Study observes masturbation and other sexual trends among US teens

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Typical teenagers in the US
Image: David Shankbone.

A recently published nationwide survey of US teenagers indicates boys tend to masturbate more — and start younger — than girls. It also finds boys who masturbate are more likely to engage in safe sex than boys who don't.

Dr. Cynthia L. Robbins, the study's lead author from Indiana University in Indianapolis, spoke of the need for the academic community to focus more on masturbation. "Many adolescent boys and girls masturbate, and among sexually active teens masturbation is associated with other sexual behaviors and condom use. It is important to recognize that masturbation is an important and normal component of adolescent sexual development."

The survey, named the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), was supported by Church & Dwight, which makes Trojan condoms. A representative nationwide sample of 820 teens 14–17 years old participated in the study with parental permission. The findings were published Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Male and female respondents were asked to note how frequently they masturbated in the past three months, the past year, and throughout their lifetime. They were also asked to recall whether they masturbated alone or with a partner, and also how often they used condoms.

Nearly three-fourths of boys reported having masturbated, compared to only less than half of girls. About half of boys reported masturbating twice or more per week, also higher than the 23 percent of girls. Masturbation rates for both genders increased along with age, though only boys were more likely to report having "recently" engaged in the activity as they grew older.

Among adolescents who engage in oral or vaginal sex, boys who masturbate were eight times more likely to use a condom than boys who don't. A similar correlation was not observed for girls.

The researchers who conducted the study urge more open and educational discussion of this highly stigmatized topic. "The findings of this study together with existing publications on masturbation should be used by health care providers to inform, educate and reassure adolescents about masturbation to provide competent and comprehensive sexuality education in the clinical setting".