A 15-year old girl asks, "Hi, I'm female, and I'm wondering how my sex is supposed to go about masturbating? I mean, it's easy enough for guys, but how do girls do it without seriously hurting ourselves."
A 16-year-old asks, "Is it okay to masturbate?"
Another 16-year-old asks, "Is it normal?"
A 17-year-old young man asks, "Is it OK for males?"
An 18-year-old asks, "It feels really nice, but is it bad for me?"
A 15-year-old also asks, "Is it bad?"
A 16-year-old asks, "How do I stop feeling guilty after I do it?"
Another 16-year-old asks, "Will people be able to tell that I do it?"
And another asks, "Can masturbating hurt you in any way?"
And another asks, "Is there such a thing as too much masturbation?"
(http://www.teenwire.com/, visitor queries, November 4, 1999-August 20, 2000)
These are only a few of the hundreds of questions and concerns about masturbation that young people pose when they turn to the Planned Parenthood website for teens, teenwire®.com, for information about sex and sexuality. Their questions demonstrate the general lack of comfort and information that they and adults have about masturbation in the U.S., and they have prompted us to publish this white paper, which we hope will help writers, educators, and journalists clarify concerns about this important health issue for their audiences.
Historically, masturbation — touching one's own sex organs for pleasure — has been stigmatized as having pathological origins and negative physical and mental health consequences. Today, as masturbation is better understood and more widely accepted, we have learned that it can promote physical, mental, and sexual health. By destigmatizing masturbation, we are able to recognize it as healthful, helpful, and natural behavior.
Although attitudes toward masturbation have become more positive in the recent past, we are not entirely removed from its stigmatized history. On December 12, 1994, U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was fired from her position because of the controversy that erupted around her support for the public discussion of masturbation as an appropriate topic in school sexuality education programs (Rowan, 2000, 9). Elders' reasonable acknowledgment of masturbation was part of an effort to prevent the increase of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as unintended pregnancy. Her termination was a powerful reminder that the act and discussion of masturbation remain highly controversial and that the history of social and religious attitudes toward masturbation have been extremely negative.
History of Attitudes Toward Masturbation
In the most ancient myths of Mesopotamia and Egypt, the god Apsu, or Atun, "copulated with his fist" to fertilize himself and create either the Milky Way or the atmosphere, depending on what version is being told (Ackerman, 1950, 10-11; van de Walle, 1965, 30).
Masturbation was common among Greek women and men (Gathorne-Hardy, 1998, 152). Although the ancient Spartans' rigid code of self-discipline discouraged masturbation (Renshaw, 1976, 98), the Greeks saw it as a gift from the gods. They believed that the god Hermes taught his son Pan how to masturbate to relieve himself of the misery he felt when he was spurned by the nymph, Echo. Pan learned the lesson well, overcame his grief, and taught the trick to human shepherds.
Divinely inspired or not, masturbation was considered a private activity. When the philosopher Diogenes masturbated in public in the agora, he shocked people. He tried to make the point that all human activities are worthy of being done in public — that none of them is so shameful that it requires privacy. His fellow citizens disagreed (Stevenson, 2000, 227).
The physician Galen argued that the retention of semen is dangerous and leads to ill health. He used Diogenes as an example of a learned person who has sex in order to avoid the health risks of retaining semen…