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Illustration by Paul-Émile Bécat for the novel L'Initiation by Héléna Varley (1938).

Masturbation is the act of manually stimulating the genitals so as to achieve sexual pleasure, sexual arousal, and/or orgasm. Most often, masturbation is done by a person to himself or herself, but it is also possible to masturbate another person.

A person who masturbates is called a masturbator, a female is called masturbatrix.

The term masturbation generally focuses on the genitals. Masturbation of the anus is known as anal masturbation. Both can be combined.

Masturbation in childhood[edit]

Boys masturbate more than girls, and the ability to reach orgasm increases with age. By the age of 5, about 50% of boys have had an orgasm, according to a study from the 1970s. This figure rises to about 80% by the age of 13 and nearly 100% by the age of 15. Before puberty, orgasms are normally "dry", without an ejaculation of semen. During and after puberty, there are also so-called wet dreams (nocturnal emissions) which are ejaculations of semen during sleep. These are usually not due to manual stimulation and therefore not cases of masturbation.

Statistically, girls masturbate less and reach orgasm less often than boys. Only about 25% of 15-year-old girls have experienced an orgasm. Girls, too, can have nocturnal orgasms, but this occurs less often too.


Historical drawing of a thumb-sucking and masturbating child.

Some centuries ago it was common in Europe for parents, nurses and nannies to calm young children by playing with their genitals. This was not seen as masturbation: the children were so young that sexual thoughts were far from the mind. Today, such practice is socially unacceptable and illegal by law, as it constitutes child sexual abuse.

The biblical story of Onan led to a belief among Christians that masturbation was a sinful thing. (Although the story most likely talks of coitus interruptus and not of masturbation.) Masturbation was also called onanism in reference to that story.

In 1758, the Swiss doctor Samuel Auguste Tissot claimed that masturbation was "more dreadful than smallpox" because it depleted the body of sperm "which provided vital energies". In the following decades, more and more physicians and scholars joined the view that masturbation was a highly dangerous practice, leading to all kinds of illnesses and possibly death or a permanent place in a lunatic asylum. Leading authorities like Richard von Krafft-Ebing backed the belief, stated that masturbation leads to insanity and advised drastic methods to suppress it. His predecessor Heinrich Kaan had already considered masturbation to be at the root of all sexual disorders.

The crusade against masturbation[edit]

All this led to societies in the western world that called masturbation "self-abuse" and tried to prevent their children from masturbating by all means. This included, naturally, strict instruction to never touch themselves in the "unmentionable" places and punishment if they were caught doing so (often including nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) that were thought of belonging the same category, although they happen involuntarily and in the absence of regular ejaculation).

There was also the thought that prevention was better than punishment. For this purpose, various anti-masturbation devices were invented that either involved the cause of pain in case of a penis erection (spiked rings etc.), or were similar in design to chastity belts, preventing the touching of the genitals.

Scratching the genitals (when they were itching) was thought to be an entrance gate to habitual masturbation. This was one of the reason why parents now began to give their children regular baths. Many doctors also thought that removing the foreskin made masturbation much more difficult. This method became popular in the United States, where 75% of men are circumcised to the present day. Anti-masturbation crusader John Harvey Kellogg even adviced that the circumcision, to be a most effective cure against masturbation, should be performed with no anesthesia:

The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.
  — John Harvey Kellogg

The end of the myth[edit]

Masturbation as an alleged health problem was debunked in the early 1930s. In the following decades, parents gradually became more relaxed again about their children masturbating, so long as they do it in privacy.

Masturbation and spanking[edit]

When children were punished for masturbation, it was not infrequently with a spanking, as that was the usual method of punishing children in those days. Nowadays the unhealthy concept is falling to the wayside with a general neutrality being prevalent, with hints there might even be health (physical and psychological) benefits.

Being spanked for engaging in masturbation is a typical plot of a number of spanking stories. In darker stories of erotic fiction, forced masturbation is found in combination with punishments such as spanking.

In some BDSM relationships, one partner (most often the submissive partner) may be forbidden from masturbating, or from doing so in the absence of the other partner, or from doing so without permission. Violations of such agreements may be reasons for spankings or other punishments. The ban can also be enforced with the help of a chastity belt.

Spankophiles also often enjoy masturbating while (or after) reading spanking stories, viewing spanking art, or watching spanking videos, if they find such media sexually arousing. Many spankophiles enjoy masturbating immediately after being spanked (or after spanking) or even during spanking.


(Male) masturbation is colloquially called spanking one's monkey.


See also[edit]


  • Lingam massage (a Tantric practice that is not the same as male masturbation, but closely related.  Warning: 18+)
  • Yoni massage (a Tantric practice that is not the same as female masturbation, but closely related.  Warning: 18+)