Masturbation refers to sexual stimulation, especially of one's own genitals and often to the point of orgasm, which is performed manually, by other types of bodily contact (except for sexual intercourse), by use of objects or tools, or by some combination of these methods. Masturbation is the most common form of autoeroticism, and the two words are often used as synonyms, although masturbation with a partner (mutual masturbation) is also common. Animal masturbation has been observed in many species, both in the wild and in captivity.
The word masturbation is believed to derive from either the Greek word mezea (μεζεα, "penises") or the Latin manus ("hand") and the Latin turbare ("to disturb"). A competing etymology based on the Latin manu stuprare ("to defile with the hand") is said by the Oxford English Dictionary to be an "old conjecture". The esoteric and little-used synonym manustupration is similarly derived from manus stuprare. While "masturbation" is the medical term for this practice, many other terms and expressions are in common use. "Onanism" is a term with religious roots. In the vernacular, terms such as "pleasuring oneself", "wanking", and "jerking off" are common. See masturbate in Wikisaurus for many others.
Goya's Dos Mujeres y Un Hombre depicting two women laughing at a masturbating man.
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 into the urethra (the tube through which urine and, in men, semen, flows). If these objects are urethral sounds, the practice is known as "sounding". Other objects such as ball point pens and thermometers are sometimes used, although this practice can lead to injury and/or infection. 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 can achieve even stronger orgasms. Rarely, people quit stimulation just before orgasm to retain the heightened energy that normally comes down after orgasm due to the release of prolactin hormone. Doing this could lead to temporary discomfort due to pelvic congestion. 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.
Male masturbation techniques are also influenced by a number of factors and personal preferences. Techniques may also differ between circumcised and uncircumcised males, as some techniques which may work for one can often be quite painful for the other.
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 until orgasm and ejaculation take place. The speed of the hand motion will vary from male to male, although it is not uncommon for the speed to increase as ejaculation nears and for it to decrease during the ejaculation itself. When uncircumcised, stimulation of the penis in this way comes from the "pumping" of the foreskin. This gliding motion of the foreskin reduces friction. When circumcised, there is more direct contact between the hand and the glans, thus a personal lubricant is sometimes used to reduce friction. Sometimes, if too much pressure is applied, it may be rubbed sore for a time. Circumcised or not, men may rub or massage the glans, the rim of the glans, and the frenular delta. Another technique is to place just the index finger and thumb around the penis about halfway along the penis and move the 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. Another common technique is to lie face down on a comfortable surface such as a mattress or pillow and rub the penis against it until orgasm is achieved. This technique may include the use of a simulacrum, or artificial vagina.
Renaissance art depicting two boys engaging in sex play (fresco, Museum of Villa Giulia, Rome).
There are many other variations on male masturbation techniques. Some men place both hands directly on their penis during masturbation, while others use their free hand to fondle their testicles, nipples, or other parts of their body. 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. Semen is sometimes ejaculated onto a tissue or some other item. 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). If repeated on a regular basis, this technique could cause long term damage due to the pressure put on the nerves and blood vessels in the perineum. A dry orgasm is one that is reached while withholding ejaculation (or where retrograde ejaculation has taken place). Proponents of dry orgasm say that this is a learnable skill that can shorten the refractory period.
Mutual masturbation is a sexual act where two or more people stimulate themselves or one another sexually, usually with the hands. This may be done in situations where the participants do not feel physically able, that it is socially inappropriate or they do not want full sexual intercourse, but still wish to enjoy a mutual sexual act. It is also part of a full repertoire of sexual intercourse, where it may be used as an interlude, foreplay or simply as an alternative to penetration. For some people, it is the primary sexual activity of choice above all others, perhaps because it enables the individuals to see each other face to face and leaves the hands free to caress, as in frottage. Mutual masturbation is practiced by people of all sexual orientations. If used as an alternative to penile-vaginal penetration, the aim may be to preserve virginity or to prevent pregnancy. Some people choose it as it achieves sexual satisfaction without actual sex, possibly seeing it as an alternative to casual sex.
Masturbation Frequency, Age & 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. Medical causes have also been associated with masturbation. Different studies have found that masturbation is frequent in humans. Alfred Kinsey's studies have shown that 92% of men and 62% of women have masturbated during lifespan. Similar results have been found in British national probability survey. It was found that 95% of men and 71% of woman masturbated at some point in their lives. 73% of men and 37% of woman reported masturbating in the four weeks before their interview, while 53% of men and 18% of woman reported masturbating in previous seven days. "Forty-eight female college students were asked to complete a sexual attitudes questionnaire in which a frequency of masturbation scale was embedded. Twenty-four of the women (the experimental group) then individually viewed an explicit modeling film involving female masturbation. One month later, all subjects again completed the same questionnaire. Subjects in the experimental group also completed a questionnaire evaluating aspects of the film. Results indicated that the experimental group reported a significant increase in the average monthly frequency of masturbation, as compared to the control group. This same group, however, reported that the film had no effect on sexual attitudes or behavior." A 2004 survey by Toronto magazine NOW was answered by an unspecified number of thousands. The results show that an overwhelming majority of the males – 81% – began masturbating between the ages of 10 and 15. Among females, the same figure was a more modest majority of 55%. (Note that surveys on sexual practices are prone to self-selection bias.) It is not uncommon however to begin much earlier, and this is more frequent among females: 18% had begun by the time they turned 10, and 6% already by the time they turned 6. Being the main outlet of child sexuality, masturbation has been observed in very young children. 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 (although he does not ejaculate). Baby girls sometimes move their bodies rhythmically, almost violently, appearing to experience orgasm." A Canadian survey of Now magazine readers (cited above), has it that the frequency of masturbation declines after the age of 17. Many males masturbate daily, or even more frequently, well into their 20s and sometimes far beyond. This decline is more drastic among females, and more gradual among males. While females aged 13–17 masturbated almost once a day on average (and almost as often as their male peers), adult women only masturbated 8–9 times a month, compared to the 18–22 among men. Adolescent youths report being able to masturbate to ejaculation around six times per day, though some men in older middle age report being hard pressed to ejaculate even once per day. On the other hand healthy 21-28 year old males are able to masturbate at least 8-10 times per day if they are not stressed. The survey does not give a full demographic breakdown of respondents, however, and the sexual history of respondents to this poll, who are readers of an urban Toronto lifestyle magazine, may not extend to the general population. It appears that females are less likely to masturbate while in a 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. 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. One interesting twist is the Sambia tribe of New Guinea. This tribe has rituals and rites of passage surrounding manhood which involve frequent ejaculation through fellatio. 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 nurtured for years from an early age 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.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. 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. Masturbation is becoming 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 yearly events and are occurring across the globe. These events provide a supportive 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 their pleasure.
Masturbation may increase fertility during intercourse. 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. 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. 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.
Health & Psychological Effects
The physical benefits of masturbation and having an orgasm or ejaculating creates heightened arousal while epinephrine courses through the body, producing the flushed face, shallow breath and post-climactic euphoria. It is held in many mental health circles that masturbation can relieve depression, stress and lead to a higher sense of self-worth (Hurlbert & Whittaker, 1991). 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. 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". Witnessing a partner masturbate is an educational activity to find out the method a partner pleases him- or herself, allowing each partner to learn exactly how the other enjoys being touched.In 2003, an Australian research team led by Graham Giles of The Cancer Council Australia concluded that frequent masturbation by males appears to help prevent the development of prostate cancer. The study also indicated that this would be more helpful than ejaculation through sexual intercourse because intercourse can transmit diseases that may increase the risk of cancer instead. Also, frequent ejaculation is more easily obtained and sustained over time with the aid of masturbation. 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. Excerpt, "The association between frequency or orgasm and all cause mortality was also examined using the midpoint of each response category recoded 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 between any two subjects appeared when one subject ejaculated at around two or more more times per week 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. 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. 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 people actually consider masturbation as a cardiovascular workout. And while doctors have no proof of this actually being true, 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.
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.
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