Masturbating stats: Are there gender differences and why?

Originally Published: October 8, 1999 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 3, 2009
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Dear Alice,

I have searched your files for the answer to a question that has long been bugging me. It has to do with masturbation. I can see by the questions there are many men who masturbate, but I don't see many from women. Do many women masturbate? Are they just more shy about talking about it? Can you give any specifics on the percentage of women, versus the percentage of men, who masturbate?

-Wants to learn more

Dear Wants to learn more,

Many women masturbate, but they haven't beaten the men when it comes to solo sex frequency... at least not yet. Statistically speaking, various studies of the sexual behavior of men and women detailed connections between gender and self-stimulation. The authors of The Social Organization of Sexuality (Edward O. Laumann, John H. Gagnon, Robert T. Michael, and Stuart Michaels; University of Chicago Press, 1994) gathered information about masturbatory practices from face-to-face interviews and self-administered questionnaires of 2,969 men and women ranging in age from 18 to 59 years. The researchers found that 41.7 percent of women and 63.3 percent of men masturbated during the year studied. According to The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior (Samuel S. Janus and Cynthia L. Janus; John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993), based on a large-scale, nationwide survey of adult Americans ages 18 and up conducted between 1983 and 1992, 10 percent of women reported masturbating frequently (several times weekly or daily) vs. 25 percent of men. Similarly, 38 percent of women reported masturbating on a regular basis (monthly to daily) in comparison to 55 percent of men. The Kinsey Institute also published statistics about gender differences in masturbation. They were compiled from renowned sex researcher Alfred Kinsey's studies on the sexual behavior of men and women. According to Dr. Kinsey's 1948 and 1953 studies, based on detailed interviews with white American adults, 92 percent of men and 62 percent of women reported that they had masturbated.

Several reasons have been suggested to account for the lower percentage of women (vs. men) who have ever masturbated. Women are considered "good" when they adhere to their traditional sex role: to be sexually passive, naive, and dependent -- basically, to be nonsexual. Sexually experienced and independent women are frequently seen as threatening and "loose."

In addition, in many cultures, women are raised to believe that their genitals are repulsive and inferior to those of men. They're also encouraged to repress their sexual feelings until marriage, when sex is for the purposes of procreation and pleasing their husband. A woman learns that she is to receive sexual pleasure only from sexual intercourse (not from touching or oral sex, and especially not from masturbation) with her husband (not with anyone else or by herself). If a woman with a partner masturbates, it is often seen as though there's something wrong with her relationship. Likewise, if a woman is without a partner, masturbating is seen as an act of loneliness.

Not only is there a taboo for women to masturbate, but there's also a greater taboo against talking about it. No doubt, for some women (and some men), talking about sex can also be awkward, so shyness, as you mentioned in your question, may be another, though lesser, factor. It doesn't have to be this way. Masturbation is a healthy and natural part of sexuality. It enables people to learn about their own bodies and genitals as well as to recognize and develop their sexual responses or orgasms. It also helps to foster communication in intimate relationships by making it easier for partners to identify and express what feels good physically and sexually for them and to each other. Candid discussions about sexuality and sexual pleasure can help free women (and men) from the historically negative influences that have bound and prevented some women (and some men) from discovering, exploring, and enjoying their sexual selves. These conversations can make it easier to break the taboos and myths about masturbation and can encourage women (and men) to reach their healthy, sex-positive goals.

Here are some resources for more information:

Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving, by Betty Dodson

For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality, by Lonnie G. Barbach

Yellow Silk: Erotic Arts and Letters, by Lily Pond and Richard Russo (editors)

Alice's Sexuality archive (with a section about masturbation)

Alice

January 22, 2013

522166
Ha! I always wish I could be part of these studies! I'm a 26 yr old woman, and I've known that my genitals produced much pleasure ever since I was 5. Obviously, it wasn't really sexual til I got my...
Ha! I always wish I could be part of these studies! I'm a 26 yr old woman, and I've known that my genitals produced much pleasure ever since I was 5. Obviously, it wasn't really sexual til I got my period at age 10...then the feelings changed from "always relaxing" to "usually intense". For the past 6 years or so, I've masturbated at least 5 days a week. I'm very highly sexed...but my lover's job keeps him traveling a lot. Even when he is home, he thinks my masturbating is sexy, so we usually incorporate it into our regular sex sessions. Of course, I love watching him too! In my opinion, 62% of women admit to masturbating.

January 17, 2013

521844
This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic. Thank you for sharing!
This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic. Thank you for sharing!

June 29, 2009

21570
Dear Alice,

I am a female and I masturbate quite regularly, sometimes twice a day. I believe that women pleasure themselves often but just do not talk about because it has been percieved by...

Dear Alice,

I am a female and I masturbate quite regularly, sometimes twice a day. I believe that women pleasure themselves often but just do not talk about because it has been percieved by society as "dirty" for women whereas for men it's a given because society feel men are more sex focused then women.

September 25, 2006

21128
Alice,

I had such a rocky time when I discovered masturbation at the age of thirteen — I thought it was something dirty, and I was terrified that someone would walk in on me. I also was convinced...

Alice,

I had such a rocky time when I discovered masturbation at the age of thirteen — I thought it was something dirty, and I was terrified that someone would walk in on me. I also was convinced that I was the ONLY girl in the world who did masturbate and that made me even more ashamed of it. I don't even think I had a word for it the first year or so I was doing it.

In sophomore year, about four close friends of mine were sleeping over at my house, and as these things usually go, we didn't really sleep. Instead, we talked the entire night in my basement. That night, I discovered, to my great surprise, that every single one of my friends masturbated regularly. One of them had been doing it since she was a little kid and was amazed when she heard that I thought it was strange. Another was actively looking for new ways to find orgasms, and another had just recently started and was quite shy about it.

That was several years ago. I don't feel ashamed about masturbation anymore — why should I? There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to feel good — I often find that it relaxes my body and my muscles. It just feels wonderful.

I think that the ignorance and taboo that surrounds female sexuality is a definite problem. It pains me to think of other girls going through all that crap I put myself through because no one ever talks about women masturbating.

March 9, 2006

21042

Alice,

RE: Masturbating stats...

To the 72-year old gentleman, I hope that me and whatever woman I am with when I am 72 have as great of a sex life as you and your wife!! I'm already...

Alice,

RE: Masturbating stats...

To the 72-year old gentleman, I hope that me and whatever woman I am with when I am 72 have as great of a sex life as you and your wife!! I'm already jealous of you. In regards to masturbation though, us guys usually don't talk about that sort of thing, we all know we do it, but we will generally deny it because it's always a topic of joking/fun-poking/insults, etc. All of the girls that I've dated denied that they masturbate, so I think females are very unlikely to admit it in social settings, or even to a partner. To all the women out there, if you like to flick your bean, don't lie about it to your man! Tell him, he won't be disappointed. I personally think a woman who is comfortable enough with her body to masturbate and admit it is very sexy.

September 29, 2005

20977
Dear Alice,

Your assessment is correct in regards to the female's perceived historical roles. But, things are changing! I am 72-years-old and have masturbated all my life. My wife is open-minded...

Dear Alice,

Your assessment is correct in regards to the female's perceived historical roles. But, things are changing! I am 72-years-old and have masturbated all my life. My wife is open-minded, but from a sheltered upbringing, had never masturbated. We have an open and healthy sex life. I started by teaching her how to have an orgasm with my hand, then suggesting she try it. Very reluctant at first, but she did it and enjoyed later. Now she has a vibrator! Every time we have sex is a combination of intromission, masturbation, and sex toys. She is having the best sex of her life with multiple orgasms and free of HANG UPS!

January 24, 2003

20467
Dear Alice, I want to make a comment about MASTURBATING STATS: ARE THERE GENDER DIFFERENCES AND WHY?. I have always been curious about masturbation and what others thought about it. I have talked to...
Dear Alice, I want to make a comment about MASTURBATING STATS: ARE THERE GENDER DIFFERENCES AND WHY?. I have always been curious about masturbation and what others thought about it. I have talked to my friends about it (we're all girls) and it seems that I'm the only one who thinks it's totally normal. Some have said that they thought it was gross and said that masturbation was only ok for guys. These girls aren't religious either, so it's not that kind of thing affecting them. I've talked to my mom about masturbation and she's been really cool about it (she even bought me a vibrator!). Unfortunately, none of the eight people I've talked to about it, besides my mom, think that it's normal. They could have been lying because they were uncomfortable by the question, so I don't know. My best friend and I were talking about it one day and she told me that she wouldn't know how to even start masturbating because she doesn't know where anything is. I gave her a basic anatomy lesson and some tips, so maybe she has become better acquainted with herself by now. I am still so surprised that the general opinion among my friends is that masturbation is bad, gross, dirty, or whatever. Girls, feel free to masturbate! Touch yourself, find out what you like, have a good time. Also, don't worry if you don't orgasm your first couple of tries. I tried sporadically for a few years until I had an epiphany with one of those detachable showerheads. So, fellow females, try, try, try and practice makes perfect. Go and conquer your nether-regions with pride! :)