When I ask my clients if they know their partner masturbates, I'm always amazed they often have no idea. Masturbation or my favourite expression, solo sex, is still such a taboo topic that many couples are embarrassed to talk about it.
This is quite understandable because even until recent times most religions didn't approve of masturbation and some regarded it as a sin. Given these negative messages most of us received while growing up, it is not surprising there are still feelings of shame and embarrassment about this very natural and healthy activity.
If we were caught masturbating or exploring our bodies when playing childhood games, we were told off and made to feel ashamed and guilty. There are probably very few parents around who would explain to their children that masturbation is a normal and healthy activity and would tell them to just enjoy it – I suggest they do!
In 2010 Dr Debby Herbenick and her team from the Kinsey Institute published this research in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. According to this work, 94 per cent of men admit to masturbating and 85 per cent of women do. I'm not sure what the percentage is in Australia; I have never spoken to a man who doesn't, but I have encountered many women, especially older ones, who don't.
Most women know what masturbation is because of magazines like Dolly for young girls and Cleo or Cosmopolitan. However it's not that easy for some women to learn how to masturbate and have an orgasm; it's even harder if they believe it's the job of the partner.
But it's important for a woman to learn how to masturbate and achieve an orgasm on her own first, then she can determine what is erotically pleasing for her and will be able to tell her partner what excites her and show him what to do. Some couples use mutual masturbation to discover techniques for a more satisfying sexual relationship to add to their shared intimacy.
Some men and women believe that if you are in a relationship, there is no need for masturbation. This doesn't make sense at all – just imagine that every time your partner wants to have sex, you need to be ready for it whether you are in the mood or not!
One of my clients was in his early sixties and still very sexually active. He told me proudly that he masturbated a lot when he was young but didn't need to anymore after he married his wife at age 21. I didn't meet his wife but imagine that she probably felt it was her duty and never complained.
Another client found out his wife sometimes used a vibrator and became very upset because he couldn't understand why she did it when she "had him". He became obsessed thinking about her using the vibrator and kept checking if she did. It became a real issue for them and she was sorry she ever told him.
The best thing about solo sex is its many unexpected health benefits for both women and men.
Masturbation promotes the release of endorphins, the neurotransmitters associated with happy feelings that can improve overall mood and fight off depression. Sexual arousal and orgasm produce a chemical called oxytocin, which works as a natural pain reliever. It can help reduce headaches and relieve stress and tension after a busy day.
If you have difficulties sleeping, a good "wank" can work wonders and you feel better after a good night's sleep in the morning. It can also strengthen the muscle tone in the genital and pelvic floor area, which can lead to better sex.
In addition to feeling good, masturbation is a great way of relieving the sexual tension that can build up over time, especially for people without partners or whose partners are not willing or available for sex. It's also is a safe sexual alternative for people who wish to avoid pregnancy.
A couple can stimulate each other at the same time which is intimate, rewarding and fun. It is a good way to experience sexual pleasure and can be done throughout life; people often masturbate into very old age.
It is supposed to improve the immune system and can contribute to overall better health. The best thing is it keeps people free from sexually transmitted infections – really a good way of having safe sex!
Some health benefits for women are relief of pre-menstrual tension and other physical conditions associated with the menstrual cycle, such as cramps. It can relieve painful menstruation by increasing blood flow to the pelvic region, which will also reduce pelvic cramping and related backaches.
For men, it may help overcoming premature ejaculation by training to last longer; it's easier to practise control when on your own. Frequent masturbation helps in preventing the development of prostate cancer. Cancer-causing chemicals can build up in the prostate if men do not ejaculate regularly. Regular flushing of the system keeps semen healthy.
If you want some more proof, check out this lovely educational video.
When you realise what a pleasurable and healthy experience sole sex is, you may want to do it more often and have fun at the same time.