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The One Question Everyone Has About Masturbation, Answered By An Expert

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When it comes to masturbation, there's a sort of quiet understanding that it's not really something to bring up in an everyday conversation. But that kind of thinking keeps people in the dark about how "normal" their masturbation habits really are. The TL;DR? It's all pretty "normal," experts say — and it'd probably help to start talking about it more.

Lisa Hochberger, L.M.S.W., M.Ed., a sex therapist and educator, tells Bustle that there's no "typical number" for how often people generally masturbate — meaning that whatever is normal for you is, well, normal. "It's a form of release for people, it's a form of pleasure, and it’s healthy," she says.

Statistics show that people's masturbation habits range all across the board. A 2014 query over at Five Thirty-Eight's "Dear Mona" series crunched some numbers from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, and found that a little under a quarter of women aged 18-39 masturbated a few times a month or weekly, and around 10% masturbated two or more times a week. How often do men masturbate, you ask? A little over a quarter of men in the same age group masturbated on a weekly basis, and another quarter put themselves in the two or more times group. These numbers were self-reported (and from a survey conducted in 2009), so it's worth noting that stigma around masturbation might skew these numbers. Even though responses to the survey were anonymous, that still doesn't stop people from being embarrassed and changing their answers.

Looking at some more recent numbers paints a bit more of a nuanced picture. Sexual wellness company Tenga's 2019 Self-Pleasure report reveals that of people who reported having masturbated (84% of Americans), 60% reported masturbating at least once a week, compared to 23% who do it just once a month. Even more telling? A little less than three-quarters of respondents said they considered masturbating a form of self-care.

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And self-care it really is. A 2019 study found that women self-reported it as a strategy to relax and cope with stress; it's also cited as a way to boost immunity, relieve menstrual cramps, and more. Masturbation "increases heart rate and blood flow to the entire body, promoting deep breathing and muscle flexion, serving as a mini workout (or a more intense one, depending on how you do it)," sex educator Bianca Alba, MPH, told Bustle for a previous article on the benefits of masturbation.

No matter how often you masturbate, it's important that it feels good — and thinking about other people's "normal" can bring up feelings of shame or stigma that are totally unwarranted. Hochberger says that a good litmus test for your own "normal" is whether masturbating is interfering with your daily life.

"I would want to know, is it taking over their lives?" she says. "Are they doing it all day long? Are they not able to work? Are they not able to get out of bed? If that’s an issue, then I would suggest they see a sex therapist."

The bottom line? If masturbating makes you feel good, then you're all good.

Studies cited:

Burri, A., & Carvalheira, A. (2019). Masturbatory Behavior in a Population Sample of German Women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16(7), 963–974. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2019.04.015

Experts:

Lisa Hochberger, L.M.S.W., M.Ed., sex therapist and educator

Bianca Alba, MPH, sex educator