Dear Dr. G,

I have a confession. I am guilty of a dark secret that I am ashamed of.

I am 18 years old and have been obsessed with masturbation since my early teens. I understand excessive self-indulgence is a risky behaviour and I am determined to beat the “hands-on” demon that has haunted me for the last few years.

I read with interests the article you posted last week about the frequency of sex and its correlation with the reduction of prostate cancer.

In fact, I have also read your previous articles, alluding to the fact that masturbation is a “healthy” and risk-free indulgence.

I actually beg to defer in your opinion. I strongly believe Dr. G should not encourage such behaviour, and should have a balanced view on what are the myths and truth of masturbation.

I really would like to put Dr. G on the spot to highlight some medical evidence supporting the risks of masturbation.

I really hope to review the scientific evidence of the risks behind this guilty pleasure, so that I can be disciplined enough to control my inner demon.

Guilty Graham

Masturbation is the sexual behaviour that involves the sexual stimulation of one’s genital, usually to the point of orgasm. The common perception of masturbation involves one’s own hands or fingers. However, technically it also involves everyday and sexual objects, such as vibrators.

Many prevalence studies reveal that masturbation is common in humans, amongst both sexes. A 2007 British national probability survey, which studied individuals aged between 16 and 45, revealed that 95% of men and 71% of women masturbated at some point of their lives.

Similarly, Merck’s Manual showed that men masturbate more than women, with statistics of 97% and 80% of gender differences, respectively. Although most men would deny it, but one thing for sure is that almost every chap has an extensive years of hands-on experience (literally!)

Although depicted in arts and historical literature, 18th century theologians and physicians perceived masturbation as hideous and deplorable behaviour. The 20th century witnessed a decline in the taboo, with increase discussion of the subject in pop culture and literature. This evolved to the extent of western society considering masturbation as normal healthy sexual enjoyment. In fact, the Sheffield NHS health Trust in the UK even issued a pamphlet called “Pleasure”, highlighting the benefits of masturbation reducing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Of course, the religious and cultural stands on masturbation still vary in the 21st century. Some may still view this as a spiritually detrimental practice that generates a sense of guilt and shame. Therefore, many young (and not so young men) are struggling with such paradox of guilty pleasure!

Let’s get a few facts straight. The unfounded old wives tales linking masturbation to blindness, hairy palms, penile shrinkage, erectile dysfunction, mental illnesses, physical weakness and impotency in later life have not been robustly scrutinised by science. Although many scientific data supports the benefit of masturbation such as relaxation of heart rate and blood pressure, such self-indulgence is not exactly risk free.

Firstly, it is well documented that frequent and rough masturbation can induce minor skin irritation. On rare occasions, forceful bending during self-indulgence are also known to result in penile fracture or minor injuries associated with curvatures known as Peyronie’s Disease.

Compulsive masturbation is another issue affecting men with excessively frequent masturbatory behaviour. Such addiction can impair one’s daily life such as work and education. Like any other compulsive behaviours, the key is to develop a sense of insight. In fact, educating adolescents in developing a sense of mastery over sexual impulses can play a role in prepubescent self-control. This is often an essential part of venturing into adulthood.

Finally, perhaps the biggest adversity of masturbation is the sense of guilt, as individuals worry that such behaviour comes into conflict with spiritual and moral values. Guilt can potentially erode the self-esteem or self-worth of the affected individuals, causing harm to the self and loved ones. Under such circumstances, psychological intervention is often necessary.

The Roman Playwright of the Old Latin period, Plautus once said: “Nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt.”

Most men grow up developing the “hands-on” experience out of curiosity of self-exploration. Some become expert “handyman”; others develop some degree of discipline and restraint to avoid over-indulgence. Although most of the guilty pleasure is risk-free, most individuals rarely shoulder the guilt to the extent of affecting one’s daily life.

When Dr. G is put on the spot to give a balanced view of the risky business of guilty pleasure, he thinks the worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt. Therefore, know the risks and be disciplined, the pleasure will soon overcome guilt!

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