The rise of masturbation

In the spirit of exploring this issue more deeply during the current National Masturbation Month, I looked into how close to the truth is the old joke that that 98% of people masturbate while the other 2% are liars.

Michael Castleman writing in Psychology Today says that a fairly large survey conducted by University of Chicago sociologists finds that “only 38 percent of women said they’d masturbated at all during the past year. The figure for men was 61 percent.”

The study suggests that there are some misconceptions in the US about this practice.

In American culture, masturbation is often viewed as a sexual refuge for singles, as a way to compensate for a lack of sex in a relationship. In this survey, that turned out not to be the case. In both genders, a sexless relationship suppressed masturbation. Respondents who masturbated the most were usually involved in a sexual relationship. Having partner sex, it appears, piques interest in solo sex.

Finally, sex involves both physical and emotional closeness. In this study, any disconnect between these two elements, i.e., physical contact but no emotional closeness or visa versa, was associated with increased masturbation. In fact, for women, one of the best predictors of masturbation was a relationship that lacked emotional intimacy.

This may explain why in the US, where people seem willing to reveal all manner of intimate details about their lives to almost anyone, masturbation is still something that they seem to be a little secretive about perhaps because of the false perception that those who masturbate do so because they think it reflects badly on their own attractiveness or relationships.

An article by Jefferson Adams reports on the health benefits to both men and women as does another article by Yvonne K. Fulbright.

We have definitely come a long way from the time when, as chronicled by Dan Allosso in his biography of Charles Knowlton, masturbation was seen as a serious medical disorder that required dangerous ‘heroic’ treatments to cure.


  1. jemima101 says

    I have been taking part in the Good Vibes challenge for masturbation month, to masturbate daily. I have what might be described as a very healthy sex life, with 2 partners and various other *ahem* outlets. However even so I have discovered a number of things about my body and my attitude to masturbation. I think I always saw it as a substitute, rather than a pleasure all of its own.

    Challenging the taboos and stigma around masturbation is I think very much worth doing, for more than one month of the year.

  2. sijd says

    Since the study is based on personal interviews it stands to reason that the quoted percentages are really lower bounds, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the old adage turned out to be a lot closer to the truth that suspected

  3. AsqJames says

    I’m single at the moment and I masturbate, but it’s never as good as it was masturbating with, or in front of, a partner – as long as she was into it too (there’s no greater turn-off than your partner being turned off). But if you’re partner is open to it, I highly recommend including masturbation in your sex life. Especially if you want to find out what really gets your partner off. He/she knows what they like better than anyone, and who doesn’t want to find out exactly what buttons to push/rub/stroke?

  4. Mano Singham says

    I am not sure what the alternative would be to self-reporting surveys, so this is as good as we are likely to get.

  5. stever says

    Let’s not forget the still-powerful voice of the Church. Just about every boy hears
    “It’s a SIN!”
    “You’ll go crazy, and IT’S A SIN!”
    “You’ve only got so much semen, and if you waste it you’ll become impotent, and IT’S A SIN!”
    “If you get used to jerking off, you won’t be able to get off with a woman, and IT’S A SIN!”
    for years before he finally realizes that it’s just a routine religious guilt-bombing run, a variation on the old “Make sure that everyone is guilty of something” tactic that has been a favorite of tyrants since pre-civilized times.

  6. sijd says

    Self reported surveys are always suspect, although I agree with you that sometimes there are few alternatives. In this particular case however my complaint was mostly about how the data was collected:

    “The study by University of Chicago sociologists analyzed data from 3,116 Americans aged 18 to 60 (1,769 women and 1,347 men) gathered during face-to-face interviews as part of the National Health and Social Life Survey”

    Given the topic of the study I believe that an anonymous questionnaire, possibly filled out over the internet, would have been a much better choice

  7. Mano Singham says

    That looks pretty weird. When have more time I will have to look into it more closely.

  8. Martha Brock says

    There are so many studies out there now confirming the rise in masturbation across all demographics and I think it is no surprise. Even studies that use indirect statistics, other than self-surveys, confirm this such as the boom in the sex toy industry and an explosion in masturbation sites and online accounts. Most sites underestimate the membership and underestimate the frequency of sessions for each ember. On the later, one article I read in J. Sexual Behavior reported stats from selected online sites that the average member at least triples their number of online masturbation sessions each week in less than a year after joining. It is a hidden sexual revolution and sites have had to increase capacity to keep up. In fact, historically as men age their ejaculatory need decreases and so they masturbate less and less. However, the past decade has seen a dramatic reversal in their trend as more and more older men report actually masturbating more now than they did when they were ten years younger. It’s more of a lifestyle or hobby these days for a growing number of men and women.
    No wonder the British NHS issued a pamphlet called “An Orgasm a Day” as the minimum recommended for health and, it turns out, very common.

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