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Is Teen Masturbation OK?

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Updated May 30, 2014

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Depending upon how or when you were raised, you may have questions about teen masturbation. Is it OK for my teen to masturbate? Will it make his penis smaller (or larger)? Will it stunt her growth? Will it delay puberty – or make it happen earlier? And what about hairy palms?

Teen Masturbation Is Normal

Masturbation is the stimulation of the genitalia for sexual pleasure. In other words, masturbation is the stimulation of the penis or vaginal area through rubbing or other means. Sometimes masturbation will include a lubricant to enhance the sensations. Other times there are other objects used to stimulate the genitalia, such as dildos or vibrators.

Teen masturbation is a completely normal event. As teens experience puberty, they become more curious about their developing bodies. Additionally, the sex hormones that are allowing puberty to happen can also prompt the adolescent to explore his or her body further, including activities such as masturbation and orgasm. There isn't much scientific data on teen masturbation, but there are a few studies that look at frequency. The primary study that looked at teens and masturbation surveyed Australian teens between the ages of 15 to 18. That study found that 59% of boys and 43% of girls in that age group reported having masturbated at least once. If we assume that this number is accurate, masturbation is a very common activity.

Discussing masturbation can be part of your discussions of sex with your teen. It is helpful for your teen to know that masturbation is normal, and not a shameful activity. Although it may go without saying, it is also helpful for your teen to know that masturbation is a private activity. If your teen has problems with touching him or herself sexually in public, talk to your pediatrician or primary care provider. Inappropriate masturbation practices can be a sign of other problems.

In short, it is OK for your teen to masturbate. It won't cause problems with puberty. It won't stunt growth. It won't change his penis size. It won't cause hair to grow in places it shouldn't

When it Is a Problem

When is teen masturbation a problem? There are a few isolated issues regarding masturbation. Sometimes the area being stimulated will become sore, so a lubricant can help with that issue. It is possible that, if an object is used for masturbation, that there could be damage to the delicate genital organ skin. Additionally, the object can become stuck during vaginal or anal stimulation. While working at a pediatric office, I witnessed the removal of a bottle cap from the vaginal canal of a teen girl who used a plastic bottle to masturbate. These issues are rare, though.

Masturbation in public or excessive masturbation are also problems. Teens with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) can sometimes masturbate in public or do other inappropriate activities due to the disorder. Children who have been sexually abused can sometimes masturbate excessively. If your teen has masturbated in public or masturbates excessively (where it interferes with normal daily activities), talk to your pediatrician. These behaviors are not normal, and can point to these or other issues.

Masturbation is a normal and healthy activity as long as it is done in private and it doesn't interfere with daily life. It is an important part of sexual development and not a concern. Just about every old wives' tale about it is false – so it is one less thing for you to worry about.

Sources:

Child Sexual Abuse: Intervention and Treatment Issues. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. April 27, 2009. http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/sexabuse/sexabusec.cfm

Smith AM, Rosenthal DA, Reichler H. High schoolers masturbatory practices: their relationship to sexual intercourse and personal characteristics. Psychological Reports. 1996;79(2):499-509.

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