Which gender loves themselves most?
Stereotypes are tricky things. So many of them are based on giant, flawed, borderline racist/sexist generalizations and yet… so many of them do have some basis in reality.
Take masturbation, for example. When someone says the word “masturbation,” chances are, the image you’re picturing in your head is a man. Men get associated with masturbation a lot. There’s even a go-to hand gesture that anyone, despite their language or cultural differences, would recognize as meaning masturbating (there’s not really a female equivalent).
This age-old assumption was called into question in 2016 after a new study in the Journal of Sex Research was released. The research tracked the sexual habits of teenagers from Sweden, Belgium, and Germany, and one of the major lines of questioning was about masturbation.
The big surprise was that, in this study, the male-female response percentages were shockingly close when it came to masturbation. According to the data, “[a]pproximately 98.9% of male participants and 85.5% of female participants said they had masturbated at some point in their lives … Furthermore, almost all men and more than 81% of women said they had orgasms while masturbating.”
While some touted the survey as showing that the male-female masturbation gap had closed — making masturbating a gender-neutral phenomenon — it did seem like the data from this survey was a major outlier. Maybe it’s just because Sweden seems so laid back about sex, but, in almost every other survey out there, men CLEARLY show more interest in masturbation than women.
In a 2013 survey from China, 96% of male college students reported masturbating compared to 70% of female students. Only 96 percent? That seems low.
In 2009, Indiana University released their National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). According to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of the results, “regardless of age, women are less likely to have tried masturbating.” In the age breakdown to the responses to the question “Have you ever masturbated?,” 91.8% of men ages 21-24 said they had masturbated (compared to 76.8% of women) and 94% of men 25-29 said they had masturbated (compared to 84.6% of women).
That same survey said half of all men “said they masturbated at least twice a week, but only 23% of girls reported the same frequency.” So, yes, Virginia, men do masturbate way, WAY more than women do.
But why? There are several potential reasons.
First of all, there’s the question of evolution. Men have certain biological drives associated with procreation that are tied to the feelings that accompany an orgasm (an orgasm meant that a man had ejaculated, hence, spreading his seed in the hopes of creating more little hunter-gather offspring). To quote Dr. John Bancroft, a senior researcher at the Kinsey Institute, “it isn’t the same for women; they don’t need to have orgasms in order to procreate.”
Another factor is the social stigma surrounding male and female masturbation. Male masturbation is a fairly ubiquitous thing (remember the hand gesture?). People just assume that teenage boys are masturbating constantly — that’s pretty much the foundation of the American Pie movies — and they don’t make a big deal about it. But teenage girls don’t get the same benefit of the doubt.
No one says, “Oh, we had to take the locks off the bathroom door because Jenny was in there all hours of the day.” Or “I’m afraid to touch the tube socks in Barbara’s bedroom, because who knows where they’ve been?”
Granted, things are changing with the advent of sex toy culture — past generations of girls didn’t have the benefit of having their moms host vibrator parties — but there is still a social prejudice that views boys masturbating as silly and predictable and girls masturbating as something “OTHER.”
Who knows? Maybe one day soon, the rest of the world will catch up to Sweden. Men and woman will close the masturbation gap and we’ll finally get that female masturbation hand gesture.
But, until then, masturbation will still be closely associated with men, because, frankly, they do it A LOT.