Masturbation: Myths and Facts

Health Writer
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Masturbation is one of those topics that most people find uncomfortable discussing. Thus, many myths go unchallenged and even some of those people who practice masturbation on a regular basis aren’t sure whether it's good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.

Myth: Everyone masturbates and if they say they don’t, they're lying.** Facts:** It is true that a great many people, both male and female, masturbate, but to say that everyone does is a misstatement. According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (2010), anywhere from 67 to 94 percent of men have masturbated at least once in their life. Only between 43 and 67 percent indicated they had masturbated within the last month. For females, the percentages were lower -- between 43 and 85 percent indicated they had masturbated at least once in their life but only between 21 and 43 percent had done so within the last month.

Myth: Masturbation causes insanity.** Facts:** The old belief that masturbation will cause mental illness simply isn’t based in truth. Masturbation does not cause any emotional problems, except for those who feel guilty about doing it or worry that it conflicts with their religious or cultural tenets.

Myth: Masturbation can cause physical problems, such as impotence, curvature of the penis, blindness, or hair growth on the palms of your hands.** Facts:** Masturbation is low-risk and doesn’t cause side effects (unless chafing from rubbing is considered a side-effect.) Masturbation is harmless. With the large percentage of people, both male and female, that admits to masturbating, it would seem that most of the world would have hair on their palms or be blind by this point if the activity was harmful.

Myth: If you masturbate when you are in a relationship, it means something is wrong with your relationship.** Facts:** Some people find great pleasure in masturbating, whether they are currently in a relationship or not. Masturbation is the one time you don’t need to feel guilty or have performance anxiety about whether your partner is enjoying sex. Masturbation might even help your sex life; it can teach you what you like and what you don’t like so you can share that information with your partner. In some relationships, levels of sexual desires of the partners are different and masturbation can help relieve some of the pressure to engage in sex. Also, some people find that masturbating together can be highly erotic.

Myth: Teens who masturbate are hypersexual and can go on to develop deviant sexual behaviors.** Facts:** Masturbation is normal. A study published in 2011 in JAMA Pediatrics stated categorically that “masturbation is integral to normal sexual development.” The researchers found that the teens who masturbated were more likely to use condoms when having partnered sex. The authors also point to several other studies that have found a correlation between masturbation and positive sexual experiences later in life. Masturbation offers teens a way to learn about their sexuality without any risk of STDs or pregnancy.

Myth: There is such a thing as “too much masturbation.”** Facts:** No. There isn't. According to the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois, “Professionals agree that there are no physical or mental implications for frequent masturbation.” The exception to this is that if masturbation becomes an obsession and interferes with daily functioning, relationships or school/work performance.

Myth: There are not any health benefits to masturbation.** Facts:** There are mental, social and physical benefits to masturbation. It can help reduce premenstrual tension in women, as it increases blood flow to the genital area. It can reduce stress and induce sleep. Masturbation also helps people become more familiar with their bodies and what feels good. In men, it can help in managing premature ejaculation. It provides a sexual outlet to those who choose to abstain from sex with partners or do not currently have a partner.

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