when do people begin masturbating?

When do people begin masturbating?

Read this super interesting question from someone asking about when people begin masturbating. Also why it’s hard to know and why people don’t talk about it.

“I was having a conversation with some girls at school about when we started masturbating. They were all saying 11, so I said the same. But I actually think that I’ve been doing it since I was 3?

As a three year old, and at least until I started school, at nap time I would lay on my tummy and hump my hands. But I was also always listening for the door to my room to open. If someone walked in, I would quickly jump off my hands and pretend to be asleep.

Maybe I don’t really know what masturbation is. Maybe my hand humping thing wasn’t real masturbation. If masturbation means thinking about sex, and carefully using your fingers or hands on your vulva, while lying on your back, well that didn’t start till I was eleven. But if masturbation includes hand humping thing I did as a child without thinking about sex, then I was three.

I have no idea how I ever discovered that masturbating felt good, nor how I knew to keep this a secret. Perhaps I did it once in front of my parents? Perhaps and had been told that it’s bad or something, all before I can even remember. But am I normal? Just wondering when most people begin masturbating? Am normal or one of the rare few or maybe even the only person to masturbate at three years.”

Hi
What an excellent question!

How common is it?

It’s actually pretty common for three year olds to do this. This study from 1998 found that 15.8% of parents reported that they had seen their 2 – 5 year old kid masturbating. Not counting those who hadn’t been seen makes me think that the numbers for this are much higher. Studies generally suggest that child ‘sexual’ activity (either solo or with other kids) is actually pretty common. 

These studies also go into a lot of discussion about what ‘sexual’ means. As we see below, it’s parents and adults generally that see something as ‘sexual’. Parents might say they saw their kid masturbating, but that’s what they are seeing. Kids don’t understand sex in the same way, and might not have any idea what sex means. What adults see is very different to what kids see.

So what you experienced was common but, as you found when you were discussing it with your friends, it’s really hard to talk about. There are lots of reasons for that: bad sex education, stigma, shame, etc. Because of that it’s really hard for people to be honest, and so a lot of the shame is internalised.

So much spoken and unspoken sex education (from an early age) is about teaching us what normal. Even when it has no relationship to what people actually do. This means that you and your friends will have had in your heads this idea that childhood sexual activity is not ‘normal’. But where did that come from when the studies show that it’s really common?

If you got bad Sex Ed, you might like my Teach Yourself Sex Ed course. It’s free of course.

We are the ‘normal’ cops

The philosopher Michel Foucault might argue that when it comes to sexuality, a lot of us are so convinced that we are going to be judged that we are not normal, that we end up repeating the idea of what normal is. So this is what happened when you were all discussing it. 

“Individuals internalize the norms laid down by the sciences of sexuality and monitor themselves in an effort to conform to these norms. Thus, they are controlled not only as objects of disciplines but also as self-scrutinizing and self-forming subjects.”  You can read more about Foucault here at the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and impress your teachers.

So your question is also about Should Stories and what is normal, which comes up a lot at this website. I can tell you that touching yourself in ways that feel nice, or comforting, or exciting, is very common in infants and adults. The older we get the more we understand that this can also be sexual.

What is masturbation anyway?

I also think that you’ve kind of answered your own question when you say “maybe I don’t know what masturbation is”. Our understandings about sex and sexuality go with us the more we get older. You wouldn’t have known that you were masturbating at the time because you didn’t know what sex was.

Here are all the masturbation articles btw

You knew that touching yourself felt nice but you didn’t know it was sexual because three year olds don’t understand it. At some point infants begin to understand from their parents and other adults that it’s something they should hide, or not do at all. But that doesn’t mean that they understood it to be ‘sex’. They might understand that it’s something they don’t want adults to see, or that it might be considered ‘naughty’. But not that it is sex in the way we understand it.

We learn as we go and we build on our experiences and early sex education as we grow up. That’s what goes into forming our adult sexuality. So it’s really great that you’ve asked this question. Hopefully it will inspire other readers to think about this for themselves.

© Justin Hancock, 2021.

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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. Find out more about Justin here

5 thoughts on “When do people begin masturbating?

  1. Both my kids touch themselves (6 and 8) though usually at night when they don’t think we are around (except the 6 year old). We’ve tried to take an approach of ‘hey this is normal, we know it feels good. Even we do it sometimes, but it’s something we do in private and not in front of others’. Is this a good approach do you think? I want them to know masturbation is ok and not feel any shame whilst also protecting them!

    1. To be honest I’ve only ever worked with over 14s, and I don’t have kids myself, so you’re probably more of an expert on this than I am! I think that what you’re saying is sound. It’s important to teach people about public and private spaces and appropriateness without shaming them. Even if they don’t understand what masturbation or sex is, it’s good for them to know that touching themselves in this way is okay I guess. I recommend Sex is a Funny Word https://www.corysilverberg.com/sex-is-a-funny-word for the 8 year old btw

  2. When i was 2 years old my uncle said he wanted to do something with me i said yes And then he was happy because I said I concented then he touched me now that 12 should i be worried?

    1. Yes this worries me a lot. You can’t consent at 2 or at 12 so your Uncle is lying and if he is touching you in a sexual way then it’s a serious crime. If you feel brave enough you can speak to an adult you can trust who will believe you and not your Uncle. There should be someone at school you can speak to (a counsellor, or your teacher). You could also try contacting Childline who are excellent at helping young people like you Childline Please reach out and speak to someone if you can.

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