Overview of Masturbation

Masturbation is a sexual behavior that involves using a means other than sexual intercourse to stimulate the genitals or another part of the body to produce sexual arousal or excitement. Masturbation is a normal, healthy way to express sexuality.

Masturbation often involves using the fingers or other objects (e.g., sex toys) to touch, stroke, rub, or massage the genital area to experience sexual pleasure and/or to achieve sexual climax (orgasm). Other terms that can be used for masturbation include self-pleasuring, self-pleasing, self-loving, and several slang terms.

In men, masturbation usually involves stimulating the penis and/or testicles (testes). In women, it may involve stimulating the clitoris, vulva (e.g., labia majora, labia minora), the vaginal opening, or the vagina. Some people who masturbate stimulate other parts of the body that are responsive to sexual stimulation (called erogenous zones), such as the breasts or the anus, to produce sexual pleasure.

Masturbation is common in males and females of all ages. It is a normal part of body exploration in children and, in many cases, is the first type of sexual experience. Masturbation can be a safe way for adults to engage in sexual behavior that does not carry a risk for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Masturbation also can be a healthy way to relieve sexual tension. Many people masturbate throughout their lifetime, whether they are or are not in a sexual relationship.

Myths about Masturbation

Although masturbation can be an important part of normal, healthy sexuality, the decision to masturbate or not is a choice that should be based on personal preference.

Masturbation does not result in negative short- or long-term physical effects on health. It does not affect fertility or cause sexual dysfunction (e.g., erectile dysfunction [impotence], female sexual dysfunction).

There are a number of misconceptions about masturbation that are not true. These myths include the following:

  • Masturbation causes blindness.
  • Masturbation causes hair to grow on the palms of the hands.
  • Masturbation leads to mental illness.
  • Masturbation permanently reduces the quantity and quality of sperm.
  • Masturbation permanently reduces sexual performance.
  • People who are in healthy sexual relationships do not masturbate.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 06 Dec 2008

Last Modified: 07 Sep 2011