Tracy Whittaker, BSN, RN
University of Washington School of Nursing
Let’s face it; no one wants to talk about masturbation. It is a taboo topic that may cause you to feel uncomfortable, or embarrassed, or guilty, and talking to teens or parents about it would be mortifying for either party! But masturbating is a common and safe kind of sex play for both women and men that in fact has many health benefits and is largely ignored in the “Birds and the Bees” talk.
Masturbation has lots of names including solo sex, self-pleasuring, self-love etc. and is defined as touching one’s own body, including sex organs for sexual pleasure. If you are thinking your child isn’t ready for the masturbation talk yet, just keep in mind that usually boys and girls start exploring self-pleasuring around 12-14 years old and may have questions about their bodies. Although this may be uncomfortable, it is completely normal and natural, and it is important to talk to teens about masturbation in order to reduce guilt and shame that can be associated with masturbation, and to show them all the benefits that masturbation can bring.
A number of studies have proven the benefits of self-pleasuring to mental, social and physical health. Masturbation provides a healthy sexual outlet for people who choose to abstain from sex with partners or who do not currently have a partner. People who feel good about their bodies, sex, and masturbation are more likely to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy. It can help with sleeping, and create a sense of well-being. It allows people to explore and become familiar and comfortable with their body, learning how they like to be touched and stimulated sexually thus increasing self-esteem and improving body image. This also helps them in relationships, communicating with their partner and increasing sexual satisfaction. Masturbation can help alleviate stress by releasing tension. For ladies it can relieve menstrual cramps and muscle tension, and also strengthen muscle tone in the pelvic muscles which reduces chances of involuntary urine leakage and uterine prolapse. Early masturbation does NOT lead to early sexual intercourse or sexual maladjustment.
With all the benefits masturbation can bring and no health risks, it is important to start talking about this early to children. Make sure to talk about private time, to avoid irritation by using lubrication, and following the directions on sex toys for proper cleaning, as well as not sharing sex toys to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections. By talking about sexuality to our children early we can encourage exploration of their bodies in a safe way that empowers them to take ownership of their sexuality, creating confident adolescents that are more likely to be safe as well as satisfied.