Masturbation for Everyone: How Much is Healthy?

In over 10 years of writing advice columns for women’s magazines, men’s magazines and the internet, one of the questions I receive over and over, no matter how many times it’s answered, is whether masturbation is ok, and if it is, how much is too much? Men want to know if they are doing it too much. Women want to know if the men in their lives ought to be doing it at all. It’s actually rare that a woman writes to ask if she is doing it too much – except for one, who said she was masturbating in the stalls of the bathroom at work and was afraid security cameras were capturing her.

Why are we so concerned with our own and everyone else’s self-pleasuring habits? And how much self-touch is not too much, not too little, but just right? In this video, I’m going to give you the right answers.

Research tells us that there are vast differences in adult women’s and men’s masturbation habits, reflected in the different questions I receive from them. Consistently, more women are masturbation “virgins” and women who do masturbate indulge far less than males. Since men and women have different issues, I want to talk about them separately.

Let’s start with men. Men seem to masturbate happily and often, without the shame that burdens women, yet they wonder if it can still cause problems? Or is it healthy no matter what?

Without stating that a certain number of times per day or week is normal or abnormal – because that can vary significantly during different periods of life and among men – let me put it in a way that covers all the bases: masturbation can be a problem if it replaces interest in other avenues of pleasure. Ask yourself this: have you cut back on hobbies? Are you hanging out less with your friends? Have you watched your dating pool dwindle to the size of a shot glass? Have you tried to stop, even set limits for yourself, and failed to stick to them? If your palm is paired with your penis for hours every day and you’re curtailing real relationships, I’d say it’s definitely time for you to reassess.

For men with little partner sexual contact, solo pleasure can create certain habits that will later contribute to rapid or premature ejaculation with a partner, or to its opposite – delayed orgasm or the inability to ejaculate during intercourse. These effects are often caused by an idiosyncratic masturbation style that doesn’t transfer well to partner sex – especially if you develop the habit of trying to hurry up and come, or you’re using very vigorous, tight hand action that is unlikely to be replicated by a partner. Even these habits can be unlearned though, and more partner-friendly methods can be developed, but it does take some effort and self-training. Still, it’s better not to get into these routines to start with. Less masturbation in order to allow sexual tension to build, and concentrating on a slower, gentler, more drawn-out release can help keep these patterns from setting in. You might want to have a look at my video on delaying ejaculation – which is either available now or is coming soon – to help you with that issue.

Now, what about masturbating when you’re in a relationship? I think it’s always good to retain a close relationship with yourself. Your partner shouldn’t be your only source of relief or pleasure. But how to balance connection and solo sex might be something you want to discuss with a partner. If you are using masturbation to avoid sex with him or her, that’s not a good sign.

OK – now let’s move on to women and masturbation. My challenge as a sexuality expert is usually to encourage women to masturbate far more than they do – if they do it at all – by explaining both the naturalness and the benefits. Women often discover masturbation on their own and think that they are doing something unique, and probably wrong, since nobody else seems to talk about it. Not only do women not generally talk openly about masturbation, but many women even deny it when they’re asked about it. And that’s a real shame, because masturbation is so good for women. There was a scene in Sex in the City when Samantha shouted in a crowded store that her vibrator had died on her, and she was furious. That was a watershed TV moment. For the first time, a brazen girl gave solo sex national prominence – and it was about time.

The only problems associated with solo sex occur if it’s done with unsafe objects, or under water at high pressure, which is going to mean making sure you use toys according to their directions, and that electrical vibrators aren’t used near water. In other words, follow basic household safety rules with your equipment, so you don’t hurt yourself. But that’s not really about masturbation, is it? That’s just about being careful when you use objects that are sometimes – especially these days – a little complicated.

When masturbation feels good, when it’s either soothing or energizing, it’s healthy. When you feel guilty about it, it generally isn’t that masturbation is wrong; it’s that the guilt is an issue. So you can masturbate daily, at least, if you want to. As long as your masturbation habits aren’t preventing you from doing other things, you can masturbate as often as you like. And having a partner doesn’t mean masturbation should stop for you either. Partner sex and self-pleasure fill two different sets of needs. Thinking you shouldn’t self-pleasure is like thinking that because you go hiking with your honey, you have no right to take walks by yourself.

Very real health and emotional benefits accrue to those who reach out and touch themselves – in this case, for both men and women. According to the research, men could reduce their chances of developing prostate cancer through regular masturbation. And for men and women, orgasm helps increase immunity, relieve chronic pain, and enables them to fall asleep and sleep soundly. It also decreases risk for depression. And for women who are menopausal, masturbation to orgasm increases estrogen production. That means it can help reduce symptoms like hot flashes and protect the health of the urinary tract and the vaginal tissues.

For women generally, masturbation and fantasy increase interest in partner sex. Women who masturbate to orgasm have more orgasms during partnered sex than women who don’t, and are generally more sexually receptive or responsive. As a matter of fact, married women who masturbate tend to be more satisfied with their relationships. So you could think of masturbation as a way of keeping your sexual self primed for lovemaking. Masturbation makes you a warm burner with your pilot light on – so your flame can be dialed higher when you’re with a partner. Finally, women who masturbate regularly show higher scores on measures of self-esteem. Well that kind of figures, doesn’t it? And it also begs the question – does masturbation enhance self-esteem, or do women with higher self-esteem masturbate? Either way, self-stimulation is a definite DO.

Plus – whether you’re a man or a woman, masturbation is the perfect way to introduce and accustom yourself to any new sexual practice, from anal eroticism, to developing the capacity for multiple orgasms, to learning to prolong sexual pleasure.