If a woman does it, it’s empowering. If a guy does it, it’s dirty. So goes the old, tired, and false narrative about masturbation. While our society has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few decades when it comes to female empowerment – understanding that women have agency over their sexual desires, for instance – there’s still one pervasive attitude that is proving tricky to tackle. The idea that male masturbation is somehow ‘gross’ or ‘pervy’ or even that it causes harm to the men who do it.
Before we crack open this can of worms, it’s worth mentioning that the phrases ‘male masturbation’ and ‘female masturbation’ inevitably carry a lot of gendered baggage. As a general rule, people say ‘male masturbation’ when what they actually mean is ‘cisgender male masturbation’ – i.e. the kind done by a guy with a penis.
Likewise ‘female masturbation’ usually refers to cisgender female masturbation. We’re going to use these terms to mean these things throughout this article, because in our experience the discussion surrounding gendered masturbation doesn’t include trans and non-binary folks: they have to deal with a whole different set of assumptions and problems when it comes to other people discussing their sexuality, but by and large the misconception we’re discussing here seems to be a very cisnormative one.
What is male masturbation stigma?
Sadly, we can give you plenty of examples. Perhaps the most notorious is an article published in American GQ in 2016 called (we’re not joking) ‘Why are male sex toys so creepy?‘:
“The idea of a woman pleasuring herself conjures notions of sensuality, discovery, and tenderness. There’s elegance to it. Now picture some guy jacking off. (Sorry.) Slovenly and craven, right?”
The author of the piece admits that there’s a double-standard here, but sadly doesn’t go as far as challenging it. Rather he simply accepts it as a fact: male masturbation is creepy, female masturbation is positive and empowering. If you’re still not sure that this counts as a double standard, let’s experiment by gender-flipping his words…
“The idea of a man pleasuring himself conjures notions of sensuality, discovery, and tenderness. There’s elegance to it. Now picture some gal jacking off. (Sorry.) Slovenly and craven, right?”
Do you see what we mean? It sounds strange, because we’re so used to this story being told the other way round. But – perhaps to state a little bit of the obvious – there’s no reason why men shouldn’t masturbate in ways that are sensual and tender. Why shouldn’t they also discover new forms of pleasure, through sex toys or different techniques? And come to think of it, why shouldn’t women masturbate in slovenly ways too? We can’t be expected to be ‘sensual and tender’ all the time.
Male masturbation as ‘necessity’
This stigma seems to stem from the idea that men masturbate as a necessity – because they have urges that desperately need to be satisfied – while women masturbate as a ‘treat.’ It’s two sides of the same coin: one which prescribes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour based on gender, rather than accepting that individuals (of all genders and none) have unique preferences and desires.
It’s not just men who suffer from masturbation stigma – the narrative can hurt women as well. Whether it’s through feeling ‘dirty’ if they themselves feel the ‘need’ to masturbate, or feeling like there’s something they’re doing wrong if their partner still feels the ‘need’ to masturbate.
Where male masturbation is framed as something sordid, that is only done because someone’s sexual needs aren’t being fully met elsewhere, it opens the doors onto a whole world of guilt and struggle. As journalist Alix Fox explained in a recent Cosmo article entitled ‘Why women should want men to masturbate‘:
“Some women see masturbation as their competition, and read his every toss as their personal loss. They don’t understand why their partners might choose to self-pleasure when they could have a sensual experience with them instead, and feel shunned and rejected if he rubs one out.”
Alix is absolutely right – this idea is common, and it is easy to see how one-sided it is. Rarely does someone need to explain that:
“Some men see masturbation as their competition… they don’t understand why women might choose to self-pleasure when they could have a sensual experience with them instead, and feel shunned and rejected if she rubs one out.”
Where male insecurity comes into play, it’s usually because they are comparing themselves unfavourably to sex toys, being worried about vibrators ‘replacing’ them in the bedroom, rather than concerned about masturbation itself. But when it comes to masturbation, the idea that a woman should be jealous if her partner masturbates springs directly from the assumption that wanking for men is a ‘necessity’ – one he wouldn’t necessarily require if she were meeting all his sexual needs.
It’s not true, of course: people masturbate for a whole host of reasons (they’re bored, they’re horny, they’ve got time to kill before the Ocado shop arrives, etc) and enjoying a bit of self-love doesn’t indicate that you aren’t enjoying partnered love too. Think of it like watching a movie: sometimes it’s nice to have someone to cuddle up to, but that shouldn’t stop you firing up Netflix when your partner is out.
Benefits of male masturbation
One of the first steps in tackling male masturbation stigma is to talk about the benefits of masturbation.
- It’s good for your physical health – studies suggest that regular masturbation can help prevent prostate cancer, as well as help you understand your body better. It’s easier to spot potential problems (for instance erectile dysfunction, which can sometimes be a symptom of problems with heart health and other things) if you’re used to having regular ‘check-ins’ with your body when you masturbate.
- It’s great for your mental health – as well as getting a mental boost in the short term, masturbation can release feel-good chemicals which can help to combat stress.
- It’s fantastic ‘practice’ for other sexual things – after all, it’s much easier to communicate your sexual needs to someone else if you’ve had time to explore and experiment on your own.
There are plenty of other benefits – check out the NHS website to read a little more. But most people – at least in the UK and US – are aware that masturbation can benefit men as well as women. The difficulty is that stigma still seems to hang around – in articles like that GQ one, as well as in narratives that lead to people feeling awkward or jealous about their male partner’s masturbation.
While these myths still persist, one of the most valuable things that we can all do is talk about it – engage in conversations about masturbation, highlighting the benefits, and challenging some of these gendered assumptions as they appear.
There’s also a huge opportunity to tackle these issues in the sex tech space – a goal that all of us at MysteryVibe HQ are keen to work towards! As sex toys become more popular, and less gendered, there’s a huge opportunity to highlight the benefits of masturbation without shame – to everyone, regardless of gender. Check out Tenuto – the world’s first smart, wearable vibrator for penises!