What is masturbation?

Quick Answer
A manual stimulation of one’s own or another person’s genital organs usually resulting in orgasm without engaging in sexual intercourse.
Expert Answers
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Physical and Psychological Factors

Masturbation is the first sexual experience for a great majority of people. Some young people inadvertently stumble on sexual arousal and orgasm in the course of engaging in some other physical activity. Others purposely stimulate themselves, aroused by curiosity after reading erotic literature, watching sexually explicit films, or listening to the imaginary or real sexual adventures of their peers.

Most men and women practice masturbation to relieve sexual tension, achieve sexual pleasure, enjoy sexual stimulation in the absence of an available partner, and experience relaxation. When masturbating, men tend to focus on the stimulation of the penis. Stimulation of the clitoral shaft and clitoral area, and/or the vagina, with a hand or an object is the method that women most commonly employ. Some women masturbate by using a vibrator. Mutual masturbation provides a satisfying and pleasurable form of sexual intimacy and release for many couples. It is also one of the most common techniques that gay and lesbian couples use during sexual intimacy.

Disorders and Effects

Under certain circumstances, masturbation may result in some undesirable consequences. If a child masturbates constantly, it may be an indication of excessive anxiety and tension. Compulsive and frenzied masturbation may reflect abuse or maltreatment in a child’s home life. Frequent masturbation may be a child’s way of relieving tension or unconsciously reenacting past or present traumatic sexual episodes. Among adults, excessive masturbation may point toward a lack of self-esteem and the resultant fear and inability to develop healthy intimate relationships with others. Psychiatry, psychotherapy, and sex therapy have proven helpful in successfully alleviating these problems.

Perspective and Prospects

Throughout history, attitudes toward the practice of masturbation have been riddled with misconceptions, guilt, and fear. Fear of masturbation and its supposed harmful effects, such as loss of memory and intelligence, was widespread through the nineteenth century. Semen was considered a vital fluid important for bodily functioning, and wasting it through masturbation was thought to contribute to a weakening of the body and production of illness. Medical authorities today do not find any evidence of physical damage from masturbation. In fact, many modern sex therapists encourage self-stimulation as part of healthy sexuality. In modern sex therapy, masturbation has become part of the therapeutics used in treating certain sexual dysfunctions. Patients with difficulties or inability to have orgasm are encouraged by their therapists to engage in masturbation. It is widely believed that orgasm once achieved through masturbation will eventually generalize and transfer to satisfactory sexual intercourse.


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