Myths and Facts About Masturbation

When it comes to having sex, many teens — and adults too — have trouble separating fact from mythology.

Oct 2, 2022 - 17:32
Oct 2, 2022 - 17:32
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Myths and Facts About Masturbation
Myths and Facts About Masturbation

Here are some common myths and facts about having sex.

  • Does oral sex count as sex?

    The myth is that only vaginal intercourse counts as having sex. In fact, there is no one definition of "having sex." People all have their own definitions of what it means. For many people "having sex" means engaging in a range of intimate, physical behaviors by yourself or with another person or persons that can often (but not always) involve the genitals. For some people it is only penis-in-vagina intercourse. For some people it is only penis-in-anus intercourse. For some people it is intercourse with a sex toy. For some people it is genital rubbing without intercourse.  For some people it includes oral / genital contact.  For some it includes masturbation. The possibilities are many. For most experts (like us) it includes all of the above.

    People decide for themselves what it means to them to "have sex." To avoid confusion when talking about having sex with sex partners, it’s important to clearly communicate your limits and expectations and to be sure you understand theirs. There is a wide range of fun, safe, pleasurable activities that people can engage in that are called ”having sex.”

    Good news: there is a variety of sexual activities that are very low risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (such as mutual masturbation, phone sex, and cybersex). Bad news: one behavior — unprotected vaginal intercourse —) can be very high risk for both!  A lot of other behaviors are high risk for sexually transmitted infections.  So whatever "having sex" means to you, be careful!

  • Are most teens having vaginal intercourse?

    The myth is that most teens have had vaginal intercourse.  Surprise, surprise: most haven’t! A survey of nearly 14,000 high school students across the country reported that less than half (47.8 percent) ever had intercourse. So why does it seem like everyone's doing it? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

    The first reason is that we receive thousands of impressions from the media that suggest it's true. Teens today spend between six and seven hours a day with some form of media. On prime-time TV alone there are about 10 instances of sexual behavior per hour. Combine that with sexual images on YouTube and in magazine ads, music videos, billboards, pop-ups, and movies, and it all adds up to A LOT of sexual content that we\'re being exposed to.

    Another reason that it seems like most teens have had intercourse is that there is a lot of bragging, rumors, gossip, and guessing amongst teens. All this speculation can start to feel like "the truth," but it really is just gossip and rumor. Teens need to decide for themselves when they are ready for sexual activity with someone else and know that it is perfectly "normal" to wait.

  • Can I get pregnant the first time I have sexual intercourse? Can I get pregnant if I don’t have it that often?

    The myth is that a girl cannot get pregnant the first time she has vaginal intercourse.  You can! You can! If you’re having unprotected intercourse you can get pregnant — whether it is the first time or the one hundred and first time! It’s even possible for a girl to get pregnant before she has her first period — this is because an egg is released before menstruation can happen.

    It’s also possible to get pregnant whether you have intercourse frequently or infrequently. It's all about the sperm hooking up with the egg. If that happens, pregnancy can occur. If you’re sexually active, it's important to use some form of birth control if you are not intending to become pregnant.

  • Can a doctor tell if I’m a virgin?

    The myth is that a doctor, or anyone else who looks at woman’s vulva, can tell if she’s a virgin.  Not really. Even pelvic exams can\'t reveal if you\'ve had vaginal intercourse or if you masturbate, unless there are specific signs. A health care provider may be able to tell a woman is not a virgin if she has

    • symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection such as herpes or genital warts
    • semen in her vagina from a recent act of intercourse
    •  torn tissue from violent or rough sex

    People used to think that if a women's hymen — the thin membrane that stretches part way over the opening to the vagina — was perfectly intact a doctor could tell she was a virgin. But women are born with varying amounts of hymenal tissue. Some have so little that it may seem they have none at all. Many activities besides vaginal intercourse can stretch open the hymen. These include bike-riding, using tampons, or playing certain sports. For these reasons, the state of a women's hymen is not a reliable indicator of whether she has had sex.

    Occasionally, if a woman has a perfectly intact hymen that covers most of her vaginal opening, her nurse or doctor might think that she’s a virgin. And if hymeneal tissue that a nurse or doctor has previously observed appears changed, she may think that sexual intercourse has occurred. In either case, the nurse or doctor cannot be sure unless she is told.

    So usually, the only way a nurse or doctor will know if a woman's had sex is if the woman tells her. That's why it's important to tell your nurse or doctor if you’re having sex. Don\'t let embarrassment become a health risk. Let your nurse or doctor know what’s going on with your sex life so that she can make a more informed evaluation of your health status.

  • Can I get pregnant if I have sex when I’m having my period?

    The myth is that it is impossible for a woman to get pregnant from vaginal intercourse during her period.  It's not likely for most women, but it can happen. It’s possible for a woman to get pregnant from intercourse during her period, especially if her menstrual cycle is brief or irregular.

    Here's an example: In a 20-day cycle, ovulation — the release of the egg — may very well occur on day six of her cycle. Her period begins on day one. It lasts about five days. Ejaculated sperm can hang around in her body and fertilize an egg up to six days later. Let's say this couple has unprotected sex in the first two days of her period. The live sperm can wait around to join with her egg when it is released on day six. This could cause a pregnancy. And of course, another important concern of having unprotected intercourse — anytime during the month — is that it offers no protection against sexually transmitted infections.

  • Do condoms really work?

    The myth started by opponents of birth control is that condoms don’t really work. The fact is that, when used correctly every time, condoms are 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. And condoms are the best way to avoid sexually transmitted infections for people who are sexually active. Most breakage happens because condoms are used incorrectly. In fact, properly lubricating a condom helps reduce the likelihood of the condom breaking. However, only water- or silicone-based lubricants such as KY jelly, Astro Glide, Slippery Stuff, etc., can be used with latex condoms.

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Masturbation. Most people do it — yet so many people worry about doing it! That's because there are a lot of myths out there that masturbation is dirty, dangerous, or something to be embarrassed about doing. But the truth is, masturbation is a safe and healthy way to have sex, and it's here to stay.

People of all ages masturbate. Guys masturbate, and girls do it, too. Single people and people in relationships do it. Some people masturbate a few times a day, some do it a few times a year, and some don’t do it at all. Here are some common myths and facts about masturbation.

  • Can masturbation cause pregnancy?

    Some young people worry about that. It’s not possible to get pregnant from masturbating, unless semen is spilled on a woman’s vulva. Pregnancy can happen when a boy’s or a man’s sperm get in the vagina or on the vulva. In order for a pregnancy to occur, sperm needs to get inside the vagina and travel to the fallopian tubes connected to a woman's uterus. If it  joins with an egg there to form a fertilized egg that attaches itself to the wall of the woman's uterus, pregnancy can begin. When you masturbate alone, that can’t happen.  When a guy masturbates with a woman, he needs to be careful that his semen doesn’t touch her vulva.

  • Is masturbation unhealthy?

    The myth is that masturbation makes you blind, or crazy, or stupid, damages your sex organs, or stunts your growth. This couldn\'t be further from the truth. Masturbation is not emotionally or physically harmful in any way. In fact, it has a number of physical and mental health benefits — here are just a few:

    • Masturbation releases stress and physical tension. Many people masturbate to relax, and it can help some people fall asleep.
    • Orgasms — whether they\'re from masturbation or sex play with a partner — can act as a natural painkiller. Some women masturbate to relieve menstrual cramps. Research has also shown that orgasms may even prevent endometriosis, a disease of the uterine lining.
    • One recent study found that frequent ejaculation from masturbating may reduce a man's chances of developing prostate cancer.

    Plus, solo sex is the ultimate form of safer sex — there is no risk of pregnancy or infection.

  • Is it okay to masturbate if I’m in a sexual relationship with someone?

    The myth is that people in relationships don’t masturbate.  Here's an interesting fact — people who have regular sex partners actually masturbate more often than those who don\'t. Some people are concerned when they find out their partners masturbate — they wonder, "Why would someone masturbate when they could have intercourse? Does this mean that my partner isn\'t attracted to me?" But many people — both in relationships and single — masturbate when their partners are unavailable.

    Some use masturbation as a kind of "dress rehearsal," to learn more about what they find pleasurable. People can learn about their bodies through masturbating, and this can help them communicate better with their partners about what they enjoy sexually.

  • Do girls masturbate?

    The myth is that girls don’t masturbate.  Some people think that it's O.K. for guys to masturbate or have other kinds of sex, but that girls shouldn\'t. Unfortunately, our society is often more comfortable with men expressing their sexuality than with women, so many girls are taught not to masturbate — or not to admit to doing it. But the truth is, girls and women do masturbate, and there's no reason they shouldn\'t. In fact, one study showed that women who masturbate have higher self-esteem than those who don\'t.

  • Is there such a thing as too much masturbation?

    The myth is that too much masturbation will make you blind, or crazy, or stupid, or damage your sex organs, or stunt your growth.  Some people masturbate every day — or even more than once a day. That's fine. So is there such a thing as "too much" masturbation? According to the experts (the American Psychiatric Association), it's only when masturbation gets in the way of daily activities — like going to school or work, or meeting friends — that it would be considered "too much." And not many people have that problem.

    Also, some people worry that masturbating frequently will affect a girl's fertility or a guy's ability to produce sperm. It doesn\'t. A guy may find that he has less volume of semen if he ejaculates frequently, and his semen may contain less sperm. But that doesn\'t mean that his sperm count will be reduced in the future. The testicles produce and store sperm beginning at puberty, and sperm production continues through most of adult life.

    Some people masturbate daily or more than once a day, some people masturbate once in a while, and some people never masturbate. It's a matter of personal preference.

  • Is it normal to masturbate before puberty?

    The myth is that it is abnormal for children to masturbate. The truth is that masturbation is a perfectly healthy activity at any age. Babies explore their bodies and learn quickly that touching their sex organs feels good. It's not at all unusual for young children to masturbate. Often parents will stop them from doing it in front of other people, but many children continue to masturbate on their own. In fact, experts recommend that parents teach children that it's normal for people to touch their sex organs for pleasure — but that it should be done in private.

  • If I masturbate with an object, can it give me a sexually transmitted infection?

    The myth is that masturbation can cause sexually transmitted infections.  Not true. And when it comes to using objects, it’s not possible unless more than one person is using the object. Infections can be spread if objects are shared and someone has an infection.

    Condoms can be used on toys that go into the vagina or anus if partners want to share them. Use a new condom for each partner — and for each part of the body. Sex toys need to be cleaned — different toys have different cleaning instructions.

    Touching our sex organs for pleasure with our hands or with objects is a normal, healthy part of life for girls and boys, women and men of all ages.

  • Does masturbating make other kinds of sex not feel as good?

    The myth is that masturbation ruins how other kinds of sex feel. The truth is that masturbation can help other kinds of sex feel better, not worse. It’s about discovering what kinds of touching and sensations work for you, and it's a way to learn to have orgasms. Most people who reach orgasm with a partner have also experienced an orgasm from masturbation.

  • Is it O.K. to masturbate when I have my period?

    The myth is that women should not have any kind sex when they have their periods. It’s safe and healthy for a girl to masturbate (or have other kinds of sex) when she has her period. Some women masturbate especially during menstruation to relieve menstrual cramps. 

    If a woman is using a tampon, she should remove it before insertive masturbation. Otherwise the tampon and its string could get pushed up too deep in the vagina for the woman to get it out herself.

    Many women report that their desire for sex is different at different times in their cycles. Sometimes a woman is more easily aroused than at other times. Some women experience increased desire at menstruation, right after menstruation, or at ovulation.

    The causes for these patterns of sexual desire are not clearly understood. We know that levels of the hormone testosterone play a role in sexual desire in both women and men. But we also know that psychological and emotional factors are very important.

    All we know for sure is that the pattern of sexual desire is different for different women. It's another good example of how being different is normal.

  • Do people masturbate together?

    The myth is that couples don’t masturbate together —  they always have other kinds of sex. The truth is that many couples enjoy watching each other masturbate. Many like to masturbate themselves to orgasm after other kinds of sex. “Mutual masturbation” is also a great way to have safer sex and to prevent unwanted pregnancy. 

  • What should I do if my parents catch me masturbating?

    The myth is that parents have never masturbated and can’t image their kids doing it.  Most parents have masturbated, and most expect their kids to. But having a parent see you masturbate is very embarrassing. Have a conversation with your parents about privacy, about coming into your room without knocking, or about masturbation. Talking with them about it might open the door for further conversations about privacy and sex in the future. Your parents might be able to answer questions and offer great advice. Plus, sharing what you both know about sexuality and sexual health can help strengthen trust among you.

    If you\'re nervous or embarrassed, it's O.K. to say so! Break the ice with something like, "This feels weird for me to talk about, and it may be for you, too, but I want to talk with you about what happened ..."

    It's too bad that so many people are ashamed of masturbating.  But with all the myths out there, it’s understandable.  More than half of people who masturbate have unnecessary feelings of guilt and shame about it. If you’re one of those people, try to let go of the bad feelings you have about it. Talk about your feelings with someone you can trust. Guilt and shame can lead to difficulties in a person's sense of self-esteem and in a person's relationships with other people.  And no one needs that.

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