Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 266–278 | Cite as

Prevalence of Masturbation and Associated Factors in a British National Probability Survey

  • Makeda GerressuEmail author
  • Catherine H. Mercer
  • Cynthia A. Graham
  • Kaye Wellings
  • Anne M. Johnson
Original Article


A stratified probability sample survey of the British general population, aged 16 to 44 years, was conducted from 1999 to 2001 (N = 11,161) using face-to-face interviewing and computer-assisted self-interviewing. We used these data to estimate the population prevalence of masturbation, and to identify sociodemographic, sexual behavioral, and attitudinal factors associated with reporting this behavior. Seventy-three percent of men and 36.8% of women reported masturbating in the 4 weeks prior to interview (95% confidence interval 71.5%–74.4% and 35.4%–38.2%, respectively). A number of sociodemographic and behavioral factors were associated with reporting masturbation. Among both men and women, reporting masturbation increased with higher levels of education and social class and was more common among those reporting sexual function problems. For women, masturbation was more likely among those who reported more frequent vaginal sex in the last four weeks, a greater repertoire of sexual activity (such as reporting oral and anal sex), and more sexual partners in the last year. In contrast, the prevalence of masturbation was lower among men reporting more frequent vaginal sex. Both men and women reporting same-sex partner(s) were significantly more likely to report masturbation. Masturbation is a common sexual practice with significant variations in reporting between men and women.


Masturbation Sexual behavior Sex survey Gender differences 



We would like to thank the study participants and the team of interviewers, operations, and computing staff from the National Centre for Social Research. The 2000 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal 2000) was supported by a grant from the Medical Research Council with funds from the Department of Health, the Scottish Executive and the National Assembly for Wales. The views expressed in this paper are the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding bodies.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Makeda Gerressu
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Catherine H. Mercer
    • 1
  • Cynthia A. Graham
    • 2
  • Kaye Wellings
    • 3
  • Anne M. Johnson
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, Department of Primary Care and Population SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonEngland
  2. 2.Oxford Doctoral Course in Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford, Warneford HospitalOxfordEngland
  3. 3.Centre for Sexual and Reproductive Health Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical MedicineLondonEngland
  4. 4.Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, Department of Primary Care and Population SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonEngland

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