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- | April 29, 2021, 3:46 CDT

Exploring Masturbation for Men
Engaging in solo play is good for your mental and physical health. Just don't grip it too hard.

Written by

Geoff Nudelman

Male masturbation is the erotic exploration and enjoyment of the body, typically through stroking the shaft of the penis with the goal of achieving orgasm. The traditional form of male masturbation is a solo act, but mutual masturbation can occur between two or more people. In the case of the latter, it is important that consent is both given and received.

Masturbation is an extremely common behavior in men starting at various ages of development and continuing well into adulthood, often throughout life. It is generally seen as a healthy way to explore one's body, sexual feelings and what may or may not help a man achieve orgasm.

Facts about male masturbation

There is no one specific age at which males begin masturbating. Most young people first touch their genitalia with some regularity beginning around age 5 or 6, according to the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's hospital, and nearly 100 percent of males reported masturbating at least once to the point of orgasm by age 15. A 2011 Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine study found that 73.8 percent of males ages 14 to 17 had masturbated at least once in their lives, with that percentage increasing over the age range.

In adult males, the percentage of men reporting regular masturbation (in whichever cadence they deem is "regular" for them) hovers around 80 percent, although it's widely accepted the figure could be higher based on a greater number of men who chose not to self-report their masturbation habits. A 2018 survey of more than 13,000 men and women from 18 countries conducted by TENGA, a Japanese sexual health brand specializing in male masturbation products, reported that more than 90 percent of men masturbate. But curiously, only 18 percent of Americans think it's important to discuss masturbation with the people they are close with.

The frequency with which people masturbate is also wide-ranging. A 2009 Indiana University study cited averages for men ages 25 to 29 between a few times per month to a few times per week, while a 2008 Archives of Sexual Behavior survey of British men ages 16 to 44 noted 73 percent of that group had masturbated at least once every four weeks.

Masturbation frequency is not necessarily dependent upon whether or not a man is in a sexual relationship. For some men, intercourse is the more dominant form of sexual interaction within their relationship, so the need or desire to seek self-pleasure is lessened. For others, masturbating is more prevalent. There are also situations where masturbation is used in conjunction with regular intercourse as an additional form of pleasure.

Mutual masturbation among partners can be a healthy part of a normal relationship, and it's common for two or more committed sexual partners to use the practice to explore each other's bodies and deepen their bond. (However, according to a 2009 Journal of Sexual Medicine study, masturbation may not equate to the same sexual satisfaction as intercourse.)

Health benefits

The positive mental and emotional effects of masturbation are wide-ranging and well documented. As with intercourse, masturbation releases a range of hormones and chemicals linked to the brain's pleasure-seeking center, including dopamine, endorphins, adrenaline and oxytocin—a hormone potentially linked with lowering stress hormones.

Masturbation may also help increase sleep health and sleep quality. A 2019 Frontiers in Public Health study found self-pleasure could help with overall sleep latency and quality. It is worth noting, however, that research around sleep and masturbation is still in its infancy and the connections are still being debated.

Similarly, the positive physical effects of masturbation are still scientifically unclear. A 2009 University of Nottingham study found that frequent masturbators between the ages of 20 and 40 may have a higher risk of prostate cancer, while men who continued regular masturbation habits into their 50s may enjoy a slightly reduced risk of prostate cancer.

In contrast, a Harvard study surrounding the effects of masturbation on prostate cancer risk found that age didn't matter as much as the frequency of ejaculation: Men who ejaculated 21 or more times per month enjoyed a 31 percent lower risk of prostate cancer—and it didn't matter whether the orgasm came from intercourse or via self-pleasure.

Risks

Perhaps the most common risk with frequent masturbation is the development of irritated skin on and around the penis. One way to prevent irritation is to use a lubricant while masturbating. Most irritation heals itself with less frequency or a pause in masturbating.

A rarer condition, called penile fracture, occurs when men masturbate too forcefully, bending the erect penis and rupturing the blood vessels inside of it. If this occurs, immediate medical attention (and likely surgery) is required to prevent long-term sexual and urinary problems.

Men who grasp their penis too tightly during masturbation could suffer from a condition known as "death grip syndrome," which can not only damage the penis due to the intense grip, but also create such a sensation that makes it difficult to orgasm during normal intercourse. The source of this condition is unclear, but some theories attribute it to low testosterone, certain nerve damage or as part of an adopted, long-term habit.

A much more difficult condition to diagnose is an addiction to masturbation. Although each man has a different idea of what's considered a "normal" amount of masturbation, it's generally agreed that once masturbating begins to interrupt daily life to the point at which other activities and relationships are being neglected, then that could signify a larger problem. A sex therapist can help diagnose addiction and offer a range of therapeutic solutions to curb any issues.

Myths

While few physical side effects from frequent masturbation are known, sometimes guilt arises from masturbating too much (or at all—certain religious viewpoints/religions cast shame upon the practice or even forbid it). Men also may stop masturbating in an effort to improve or increase the quality of their orgasms. However, a 2020 Archives of Sexual Behavior survey of a wide range of people who had attempted to stop masturbating for a certain period of time found no effect on the number of orgasms they could have.

In terms of other myths, male masturbation will not cause:

  • Blindness
  • Low sperm count or infertility 
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Penis shrinkage or curvature

In terms of low fertility and impotence, pausing masturbation was once thought to lower sperm count and testosterone levels. In fact, the opposite may be true. A 2001 World Journal of Urology study found that a three-week masturbation abstinence may actually increase testosterone levels. This is important as testosterone is the hormone that regulates and promotes sperm production in the testes. Further, other studies show no major difference in sperm motility with both short and long pauses in masturbation.

Although societal norms are easing concerning masturbation as more people are educated and accepting of modern sexual practices, it's important that young people who discover masturbation understand that it's a perfectly normal and healthy part of life and of their burgeoning sexual development. In any case, giving adolescents the privacy to explore their own bodies and their own sexuality is crucial to competent emotional and sexual development.

Exploration, tips and methodology

There is no one acceptable way to masturbate. Each person has a different standard of self-pleasure and there are many ways to achieve an orgasm.

For example, some men enjoy the practice of stroking the shaft of their penis without lubricant, while others may use an abundance of it. Some men enjoy playing with their testicles during masturbation while others ignore the practice. Different positions are encouraged, whether that's bending against a wall (replicating intercourse with a partner), on all fours or lying down on their back or stomach. Some men also gyrate and move their hips in a way similar to intercourse to increase and widen the sensation.

Some men also enjoy showing other parts of their genitalia some love and attention. The testes and perineum (the area between the anus and scrotum) are highly sensitive and stroking them could broaden their pleasure. Playing with other body parts—such as the mouth, nipples or neck—could also increase overall enjoyment.

There are also safe ways to enjoy anal pleasure. Some men use a finger to gradually enter the anus and massage their prostate. Others find pleasure using an anal sex toy. In both scenarios, proper lubrication is recommended. The sensation of these orgasms varies widely based on the individual. Some experience significant ejaculation through the penis versus others who, when stimulating their prostate, experience an orgasm through the anus.

Conclusion

Overall, masturbating is a common and healthy way to work toward self-pleasure. For some men, masturbation is the main part of their sexual life, while others build it into their sex life with a partner. Enjoying a little solo time with your body is perfectly natural and may even deepen the connection with yourself. There's no wrong or right way to do it, and understanding the best options and techniques simply takes time and discovery.

Written by

Geoff Nudelman

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