According to Thomas Lacquer’s 2003 book, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, masturbation as we know it was invented in 1713. By that, he meant that while masturbation may have always existed, it was only in the early 18th century that the phenomenon was named a new “disease,” creating a “nearly universal engine for generating guilt, shame, and anxiety.”
Today, masturbation is much more openly discussed, and some of the stigmas around it have lessened. With the dawn of the internet age, it’s hard to ignore the fact that 20% of mobile searches are for pornography, for example. According to WebMD, masturbation is now regarded as a normal, healthy sexual activity that is pleasant, fulfilling, acceptable, and safe, and many have even written guides on how to do it. Plenty of research has shown that masturbation has multiple health benefits.
With all of this in mind, we wanted to take a look at the state of masturbation today in the United States. How do we do it, and how often? What do masturbation and monogamy look like together? Where do our feelings around masturbation stand?
To find out, we conducted a survey of 1,040 adult Americans, asking them a variety of questions on their masturbation habits. Our respondents included individuals of various sexual orientations, sexual experience, relationship statuses, and genders. Read on to discover our findings.
How Often Do Americans Masturbate?
First, we wanted to know how often Americans masturbate. Overall, the answer is about 12 times a month on average. This number is consistent when considering just heterosexual people but was slightly higher for homosexual respondents, who reported masturbating 14.2 times per month.
We also found that men masturbate almost twice as much as women: 14.8 times per month versus 7.8 times per month. Additionally, virgins tend to masturbate less frequently than non-virgins (10.5 versus 13 times per month), and single people tend to masturbate much more frequently than those in a relationship (16 versus 11 times per month).
Who Do Americans Fantasize About?
While masturbating is often a solo act, we wanted to know what kinds of people come to mind most often for our respondents. The most common answer, it turns out, was celebrities, with 34.4% of people fantasizing about them. Close behind was ex-romantic partners (33.6%) and friends (33%).
Pornstars (28.8%) and missed connections (21.5%) are also common fantasy material. Some even enjoy fantasizing about others who are more taboo, such as coworkers (18%) and teachers or authority figures (10.6%). Overall, about 25% of people only fantasize about their partners.
How Do Americans Feel About Masturbation?
As we mentioned before, masturbation has been stigmatized for so long that we wondered how much of those negative feelings remain. Luckily, our statistics show some improvement in feelings toward masturbation over time.
31.6% of our respondents thought masturbation was shameful when they were young. However, there is a narrow difference between that amount and 31.3% of respondents who thought that it was healthy or natural. Many (28.2%) had no perception at all or were neutral about it.
We are happy to report that most people experience positive emotions after masturbating. Most people said that they felt relaxed and ready to sleep (34.8%), in a better mood / feeling good, energized (10.2%), or empowered (8.8%).
7.8% of people said they feel guilty or ashamed after masturbating. Others said they’re still wanting more (6.3%), none of the above (5%), or other (2.6%).
How Often Do Americans Use Sex Toys When Masturbating?
We also decided to look into the use of sex toys during masturbation. As it turns out, 49.4% of people don’t use sex toys ever when masturbating. Comparatively, 7.9% of people use a sex toy every time they masturbate.
For many people, sex toys are an infrequent occurrence in their masturbation habits. They reported using them less than 25% of the time (13.3%), about 25% of the time (8.3%), about half the time (10.1%), or about 75% of the time (11.1%). However, 29% of people usually use lube while masturbating.
Things Americans Admit to Doing While Masturbating
Now, what do masturbation sessions look like for many Americans? How often do they involve communication with someone else? Our “Select All That Apply” survey question revealed some insights. 36.1% of people admit to texting or sexting someone while they masturbate, and 34.1% admit to being on a phone call.
Similarly, 31.1% of people have been on a video call while masturbating, and 21.9% of people have watched or interacted with a “camgirl” or a “camguy.” Of course, many people might not find these things to be a turn on, or just haven’t tried them yet, as indicated by the 35.6% of people who have done none of these.
The Porn Preferences of Americans
And finally, as we discussed in the introduction, it is virtually impossible to separate discussions on porn and masturbation in the 21st century. We asked our respondents about their porn preferences and pulled out our most interesting insights.
We learned that 1 in 4 people watch porn every time they masturbate and that men are 1.8x more likely than women to do so. In fact, 22% of women say they never watch porn, while only 6% of men say that. Porn is also more popular with people who are not currently in relationships, who are 1.3x more likely to watch porn every time they masturbate.
Some other interesting porn preferences included: virgins are 2.2x more likely to primarily watch solo performer porn, and 18% of homosexuals indicated that they primarily watch straight porn when masturbating.
What We Learned
Overall, this survey was an interesting exercise in uncovering masturbation habits and preferences in current U.S. culture. Similar to our study on coming out experiences, many Americans seem to have benefitted from the decreased stigma in our culture surrounding this topic and are able to have a positive relationship with their own sexuality as a result.
We are always interested in making sure there is abundant, readily available information online teaching everyday people how to make sexual decisions safely. We hope this survey helped you learn something new.
About the Author
Dr. Evan Goldstein is the Founder and CEO of Bespoke Surgical. Dr. Goldstein has extensive experience educating and shedding light on health care issues relating to the gay community, and has been published in several national publications including The Advocate, OUT Magazine, Vice, Refinery 29, NY Mag and more.
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