Masturbation is self-stimulation of the genitals, energized by fantasy that leads to sexual arousal and orgasm. In addition to generating sexual desire leading to masturbation, sexual fantasies are created, refined, lustily sanctioned, and at a woman’s caprice, discarded or retained for future use. Masturbation and fantasy influence one another and are inextricably linked. Historically, masturbation has been labeled as sexually deviant behavior and a social taboo despite its common practice. But as social and moral codes have modernized, masturbation’s positive role and importance in sexual health has been endorsed. we now believe it is a normal behavior that most people have practiced at various frequencies throughout the life span.
The mental processes and fantasies determining masturbatory behavior illuminate intimate aspects of a woman’s sexual desire. As an infant, localized genital sensations are noted to be pleasurable, help soothe distressing mental states, and are believed to foster development of positive self-regard and bodily image (Levine, 1992). As the young girl learns more control over bodily processes and experiences more complex life situations with sexual themes, she consciously and unconsciously links her mental (fantasy) life with bodily sensations and pleasure. During adolescence and early adulthood, continued exploration of her sexual interests, frequently with an increased role of masturbation, results in the assembly of sexual selfknowledge and facilitates the consolidation of her sexual identity. As an adult, masturbation becomes a conscious means of autonomous self-regulation of bodily sensations and emotional states. Sensual pleasure becomes familiar.
The knowledge she has acquired about masturbation, and sex in general, allows her to make more choices about partner sex. She recognizes that she can be responsible for her own sexual pleasure but may choose to allow her partner to pleasure her. If the goal is orgasm, many women find that masturbatory clitoral stimulation heightens arousal, facilitates orgasm, and can easily be taught to their partners. For a large subset of women, it is the sole means of reaching an orgasm, with or without intercourse. Since masturbation and sexual fantasies are extremely private sexual information, sharing and teaching her partner what pleases her fosters greater mutuality and intimacy for the couple. As the adult woman matures, her sexual creativity evolves and the content of her masturbatory fantasy life changes, altering her behavioral patterns of pleasure. Communication of these changes to her partner helps ward off sexual boredom, fosters continued interest, and deepens intimacy. Men tend to have a more fixed sexual fantasy life over the life span, adding increased importance to the woman’s sexual creativity for herself and the couple. Throughout the life span, masturbation can function as a substitute for partner sex.
There is no correct way to masturbate. what stimulates one woman may not work for another: it is individually determined. Physical stimuli such as fingers or vibrators guided to provide a particular type of touch seem to be the most effective and common practice. Most young men do not routinely think about different types of touch associated with masturbation and sexuality, they “just do it.” With instruction and patience, they learn to enjoy and include it thoughtfully in their more mature sexual practices. Teaching a partner also helps refine the woman’s self-knowledge to new heights.
Not all masturbation is healthy. In 2003, sexually explicit websites on the Internet have become primary sources for adult fantasy and masturbation. Although Internet sexual addiction is male dominated, women are not immune to its addictive qualities. Questions about sexual compulsivity, addiction, or other sexual aberrations should be raised when: (a) the number of times per week that someone has an orgasm by masturbation or any means is greater than seven, (b) sex preoccupies one’s consciousness, and (c) interferes with daily life activities. As masturbation (or other sexual activity) becomes increasingly compulsive, relationships are negatively affected and quality of life deteriorates. Personal and professional disasters are common results.
The politics and morality of mainstream America surrounding masturbation has shifted from condemnation to acceptance for both women and men. Primarily negative lies and myths about masturbation are slowly dying and reality is prevailing. When used thoughtfully, it is not only sensually pleasurable, but a fascinating study of the mental and physical components of one’s sexuality.
SEE ALSO: Libido and desire
- Carnes, P. J. (1991). Don’t call it love: Recovery from sexual addiction. New York: Bantam Books.
- Levine, S. B. (1992). Sexual life: A clinician’s guide. New York: Plenum Press.