• Written by Melissa Kang, Associate professor, University of Technology Sydney

I Need to Know is an ongoing series for teens in search of reliable, confidential advice about life’s tricky questions. If you’re a teen, send us your questions about sex, drugs, health and relationships and we’ll ask an expert to answer it for you.

Hi, I have a question after reading a published piece for I Need To Know. Masturbating has always seemed to be acceptable for boys, but less commonly discussed among girls.

Is it normal for girls to masturbate and are there any health consequences? I am a girl who accidentally discovered how to masturbate when I was quite young and continued it on and off afterwards, should I be worried about this? Will this affect my future sexual experience?

Anonymous, 17, Melbourne

Key points

  • It is normal for girls and women to masturbate
  • it was a female Australian surgeon who helped us fully understand the clitoris
  • there are health benefits to masturbating (including relieving period pain and stress)
  • there is no right or wrong frequency for masturbation.

Hi there, and thanks for bringing up this really important topic. You’ve asked some great questions and I hope the answers will be reassuring! First of all: yes it’s completely normal for girls and women to masturbate.

What is masturbation?

Masturbation is when a person touches their own genitals for sexual arousal and pleasure, and often leads to orgasm. It can include touching other parts of your body that feel good, such as the nipples. Many people use their fingers and hands, but some might use objects such as sex toys.

Masturbation is something people do to themselves, although “mutual masturbation” refers to people touching each others’ genitals for the same reason.

Who masturbates?

In a large Australian survey, 42% of women said they had masturbated in the past year (compared to 72% of men). This survey included people aged 16 to 69 years of age, and there is no recent information on this topic in Australia on younger teens.

A study in the US looked only at 14- to 17-year-olds and found by 17 years of age, over 58% of females said they masturbated, compared to 80% of 17-year-old males. So it’s pretty common, and it’s also possible girls and women just don’t like to say they’ve masturbated.

Traditionally, masturbation has been something that is acceptable for boys. It’s only recently we’ve started talking about female masturbation more openly.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND It’s useful to know for most females the clitoris is the most sexually sensitive part of the body. The Australian study mentioned above also showed when a man and a woman have sex, women were much more likely to have an orgasm when her genitals were touched directly using hands or through oral sex. This is because of where the clitoris is. It’s a wishbone-shaped bundle of nerves and blood vessels that will swell up and feel tingly and pleasurable when stimulated. The tip of it pokes out above the hole where wee comes out (the urethra) but it extends up to 10 centimetres behind the sides of the vagina. This is why it can also feel good to have an object (including fingers or a penis) inside the vagina pushing against the arms of the clitoris. Read more: Why the clitoris doesn't get the attention it deserves – and why this matters For most of history, the clitoris was not fully understood or appreciated. It was an Australian surgeon – and a woman – who discovered how extensive it was. Health benefits of masturbation There are plenty of health benefits from masturbation. Masturbating and having an orgasm can relieve period pain and stress. It’s also a great way to explore your body and know what feels good, which will make it easier to communicate to a partner when the time comes. It is also a sexual practice that cannot cause pregnancy or lead to an STI. You mentioned discovering masturbation when you were quite young. Parents and caretakers report observing even very young children touching their genitals because it feels good. Although the body needs to go through puberty before a person can experience mature sexual arousal, it’s clear children also experience pleasurable sensations. Read more: I Need To Know: 'is it normal to get sore down there after sex?' You also mention masturbating “on and off”. There is no right or wrong frequency for masturbating – it’s only a problem if a person feels it’s interfering with daily life. Because sexuality in humans is linked to emotions, thoughts and beliefs, the ability to experience pleasure and orgasm does vary enormously. Negative feelings such as guilt or shame can be associated with masturbation especially if a person has grown up with specific negative beliefs about it. There has been a long standing double standard about females being able to enjoy sex which, as you have noticed, means it’s not always easy to talk about. So thank you on behalf of lots of young women out there for being willing to talk about this very natural activity! If you’re a teenager and have a question you’d like answered by an expert, you can: email us at submit your question anonymously through Incogneato, or DM us on Instagram. Please tell us your name (you can use a fake name if you don’t want to be identified), age and which city you live in. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.

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