Gustav Klimt's Woman seated with thighs apart (1916).

Masturbation refers to sexual stimulation of a person's own genitals, usually to the point of orgasm.[1] The stimulation can be performed manually, by use of objects or tools, or by some combination of these methods.[2] Masturbation is a common form of autoeroticism. Masturbation with a partner, called mutual masturbation, is also common.

Men and women have techniques and characteristics in common, but also have specific preferences in the ways they like to masturbate. 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 to sex in general and to masturbation in particular, and no causal relationship is known between masturbation and any form of mental or physical disorder. Acts of masturbation have been celebrated in art worldwide since prehistory. While there was a period (from the late 18th to the early 20th century) when it was subject to medical censure and social conservatism, it is considered a normal part of healthy life today. There have been masturbation marathons and health service slogans such as "an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away". It is commonly mentioned in popular music as well as on television, in films and in literature.

Animal masturbation has been observed in many species, both in the wild and in captivity.[3][4][5]



The English word masturbation was introduced in the 18th century, based on the Latin verb masturbari, alongside the more technical and 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 *manustuprare ("to defile with the hand"), by association with turbare "to disturb".[6][7] There is a wide array of more recent slang synonyms, among the most notable being to jerk off (1896) and wank (1948).


A woman masturbating.

Ways of masturbating common to members of both sexes include pressing or rubbing the genital area, either with the fingers or against an object such as a pillow; inserting fingers or an object into the anus (see anal masturbation); and stimulating the penis or vulva with electric vibrators, which may also be inserted into the vagina or anus. Members of both sexes may also enjoy 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, or sexual fantasy, are often common adjuncts to masturbation. Often people will call upon memories during masturbation. Masturbation activities are often ritualised. Various fetishes and paraphilias can also play a part in the masturbation ritual. Some potentially harmful or fatal activities include autoerotic asphyxiation and self-bondage.

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),[8] a practice known as urethral play or "sounding".[9] Other objects such as ball point pens and thermometers are sometimes used, although this practice can lead to injury and/or infection.[10] 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.[11] Rarely, people quit stimulation just before orgasm to retain the heightened energy that normally comes down after orgasm.[12]


A woman masturbating using a dildo.

Female masturbation techniques include a woman stroking or rubbing her vulva, especially her clitoris, with her index and/or middle fingers. Sometimes one or more fingers may be inserted into the vagina to repeatedly stroke its frontal wall where the G-spot is located.[13] 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, if these are receptive areas for sexual stimulation. Anal stimulation is also enjoyed by some. Lubrication is sometimes used during masturbation, especially when penetration is involved, but this is not universal and many women find their natural lubrication sufficient.

Common positions include lying on back or face down, sitting, squatting, kneeling or standing. In a bath or shower a female may direct tap water at her clitoris and vulva. 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 using only 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.[14]

Women can sexually stimulate themselves 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.[15][16]

Sex therapists will sometimes recommend that female patients take time to masturbate to orgasm, especially if they have not done so before.[17][18]


A man masturbating by gripping and sliding his foreskin up and down over the glans.

Male masturbation techniques are influenced by a number of factors and personal preferences. Techniques may also 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.

The most common male masturbation technique is simply 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 will vary from person to person, although it is not uncommon for the speed to increase as ejaculation nears and for it to decrease during the ejaculation itself.[19] For males who have not been circumcised, stimulation of the penis in this way comes from the "pumping" of the foreskin, in which 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. During this time, the glans itself may widen and lengthen as the stimulation continues, becoming slightly darker in colour, while the rapid sliding motion of the foreskin reduces friction. 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 soreness from this resulting friction, some may prefer to use a personal lubricant during masturbation.

Another technique used by many males is to place just the index finger and thumb around the penis about halfway along the penis and repeatedly slide the shaft skin up and down. 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.[19] Another common technique is to lie face down on a comfortable surface such as a mattress or pillow and rub the penis against it. This technique may include the use of a simulacrum, or artificial vagina. In the absence of such devices, males frequently fantasize that they are engaged in sexual relations with a partner and may seek to enhance the fantasy by viewing pornographic pictures while they are masturbating.

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. Others may also use vibrators and other sexual devices more commonly associated with female masturbation. A few extremely flexible males can reach and stimulate their penis with their tongue or lips, and so perform autofellatio.

The prostate gland is one of the organs that contributes fluid to semen. As the prostate is touch-sensitive, some directly stimulate it using a well-lubricated finger or dildo inserted through the anus into the rectum. Stimulating the prostate from outside, via pressure on the perineum, can be pleasurable as well. Some men also enjoy anal stimulation, with fingers or otherwise, without any prostate stimulation.

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

Mutual masturbation

Johann Nepomuk Geiger, watercolor, 1840.

Mutual masturbation is a sexual act where two or more people stimulate themselves or one another sexually, usually with the hands.

It can be part of a full repertoire of sexual intercourse. It may be used as an interlude, foreplay, or as an alternative to penetration. For some people, non-penetrative sex or frottage is the primary sexual activity of choice above all others. Participants who do not want full sexual intercourse thus still enjoy mutual masturbation.

Mutual masturbation is practiced by people of all sexual orientations. When used as an alternative to penile-vaginal penetration, the goal may be to preserve virginity or to prevent pregnancy. Some people choose it as an alternative to casual sex because it results in sexual satisfaction without actual sex. For some people, masturbating with friends helps lift the stigma they feel surrounding the act. This helps them develop their orgasm, increase its pleasure, and inspires them to masturbate on a more frequent basis.[20]

Mutual masturbation can be practiced by males or females in pairs or groups with or without actually touching another person as indicated by the following examples of contact versus non-contact scenarios:

  • Non-Contact Mutual Masturbation — Two people masturbating in the presence of each other but not touching.
  • Contact Mutual Masturbation — One person touching another person to masturbate. The other person may do the same during or after.
  • Non-Contact Group — More than two people masturbating in the presence of each other in a group but not touching each other.
  • Contact Group — More than two people physically touching each other to masturbate as a group.
  • Mutual Masturbation Foreplay — The manual stimulation of each other's genitals where the session eventually leads to sex.[21]

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.[22] Medical causes have also been associated with masturbation.[23][24][25]

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.[16] 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.[26]

In 2009, the UK Government joined the Netherlands and other European nations in encouraging teens to masturbate at least daily. An orgasm was defined as a right in its health pamphlet. 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.[27]

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.[28]

It appears that females are less likely to masturbate while in an active heterosexual relationship than men. 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 conventional wisdom, several studies actually reveal a positive correlation between the frequency of masturbation and the frequency of intercourse. One study reported a significantly higher rate of masturbation in gay men and women who were in a relationship.[26][29][30][31]

Evolutionary utility

Masturbation may increase fertility during intercourse. A 2009 Australian study found daily ejaculation to be an important factor in sperm health and motility.[32]

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 up to 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.[33][34] 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.[34]

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.[35][36][37]

Health and psychological effects

Self-portrait of Egon Schiele 1911, depicting masturbation.


It is held in many mental health circles that masturbation can relieve depression and lead to a higher sense of self-esteem.[38] 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.[39]

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.[39]

In 2003, an Australian research team led by Graham Giles of The Cancer Council Australia[40] 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.[41]

Saint Teresa's ecstasy illustrated as masturbation by Félicien Rops (1833-1898).

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 to 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.[42]

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."[43]

Masturbation is also seen as a sexual technique that protects individuals from the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Support for such a view, and for making it part of the American sex education curriculum, led to the dismissal of US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders during the Clinton administration. EU Nations include masturbation in their sex education and promote the practice. (see above)

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.

Some professionals consider masturbation to function as a cardiovascular workout.[44] 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.


Those who insert objects as aid to masturbation risk them becoming stuck (e.g. as Rectal foreign bodies). Men and women can fall prey to this problem. A woman presented at a German hospital with two pencils in her bladder. She had inserted them into her urethra during masturbation.[45]

Blood pressure

Both sex and masturbation lower blood pressure. A small study has shown that in one test group, recent full intercourse resulted in the lowest average blood pressure in stressful situations. Masturbation then led to lower blood pressure than did no recent sexual activity.[46]


Masturbation involving both a man and a woman (see mutual masturbation) can result in pregnancy only if semen contacts the vulva. Masturbation with a partner can also theoretically result in transmission of sexually transmitted diseases by contact with bodily fluids.

Male masturbation may be used as a method to obtain semen for third party reproductive procedures such as artificial insemination and IVF which may involve the use of either partner or donor sperm.

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.

Problems for males

A man whose penis has suffered a blunt trauma, severe bend or other injury during intercourse or masturbation may, rarely, sustain a penile fracture[47][48][49] or suffer from Peyronie's disease.[50] Phimosis is "a contracted foreskin (that) may cause trouble by hurting when an attempt is made to pull the foreskin back".[51] In these cases, any energetic manipulation of the penis can be problematic.

Compulsive masturbation

There is no scientific evidence of a causative relationship between masturbation and any form of mental disorder. Excessive or compulsive sexual behavior is generally understood to be a symptom rather than a cause.[52][53]

While masturbation among adolescents contributes to them developing a sense of mastery over sexual impulses, and it has a role in the physical and emotional development of prepubescents and pubescents,[54] 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, 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, or the child may be overstimulated and in need of soothing, or indeed understimulated and bored. In each case, dealing with the cause will bring the behavior back to a level of enthusiasm that does not take away from other interests. Such a habit can also be addressed by distraction and providing other activities for the child to engage with.[55] Alongside many other factors, such as medical evidence, age-inappropriate sexual knowledge, play, or aggression, and precocious or seductive behavior, excessive masturbation may be an indicator of sexual abuse.[56][57]

Compulsive masturbation and other compulsive behaviors can be signs of an emotional problem. As such, that may need to be addressed by a mental health specialist.[58] As with any "nervous habit", it is more helpful to consider the causes of compulsive behavior, rather than try to repress masturbation.[59][60] For example, avoidant personality disorder is sometimes associated with a preference for excessive masturbation over sexual relationships, as well as with the ability of the sufferer to orgasm more readily via masturbation than via sexual intercourse. It is not considered to be a cause of the disorder,[61] and effective treatment of the disorder will often involve challenging the sufferer's exaggerated negative beliefs about themselves.[62]

There is discussion between professionals and other interested parties as to whether such a thing as sexual addiction really exists. Compulsive masturbation is regarded as one of the symptoms of sexual addiction by proponents of that concept.[63][64]

In history and society

Masturbation was depicted in 19th century Shunga prints, such as this piece by Kunisada.
A satyr masturbating. Greek krater from 6th century BC.

There are depictions of male masturbation in prehistoric rock paintings around the world. Most early people seem to have connected human sexuality with abundance in nature. A clay figurine of the 4th millennium BC from a temple site on the island of Malta, depicts a woman masturbating.[65] However, in the ancient world depictions of male masturbation are far more common.

From the earliest records, ancient Sumer had a relaxed attitude toward sex, and masturbation was a popular technique for enhancing potency, either alone or with a partner.[66]

Male masturbation became an even more important image in ancient Egypt. When performed by a god it could be considered a creative or magical act: the god Atum was believed to have created the universe by masturbating to ejaculation, and the ebb and flow of the Nile was attributed to the frequency of his ejaculations. Egyptian Pharaohs, in response to this, were at one time required to masturbate ceremonially into the Nile.[67]

The ancient Indian Hindu text Kama Sutra explains in detail the best procedure to masturbate; "Churn your instrument with a lion's pounce: sit with legs stretched out at right angles to one another, propping yourself up with two hands planted on the ground between in them, and it between your arms".[68]

The ancient Greeks had a more relaxed attitude toward masturbation than the Egyptians did, regarding the act as a normal and healthy substitute for other forms of sexual pleasure. They considered it a safety valve against destructive sexual frustration. The Greeks also dealt with female masturbation in both their art and writings. One common term used for it was anaphlan, which roughly translates as "up-fire".

Diogenes, speaking in jest, credited the god Hermes with its invention: he allegedly took pity on his son Pan, who was pining for Echo but unable to seduce her, and taught him the trick of masturbation in order to relieve his suffering. Pan in his turn taught the habit to young shepherds.[69]

As late as the seventeenth century in Europe the practice was commonly employed by nannies to put their young male charges to sleep.[70] That tolerance was soon to change. The first use of the word "onanism" to consistently and specifically refer to masturbation appears to be Onania, an anonymous pamphlet first distributed in London in 1716. It drew on familiar themes of sin and vice, this time in particular against the "heinous sin" of "self-pollution". After dire warnings that those who so indulged would suffer impotence, gonorrhea, epilepsy and a wasting of the faculties (included were letters and testimonials supposedly from young men ill and dying from the effects of compulsive masturbation) the pamphlet then goes on to recommend as an effective remedy a "Strengthening Tincture" at 10 shillings a bottle and a "Prolific Powder" at 12 shillings a bag, available from a local shop.

A patented device designed to prevent masturbation by inflicting electric shocks upon the perpetrator, by ringing an alarm bell, and through spikes at the inner edge of the tube into which the penis is inserted. The entire patent document: Page 1, 2, 3, 4.

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. Citing case studies of young male masturbators amongst his patients in Lausanne, Switzerland as basis for his reasoning, Tissot argued that semen was an "essential oil" and "stimulus" that, when lost from the body in great amounts, would cause "a perceptible reduction of strength, of memory and even of reason; blurred vision, all the nervous disorders, all types of gout and rheumatism, weakening of the organs of generation, blood in the urine, disturbance of the appetite, headaches and a great number of other disorders."

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. The authority with which the work was subsequently treated – Tissot's arguments were even acknowledged and echoed by luminaries such as Kant and Voltaire – arguably shifted the view of masturbation in Western medicine over the next two centuries into that of a debilitating illness.

This view persisted well into the Victorian era, where such medical censure of masturbation was in line with the widespread social conservatism and opposition to open sexual behavior common at the time.[71][72] There were recommendations to have boys' pants constructed so that the genitals could not be touched through the pockets, for schoolchildren to be seated at special desks to prevent their crossing their legs in class and for girls to be forbidden from riding horses and bicycles because the sensations these activities produce were considered too similar to masturbation. Boys and young men who nevertheless continued to indulge in the practice were branded as "weak-minded."[73] Many "remedies" were devised, including eating a bland, meatless diet. This approach was promoted by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (inventor of corn flakes) and Rev. Sylvester Graham (inventor of Graham crackers). The medical literature of the times describes procedures for electric shock treatment, infibulation, restraining devices like chastity belts and straitjackets, cauterization or – as a last resort – wholesale surgical excision of the genitals. Routine neonatal circumcision was widely adopted in the United States and the UK at least partly because of its believed preventive effect against masturbation (see also History of male circumcision). In later decades, the more drastic of these measures were increasingly replaced with psychological techniques, such as warnings that masturbation led to blindness, hairy hands or stunted growth. Some of these persist as myths even today.

Image of a chastity belt from a patent document. For entire document, see: Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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. Techniques included use of the earliest vibrators and rubbing the genitals with placebo creams.[74]

Medical attitudes toward masturbation began to change at the beginning of the 20th century when H. Havelock Ellis, in his seminal 1897 work Studies in the Psychology of Sex, questioned Tissot's premises, cheerfully named famous men of the era who masturbated and then set out to disprove (with the work of more recent physicians) each of the claimed diseases of which masturbation was purportedly the cause. "We reach the conclusion", he wrote, "that in the case of moderate masturbation in healthy, well-born individuals, no seriously pernicious results necessarily follow."

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of The Scout Association, incorporated a passage in the 1914 edition of Scouting for Boys warning against the dangers of masturbation. This passage stated that the individual should run away from the temptation by performing physical activity which was supposed to tire the individual so that masturbation could not be performed. By 1930, however, Dr. F. W. W. Griffin, editor of The Scouter, had written in a book for Rover Scouts 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."

Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich in his 1922 essay Concerning Specific Forms of Masturbation tried to identify healthy and unhealthy forms of masturbation. He tried to relate the way people masturbated to their degree of inclination towards the opposite sex and to their psycho-sexual pathologies.

The works of Sexologist Alfred Kinsey during the 1940s and 1950s said that masturbation was an instinctive behavior for both males and females, citing the results of Gallup Poll surveys indicating how common it was in the United States. Some critics of this theory held that his research was biased and that the Gallup Poll method was redundant for defining "natural behavior".

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,[75] with opponents asserting that she was promoting the teaching of how to masturbate. Many[who?] believe this was the result of her long history of promoting controversial viewpoints and not due solely to her public mention of masturbation.

Religious views

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.
See also Religion and sexuality and Sperm in vain (Judaism) for broader coverage

Religions vary broadly in their views of masturbation, from considering it completely impermissible (as in Roman Catholicism[76]) to encouraging and refining it (see, for example Neotantra and Taoist sexual practices).

For example, St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most prominent Doctors of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote that masturbation, an "unnatural vice" which is a species of lust in same category as bestiality and sodomy, "by procuring pollution [i.e., ejaculation apart from intercourse], without any copulation, for the sake of venereal pleasure [...] pertains to the sin of 'uncleanness' which some call 'effeminacy' [Latin: mollitiem, lit. 'softness, unmanliness']."[77]

Philosophical arguments

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 attributes' 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'.

Subsequent critics of masturbation tended to argue against it on more physiological grounds, however.


The legal status of masturbation throughout history has varied 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.[78]

Cultural views and practices


CSC Herme Masturbate-a-Thon Logo Original for Wiki.jpg

Masturbation is accepted as a healthy practice and safe method for sharing pleasure without some of the dangers that can accompany intercourse. It is socially accepted and even celebrated in certain circles. Group masturbation events can be easily found online. Masturbation marathons are events that are occurring across the globe. These events provide a supportive, encouraging environment where masturbation can be performed openly among young and old without embarrassment. Participants talk openly with onlookers while masturbating to share techniques and describe the pleasure and benefits.[79][80] Masturbate-a-thons are often charity events that are "intended to encourage people to explore safer sex, talk about masturbation and lift the taboos that still surround the subject."[81] May is considered "Masturbation Month" by sex-positive organizations and activists, including Betty Dodson, Joani Blank, Susan Block, and Carol Queen.

Encouraged masturbation

In the UK in 2009, a leaflet was issued by the NHS 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.[82][83]

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.[84]

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."[85]

Among some cultures, such as the Hopi in Arizona, the Wogeno in Oceania, and the Dahomeans and Namu of Africa, masturbation is encouraged, including regular masturbation between males. In certain Melanesian communities this is expected between older and younger boys.

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.[86]

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.[87] 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. Frequent ejaculation through masturbation from an early age fosters frequent ejaculation well into adulthood.[88]


While masturbation is the formal word for this practice, many other expressions are in common use. Terms such as pleasuring oneself and slang such as wanking[89] and jerking off[90] are common. Self-abuse and self-pollution[91] 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 Wikisaurus.

In popular culture

Paintings and drawings

Masturbation, 1911, copper engraving by Mihály Zichy.
Political Masturbation on Mass Media and Television, by Danny Sillada, 2009

There are depictions of male masturbation in prehistoric rock paintings around the world. Most early people seem to have connected human sexuality with abundance in nature. A clay figurine of the 4th millennium BC from a temple site on the island of Malta depicts a woman masturbating. However, in the ancient world depictions of male masturbation are far more common.


In popular music, there are several notable songs that deal with the issue of 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.[92]

More recent popular songs include "Rosie" by Jackson Browne, "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 "Touch of My Hand" by Britney Spears, "Orgasm Addict" by the Buzzcocks, "Captain Jack" by Billy Joel, "Longview" by Green Day, "M+Ms" by Blink-182, "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too" by Say Anything, "Fingers" and "U + Ur Hand" by P!nk,[93] "So Happy I Could Die" by Lady Gaga, "Masturbating Jimmy" by The Tiger Lillies and "When Life Gets Boring " by Gob, 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.[94] In a 1993 interview on The Howard Stern Show, Lauper claimed she recorded the vocal track in the nude.[95] Some[96] have argued that Billy Joel's song "The Stranger" is about masturbation. The 1980 number-one hit "Turning Japanese" by The Vapors has often been believed to be a euphemistic reference to the facial expression men make at orgasm,[97] a theory refuted by songwriter Dave Fenton.[98]

The song "Masturbates" by rock group Mindless Self Indulgence also deals with the concept of auto-erotic activity in a punk framework.


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.[99]


In the Seinfeld episode "The Contest",[100] 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.[101] 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.[102] 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.[103]

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.[104]

In other animal species

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.[4]

See also


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Further reading

External links

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  • Masturbation — (Zeichnung von Gustav Klimt, 1913) Unter Masturbation wird eine – überwiegend manuelle – Stimulation der Geschlechtsorgane verstanden, die in der Regel zum Orgasmus führt. Dabei können auch verschiedene Hilfsmittel zum Einsatz kommen.… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • masturbation — [ mastyrbasjɔ̃ ] n. f. • 1580; lat. masturbatio, de manus « main » et stupratio « action de souiller »; cf. le doublet sav. manustupration 1 ♦ Pratique qui consiste à provoquer le plaisir sexuel par l excitation manuelle des parties génitales (d… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • masturbation — mas tur*ba tion, n. [L. masturbatus, p. p. of masturbari to practice onanism: cf. F. masturbation.] The act of masturbating; sexual self gratification; onanism. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • masturbation — 1711 (earlier as mastupration, 1620s), from Fr. masturbation and directly from Mod.L. masturbationem (nom. masturbatio), noun of action from pp. stem of L. masturbari t masturbate. The long standing speculation is that this Latin word is altered… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Masturbation — Masturbation, s. Onanie …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Masturbation — oder Mastupration (lat.), s. Onanie …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Masturbation — Chez l’être humain, la masturbation est une pratique sexuelle, consistant à provoquer le plaisir sexuel par la stimulation des parties génitales ou d’autres zones érogènes, à l’aide des mains ou d’objets, tels des godemichets ou autres jouets… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • masturbation — masturbational, adj. masturbatory /mas teuhr beuh tawr ee, tohr ee/, adj. /mas teuhr bay sheuhn/, n. 1. the stimulation or manipulation of one s own genitals, esp. to orgasm; sexual self gratification. 2. the stimulation, by manual or other means …   Universalium

  • Masturbation — Onanie; sich einen runterholen (umgangssprachlich); Autoerotik; Selbstbefriedigung; Wichsen (vulgär) * * * Mas|tur|ba|ti|on [mastʊrba ts̮i̯o:n], die; , en: geschlechtliche Selbstbefriedigung. * * * Mas|tur|ba|ti|on 〈f …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Masturbation — Onanie, Selbstbefriedigung; (bildungsspr.): Ipsation, Ipsismus; (salopp scherzh.): Handbetrieb; (veraltet): Selbstbefleckung; (Psychol.): Autoerotik. * * * Masturbation,die:⇨Selbstbefriedigung Masturbation→Selbstbefriedigung …   Das Wörterbuch der Synonyme

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