Words by: Ishtar*
Translated by: Hiba Moustafa
Photography by: Kmar Douagi
Masturbation, or self-pleasure, is the stimulation of one’s own genitals for sexual pleasure that may lead to having an orgasm. This pleasure can be reached through rubbing, massaging, or squeezing one’s genitals, or using a vibrator. Stimulation can also be achieved by stimulating one’s breasts, inner thighs, and – sometimes – anus.
However, masturbation is also a concern for many people. It seems ever present when questions about sex and the body arise, whether it’s with ourselves, our friends, clerics, physicians, sexual health experts/educators, or on sexual awareness platforms.
This article examines the most prominent questions, facts, and lies found in the dominant discourse on masturbation.
Why do we masturbate?
In mainstream discourses surrounding masturbation, there is a causal connection between self-pleasure, on the one hand, and idleness, aimlessness, and exposure to pornography, on the other. However, the reasons why we masturbate vary, including sexual pleasure, relaxation, blowing off steam, relieving stress, improving sleep quality, and reducing period cramps, among others.
Masturbation is not necessarily connected to exposure to pornographic or sexual content, though they may go hand in hand. Many people discover self-pleasure by chance while touching themselves pre-adulthood. Sexual fantasies also act as a stimulus for masturbation.
Some people may be masturbating to overcome boredom, but like any other sexual act, it has nothing to do with one’s ambitions. Some myths depict self-pleasure as a lower act that dehumanizes us and denies us our mental capacity. However, one can still pursue their goals while enjoying the pleasure their body can bring them. This is what this article examines.
Does masturbation cause health problems?
Teachers, clerics, and some unprofessional physicians name infertility, dehydration, varicocele, short-sightedness, hair loss, muscle weakness, memory deficit, lack of concentration, sleep paralysis, and many other illnesses as consequences of masturbation. Yet, there is no scientific evidence that supports any of the above; in fact, there are no known harms for it. These are mere myths that are meant to scare people away from self-pleasure.
The myth that masturbation causes infertility in men, for example, is based on a fallacy that says the overall number of sperm is limited, but sperm production does not stop throughout a male’s life. There are also myths that link self-pleasure with sleep paralysis, a condition when one is caught between wakefulness and sleep, losing the ability to move or speak for a few seconds to minutes, and potentially feeling that something is pressing on their body or choking them. It happens for various reasons, but masturbation isn’t among them.
Though infertility, sleep paralysis, and other fallacies are used to dissuade adolescents from masturbation, it is the safest sexual act. Hygiene (washing one’s hands and sex toys) is often sufficient to avoid STIs and STDs.
What’s the “normal” frequency of masturbation?
People are also commonly warned that masturbation may be addictive, and some say that it is only acceptable or healthy when done sporadically to fulfill one’s sexual needs. Is there really a limit to the number of times one can masturbate?
Different people masturbate at different frequencies – one time a day, several times a day, occasionally, or not at all. And, frequency differs for the same person. All these variations are healthy as long as they don’t interfere with their daily life. It is only when one notices that masturbation has a negative impact on their routines that they need to reconsider their priorities and ask for help if they feel it’s needed
Photography by Kmar Douagi
Is there a single way or form to masturbate?
Sexual acts that fall under masturbation vary, and the means we use range from fingers and hands to sex toys and lubes. Positions, techniques, and the general atmosphere (place, sensual effects, lights, scents, photos, videos, etc.) where people prefer to masturbate also differ. One can also masturbate with their partner(s).
[It is important to point out, though, that masturbating in a public space and/or in front of others without their consent is a form of harassment and sexual violence. It is far worse when it involves children or exposing oneself to them. So, whatever one’s sexual preferences are, consent is a must.]
How does masturbation impact our sexual relationship with our partner(s)?
The impact of masturbation on our current and future relationships is a concern for many people, and dominant discourses warn that it is a threat to relationships. Some may get angry if they find out that their partner masturbates, seeing it as a sign that their partner is not satisfied with their sex together. So, how do masturbation and sexual relationships with our partners correlate?
One needs to separate the two acts. People may like the pleasure and relaxation masturbation can bring, and self-pleasure can also help one explore their pleasure spots. This can improve their sexual experience, whether it be on their own or with their partners. Moreover, it promotes the concept of individual responsibility for pleasure and respect for our partner(s)’s spaces without engaging in emotional manipulation.
Sexual relationships with a partner(s) have a different kind of intimacy that requires a certain level of communication and concentration to ensure that they remain healthy and free of sexual violence. Things are not as easy, simple, or smooth as depicted by pornography; people’s desires and preferences differ at a certain moment, and it takes effort to improve or make a better experience.
Different experiences can bring different types of pleasure, and some partners may prefer mutual masturbation from time to time. Some may be having long-distance relationships, while others may want to have a safe experience free of STIs and/or pregnancies, and others may want to break the routine and understand each other’s bodies, pleasure, pleasure spots, and preferred techniques. Such experience may also provide one with more comfort and space to talk about sex and share preferences. Simply speaking, the reasons why people do it are countless.
Why is masturbation demonized and/or stigmatized?
As discussed above, several myths are being used to demonize masturbation. It is also forbidden by several religions. In Islam, for example, many jurists prohibit masturbation. Despite lacking substantial religious evidence that it is haram (forbidden), jurists base their fatwas (religious opinions) on weak hadiths or Quran verses that do not forbid it explicitly. So, why all the demonization and stigmatization then?
Some public discourses not only stigmatize masturbation, but also other forms of pleasure-seeking and non-reproductive sexual acts. Such discourses warn against these different acts out of fear, for the sake of “protecting” the only “right” form of sex – that which leads to reproduction. This is accompanied by contempt for pleasure-seeking sexual acts as dirty, animalistic, and unsuitable for a rational, productive person, who must instead adopt an ascetic attitude towards their desires and play their prescribed roles to serve society, state, and economic system. This stigmatization and demonization stem from a desire to control, possess and subjugate our bodies by controlling our most intimate and personal experiences, turning us into machines, and dehumanizing us.
* The name used by the author is a pseudonym.