In mid-November 1997, we posted a different kind of survey on JackinWorld. We wanted to hear about the masturbation habits of adults over age 30 who have been in committed relationships -- whether they continue to masturbate in the relationship, what masturbation means to them, and whether and how they share masturbation with their partner.
What We Learned
Every respondent to our survey reported continuing to masturbate while in a committed relationship, whether straight or gay. Several -- old as well as young -- described their surprise that they would still need to masturbate even when they enjoyed an active and fulfilling sexual relationship with their partner. Some commented on private solo masturbation being different from partner sex, even when partner sex might include solo or mutual masturbation. These respondents said they see solo masturbation as a special private time to be with themselves -- a practice they expect to continue all their lives.
Although all respondents reported continued masturbation in their relationships, the meaning of the activity varies greatly. For a few, masturbation is merely a substitute for partner sex when the partner isn't available. For others, it embellishes and extends their sexuality by adding a type of sexual experience through fantasy not available in partner sex. For example, some married men reported fantasizing about homosexual activity while masturbating alone, enabling them to remain true to their marriage yet enjoy some satisfaction of their alternate need.
All gay and some straight respondents reported integrating masturbation into partner sex. Of those, some reported continuing private solo masturbation and that it is a quite different experience from masturbating with their partners. These respondents reported all varieties of masturbation in partner sex, including:
o Solo masturbation together or mutual masturbation, either as foreplay or to orgasm;
o One partner masturbating in front of the other, masturbating the other, watching the other masturbate, or helping the other to masturbate by fondling or licking testicles, nipples, and other erogenous areas.
Respondents who have integrated masturbation into partner sex report that it brings them closer together. Those who have not integrated it into partner sex report either that it does not affect the relationship (where the partner accepts their masturbation) or that it pushes them apart (where the partner has difficulty accepting the masturbation). Many respondents who reported that their partner knows about their solo masturbation added that the partner does not know how much they do it.
Description Of Responses
Of the 90 usable responses, 81 were from males, 8 from females; one did not state a gender. Responses came mostly from all regions of the United States, although Canada, western Europe, South Africa, and Australia were also represented.
The table below summarizes the numbers. Some respondents did not report certain characteristics -- for example, several did not specify sexual orientation. Where this occurred, the percentages shown are based on the total number of responses to that characteristic, not the survey total.
Discussion Of Results
The small number of responses to this survey prevents easy generalization to a larger population. It seems obvious that most people who visit JackinWorld do so because they are interested in masturbation. So it would follow that most survey respondents would report that they masturbate. That all respondents reported this does deserve some attention; it could suggest that the proportion of adults in the general population who continue to masturbate in committed relationships is surprisingly large.
Another perspective can be attained by looking back to the age distribution of respondents to previous JackinWorld surveys: most were teenagers, with a small proportion being adults over 20 or 30 -- so the lower response to this survey is understandable. Besides, this survey required having the time and willingness to think about and write out responses to the questions. Busy people often can't take that time. The editors of JackinWorld applaud those who did respond, and we thank each of you for making the effort to provide information we think does not exist elsewhere.
More than anything else, the survey response should bury the myth that masturbation is a juvenile practice we put away when we grow into mature sexual relationships. Another point to consider is that respondents of all ages are so consistently enthusiastic about their masturbation. Consider for a moment that the oldest respondent, now 78, was entering puberty in the early 1920s. Meanwhile, people in their 30s were going through puberty in the 1970s, and for people in their 50s it was the '40s and '50s. Now consider how different the cultural values around sexuality have been in each of these eras. From complete denial with a wink at boys' mischief up into the 1960s, through the watershed years of the sexual revolution in the '60s and '70s, to today's search for a balanced morality in an age of epidemic sexual disease, people hold on to and celebrate that primary act of sex with oneself, weaving it into their lives as well as they can. If these survey respondents are at all indicative of the larger population, we could expect that many people continue to masturbate throughout their adult lives.
From parents who scold small children for "playing with themselves" to teenage peers who kid others about "queering themselves" and young men who use a common masturbation gesture to mean "wasting one's time," our culture does a thorough job of instilling fear and guilt around masturbation as it perpetuates other unrealistic myths about male and female sexuality. Most respondents who reported changing the way they feel about masturbation mentioned overcoming this guilt and becoming easier and more intimate with themselves. We at JackinWorld hope that the response to this survey can contribute positively to similar conquering of anxiety about masturbation for many more people.