Federation of America (March 2003). "Masturbation: From myth to sexual health". Contemporary Sexuality. 37 (3): v. ISSN 1094-5725. OCLC 37229308. Finally, the American medical community pronounced masturbation as normal in 1972 American Medical Association publication, Human Sexuality (Rowan, 2000).
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Further reading

  • DeMartino, Manfred F. (1979). Human Autoerotic Practices. New York: Human Sciences Press. ISBN 978-0-87705-373-6.
  • Marcus, Irwin M. (1975). Masturbation: From Infancy to Senescence. New York: International Universities Press. ISBN 978-0-8236-3150-6.
  • Hurlbert David Farley; Karen Elizabeth Whittaker (1991). "The Role of Masturbation in Marital and Sexual Satisfaction: A Comparative Study of Female Masturbators and Nonmasturbators". Journal of Sex Education & Therapy. 17 (4): 272–282. doi:10.1080/01614576.1991.11074029.
  • Theobald Stephanie (2018). Sex Drive. London: Unbound Press. ISBN 978-1-78352-681-9.