What is Masturbation?

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What is Masturbation?


If you want to learn about sex, there is no shortage of articles, videos, books, and more to help you explore the best positions, multiple ways to set the mood, different fun games you can introduce to keep things steamy, and more. Basically, the world contains a lot of education to help you and your partner live your best (sex) lives. Along with all that education can come the assumption that when we say “sex” we mean the physical, sexual relationships we have with partners. Here’s the thing though, in sex, much as in life, the most important relationship you can have is with yourself. That’s right, today we’re talking about masturbation!

When it comes to sex talk, masturbation is sometimes left out of the conversation or treated as a completely separate thing; like there’s “actual sex” and then there’s this thing we do alone that can feel good but doesn’t quite “count”. Add to this a whole lot of weird myths and misconceptions and you can see why, when it comes to getting sexual satisfaction, a lot of folks do not consider masturbation part of the equation. 

Today we are going to try to change all that. We will look at what masturbation is, how it can work, who does it, and why it can be beneficial. We are also going to take the time to do a little masturbation myth-busting. Read on to learn everything you ever wanted to know (and probably more, tbh) about masturbation!


What is masturbation?

This one is pretty straightforward. Simply put, masturbation is the touching of one’s genitals (or anywhere else that feels good) in the pursuit of sexual pleasure in general and orgasm, specifically. It is something that most people are pretty private about but also, even though fear and shame might tell us otherwise, a whole lot of people do it. 

Masturbation doesn’t look like one specific thing. Like most things sex-related, it can be different from person to person or even each time one does it. Sure, the images that immediately come to mind -- someone frantically stroking their own penis or holding a powerful vibrator to their clitoris -- are absolutely valid examples of what masturbation can be but there’s a whole lot more to the story. Masturbation can include any type of sexual stimulation or touching that is erotically charged. This can include stimulation of the penis, prostate, clitoris, or nipples as well as vaginal or anal penetration. Plus, some folks get sexual pleasure from something different entirely, that might be part of your masturbation practice.

Masturbation can be done using a whole array of different methods and tools. One might use their hand to stroke their penis or stimulate their clitoris, but they might also incorporate adult sex toys like a stroker or a vibrator to do that. There are even common household objects that are frequently referenced in regard to masturbation or guided masturbation. Handheld showerheads are famously popular for clitoral stimulation. Additionally, for folks who enjoy a grinding sensation things like pillows or the arm of a couch might be part of their masturbation tool kit. This is all totally normal. That said, please refrain from using household objects for anal stimulation as there is a very real danger of them becoming trapped in the body which is great if you want to meet some doctors (seriously, you could 100% end up requiring medical intervention) but not so good if you want a relaxing pleasurable experience. 


Is masturbation healthy?

Masturbation is healthy both in the “normal healthy sexual activity” sense of the word as well as in the “actually providing potential health benefits” sense. For an activity that is frequently a bit stigmatized and frankly, often the butt of jokes, masturbation actually comes with a host of potential health benefits ranging from better sex lives in general to actual physical and sexual health stuff. Here are some of the possible benefits of engaging in a little self-love:


Health Benefits:

    • There are very serious reasons why it’s good to be familiar with your body and getting busy by yourself is a fun way to do it!
      This is true in a sexual way (see the next point) but it’s also true in a far more mundane but profoundly important way. Being familiar with your body allows you to be aware when something changes. This can help when it comes to things like cancer detection, which is actually a big deal. 
    • Need some stress relief? Engage in some self-love!
      The release that one experiences during orgasm can be awesome for releasing tension, relieving stress, and even for helping you get to sleep. Partnered sex is awesome but when you are stressed and may not have it in you to deal with other people (even other people you like) masturbation is the simplest way to achieve that orgasm.

  • Menstrual cramps got you down? Is labor taking forever? Let masturbation give you a hand! 
  • During orgasm, the uterus does a whole bunch of stuff including contracting, relaxing, and releasing endorphins and oxytocin (aka the love hormone). The hormones can relax the body and relieve stress (as we discussed earlier) but when all of this happens during menstruation, some folks find it can help reduce menstrual cramps. This is because oxytocin can act as a natural painkiller. As if that wasn’t cool enough, some doctors recommend masturbation during labor as the release of oxytocin can help move labor along and also promote bonding with the baby.


    Sexual Benefits

  • Want to learn what does it for you (or definitely does NOT do it for you) in bed? Masturbation can help!
  • Sometimes it’s hard to communicate our sexual preferences to partners. This is true for most people but you know who it is most true for? People who have no idea what they like. Becoming familiar with what works for your body can help you have much more satisfying partnered sex. That’s right, sex with yourself can actually help you have more satisfying sexual intercourse with others. 

  • Masturbation is basically risk free sex
  • Partnered sex can come with a lot of risks. From pregnancy to STIs to emotional complications, there can be a lot to think about. Masturbation is an amazing way to indulge in some sexual pleasure without having to consider potential outcomes. 

  • Voyeurism and Exhibitionism all at once, in a totally legal way!
  • Wondering if masturbating in a relationship is a good idea? We talked a lot about masturbation as a solo activity but mutual masturbation is totally underrated! The practice of partners masturbating in front of each other is not only a terrific way to build trust and show your partner what you enjoy but it also lets you indulge in some kinks like voyeurism (getting pleasure from watching sexual activity)  or exhibitionism (getting pleasure from being watched during sexual activity) in safe and legal ways. 


    Who masturbates?

    It’s tempting to answer this question by saying “everyone!” but that’s not exactly true. Like with anything else, there are people who do not masturbate. Masturbation enthusiasts will tell you it’s due to fear or shame or ignorance and, for some folks that might be true but my decade of sex education experience has taught me that there are also folks who just aren’t into it and that’s okay. No sexual activities are mandatory. 

    All that said, a lot of people masturbate. It’s not something that is limited to one gender, orientation, or even personality type. Seriously. People of all genders, ages, sexual orientations, and relationship statuses masturbate. This is all to say, it’s incredibly common, and you are at no risk for being labeled a certain “type” if people somehow find out that you do it. 


    Masturbation Myths

    There are a whole lot of myths about masturbation that are completely without merit. Most claims about masturbation are not backed up by science. Just for the record, masturbation will not cause:

    • blindness
    • hairy palms
    • erectile dysfunction
    • penis shrinkage
    • penis curvature
    • low sperm count
    • infertility
    • mental illness
    • physical weakness


    Additionally, contrary to what some people believe masturbation is not something that is exclusively done by single people who aren’t having sex. People masturbate for many different reasons regardless of relationship status. Additionally, people who have partners and masturbate don’t only do it because something is missing in their relationship or they are unsatisfied. It’s important to remember that even in monogamous sexual relationships, partners are still individuals with their own bodies that they get to enjoy on their own if the spirit moves them. 

    Masturbation is just another piece of the sexual experience. You can do it alone or with a consenting partner. You can do it to relieve stress or just because it feels good. The upshot here is that masturbation is a completely natural activity that many people engage in and that can come with several benefits. So, if masturbation sounds good to you, enjoy! 

    If you want to add a little something to your masturbation routine, check out PinkCherry’s selection of vibrators, strokers, lubricants and more!


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    Written By: JoEllen Notte

    JoEllen Notte is a writer, speaker, sex educator, and mental health advocate whose work explores the impact of depression on sex and relationships. Since 2012 she has written about sex, mental health, and how none of us are broken on her award-winning site The Redhead Bedhead as well as for Glamour, The BBC, Bitch, PsychCentral, and more. JoEllen is the author of The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression, and the Conversations We Aren’t Having.