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Masturbation: 5 Things You Didn't Know

Experts talk about whether masturbation is safe, normal, or can lead to sexual dysfunction.

By David Freeman
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Charles E. Jennings, MD

Experts say that just about every man who can masturbate does -- and why not? You don't need an expert to tell you that solo sex feels good, relieves stress, and is a terrific sleep aid. But here are five things you may not know about masturbation:

1. There's no such thing as "abnormal" masturbation.

Men often wonder if there's something abnormal about the way they masturbate. But experts are loath to offer specific definitions of "normal" and "abnormal," pointing out that men show great variations in both frequency and technique. "We humans are too diverse to establish a norm," says Betty Dodson, PhD, a New York City-based sexologist and the author of Sex for One. Every man masturbates in his own way, says Martha Cornog, the author of The Big Book of Masturbation, whether he "uses his hands, rubs against something, uses a sex toy or household object, wears special clothing, fantasizes, looks at a book or magazine, tries different positions, or looks in a mirror."

2. Masturbation is very safe -- but not entirely safe.

Unlike sex with a partner, masturbation can't give you a sexually transmitted disease. Nor will it subject you to the muscle strains, pokes in the eye, and awkward moments that can come with partner sex. But masturbation safety isn't guaranteed. "Masturbation is just about the safest sex there is," says Cornog. "But the laws of physics and biology don't stop operating just because someone is masturbating."

Frequent or overly vigorous masturbation can irritate the skin of the penis, as the average guy knows all too well. Less well known is that habitually masturbating face down -- for example, by thrusting against a sheet, pillow, or even a carpeted floor -- can injure the urethra in such a way that urine exits the penis not in a stream but in a hard-to-control spray. Barbara Bartlik, MD, a psychiatrist and sex therapist in New York City, says she's seen facedown masturbators with urethral trauma so severe that they are no longer able to use a urinal and must urinate while seated.

In certain extremely rare instances, masturbation and partner sex alike can cause penile fracture. This painful condition -- actually a tear in the tunica albuginea, the whitish tissue surrounding the penis's spongy layers -- occurs when an erect penis strikes a hard object or is forced downward. A medical emergency, it often necessitates surgery.

3. Solo sex can supercharge your sex life -- or scuttle it.

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