Masturbation Satisfies Women, Men Differently, Shows Study
Women may masturbate while engaging in partnered sex to enhance their experience, but men may usually view masturbation as unnecessary if they are already sexually satisfied. In other words, women view it as a “complementary” element of their sex lives, while men tend to see it as a form of “compensation” with respect to partnered sex, according to a new study.
Published last month in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the research offers insights into the distinct role masturbation plays in the sexual lives of men and women.
“Despite all advantages solo sex has largely been overlooked as a relevant sexual behavior, and we still know surprisingly little about how solo sex is associated with sexual satisfaction, well-being, and pain release,” said Nantje Fischer, one of the co-authors of the study, while explaining the motivation behind the research. “One reason I became so interested in the topic of masturbation is because of its huge potential and its many advantages…it is a free and effortless way of dealing with your sexual desires. Another huge advantage of masturbation is that it is a safe sex alternative without any risks of contracting sexually transmitted infection or unwanted pregnancy.” Fischer added.
Masturbation is an essential component of sexuality, and yet little has been understood on how exactly it differs across individuals. Previous research on the activity, especially among adolescents and preadolescents, shows that those who identified as men were much more likely to masturbate than those who identified as women. The social stigma attached to masturbation, much of which is also gendered, could be among the reasons why. In India, the stigma often extends well beyond the age of adolescence, and lack of sex education and access to sex toys also play a role in differing masturbation patterns between women and men.
For the current research, the scientists — Norway-based researchers — collected questionnaire responses from a sample of 4,160 Norwegians aged 18-89 years. Apart from questions on the participants’ sexual activity and masturbation habits, the survey also asked respondents about their porn viewing habits and body and genital image issues.
Based on their responses, the participants were divided into four clusters. The first cluster comprised respondents who reported both high sexual satisfaction and masturbation frequency. The second cluster comprised participants who reported high sexual satisfaction but low masturbation frequency. In the third, the scientists clubbed data of participants who reported low sexual satisfaction while reporting high masturbation frequency. The fourth and final cluster was characterized by responses reporting both low sexual satisfaction and masturbation frequency. The first cluster contained the largest portion of the research sample: 33.1% of the respondents. The second, third, and fourth clusters contained 31.5%, 18.7%, and 16.7% of the sample population, respectively.
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On analyzing the data in the four clusters, the researchers found that while women who reported greater sexual variety and higher intercourse frequency were also likely to report a high masturbation frequency and sexual satisfaction, among men those who reported frequent partnered sex were likely to fall in the cluster characterized by low masturbation frequency. The study thus indicates that while women may engage in masturbation to complement their involvement in partnered sex, men are more likely to think of self-pleasure in the absence of a partner, as fulfilling a compensatory role.
The researchers also found that while both women and men in the high masturbation clusters reported high porn consumption, among men greater frequency of porn viewing was associated with sexual dissatisfaction. This is in line with previous research on porn use and its differential impacts on the sexual lives of young men and women, with women affected more positively than men.
Studies from countries with a more progressive attitude towards sex and sex education, such as Sweden, have highlighted that there are similarities in masturbation habits of both men and women. These studies indicate the intersection between gender norms and sexuality: when conversations around sex are more open, the stigma around masturbation declines, and more women in such societies feel free to masturbate without any judgment or fear.
But across all societies, patriarchal expectations inevitably interfere. The present study also points out, for instance, how body image issues affect not only women, but even men. The researchers observed that sexual distress, negative body image issues, and issues with genital self-image affected sexual satisfaction among men way more than they did among women.
Commenting on this observation, the researchers in their study noted, “The fact that men’s genitalia play an important role in defining masculinity in terms of appearance (e.g., penis size) and performance (e.g., erection) might explain the influences of men’s genital self-image on their sexual satisfaction.” Earlier, a 2018 global study on Masturbation also found that stereotypes of manliness and masculinity often pervaded sexual relationships and affected not only men’s relations with their bodies and masturbation habits and also prevented them from having fulfilling sexual lives.
The current research then offers significant insights into the gendered norms behind how men and women view the role of masturbation — an easily accessible means of achieving sexual pleasure — and how it can aid in sexual satisfaction. It also adds to our understanding of how people experience their sex lives according to their gender — and the factors involved therein.