This is the second in a series of blog posts about specific data coming from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). If you want to start at the beginning, start here.
Forgive the hyperbolic headline. It's not true, of course, that the data from the NSSHB, or from any other quantitative survey for that matter, can tell us much about precisely how Americans masturbate. Online surveys, statistical software, and the soft focus of a nationally representative sample all obscure the gentle (or rough) touch of a back of a hand, the swirling of finger tip or elbow in just the right spot, the heat we make between ourselves and our own bodies. How America masturbates will probably remain a mystery, and our sex lives may be better for it. But how often and with whom we masturbate are questions that researchers did ask, and when 5,865 people ages 14 to 94 responded, it's worth a look.
How Much, How Often?
The responses affirmed the idea that among the big ticket sexual activities (they only asked about masturbation, oral sex, vaginal, and anal intercourse -- I know, it's not fair, but no one surveys people about hugging, kissing, or earlobe roughhousing) masturbation is tops.
- Overall 60% of adolescents (ages 14-17) and 82% of adults (ages 18-70+)say they have masturbated at some point in their lives, with more men reporting masturbating than women across all age groups.
- Solo masturbation (both in the past month and past year) was more commonly reported than most partnered sexual behaviors for people 14 through 24 years and 50 years and older.
Participants were whether they masturbated, and if so, how often they did using several time frames (past month, past year, more than a year). In terms of frequency:
- 30% of women and 21% of men masturbated a few times a year or monthly
- 17% of women and 23% of men masturbated a few times a month or weekly
- 5% of women and 17% of men masturbated 2-3 times per week
- 2% of women and 11% of men masturbated more than 4 times a week
Masturbation Across the Lifespan
When responses are broken down by age the image of the constantly masturbating adolescent or teenager doesn't appear. Instead, people age 25-29 were the ones most likely to report masturbating in the past month (60%). 34% of 14-15 year-olds reported masturbating in the past month and 42% of 16-17 year-olds said they had masturbated at least once in the past month.
Who Masturbates Most?
Well it's not a contest. But 61% of women and 77% of men ages 25-29 reported masturbating in the past three months, which was the highest percentage across age groups (participants 70+ were least likely to report masturbating in the past three months, 16% of women and 35% of men).
Are You Lonesome Tonight: Do Single People Masturbate More?
Overall, participants who were single did not masturbate more than those in relationships. Among women it was those who were single and dating that overall were more likely to have masturbated in the past three months. Among men it was divided between those single and dating and those who were in a relationship but not living together.
Interestingly, the same age group of women who report masturbating alone the most, those 25-29, were the ones who reported partnered masturbation the most (35%). For men the group with the highest percentage reporting partner masturbation was those ages 30-39, 32% of whom reported engaging in partnered masturbation in the past three months.
As the authors note in the paper looking at the details of sexual encounters (they call them "sexual events") the results are likely influenced by them not being specific about what "partnered masturbation" includes or doesn't include. Other surveys have specified using fingers and hands to stimulate specific parts of the body (e.g. clitoris, penis, anus). Still, this survey lays interesting groundwork for future research on the details of what we do when we do this thing we call sex.