In a new study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found that the most common reasons for masturbation amid the COVID-19 pandemic were to relieve stress and feel relaxed, while the main reasons for not masturbating were lack of interest, being in a committed relationship, conflict with morals or values, or it being against one’s religion.
The sexual expression of masturbation can help people explore their sexuality, experience pleasure, and can impact self-esteem and body positivity. Men typically engage in masturbation more often than women; however, there has been an increase in reports of solo masturbation among both sexes since the beginning of the pandemic.
Common reasons for masturbating include to feel pleasure, experience orgasm, help fall asleep, and infrequent sex with one’s partner. The commonly reported reasons for not masturbating include lack of privacy, shame (cultural or religious), and disapproval from one’s partner.
Researchers Debby Herbenick and colleagues were interested in investigating the frequency of masturbation during the year 2021, to understand the reasons for and for not masturbating, and to investigate the relationship between frequency of masturbation and desire to have sex with one’s partner.
The researchers analyzed data from the 2021 National Survey of Sexual Wellbeing, which recruited 3,878 participants who were older than 18 years old. Participants reported their relationship status, responded to questions about frequency of masturbation within the past year, reasons for and for not masturbating, level of sexual desire for their partner, and frequency of sex with their partner over the last year.
Results from this study show that, among both partnered men and women, 34.3% of participants reported having no sex with their partner over the past year and 5% reported having sex with their partner nearly every day within the past year. About 40% of men reported desiring sex with their partner more often compared to only 21.4% of women.
Herbenick and colleagues found that about 60% of men reported engaging in masturbation at least once in the last month compared to 36.5% of women. Approximately 25% of women reported never engaging in solo masturbation in their lifetime compared to 10.4% of men. Herbenick and colleagues found that masturbation frequency was significantly higher among men than women on a regular basis. Roughly 36% of men and 9% of women reported masturbating at least once a week over the past year.
Additionally, the researchers found that the main reasons male participants gave for not masturbating were “not being interested,” being in a committed relationship, and it being against their religion. The least common reasons male participants gave for not masturbating were feeling uncomfortable with their body, lack of privacy, believing masturbation is bad for their health, feeling they are cheating on their partner, their partner disapproving of them masturbating, and because they wanted to stop watching pornography.
More reasons men chose not to masturbate included old age, feeling satisfied by their partner, trouble maintaining an erection, and preferring sexual intercourse over masturbating. Women were more likely to report not masturbating due to feelings of discomfort with their body and not being interested.
Herbenick and colleagues found that the most common reasons for masturbating among men and women were to feel pleasure, to relieve stress, feeling horny, to relax, and to help them fall asleep. Less than 5% of participants reported masturbating as a way to be “safe” during the COVID-19 pandemic or because their partner did not want them to masturbate. Women who reported more frequent masturbation also reported having sex with their partner more often.
Herbenick and colleagues argue that their study shows the sex differences and similarities for frequency of masturbation, reasons to and not to masturbate, and the frequency of sex among partners.
“Our findings add to a growing body of literature on solo masturbation,” the researchers concluded. “Sexuality educators may find these data helpful to update sexual health curricula, especially given calls for sex-positive education that is inclusive of masturbation. Clinicians may also find these data useful in terms of contextualizing clients’ reasons for, and for not, masturbating as well as talking through the ways that masturbation and partnered sex may be interconnected for some people.”
“Finally, our data may serve to mark a particular moment in time during the COVID-19 pandemic that subsequent researchers can use as a benchmark to understand ongoing shifts of solo and partnered sexual activities.”
The study, “Masturbation Prevalence, Frequency, Reasons, and Associations with Partnered Sex in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from a U.S. Nationally Representative Survey“, was authored by Debby Herbenick, Tsung-chieh Fu, Ruhun Wasata, and Eli Coleman.