Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 983–994 | Cite as

The Role of Masturbation in Healthy Sexual Development: Perceptions of Young Adults

ORIGINAL PAPER

Abstract

Despite efforts to identify masturbation as a strategy to improve sexual health, promote relational intimacy, and reduce unwanted pregnancy, STIs, and HIV transmission, masturbation as a context for healthy sexual development has been met with silence or trepidation in the scientific and educational communities. Relegated to the realm of commercial media, rather than rational discourse in families, schools, and the general public, young people receive mixed messages about this non-reproductive sexual behavior. In order to explore how young adults have learned about masturbation and currently perceive masturbation, we conducted a grounded theory study of 72 college students (56 females; 16 males) enrolled in a human sexuality class. Findings revealed that a young adult’s perceptions of and feelings toward masturbation were the result of a developmental process that included: (1) learning about the act of masturbation and how to do it, (2) learning and internalizing the social contradiction of stigma and taboo surrounding this pleasurable act, and (3) coming to terms with this tension between stigma and pleasure. Although nearly all participants learned about masturbation through the media and peers (not parents or teachers), gender was salient in coming to terms with the contradiction of stigma and pleasure. Most of the women reported either still struggling with the contradiction or accepting it as normal. Most of the men recognized the beneficial aspects for healthy sexual development that result from masturbation. Both male and female participants identified differential sexual scripts as contributing to the double standard.

Keywords

Health Masturbation Sexual development Sexual health Young adults 

References

  1. Arnett, J. J. (2006). G. Stanley Hall’s adolescence: Brilliance and nonsense. History of Psychology, 9, 186–197.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Banker, J., Kaestle, C., & Allen, K. (2010). Dating is hard work: A narrative approach to understanding sexual and romantic relationships in young adulthood. Contemporary Family Therapy, 32, 173–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bradburn, N. M., Sudman, S., Blair, E., & Stocking, C. (1978). Question threat and response bias. Public Opinion Quarterly, 42, 221–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Breen, D. (1993). The gender conundrum: Contemporary psychoanalytic perspectives on femininity and masculinity. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Christensen, C. (1995). Prescribed masturbation in sex therapy: A critique. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 21, 87–99.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clark, J. P., & Tifft, L. L. (1966). Polygraph and interview validation of self-reported deviant behavior. American Sociological Review, 31, 516–523.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coleman, E. (2002). Masturbation as a means of achieving sexual health. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 14(2/3), 5–16.Google Scholar
  9. Coles, R., & Stokes, G. (1985). Sex and the American teenager. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  10. Connell, R. W. (1987). Gender and power: Society, the person, and sexual politics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. Connell, R., & Messerschmidt, J. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender and Society, 19, 829–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Corbin, J. M., & Strauss, A. L. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Crouter, A. C., & Booth, A. (2006). Romance and sex in adolescence and emerging adulthood: Risks and opportunities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  15. Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Edwards, W. M., & Coleman, E. (2004). Defining sexual health: A descriptive overview. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 189–195.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gagnon, J. H. (1985). Attitudes and responses of parents to pre-adolescent masturbation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 14, 451–466.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gagnon, J. H., & Simon, W. (1973). Sexual conduct: The social sources of human sexuality. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  19. Gagnon, J. H., Simon, W., & Berger, A. S. (1970). Some aspects of sexual adjustment in early and later adolescence. In J. Zubin & A. M. Freedman (Eds.), Psychopathology of adolescence (pp. 275–295). New York: Grune & Stratton.Google Scholar
  20. Gavin, L., MacKay, A. P., Brown, K., Harrier, S., Ventura, S. J., Kann, L., et al. (2009). Sexual and reproductive health of persons aged 10–24 years—United States, 2002–2007. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Surveillance Summaries, 58(6), 1–58.Google Scholar
  21. Gerressu, M., Mercer, C. H., Graham, C. A., Wellings, K., & Johnson, A. M. (2008). Prevalence of masturbation and associated factors in a British national probability survey. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 266–278.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Greenberg, D. S. (1994). Out goes the surgeon general. Lancet, 344, 1760.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hall, S. (1982). The rediscovery of “ideology”: Return of the repressed in media studies. In M. Gurevitch, T. Bennett, J. Curran, & J. Woollacott (Eds.), Culture, society, and the media (pp. 56–90). London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  24. Halpern, C. J. T., Udry, J. R., Suchindran, C., & Campbell, B. (2000). Adolescent males’ willingness to report masturbation. Journal of Sex Research, 37, 327–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Halpern, C. T., Waller, M. W., Spriggs, A., & Hallfors, D. D. (2006). Adolescent predictors of emerging adult sexual patterns. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39, 926.e1–926.e10. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.08.005.
  26. Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14–94. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(Suppl. 5), 255–265.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hogarth, H., & Ingham, R. (2009). Masturbation among young women and associations with sexual health: An exploratory study. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 558–567.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Janus, S. S., & Janus, C. L. (1993). The Janus report on sexual behavior. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  29. Kates, S., & Shaw-Garlock, G. (1999). The ever entangling web: A study of ideologies and discourse in advertising to women. Journal of Advertising, 28, 33–49.Google Scholar
  30. Kim, J. L., Sorsoli, C. L., Collins, K., Zylbergold, B. A., Schooler, D., & Tolman, D. L. (2007). From sex to sexuality: Exposing the heterosexual script on primetime network television. Journal of Sex Research, 44, 145–157.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kimmel, M. S. (2007). The sexual self: The construction of sexual scripts. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Laqueur, T. W. (2003). Solitary sex: A cultural history of masturbation. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  33. Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  34. Leitenberg, H., Detzer, M. J., & Srebnik, D. (1993). Gender differences in masturbation and the relation of masturbation experience in preadolescence and/or early adolescence to sexual behavior and sexual adjustment in young adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 22, 87–98.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lidster, C. A., & Horsburgh, M. E. (1994). Masturbation—beyond myth and taboo. Nursing Forum, 29(3), 18–27.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lo Presto, C. T., Sherman, M. F., & Sherman, N. C. (1985). The effects of a masturbation seminar on high school males’ attitudes, false beliefs, guilt, and behavior. Journal of Sex Research, 21, 142–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mahay, J., Laumann, E. O., & Micheals, S. (2000). Race, gender, and class in sexual scripts. In R. T. Michael & E. O. Laumann (Eds.), Sex, love, and health in America: Private choices and public policies (pp. 197–238). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  38. Markle, G. (2008). “Can women have sex like a man?”: Sexual scripts in Sex and the City. Sexuality and Culture, 12, 45–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McCaughey, M., & French, C. (2001). Women’s sex-toy parties: Technology, orgasm, and commodification. Sexuality and Culture, 5, 77–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McCormick, N. B. (1994). Sexual salvation: Affirming women’s sexual rights and pleasures. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  41. Monasterio, E., Hwang, L. Y., & Shafer, M. A. (2007). Adolescent sexual health. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, 37, 302–325.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Money, J. (1995). Safe sex in the era of AIDS. Trends in Health Care, Law & Ethics, 10(3), 27–33.Google Scholar
  43. Mosher, D. L., & Vonderheide, S. G. (1985). Contributions of sex guilt and masturbation guilt to women’s contraceptive attitudes and use. Journal of Sex Research, 21, 24–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Petersen, J. L., & Hyde, J. S. (2010). A meta-analytic review of research on gender differences in sexuality, 1993–2007. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 21–38.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pinkerton, S. D., Bogart, L. M., Cecil, H., & Abramson, P. R. (2002). Factors associated with masturbation in a collegiate sample. In W. O. Bockting & E. Coleman (Eds.), Masturbation as a means of achieving sexual health (pp. 103–122). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  46. Robinson, B. B. E., Bockting, W. O., & Harrell, T. (2003). Masturbation and sexual health: An exploratory study of low income African American women. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 14(2–3), 85–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rose, G. (2007). Visual methodologies (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  48. Russell, S. T. (2005). Conceptualizing positive adolescent sexuality development. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 2(3), 4–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schuster, M. A., Bell, R. M., & Kanou, D. E. (1996). The sexual practices of adolescent virgins: Genital sexual activities of high school students who have never had vaginal intercourse. American Journal of Public Health, 86, 1570–1576.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Schwartz, P. (2007). The social construction of heterosexuality. In M. S. Kimmel (Ed.), The sexual self: The construction of sexual scripts (pp. 80–92). Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Shapiro, T. (2008). Masturbation, sexuality, and adaptation: Normalization in adolescence. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 56, 123–146.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Shulman, J. L., & Horne, S. G. (2003). The use of self pleasure: Masturbation and body image of among African American and European American women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 27, 262–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tiefer, L. (1998). Masturbation: Beyond caution, complacency and contradiction. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 13, 9–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wade, L. D., Kremer, E. C., & Brown, J. (2005). The incidental orgasm: The presence of clitoral knowledge and the absence of orgasm for women. Women and Health, 42, 117–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wiederman, M. W. (1999). Volunteer bias in sexuality research using college student participants. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 59–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wodak, R., & Meyer, M. (2001). Methods of critical discourse analysis. London: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human DevelopmentVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)BlacksburgUSA

Personalised recommendations