By Karen Espig

Actually, let’s rephrase that: why some women don’t masturbate. According to a compilation of studies, 21.8% of women state that they have never masturbated in their life. Additional statistics show that 72% of women aged 25-29 partake, but only 47% of women aged 60-69.

Making a choice to not masturbate is, of course, completely okay. But for many, it is not a conscious, informed choice. Factors such as shame, trauma, physiological changes, and culture have a significant influence on whether people masturbate or not.

A Brief History Of Masturbation

Attitudes towards masturbation and sex, in general, are complex, and the following paragraphs only touch on a few key points. For a more detailed historical view, many books and papers are available. Sin, Sickness, and Sanity: A History of Sexual Attitudes, 1977 is a good starting point.

Some early organised religions, such as Christianity, viewed masturbation as a threat to the survival of humanity, sexual activity being for creating new human life. The guilt and shame associated with religious indoctrination still run deep. Many ancient cultures, however, venerated masturbation, including it as part of abundance ceremonies, depicting images of phalluses and sexual acts in art and decoration. 

The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all partook. While the focus was on male masturbation, there are stories regarding Cleopatra’s vibrator made from a gourd filled with angry bees. There’s no proof of this, but the story persists!

Things took a radical turn in the early 1700s when a medical paper by Samuel Tissot (an advisor for the Vatican) in 1758, Onania, claimed that masturbation was linked to insanity. A century later, physicians still attributed many physical and mental illnesses to the self-love practice. Then came Sigmund Freud, who got on both sides of the fence, purporting that masturbation may cause neuroses, but so does the repression of it. What’s a person to do?

Arguably, the most dramatic shift in views came after the publication of the Kinsey Reports in 1948 (males) and 1953 (females). Suddenly the whole world knew what everyone was up to behind closed doors. At the very least, it opened up the discussion around sex and sexual health.

Lost Libido

One reason many women do not masturbate is due to a lack of interest or desire for sexual pleasure. Several factors may contribute, including stress, hormone changes, thyroid issues, and trauma. Many of these issues are addressable with medical treatment or appropriate therapy.

Hormonal and physiological changes over a woman’s lifetime can affect both sexual desire and the pleasure experienced when sexually active. Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause essentially transform a woman’s body, and it may take some time to get used to the new you. Women sometimes take a break from self-pleasure during this time simply because they need time to get reacquainted with themselves, both physically and psychologically.

Experiencing trauma, sexual or otherwise, can affect the desire for sexual pleasure. Female feelings of sexuality arise from a place of psychological and physical safety; alarmingly, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in three women experience physical or sexual assault in their lifetime. Some women simply turn off sexuality as a self-preservation mechanism. 

SSRIs, which are a common medication prescribed for depression, are known to reduce sexual desire as well as function. They also may cause weight gain, which can also aggravate body issues and lessen libido.

The Gender Gap

In cultures where masturbation is considered a healthy activity, the notion still exists that if a woman has a partner, she shouldn’t need to masturbate. This exists both in society, but also within some intimate relationships. 

Meanwhile, it is quite acceptable, and even expected, for men to jerk themselves off, and 57% do it on the regular and according to a study from Indiana University. On the other hand, only 25% of women masturbate regularly. It is pretty usual for male masturbation to be mentioned casually or in an amusing way in the media (think Something About Mary or American Pie), while women are much less likely to acknowledge they even do it, let alone discuss it openly. 

Not Knowing How

Some women need help figuring out how to start and what to do. I suggest beginning with a low-tech approach–grab some lube or wet your fingers and take some time using a variety of touches. If you feel inclined, there are an endless variety of toys available. Still need some help? There’s an app for that!

Whatever reasons women may have for not investigating self-love, it is important to reinforce that masturbation is not a sexual privilege but part of sexual health. If you have never played with yourself and cannot identify why perhaps it’s time you explore the area as it were. Self-pleasure can improve your mood, reduce stress, and improve your health. It can also teach you a thing or two about your body and what you enjoy sexually.