Breaking News: Teenage Boys Masturbate a Lot. Seriously.

Health & Wellness on 08.02.11
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Adolescent boys start masturbating earlier than their female counterparts do, and they also masturbate more frequently.  In addition, both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17 steadily increase the frequency of their masturbation as they get older.  The girls, however, don't ever catch up to their much more enthusiastic male peers.

Shocked?  I didn't think you would be.

The study, conducted by Dr. Cynthia L. Robbins of the pediatrics department at Indiana University, is based on analysis of the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, and considers information from the responses of over 800 teens.

In an article about the study, Health Day reporter Alan Mozes includes numerous quotes from highly credentialed experts who can't emphasize enough that masturbation is a normal part of sexual development, and teens should be comfortable with it, as opposed to being consumed with shame like we were.  I children in previous generations may have been.

Aside from the calls for healthy attitudes toward masturbation, the authors of the study shared a number of interesting facts they gleaned from the surveys: 

  • Three quarters of boys between 14-17 report having ever masturbated; whereas slightly less than half of the girls did.
  • As boys got older, they were more likely to report having "recently" masturbated; but girls were not.
  • Masturbation seems to be linked to other types of sexual behavior, including enaging in sexual relations and using condoms.
  • Condom use was linked to masturbation in boys (but not girls) who also engaged in vaginal intercourse

Most of those findings simply confirm the conventional wisdom that adolescent boys are horndogs.

But a couple bits of the data are troubling to me.  On one hand, masturbation is associated with higher risk behavior for both genders: i.e., engaging in any kind of sex with a partner.  For boys though, it seems that at least they are slightly more likely to use condoms if they masturbate, which would suggest that masturbating is associated to some extent with healthy, responsible attitudes towards sex.  Girls who masturbate, however, are more likely to have sexual contact, but not more likely to use condoms.  It seems to me that that says something about our cultural attitudes towards females' sexual pleasure.  But I'm not sure exactly what that something is.

Although this study doesn't offer much surprising new data, and may not seem to answer any pressing questions about human sexuality, it can be seen as part of an ongoing effort to understand the sexual habits and attitudes of young people, and, one hopes, keep them educated on the subject and as safe as they can be.

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