What Parents Should Know About Teen Masturbation

What's Normal and Healthy—and What's Not

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If you have a teenager in the house, you may or may not be aware that he is masturbating. After all, this normal activity is a natural extension of a child's exploration of his body. But still, you may wonder if the time your teen spends behind the closed door of his bathroom or during long showers is really healthy. Is it possible to masturbate too much, for example, or could a child hurt his genitalia?

Here are some reassuring answers about adolescence and masturbation.

Teens and Sexual Exploration

You already know this, but to be clear: Masturbation is the stimulation of the genitalia for sexual pleasure. And it's a normal and common activity among teenagers. A survey in 2011 published in the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine found that kids between 14 and 17 were more likely to masturbate than engage in sexual activity with someone else.

As teens experience puberty, they become more curious about their developing bodies. The sex hormones that signal the onset of puberty also can prompt an adolescent child to explore his body and how it functions.

When you talk about sex with your teen, don't shy away from bringing up masturbation. Even if he isn't open to admitting that he does it (and certainly don't ask him or pressure him to tell you) it may be helpful for him to know that it's normal to explore his own body, that it's not a shameful activity, and that it is appropriate as long as it's done in private .

Although it may go without saying, it is also helpful for your teen to know that masturbation is a private activity.

When to Worry

There are a few isolated issues regarding masturbation. Sometimes an area being stimulated can become sore, so a lubricant can help with that issue. In order not to embarrass your teen, consider leaving a bottle of lube in the family medicine cabinet where he can see it without it being pointed out.

It is possible that if an object is used for masturbation that there could be damage to the delicate genital organ skin. Additionally, an object can become stuck during vaginal or anal stimulation. These are very rare occurrences, but if your child lets on that he is having pain or discomfort in the genital area, whether he says he thinks he hurt himself while masturbating, make an appointment for him to see the pediatrician, no questions asked.

Masturbation in public or excessive masturbation are problems. Teens with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) sometimes touch themselves sexually in public or do other inappropriate activities due to the disorder. Children who have been sexually abused sometimes masturbate excessively. If you see either of these behaviors, talk to your pediatrician.

Masturbation is a normal and healthy activity as long as it is done in private and doesn't interfere with daily life. It is an important part of sexual development and not a concern. Just about every old wives' tale about it is false—so it's one less thing for you to worry about.

Sources:

Herbenick DL, Reece M, Schick V, Sanders SA, Dodge B, Fortenberry JD. "Sexual Behavior in the United States: Results From a National Probability Sample of Men and Women Ages​ 14-94." J Sex Med. 2010;7(s5):(suppl 5)  255-265.

Robbins CL, Schick V, Reese M, et al. "Prevalence, Frequency, and Associations of Masturbation With Partnered Sexual Behaviors Among US Adolescents." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med2011;165(12):1087-1093.