Masturbation is the manual excitation of the sexual organs, most often to the point of orgasm. It can refer to excitation either by oneself or by another (mutual masturbation), but most commonly it is restricted to refer only to such activities performed alone. It is part of a larger set of activities known as autoeroticism, which also includes the use of sex toys and non-genital stimulation. Masturbation and sexual intercourse are the two most common sexual practices.

The word is believed by many to derive from a plural Greek word for penis (μεζεα) and the Latin word turba, meaning disturbance. A competing etymology based on a Latin phrase meaning "to defile with the hands" is regarded by most dictionaries as "an old conjecture". The word onanism was used as a synonym, but it is rarely used today, because it referred to a Biblical story Genesis 38:7-9, in which Onan "spilled his seed (semen) upon the ground" to avoid impregnating his dead brother's wife. It is now generally agreed that the passage refers to coitus interruptus rather than masturbation, and so the term "onanism" has become obsolete in English.

Females commonly stroke or rub the vulva, especially the clitoris. Women may also use running water to stimulate the vulva. Some women enjoy stimulation of the vagina by inserting fingers or an object. The most common form of masturbation in males is the repeated sliding of the foreskin back and forth over the glans penis (the head of the penis) until orgasm is achieved. Circumcised men, who lack a foreskin, frequently resort to the use of a lubricant to reduce friction. The glans penis is lubricated and directly massaged with one or both hands. A 1989 Australian survey of 85 men found that nearly two-thirds of circumcised men masturbated with the help of a lubricant, while almost all intact men used the foreskin and the shaft skin to do so.[1]

Men who can reach their penis with their tongue sometimes also perform self-fellatio, in which the man licks or sucks his own penis. Sperm released can be messy. It can be controlled by wearing a condom. Both sexes sometimes use lubricating substances to improve the sensation available. Members of both sexes may also masturbate by pressing or rubbing the genital area against an object, such as a pillow, or by inserting fingers or an object into the anus. Electric vibrators provide a strong stimulation of the penis or vulva/clitoris that many people enjoy, and may also be inserted into the vagina or anus. Members of both sexes may also enjoy touching, rubbing, or pinching the nipples while masturbating. People from a socially conservative or religious background may experience attendant feelings of guilt.

Reading or viewing pornography, or sexual fantasy, are common adjuncts to masturbation.

Both from the standpoint of avoiding unwanted pregnancy and that of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, masturbation is the safest of sexual practices. There is no credible scientific or medical evidence that manual masturbation is damaging to either one's physical or mental health. It does not make your palms hairy or your genitals shrink.

Solitary masturbation carries no risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Masturbation with a heterosexual partner can result in pregnancy only if semen contacts the vulva. Masturbation with a partner of any sex can theoretically result in transmission of sexually transmitted disease by contact with semen or female sexual fluids, and such contact should be avoided with any partner whose disease-negative status you are not sure of. Objects inserted into the vagina or anus should be clean and of a kind that will not scratch or break. Care should be taken not to fully insert anything into the anus - any object used should have a flared or flanged base; otherwise retrieval can require a visit to the emergency room. Most modern dildos and anal plugs are designed with this feature.

On July 16, 2003, an Australian research team led by Graham Giles of The Cancer Council published a medical study which concluded that frequent masturbation by males may help prevent the development of prostate cancer, and that it would be more helpful than ejaculation through sexual intercourse because sex can transmit diseases which can increase the risk of cancer instead.

Masturbation in history and society

Excerpt from United States
patent number 745,269, filed on May 29, 1903 by Albert V. Todd. It describes a device designed to prevent masturbation by inflicting electric shocks upon the perpetrator, by ringing an alarm bell, and through spikes at the inner edge of the tube into which the penis is inserted. View the complete patent: , , , . Patents of this kind have been filed from c. 1850 to c. 1920. [1]

As noted above, modern medicine recognizes that there is no significant harm (short term or long term) caused by the practice of masturbation, and regards it as a normal practice. In past times, however, some medical professionals taught that all sorts of deleterious effects could occur as a result of masturbation. Since the 18th century, many "remedies" have been devised for masturbation, including regularly eating corn flakes, physical restraint, electric shock, treating the genitalia with stinging nettles, or surgically removing them entirely. In later decades, the more drastic of these measures were increasingly replaced with psychological techniques, such as telling children they will get hairy hands or that their face will turn green from masturbating. In the United States and other English-speaking nations, routine neonatal circumcision was widely adopted in part because of its believed preventive effect against masturbation.

Many conservative religious groups teach masturbation to be a sinful practice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2352, lists masturbation as one of the "Offenses Against Chastity" and calls it "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action" because "use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." It goes on to caution that extenuating factors could exist, such as immaturity, habit, or psychological problems.

Masturbation and circumcision

It has been argued that the practice of male circumcision for non-religious reasons, still wide-spread in some countries, arose originally as one of the most popular remedies against masturbation. See circumcision for a detailed discussion. Extreme male circumcisions, where much of the penis' skin is removed, are in fact effective against masturbation because erections can become very painful, severely restricting the sexual use of the organ. Such circumcisions would today be referred to as malpractice in a medical context, but are sometimes practiced in a religious one.

As noted above, even routine male circumcision complicates masturbation, because the glans penis, which is keratinized and less sensitive in circumcised males, can not be massaged with the help of the foreskin. Masturbation becomes more difficult to learn and may be experienced as more troublesome. Several surveys indicate that uncircumcised men and boys masturbate earlier and more frequently than circumcised men. [1] A survey in the United States has indicated the opposite [1], but that has been attributed to strong sociodemographic difference between the two groups of circumcised and uncircumcised men in that country in particular. Even in pro-circumcision circles, the negative effect on masturbation, through the painful aftereffects of the operation and the complication of the process, is sometimes cited as an advantage. [1]

Circumcision opponents like Paul M. Fleiss [1] also refer to the over 20,000 nerve-endings in the removed tissue, which are believed to contribute to a loss of pleasure. While foreskin restoration can alleviate keratinization and make masturbation using the foreskin possible, it cannot regenerate the lost nerve-endings.

In males with phimosis and other similar rare conditions of the foreskin, however, circumcision alleviates painful erections and therefore increases the likelihood that masturbation would be pleasurable.

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