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Gender Differences In Masturbation Incidence And Frequency

Jamie Stroud

Table of contents


In this article I analyze all research studies on masturbation incidence and frequency that I could find and obtain. When it comes to gender differences, only genders within the same study were compared. I make no cross-study comparisons as I find it problematic due to the different methodologies and other variables involved amongst each study.


With the consideration that masturbation experience and frequency is generally a good indicator of sex drive strength, it's my contention to speculate on the reason for any gender differences in this regard. It's a popular meme, both in mainstream American society as well as in research literature, that males are hornier than females. The data does indeed show that adult males are more likely to have masturbation experience than adult females and that adult males masturbate more frequently than adult females as well. However, there's conflict with this "males are hornier than females" meme in that the research also shows that females are more likely to masturbate than males as young children.

Why is this? One explanation is based on physiology. It's thought that it might be easier for a female to "accidentally" rub her genitals to orgasm than it is for a male to "accidentally" rub his genitals to orgasm, based simply on the differences in anatomy between the 2.

Why are males more likely to masturbate than females only once they near pubertal development? While it's easy to blame it on biology, consider that the research shows that males are less likely to figure out how to masturbate by themselves, and more likely to learn how to masturbate from others and media. For females, research shows the opposite to be true. If biology caused males to be hornier, you'd think the sex drive of males would cause them to figure out how to masturbate by themselves, right? Keep in mind that more than just "raging hormones" occur around the time of puberty, people also start to become more socially and intellectually developed. (Ohio v. Akron, 1990)

"It may be stated now that nearly all boys have heard about masturbation before they attempt it themselves." (Kinsey et al., 1948, p. 501)

"The female more often discovers masturbation independently and without any previous knowledge that any other person has ever been involved in similar activity." (Kinsey et al., 1948, p. 501)

"Since we found a sudden upsurge of sexual responsiveness and overt sexual activity among human males at the beginning of adolescence, there may seem to be some correlation with the androgen picture; but the upsurge of sexual responsiveness in the male is much more abrupt than the steady rise in the level of his androgens. As for the female, there seems to be no correlation at all between the levels of her androgens and her slow and gradual development of sexual responsiveness and overt sexual activity. Although she has nearly as much androgenic hormone as the male in her pre-adolescent and early adolescent years, her levels of sexual response and overt sexual activity at that period are much lower than the levels in the average male. The near identity of the androgen levels in the female and male at the very age at which the two sexes develop strikingly different patterns of behavior, makes it very doubtful whether there is any simple and direct relationship between androgens and patterns of pre-adolescent and adolescent sexual behavior in either sex." (Kinsey et al., 1953, pp. 730-731)

With the thought of socialization in mind, why are males discussing masturbation amongst each other more frequently than females are? One explanation is that the male sex drive becomes stronger at this point in life which would incline them to talk about sexuality more frequently. Another explanation is that sexual discussion and behavior is simply more taboo and scorned amongst females and so they're more inhibited by conformity-inclining emotions than males are. Yet another explanation is that anatomy inclines sexual discussions to be more genital-based amongst males. To make this point more clear, the male genitals generally bulge whereas the female genitals generally don't. On a related note, the female chest generally bulges much more than the male chest. To put this in perspective: anatomically, the penis and vulva are equivalent, but socially, the penis and breasts are equivalent.

penis and breasts social equivalence

Whatever the reason for less discussion of masturbation amongst females, the lack of masturbation might only make things more difficult due to the "use it or lose it" principle. It's been extensively demonstrated that many aspects of the body weaken in function or ability if they're not used. Furthermore, some parts of the brain even have a critical period, so that if it's not stimulated within a certain "window of opportunity" then it might deteriorate and permanently lose function. This means that if an individual doesn't achieve orgasm within a critical period, that individual might have a weakened ability to achieve orgasms for the rest of his/her life. However, this is merely hypothesized.

"I have concluded that there is also a critical period—or actually there are two critical periods—with respect to developing orgasmic responsiveness. One of these is early childhood, the other occurs during adolescence." (Ellison, 2000, p. 36)

To supplement all these considerations, anecdotes of females who take androgens and males who take anti-androgens, often claim what you'd expect to hear. Females will often say that their sex drive increases, while males will often say that their sex drive decreases. This puts more support on biological explanations.

In all likelihood, there are probably multiple factors, both of nature and of nurture, that account for these sex drive and masturbation differences amongst males and females.

"Masturbation is our primary sex life. It is the sexual base. Everything we do beyond that is simply how we choose to socialize our sex life."
- Betty Dodson

"Millions of boys have lived in continual mental conflict over this problem. For that matter, many a boy still does. Many boys pass through a periodic succession of attempts to stop the habit, inevitable failures in those attempts, consequent periods of remorse, the making of new resolutions - and a new start on the whole cycle. It is difficult to imagine anything better calculated to do permanent damage to the personality of an individual." (Kinsey et al., 1948, pp. 513-514) (The same could of course apply to females, but this quote came from a book Kinsey et al. wrote focusing on males.)

"We have recognized exceedingly few cases, if indeed there have been any outside of a few psychotics, in which either physical or mental damage had resulted from masturbatory activity. We have, on the other hand, recognized a tremendous amount of damage which has been the result of worry over masturbation, and of attempts to abstain from such activity." (Kinsey et al., 1953, pp. 167-168)

"When no guilt, anxieties, or fears are involved, the physical satisfactions which may be found in any type of sexual activity, whether socio-sexual or solitary, should leave an individual well adjusted psychologically. But in view of the more than two thousand years of religious condemnation of masturbation, fortified by the ostensibly scientific opinions of physicians and other professionally trained groups, it is not surprising that many individuals, both female and male, are considerably disturbed when they masturbate." (Kinsey et al., 1953, pp. 169-170)

"Don't knock masturbation, it's sex with someone I love."
- Woody Allen

You don't have the aspect of connecting with another person when you masturbate, but you do have the aspect of connecting with yourself.

Childhood Comparisons

Notes: Childhood comparisons have been strictly limited only to statistics available of ages under 13.

Adulthood Comparisons

Frequency Comparisons


Changes Of Frequency Of Masturbation



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