Should one try to stop it? Does circumcision inhibit it?
Last updated: 29 March 2014, 09:30 UTC
What do we mean by “masturbation”?
The standard definition of masturbation is “Excitation of one’s own or another’s genital organs, usually to orgasm, by manual contact or means other than sexual intercourse.”
Throughout this web page, all references to masturbation refer to solo activity unless otherwise stated. Also on this page you will find another interpretation of the word masturbation - small boys feeling their genitalia not for the purposes of sexual arousal but in the context of relieving an itch. This we term “pseudo-masturbation”.
Is masturbation harmful?
Far from being harmful, modern medical science suggests that sexual climaxes achieved through masturbation are beneficial in two entirely separate ways, one physical and one psychological.
Firstly, let’s consider the potential effect on the health of the prostate gland. The prostate sits at the junction of the plumbing associated with urination and reproduction. Epidemiological studies (Giles et al., 2003) show a correlation between frequency of ejaculation in the early years after puberty and the incidence of prostate cancer in later life. The precise causal mechanism is unclear, but is thought to relate to the accumulation of carcinogens in the prostate if they are not ‛flushed out’ regularly by ejaculation. The risk period for this accumulation may well commence years before sexual intercourse takes place, implying that regular masturbation to climax should be encouraged in those too young to be otherwise sexually active.
Secondly, there is a psychological issue. Observational studies suggest that masturbation increases self-esteem, especially in instances of depression (Zamboni and Crawford, 2002). Again the precise mechanism is unclear, but may relate to our primeval past. Before early humans adopted a social norm based on monogamous relationships, the dominant “Alpha Male” had sole breeding rights in the tribe. Such behaviour persists and can easily be observed in several of the Great Apes. The consequence is that only the Alpha Male ejaculates frequently because only he has sexual intercourse with the females of the tribe. Thus there is a link between status and frequency of ejaculation. Status and self-esteem themselves being linked, it appears reasonable to postulate the existence of a subliminal or hormonal connection between self-esteem and frequency of ejaculation.
As with many things, though, one can have too much of a good thing. Defining the boundary between what is acceptable and what is not inevitably invokes the issue of social norms. It is therefore a boundary that will vary as between different cultures. In general, however, only the following should be regarded as problematic:
- If a child masturbates in the context of relating to adults in a sexually precocious manner.
- If at any age masturbation becomes compulsive and ritualistic, to the exclusion of almost all else.
- If at any age masturbation takes place in public, disregarding normal conventions of sexual privacy.
Sticky patches on the bed linen or a semen-soaked handkerchief in the laundry basket should not give rise to reprimand or chastisement. Yet, despite the scientific knowledge indicating that masturbation is at worst benign and at best beneficial, a prejudice against masturbation persists. Many conservative religious groups teach that masturbation is a sinful practice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2352, lists masturbation as one of the “Offences against Chastity” and calls it “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” because “use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.”
Children caught masturbating are often punished and told it is a sin. In fact, there is no mention of the word “masturbation” or “self-pleasure” in the Bible. A similar religious prejudice against masturbation exists in Islam. Worldwide, children are often told it is wrong or unhealthy - myths that are not supported by medical research.
Masturbation can be pleasurable for a boy not yet old enough to ejaculate; immature boys can experience dry orgasms in response to direct physical stimulation of the penis. Thus it cannot be assumed that masturbation only becomes pleasurable with the onset of puberty.
Prevention of masturbation by methods other than circumcision
Some of our ancestors, the Victorians especially, went to great lengths to prevent masturbation. Fear of Divine Retribution coupled with a belief that lassitude, feeble-mindedness and insanity were an inevitable consequence of “Onanism” (a contemporary euphemism for masturbation) led to extreme measures to prevent self-stimulation of the genitalia by either sex. Illustrated here are some examples typical of anti-masturbation contraptions sold in Europe and North America during the latter part of the nineteenth century:
Figure 1 : Commercially-produced devices for the ‘prevention of onanism’.
LEFT: A whole-body garment designed to prevent a teenage boy from masturbating in bed.
ABOVE: Anti-masturbation belts manufactured by Mathieu for day or night wear by boys and girls “from age 3 to puberty”.
In each device the genital shield was made either from solid silver or the less expensive EPNS (Electro-Plated Nickel Silver). Either choice takes advantage of the natural aseptic properties of silver to offset the hygiene implications of continuous wear. One commentator on the Mathieu design for boys commends the high angle of the penis sheath as “allowing the boy to use a chamber pot at night without attendance by his nurse or governess, whilst also enabling immediate fitting of the belt should he ever be discovered to be in a state of arousal”.
In the early part of the 20th century prejudice against masturbation persisted. Some English boarding schools are reliably documented by Benson as having school uniforms without trouser pockets.
In the late twentieth century, spoof product publicity appeared on the World Wide Web purporting to market a belt called Viriguard. Close study of the website revealed that the whole thing was a hoax; the small print admitted as much. More recently (2013) an attempt was made in Australia to market a new design of anti-masturbation belt called Boyguard™. That too proved upon enquiry to be a hoax, but the fact that such ideas circulate demonstrates that masturbation remains an issue attracting widespread disapproval.
Why did the belief develop that circumcision prevents masturbation?
A possible answer to this question emerged in the CIRCLIST Discussion Group. The reasoning, which it must be stressed is an unproven hypothesis, goes like this:
At birth, the glans and the inner foreskin are adhered to each other. An uncircumcised boy must, at some stage of his sexual development, undergo separation of the two. Liable to occur at any age before puberty, this natural process takes weeks and is often accompanied by a pronounced itchy sensation below the surface of the penis. Understandably a boy experiencing this discomfort will seek to relieve the irritation by touching (usually by squeezing) his glans even if that means feeling himself through his clothing in the presence of others. Such behaviour, which may be repeated every two or three minutes, gives the impression of sexually-motivated public masturbation.
If, upon such behaviour being observed, the boy is immediately circumcised then the itchiness will cease because the act of circumcision completes the separation. Likewise, a boy circumcised at birth will never experience the irritation in the first place.
To our forebears, such pseudo-masturbation would have been enough to ring alarm bells about moral, medical and religious issues. The discovery that circumcision cured this pseudo-masturbation would, it is suggested, be adequate to lead to a belief that all masturbation was thereby reduced. They may well have had a point. In the absence of intervention the boy’s experience of self-manipulation might lead to discovery of pleasant sensations, with “Onanism” setting in after the itchy phase had passed. This irritation-triggered learning process might, at least in part, explain why uncircumcised boys masturbate more than their circumcised counterparts.
What, if any, are the true effects of circumcision on masturbation?
It appears to be a matter of agreement between proponents and opponents of circumcision that masturbation is more difficult if the penis is circumcised. Our own surveys show that uncircumcised men start masturbating at a younger age and throughout life masturbate more often than circumcised ones.
CIRCLIST’s view is that masturbation, done in moderation and with a proper degree of privacy, should be encouraged because of the implications regarding prostate health. That said, the advantages of circumcision (health, hygiene, cosmetic appearance and improved sensations during sexual intercourse) far outweigh any issues arising in consequence of it making masturbation more difficult. Marginal degradation of the masturbation experience is not a reason to avoid circumcision in cultures where masturbation is acceptable.
In cultures or individual circumstances where masturbation is unacceptable, circumcision can be and is used to inhibit self-arousal. But it is unlikely to prevent masturbation entirely; any such expectation is likely to lead to disappointment. Choice of circumcision style is important here. The greatest effect will occur if the circumcision is sufficiently tight to deny the possibility of using shaft skin movement as a technique for stimulation.
If masturbation has already become the unwelcome habit of an uncircumcised boy, tight circumcision will put a stop to it at least temporarily. During the initial healing period following surgery, any contact with the penis will be unwelcome. In cases of compulsive masturbation, this breaking of the routine may be enough to quell the habit. Once healed, a new technique of masturbation will have to be learned and the consequent delay also serves to disrupt any compulsive behaviour. But, as the following analysis of masturbation techniques shows, there are ways of masturbating that cannot be prevented by circumcision.
Differing masturbation techniques, circumcised and uncircumcised
Figure 2 : Masturbation techniques when uncircumcised.
In this video loop, we see an uncircumcised male masturbating by repeatedly retracting and replacing his foreskin. Alternatives would be:
1. Leave the foreskin in the unretracted position, placing the thumb and forefinger over the hidden corona. Then stimulate the corona by rubbing it “with and through” the foreskin.
2. Leave the foreskin in the retracted position and masturbate in the same way as a circumcised male.
Figure 3 : Ejaculation can be achieved without ever retracting the foreskin.
Ejaculation can take place without the foreskin being retracted. Here, a man has masturbated to climax with one hand and is catching the ejaculate in the other, without ever retracting his foreskin.
Figure 4 : Masturbation techniques when circumcised.
In this video loop, we see a loosely circumcised male masturbating by manipulation of his shaft skin. This method is only possible if the style of circumcision is sufficiently loose to allow shaft skin movement when erect.
One alternative technique, also available to the most tightly circumcised male, is to form a ring from thumb and forefinger, lubricate it and penetrate it - some or all movement being penile thrusting whilst the hand is held still. Some say that this method of masturbation is the one most closely mimicing sexual intercourse. It requires access to suitable lubrication.
Mutual masturbation techniques - oral stimulation and prostate massage
Correspondence in the CIRCLIST Discussion Group clearly indicates that most people giving oral arousal to the penis express a preference for the recipient male to be circumcised. This appears to be true whether the activity is reciprocated (by use of the ‛soixante-neuf’ or ‛69’ position) or not. It seems unlikely that circumcision of itself promotes oral sex, but it certainly isn’t going to curb it.
Prostate massage need not involve any contact whatsoever with the penis, so once again circumcision is not going to prevent it. The technique, properly applied, produces a strong climax accompanied by complete evacuation of available semen - arguably a good thing in the light of Giles’ discoveries.
Prostate massage is illustrated below; it involves gently rubbing the prostate gland through the wall of the rectum. Most men find it impossible to resist the resulting urge to ejaculate, so much so that the technique is sometimes called ‘milking’.
Figure 5 : Masturbation by prostate gland massage.
Finally, a brief word about “Sex Toys”. Circumcision is unlikely to curtail their use. This is especially true of the Fleshlight™ device. It can be used to good effect by any male capable of sustaining an erection, irrespective of the size of their penis or the tightness of their circumcision.
Figure 6 : The Fleshlight masturbation aid.
|Images © 2008 Fleshlight .
To read more about the history of the Fleshlight device and for the opportunity to buy one by mail order, see the www.jerking-off.org
website. If you think that your ability to enjoy masturbation has been curtailed by over-tight circumcision, this toy should convince you otherwise. [CIRCLIST Editor’s note: Our link to the jerking-off website is for information purposes only. We do not have any financial relationship with them.]
Circlist Member Individual Experiences and Opinions
Masturbation halted at age 16
My mom and step-dad had me circumcised when I was 16. I had a bad masturbation habit and didn’t hide it. I just couldn’t keep my hands off of myself. I would often play “pocket pool” (masturbating by cutting the corners out of pants pockets) during classes. I didn’t even care if others seemed to notice. I did it by our pool, when I watched TV in the family room, and even in church. My parents talked to me about it repeatedly. My teachers complained about it. I was not dating girls, or even interested in boys. After nearly two years of this, my parents and the family doctor decided I should be circumcised. My foreskin was very long, although it was loose. The doc said it was inflamed and always had a foul smell, although he could not see any smegma. At 16 they took me to a urologist recommended by our doctor and he circumcised me tight. When soft there was no loose skin bunched behind the glans and hard no skin movement at all. I was scared to be circumcised, although I thought it might help me control myself. And, miraculously, it did! I couldn’t even think about touching my penis for two weeks. When I was finally healed, the urge seemed to be gone. Shortly thereafter I had showed my good friend my newly cut cock. I had told him what was going on just before I was cut. He told me how he lubed his glans to masturbate and I eventually did try this. However, I was also starting to date and it wasn’t long before I became sexually active. I was also glad to be like all of the other boys. Today, I’m married with 5 children. All of the boys were circumcised at birth. It may not be a good reason to circumcise every boy at birth, but the procedure sure helped me.
Preventing obsessive behaviour
Seriously, I don’t think the practice of circumcising to deter masturbation is necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t stop it (those who believed it did were way off beam!) but I’m sure it quelled my inclinations. If I’d been uncut any longer I’m sure I’d just have gone ahead and jacked off continuously. Masturbation can become a bit of an obsession with some boys. Circumcising is one way of diminishing the likelihood of obsessions developing.
My 15 year old son (uncircumcised) and his 16 year old cousin (very tightly circumcised), who is staying with us for his A-levels from New Zealand, both masturbate at least once and usually twice a day. I can not see anything wrong with that and I do not think that circumcision makes the slightest difference to the frequency of masturbation. We offered our son circumcision, and he is still considering it. There is some good-natured teasing between the boys because of my son’s foreskin, but I think that is natural too.
What constitutes “excessive”?
I would agree that at some level of frequency masturbation would be considered excessive. I’m just not sure where the line should be drawn. As a teen, I masturbated essentially every time I took a shower (well, not in the school locker room). Masturbation doesn’t have to be an anti-social event; I used to masturbate in groups which included various combinations of family (brothers and cousins) and friends. Some were circumcised, some where not. That status sure didn’t seem to influence how often any of us masturbated.
Instilling the confidence to socialise sexually rather than masturbate
I can say that as an uncut boy, I did have a masturbation problem... always jacking off, 4-6 times per day from age 10 to 18 or so. But I did also have lots of sex (including much mutual masturbation) with other boys early on, then girls as I got a bit older (later teens).
My nephew, whom I am sure most of you know I had circumcised in April 1999 as a teenager, had a bad masturbation habit when he was younger. By the time he was in his early teens (according to his account) he was down to masturbating 1-2 times per day (from a high of 5 to 7 times), and doing this instead of having sexual relations with either girls or boys. He said he found masturbation more pleasurable and less stressful than sex of any kind. He also said that he was embarrassed to show his uncut cock to either girls or boys, hence his desire for masturbation. Further, as he would only suck a circumcised boy himself, he felt it unfair to ask girls or boys to suck his untrimmed member. Now that he’s fully and tightly circumcised, he reports he is having regular sexual relations with his girlfriend, and it is is extremely enjoyable.
Based on the above, I’m not sure if the presence of foreskin (lack of circumcision) caused excessive masturbation or not. But I do think circumcising your boys does have many benefits, and if it helps a boy to be more “social” then I’m all for it.
Don’t forget the other issues....
I think it is equally important that the circumcised boy is more likely to be confident with girls and/or the active partner with other boys. He doesn’t face the problem many teen boys face in getting their foreskin back for the first time, he has no worries about smells or smegma putting his partner off. Getting into the alternative is always going to be the most effective factor in stopping masturbation becoming an obsession! During my early teen days, uncut boys (especially those with a tight foreskin) often became the passive sexual partner, servicing the active (circumcised) partner. I’ve heard this is often the case in the gay community today.
Masturbation and circumcision : The bottom-line Q&A
“I’m embarrassed at the thought of my young son masturbating when he is older and I’ve decided to have him circumcised in the hope of preventing it. When and how should I have him done?”A:
Let’s first make it clear that Circlist is not opposed to masturbation. Indeed, there are indications that it is beneficial, as discussed above. However, we recognise that in some cultures there are strong pressures to suppress all forms of non-procreational sex and that circumcision is to this day sometimes used to deter masturbation. Within that cultural context, the answer becomes as follows:
Preferably have him circumcised before he discovers that he can derive pleasure from manipulating his own penis; in any event get it done before the onset of puberty. If your son gets an erection at bathtime, for example when you are washing between his legs, that’s a clear sign that his genitals are especially responsive to touch and he may soon start fondling himself if he isn’t doing so already. Remember that pre-puberty he has the potential not only to enjoy masturbating but also to have dry orgasms; self-induced erotic pleasure is not the sole preserve of the physically mature boy.
If you are not comfortable with the possibility of your son masturbating, find a circumciser who understands your motive. Ask him to circumcise in the low and tight style, removing the frenulum – the terminology is explained in our pages about styles
. The sort of radically tight circumcision that is most likely to curb masturbation in his teens can only be done before puberty, so don’t delay. Note the words "most likely"; no circumcision is guaranteed to prevent masturbation.
The following resources were used in the preparation of this web page:
|| 1. Research by CIRCLIST member James Badger.
2. Personal testimony of members of the CIRCLIST discussion group.
||Giles, G.G. et al., Sexual factors and prostate cancer. BJU International (2003) Volume 92 Issue 3, pp.211-216.
||Zamboni B.D. and Crawford I., Using Masturbation in Sex Therapy: Relationships Between Masturbation, Sexual Desire,and Sexual Fantasy. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, Vol.14 no.2/3 (2002), pp.123-141.
||Benson, S. and Evans, M.C., I Will Plant Me a Tree, 2002, London:James & James, p.28.
||Wikipedia Commons, where you will find further videos illustrating masturbation techniques.
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