Dr J's Sex Facts

Fun sex facts and accurate information from a clinical sexologist for a hotter and more fulfilling sex life.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Self-Pleasuring: Taking Matters into Our Own Hands

“Self-love, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.” Shakespeare

Self-pleasuring is the foundation of our sexuality. I don’t use the term “masturbation,” Latin for “to disturb or defile by hand.” Yuck! That’s part of our legacy of discomfort about sex. Judgmental, inaccurate Greek or Latin terms were utilized, as well as negative euphemisms. Which sounds more fun: self-pleasuring (mmmm) or MASTURBATION?

So where does this discomfort and guilt about self-pleasuring come from? Pre-scientific beliefs that each sperm was a whole person or that some deity forbade any nonreproductive sexual acts.

During the Victorian era, ignorant physicians codified their guilt into new “diseases,” such as “masturbatory insanity.” There was an obsession with preventing children from touching themselves (thought to cause all sorts of imaginary ailments). Various preventive methods were: tying hands to the bed, putting a spiked ring around the penis to keep it from erecting (ouch!) and even the surgical removal of little girls’ clitorises!

Many physicians counseled against exciting “animal passions” and advised their patients to eat nothing but a bland meatless diet. Sanitoriums were popular—early versions of health spas where people took very hot baths and ate nothing but vegetables in order to gain control over these passions. Graham and Kellogg were two pioneers of this movement. Both discovered their followers became rapidly bored with overcooked vegetables and sought other dietary alternatives. Graham developed a square of bran (Graham crackers), and Kellogg toasted bits of corn, which became—well, you know. Next time you’re munching on either of these, remember you’re eating something that was invented solely to keep people from having sex!

But enough of that sad history. Let’s talk about what we actually know about self-pleasuring. Most people have tried it at some point in their lives. The Kinsey team discovered that 90% of the men they interviewed had tried it, and 40% of the women. Those data are from 1940s and 50s; now the numbers are much higher. Sexological estimates are 95-98% of men and 60-75% of women. Someone once asked Kinsey what percentage of men self-pleasure, and he quipped: “98 percent, and the other 2 percent are lying.”

We also know that people self-pleasure from birth to death. Parents often ask me what they should do if they discover their child self-pleasuring. Treat it like any other behavior: acknowledge it’s pleasurable, and set appropriate boundaries. You might say: “That’s fine, and you do that in private in your room, not in the living room, and definitely not when Grandma visits.” Hopefully, we can convey comfort and ease with our children so they don’t suffer from the same guilt, ignorance and discomfort as we did.

Self-pleasuring is an important sexual option for our “chronologically endowed,” who may be without a partner due to death or illness. It’s also important for people who want to reduce their risk of pregnancy or infectious disease, including teenagers who aren’t yet ready for sexual behavior that involves the exchange of bodily fluids.

And it’s also a favorite activity for those who have a partner. Sexological research indicates that a majority of people still self-pleasure once they’re in a relationship. Contrary to myth, it’s not second-best; it’s just one option among many. If you eat steak every day, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be interested in pasta or salad as well. We have a variety of sexual options available to us.

It’s the surest way to orgasm and the most effective way to learn about our sexual response cycle, as well as the surest way for women to learn how to orgasm and for men to learn orgasmic control. If you feel you come too quickly, the surest way to slow down is to teach yourself a new pattern via self-pleasuring.

Another advantage to self-knowledge: How can you show a partner what you like if you don’t know yourself? We get the message that if you love someone, somehow they’ll miraculously KNOW what feels best for you. This is a cruel myth and leads to lots of disappointment as well as feelings of inadequacy.

And the #1 Reason for Self-Pleasuring: it’s fun!

Remember that all our scientific data show that the people who take responsibility for their OWN pleasure have the best sex lives and rate themselves as happiest about their sexuality.

Next week: Things We Do Sexually with Interesting (and Uninteresting) People

As always, the doctor is in for your comments and/or questions.

With Pleasure,

Dr. J

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