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Actual and Desired Masturbation Frequency, Sexual Distress, and Their Correlates

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We investigated the prevalence of problematic masturbation using different criteria. We also investigated if masturbation-related distress was associated with sexual abuse history, family attitudes towards sexuality during childhood, and depression and anxiety symptoms. Here, 12,271 Finnish men and women completed a survey reporting masturbation frequency, desired masturbation frequency, sexual distress, childhood sexual abuse, sex-positive family background, as well as depression and anxiety symptoms. Among both sexes, those whose masturbation frequency did not match with desired frequency experienced more sexual distress. Different conceptualizations of problematic masturbation resulted in different proportions of individuals categorized as having it (i.e., 8.3% of men and 2.7% of women experienced self-perceived problematic masturbation, that is masturbating more than they desired and experiencing sexual distress; 2% of men and 0.6% of women masturbated more frequently than average and meanwhile experienced self-perceived problematic masturbation; 6.3% of men and 2.1% of women masturbated less frequently than average but still experienced self-perceived problematic masturbation). Moreover, among both sexes, self-perceived problematic masturbation was positively associated with childhood sexual abuse, depression, and anxiety, while negatively associated with a sex-positive family background. Our results point to the complexity of defining problematic masturbation. Causes of sexual distress related to masturbation need to be carefully examined case by case to choose an appropriate clinical approach.

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  1. Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group: a work group of qualified specialists who are experts in issues regarding sexual dysfunction, gender identity disorders, and hypersexuality, that gives critical appraisals of the relevant diagnoses that appeared in the DSM-IV (or earlier), along with proposed suggestions for reform and revision.

    Reference: Zucker, K. J. (2009). Reports from the DSM-V Work Group on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(2), 217–220.


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The original data collections were funded by Grants No. 210298, 212703, 136263, and 138291 from the Academy of Finland; and a Center of Excellence Grant No. 21/22/05 from the Stiftelsen för Åbo Akademi Foundation.

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Conceptualization: SH, PS; Methodology: PS; Planning and completing original data collections: PS, PJ; Formal analysis and investigation: SH, PS; Writing—original draft preparation: SH; Writing—review and editing: TN, PJ, PS; Funding acquisition: PJ, PS; Resources: PJ, PS; Supervision: TN, PS.

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Correspondence to Sijia Huang.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Research plans for data collections were conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki and were approved by the Departmental or University level Research Ethics Committees at Åbo Akademi University, as appropriate.

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Informed consent was obtained from all the participants involved in the study.

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Huang, S., Nyman, T.J., Jern, P. et al. Actual and Desired Masturbation Frequency, Sexual Distress, and Their Correlates. Arch Sex Behav 52, 3155–3170 (2023).

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