Dear Dr. G,
I am a single mother who has brought up two children by myself in the last 10 years. My son is 15 and my daughter is 13 years old.
I recently faced a nightmare scenario which I am unsure how to handle, and I am desperate for your advice before the situation gets out of hand.
I recently discovered that my son has been watching "obscene" material online. I initially thought this might just be out of curiosity and did not pay much attention to the matter.
Lately, however, I have been concerned about his stained bed linens and underpants. I think it may be from semen, but I cannot be absolutely certain.
I think my son has been masturbating, and I worry he might be doing this excessively.
I am not sure when my son started doing this and what harm this has incurred. I am glad my daughter does not face the same issues!
I am so sorry to put you on the spot for such a sensitive issue. Can you please tell me what harm can befall teenagers who masturbate regularly? What can be done to stop it? What is considered normal?
As my children do not have a father figure in their lives, what is the best way for me to deal with this matter? Shall I confront him?
From a medical viewpoint, masturbation is a form of self-induced sexual stimulation of one's genitals for arousal and pleasure. According to many sexual health experts, children develop an awareness of the genitalia from the earliest stages of development, and this leads to "self-exploration" of body in pre-adult life. Contrary to common belief, masturbation occurs naturally in both males and females.
Theologians and physicians in the 19th century described masturbation as "deplorable" and "hideous", and perhaps such negative portrayals have persisted until today. And although masturbation is no longer a taboo subject, many physicians still view the practice as something harmful which should be discouraged.
In the 1950s, Alfred Kinsey led studies to determine how the frequency of masturbation affected a person's overall health. The report concluded that 92% of men and 62% of women, among the US population, have indulged in "self-pleasure" at some point in their lives. In more recent years, the 2007 British National Probability Survey revealed that 95% of men and 71% of women engaged in masturbation at some point between the ages of 16 an 44. Generally, both studies demonstrated that self pleasure is more prevalent among men.
The general consensus on masturbation in modern medicine is that it is a psychological habit of life bringing minimal harm to overall health. However, many psychiatrists also agree that it is abnormal and "harmful" when masturbation inhibits partner-orientated behaviour, done in public or is sufficiently compulsive to cause distress.
Many clinicians agree sexual climax from masturbation brings about the state of being of contentment and relaxation. This in turn leads to a higher sense of self-esteem. In 2003, The Cancer Council of Australia sparked controversy and debate when it published studies showing that men in their twenties with an average of five or more ejaculations per week have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer.
Although there is no real life threatening harm, it is recognised that chronic or compulsive self pleasure may have adverse effects on physical and emotional health. In reality, it is helpful to consider the causes of compulsive behaviour, rather than trying to repress the act of masturbation itself. This begs the question: What is the line between "healthy relief of sexual tension" and "compulsive behaviour"?
There is no hard and fast rule on what is considered "normal". Some individuals may masturbate several times per day and live a healthy life without compromising work and relationships. On the other hand, others may engage in masturbation once in a while, but the guilt leads to disruption of work and problems with intimacy. So it isn't the frequency that matters, but how the act affects a person's physical, spiritual and moral compass.
Dr G was truly put on the spot as to how to handle the "discovery" of masturbation of teenagers. As a father myself (and specialist in sexual health), I confess I find the conversations with my teenage children uncomfortable and awkward. I also worry if the conversations may lead to undesirable effects on their journey of sexual exploration. I am sure Jane has constantly instilled values and wisdom into her children for them to understand the importance of moderation. On that note, I wish Jane and all the mothers in the world a Happy and Wonderful Mother's Day!
Dr George Lee is a consultant Urologist and Clinical Associate Professor whose professional interest is in men’s health. The column “Ask Dr G” is a forum to help men debunk the myths and taboos on men’s issues that may be too “hard” to mention. You can send him questions at firstname.lastname@example.org