Masturbation! There! I said it.
Probably no other common activity carries such a burden of shame and guilt as masturbation. I said “common” activity because it is reliably estimated that 90-95% of men masturbate at least a few times a month. Most do it weekly to daily. The estimates for women are lower, but even for women it is over 50%. It may be just snuggling up to a roll of the blanket close enough to get “the feeling” but that is still masturbation.
Things get dicier with seniors. Most of us over 60 grew up with a pile of bad teaching about masturbation. “It will make you go blind” Or crazy (Depending on your parents) “It is prohibited in the bible.” Or, in the Quran. “Nice girls don’t.” Girls are not supposed to want sex. “Masturbation wastes precious seed.” (That’s from a common misreading of the Onan story in the bible.)
It isn’t that men don’t feel guilt. They do and therefore they either hide that they are masturbating or they go the other way and brag about it—with their friends. An amazing ultrasound I saw from a client was their baby, a couple weeks before birth, holding his penis. Now I don’t know that he was masturbating, but it sure looked like it. And post-natally this is one of the first things that babies begin to do.
Overcoming all the guilt, and shame is a difficult task. This is why sex therapy and counseling is never a mechanical practice. It requires sensitivity and awareness that each person is different and carries a different burden.
Often older folk come in because “We’re just not having enough sex.” (Him usually) “He wants it all the time.” “At our age doesn’t sex ever go away?” (Her usually) When I press them, something is preventing them from expressing their love sexually. He is experiencing shame over a softer or non-existent erection, or no longer can get into the positions they have always used. She has pain in the positions that they used to find pleasurable. Either, or both have a bad back. Her vagina is dry and not secreting enough lubrication or a prolapsed uterus. Or maybe she is experiencing vaginismus.
Assuming no medical problems, what can we do. There are two things and they are both spelled MASTURBATION. First, and this applies equally to singles who are without partners, if you are not masturbating then you would well begin. Spell the word as “Loving yourself”. The second prescription is “Masturbate each other.” Actually, there is a fairly standard procedure I prescribe to many of the couples who come to see me. It is called “Sensate Focus.” Sensate focus lets one partner just lie there and accept the pleasuring that the other can do. Just noting what feels good. No expectation of intercourse; giving feedback when and where the pleasuring is especially good. (No criticism where it does not—but also letting the other know if anything is actually painful.)
Mutual masturbation is a wonderful thing for couples, either as an alternative activity or when their level of desire is different. If they have just come in from a trip. Both are just too tired to “do it” but they do feel their love for each other with whom they have spent days in travel. Gentle mutual masturbation is a great alternative. If one partner is especially wanting sex and the other is not in that mental state, masturbation is a great option. Not every encounter has to be equal. She wants sex, but he is not in that “head space”, no problem. He can show his love by pleasuring her all the way from kissing her breasts to giving a sensual massage to “going down on her,” or cunnilingus.
Our parents, pastors, priests and imams (It is not in the Quran either.) were wrong. Not only is masturbation not sinful, it is a very healthy and contributes to our physical and mental well-being. Babies seem to know this from birth.