Masturbation marks a young person’s sexual awakening. A boy may experience nocturnal emissions before he learns to masturbate, but “wet dreams,” as they’re known, occur involuntarily while he is asleep. Masturbation is a conscious act of self-stimulation for the purpose of achieving sexual pleasure.
Centuries-old myths about the allegedly harmful effects of masturbation have long since been discounted. Nevertheless, jokes about it causing everything from insanity to blindness remain a staple of locker-room humor. How do you know if your son has discovered genital self-gratification? Two giveaways are stained pajamas and bedsheets, and holing up in the bathroom with the door locked for unusually long periods of time.
In one study of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, three-fourths of the boys and more than half the girls admitted to masturbating. Dr. Mark Scott Smith, a pediatrician from Seattle, reckons that the real figures are substantially higher, particularly for boys. “There’s an old joke that 99 percent of teenage boys masturbate and the other 1 percent lie about it,” he says. “That’s probably closer to the truth.”
Nevertheless, youngsters can feel conflicted about the practice. On the one hand, they know that it feels good, but for boys the sight of semen is often unnerving at first, especially early ejaculations, which may be tinged with blood. Children who grow up in religions and/or cultures where masturbation is still regarded as wrong may feel guilty that they enjoy doing it. Parents can spare their child needless anxiety by bringing up the subject of masturbation, but discreetly and indirectly:
“You’re at an age where many boys discover that it feels good to rub their penis with their hand or against the sheets while they’re lying in bed.” (For girls: “...to stroke their clitoris with their fingers...” or “to insert their fingers or an object in their vagina.”)
To avoid embarrassing your teen, feign ignorance of his or her habits:
“I don’t know if that’s ever happened to you, but you should know that masturbating is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. By the way, not masturbating is normal too.”
Besides serving as a release for tension, sexual and otherwise, it’s through genital self-stimulation that youngsters get in tune with the sexual side of their bodies, by discovering which sensations bring them pleasure. A cause for concern would be if self-gratification became a compulsion or a substitute for forming relationships. Other than that, you can assure your child that any of the allegedly dreadful consequences he or she hears attributed to masturbation are pure bunk.