Masturbation: Myths & Misconceptions
It feels great. It's natural. It never gets old. It's something nearly everyone does, and most people figure it out for themselves. It can be practiced solo or in another's company. We're talking about masturbation.
Whether you've been doing it for years or mere weeks, you've likely learned a lot. But is everything you've heard about it true? Probably not, thanks to a proliferation of myths about the activity, many of them based on societal "norms" or religious doctrine. Against that backdrop, we're going to debunk some of the most common myths about masturbation.
Myth: Most girls don't masturbate.
Reality: In fact, most do. It's true that more men than women masturbate, but about 80 percent of women in the United States indulge. Men take matters into their own hands more frequently: almost 20 percent masturbate more than four times a week, compared to a majority of women who do it once a week or less. However, studies have suggested that the "masturbation gap" could be a reporting flaw: Women may be less comfortable or less likely to report such activities. Men talking about "jerking off" is commonplace in our culture; women doing the same, not so much.
Myth: Girls can lose their virginity by masturbating.
Reality: A common question some young women ask is, "If I handle my private parts, am I still a virgin?" As it happens, virginity isn't defined medically so much as culturally. The typical, socially accepted scenario for losing one's virginity is the act of having penetrative sex with a partner (hands don't count), because that stretches the hymen. But an intact hymen is not considered a requirement for virginity. Some girls are born without a very noticeable hymen, and others stretch theirs through a variety of other means: tampon use, gymnastics and other sports, riding bicycles, and so on. You'd be hard-pressed to tear or stretch the hymen while masturbating unless you use toys.
Myth: It's not OK for people in a relationship to masturbate.
Reality: Masturbation is a form of self-expression and self-exploration. It is not infidelity, nor is it an insult to any partner's sex appeal. In fact, enjoying one-on-one time with yourself can have a number of benefits to your relationship. Gaining a better understanding of your own body, and targeting what turns you on, is bound to improve your sex life and help you communicate with your partner during the act. Talking to a partner about how they masturbate is also a great way to learn what turns them on.
Myth: Masturbation is bad for you.
Reality: A surprising number of myths abound regarding the "dangers" of masturbation: It causes blindness, infertility, acne, cancer, and various other diseases and/or leads to insanity. (And it causes hair to grow on your palms!) None of these is true. Many of these old misconceptions are believed to be linked to a book titled "Onania," which dates all the way back to 1756. Actually, masturbation has many health benefits:
- It can reduce stress and tension.
- It promotes better sleep and a more positive body image.
- It decreases menstrual pain in women.
- It improves the circulatory, neural and muscular systems.
While it's true some people do it compulsively, for most people, masturbation is healthy and is not considered an addiction. (And if you don't enjoy it, that's OK, too.)
Myth: Masturbation can ruin sex or make it more difficult to orgasm.
Reality: Unless you've literally made yourself orgasm 10 minutes before you get into bed with a partner, masturbating shouldn't have a negative toll on your sex life. In fact, a lot of men find masturbation helps them last longer during sexual intercourse, and women achieve orgasm during the act more easily because they've learned how to get off, which is information they can share with a partner. The main associated negative issue is with guys who masturbate aggressively, creating a problem known as "death grip syndrome," in which a consistently overly firm grip on the penis leads to desensitization and, possibly, difficulty climaxing any other way. This is easily prevented by simply easing up. Any man experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor to be evaluated for underlying causes.