In this textbook the word masturbation is used to describe self-stimulation of one’s genitals for sexual pleasure. Autoeroticism is another term used for masturbation. We discuss some perspectives on and purposes of masturbation and specific techniques used in masturbation.

Perspectives on Masturbation

Masturbation has been a source of social concern and censure throughout Judeo – Christian history. This state of affairs has resulted in both misinformation and consid­erable personal shame and fear. Many of the negative attitudes toward masturbation are rooted in early Jewish and Christian views that procreation was the only legitimate purpose of sexual behavior. Because masturbation obviously could not result in con­ception, it was condemned (Wiesner-Hanks, 2000). During the mid-18th century, the "evils" of masturbation received a great deal of publicity in the name of science, largely because of the writings of a European physician named Samuel Tissot. He believed that semen was made from blood and that the loss of semen was debilitating to health, and he wrote vividly about the mind – and body-damaging effects of "self-abuse." This view of masturbation influenced social and medical attitudes in Europe and North America for generations, as reflected by an "encyclopedia" of health pub­lished in 1918, which describes the following "symptoms" of masturbation:

The health soon becomes noticeably impaired; there will be general debility. . . . Next come sore eyes, blindness, stupidity, consumption, spinal affliction, emaciation, involuntary seminal emissions, loss of all energy or spirit, insanity and idiocy—the hopeless ruin of both body and mind. (Wood & Ruddock, 1918, p. 812)

In the 1800s, sexual abstinence, simple foods, and fitness were lauded as crucial to health. The Reverend Sylvester Graham, who promoted the use of whole-grain flours and whose name is still attached to graham crack­ers, wrote that ejaculation reduced precious "vital fluids." He beseeched men to abstain from masturbation and even marital intercourse to avoid moral and physical degeneracy. John Harvey Kellogg, a physician, carried Graham’s work further and developed the cornflake to help prevent masturbation and sexual desire. (Kellogg believed that bland food dampened sexual desires.) Other tech­niques to control masturbation included bandaging the genitals, tying one’s hands at
night, performing a clitoridectomy, applying carbolic acid to the clitoris, and suturing foreskins shut, as well as employing mechanical devices (Planned Parenthood Federa­tion of America, 2003).

Freud and most other early psychoanalysts recognized that masturbation does not harm physical health, and they saw it as normal during childhood. However, they believed that masturbation in adulthood could be a sign of "immature" sexual develop­ment and the inability to form good sexual relationships.

Views today reflect conflicting beliefs about masturbation; some of the traditional condemnation still exists. For example, in 1976 the Vatican issued a "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics," which described masturbation as an "intrinsically and seriously disordered act." This perspective was maintained in 1993 by Pope John Paul Il’s condemnation of masturbation as morally unacceptable. Many reli­gious fundamentalists have negative attitudes about masturbation (Ahrold et al., 2011). Indeed, some individuals abstain from masturbation because of their religious beliefs.

I don’t masturbate, because I’ve learned from my church and my parents that sexual love in marriage is an expression of God’s love. Any other kind of sex diminishes the meaning I will find with my wife. (authors’ files)

In contrast to negativity about masturbation, beginning in the 1970s, feminists coun­tered religious condemnation by promoting masturbation as a legitimate form of wom­en’s self-loving and sexual self-discovery, as well as a component of partner lovemaking (Chalker, 2002). For example, Betty Dodson, author of Liberating Masturbation, writes:

Masturbation, of course, is our first natural sexual activity. It’s the way we discover our eroticism, the way we learn to respond sexually, the way we learn to love our­selves and build self-esteem. (Dodson, 1974, p. 13)