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All right, so here's the thing: I get lots of emails, and one of the most frequent emails I get is whether or not I'm normal. Am I masturbating too much, too little? People want their partners to masturbate more because they want them to have a better idea about their bodies, to be more educated so that they can have more pleasurable experiences in their partnerships. And people want their partners to masturbate less because they want them to save their orgasms for them, and don't go off into another room and jack it when I want your orgasms. So I want to talk about it. 

First I want you to take a moment and think about the last time you masturbated. I want you to think about your average, not your records, because I want to give some context to the other statistics that I'm going to give you. 

By age 13, about half of boys and about a quarter of girls have started masturbating. Here's a full chart from an article published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The data doesn't reflect the diversity of gender; it's binary. Males, ages 14, 15, 16 ,17, totals of 14 to 17 year olds, and then frequency of masturbation. Same thing for females. Somewhere, someday there will be more inclusive, comprehensive statistics, but this is what we have for now. 

A study on adulthood masturbation reports that a quarter of men ages 18 to 59 masturbate three to four times a month. Twenty percent, or one in five, masturbate two to three times a week. And the same number, another 20%, report masturbating more than four times a week. Men over 70 are less likely to have masturbated within the last year, but they're more likely to have masturbated than to have had partner sex.

As for women, most of us have masturbated once a week or less. Checks out. The frequency actually correlates with sex and sexual satisfaction. The more sex women are having and the more sexually satisfied they are with sex, the more they're masturbating. Masturbation complements the sex that we're having. Whereas men tend to masturbate more when they're having less sex, so for them it's more of a substitute. So says the researchers. I think there's so many variables to consider. What was your upbringing, like what kind of time and privacy do you have? Is masturbation reinforcing itself or are you doing something that doesn't feel good, so why would you do it again? Some of you are probably haunted by religious upbringings, social limitations, things that people have said to you to shame you out of masturbating or into masturbating more. 

I think sex drive, how turned on we get, can also influence the frequency of masturbation. From the new masturbation sex ed book, Bang, "A multitude of factors affect how often someone masturbates or whether they masturbate at all... These numbers reflect what was reported by people voluntarily, and it is likely that the true proportion of people who masturbate is higher, as masturbation is one of the most underreported sexual acts."

I want to help you navigate where to find a spot on this huge spectrum from zero masturbation to masturbation in excess that feels comfortable for you. And it could be zero or excess. I want it to be because you want the benefits of masturbation, and not because you feel like you have to or you feel like you shouldn't. Get the shoulds out of here! No more shoulds!

It's ok to not masturbate. Absolutely! There are all sorts of reasons and benefits to doing that. This could be really healthy for them. They might be abstaining to preserve an identity or to hold onto some of that sexual energy or to navigate their feelings around it. It could be that they just don't want to and they don't need to. On the other hand, it could be that they are withholding because they want to avoid that contact with themselves. Maybe there's some shame. Maybe there's some stigma. And all of that can be looked at closer.

Same with this end of the spectrum. If the person is constantly masturbating to avoid life, not go to school, not do work, not feel things, this could be problematic for them. Whereas if you're masturbating a whole bunch to keep yourself healthy, to be a masturbatory athlete, that's ok. There's variation in all of us, and so it's really important to pay attention to what it is that serves us best. It can be about quantity, of course. It's fun to think about how many times you could cum in a day or a week, for me. But I really think it's about intention. Ultimately, I want my sexuality to be a part of my larger well-being, and to not monopolize anything. Or bankrupt it either. For me, I have to find my space on this spectrum. And I also need to accept that that is fluid and flexible. If I masturbate once a year in 2020 and I masturbate 3000 times in 2021, that is ok. I can be all sorts of expressions of sexuality. I don't have to be a specific number, and that number does not have to stay the same over time. 

If over here, this person is masturbating to the degree that they are missing out on things that they love in life, their relationships are being harmed, their work isn't being done, their school isn't being attended to, there are support groups for people in that situation. One is called SA, which is Sexaholics Anonymous. Another is called SAA, or Sex Addicts Anonymous. I prefer the latter, SAA, because it allows people to determine for themselves what they consider the acting out behavior. So they don't say that for everyone masturbation is a form of addiction that needs to be curbed. They say that you choose for yourself what is a problematic behavior for you, and then you navigate sexuality around that. These support groups can also help people over here, who may be practicing what is called Sexual Anorexia, where they're withholding, from themselves or others, any sort of sexual expression because they want to have some sort of control over their lives, the same way that someone might control their eating or their exercising.

It is ok if masturbation is used as a coping mechanism. One coping strategy is sublimation, where you're doing something that needs to be done anyway, like the dishes or vacuuming. It becomes problematic when you use it as a distraction or an avoidance tactic so that you don't ever do the thing that's on the checklist or handle the crisis that you're experiencing.

If we're not having the amount of sex that we want to have with our partners, that is about our sex with them, not about their masturbation. Maybe. If it is, it's ok to talk about it with them. Once. You can bring it up. But after that, it's important for you to get your own kind of help, where you can talk about how another person's sexuality is affecting you, how you're struggling to cope with their behaviors. People masturbate even when they have the opportunity to have sex because it's masturbation! It's so personal! You really know yourself, and you get to know yourself more. It can be re-energizing, it can be time alone. It can be the way that a runner or a swimmer goes out and takes care of themselves. It's self care! It doesn't mean that they don't want you. It doesn't mean that you don't satisfy them. It is a different type of sexual expression, and their frequency is their business. We don't have to judge it. We can hold space for that person and their sexuality.

Somewhere along the spectrum, there is a place where you are meeting your needs and you are taking care of your physiology. Tension, the arousal, the fluids that may benefit from being expelled from your... your orifices: let them out. And a place where you don't find yourself hiding or distracted or checked out from life. Here, here, here, here, here – wherever it is, the amount does not matter as much as the quality, the intention. 

Ok, the last thing I want to say is that a lot of these emails I get are from young men, boys, who are trying to figure out their high sex drive. They're wanting to masturbate all day, and it's not really about distraction, it's about the chemicals that are going through their system as they enter or experience puberty. What I can tell you is that, one, this will probably dampen with time. Two, it's absolutely ok to talk with someone about it, be that a doctor or a relative that you trust, saying something like, "Hey, Dad, I am horny all the time, I have a boner all the time, and I am missing class because I am constantly having to go to the bathroom to take care of it. Do you have any experience there?" And three, know that it is ok to masturbate, but there are appropriate places to do that. So you can talk with this trusted adult about where that might be, strategies to do it, techniques, breathing. I don't want you to feel ashamed, though, ok?

Stay curious. 

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