Masturbation in Adolescence: What Parents Need to Know

Masturbation in adolescence should no longer be a taboo subject: It's a healthy resource for self-exploration of the body.
Masturbation in Adolescence: What Parents Need to Know

Last update: 01 July, 2022

In the following article, we want to talk about an important issue: Masturbation in adolescence. Perhaps it’s hard for you to get used to the idea that the boy or girl who was sleeping in your arms yesterday is now a person with desires of their own. Perhaps it comes from the conservative education you received or what you weren’t taught about the development of sexuality. It’s possible that if you belong to a certain generation and go back to your childhood years, you’ve never talked to your parents about certain topics.

However, not doing so doesn’t imply that it doesn’t happen, because sexuality is there, from the time we’re born until the time we die. And it expresses itself in different ways, depending on the stage of life we’re in. But it always exists and crosses us as human beings.

One of the most challenging moments for parents regarding their children’s sexuality has to do with masturbation, as it’s the moment when curiosity and the desire to explore genitality arise. In adolescence, this aspect is a key factor of normal development, and today we’re going to help you better understand what it is and how to approach the subject with your children.

You may be interested in: When to Talk to Your Children About Sex

What are the implications of masturbation in adolescence?

Sometimes, the “awakening” of curiosity about the genitals and the sensations experienced during masturbation takes adults by surprise. In fact, they don’t always have the tools to broach the subject with their children, either because of their own education, current misinformation, or because of the shame and modesty that surround these topics. However, it’s important to break down certain barriers and get closer to young people to guide them in this and other topics.

You may be interested in: 5 Things a Teenager Needs to Know

The development of sexuality is a natural phenomenon and masturbation is part of a physiological and healthy process. This act constitutes a way of exploring ourselves, discovering ourselves, understanding what we like and what we don’t like, what we feel comfortable or uncomfortable with.

Besides being a matter linked to genitality, as part of sexual development, masturbation has other implications. It’s related to the establishment of sex-affective relationships, respect for others, care for one’s own body and its needs, and self-knowledge.

Therefore, approaching masturbation from a positive point of view implies providing children with useful tools to lay a secure foundation for healthy, full, respectful, and mutually caring relationships.

A teen couple taking a selfie.
Romantic relationships among adolescents are important at a key stage of sexual awakening. For this reason, parents should provide them with the necessary tools to enjoy a full, healthy, respectful, and mutually caring sexuality.

Some recommendations for talking about masturbation in adolescence

Before talking about sexuality and masturbation with your teenagers, review some of these suggestions:

  • Analyze what you know (and think you know) about masturbation. This way, you’ll be able to identify what your biases are, debunk myths, and avoid passing on misconceptions to your children.
  • Avoid differentiating by gender. Masturbation isn’t exclusive to men, as women can also do it. Therefore, avoid generating a wrong or differential idea between girls and boys.
  • Keep in mind that it’s just as harmful not to talk about masturbation and sexuality as it is to do so in an inappropriate way. This means that certain topics are presented and arise according to the evolutionary moment of the children and that it’s not necessary to force situations or topics because “it’s better for them to know more than less”. The understanding and integration of information go hand in hand with the maturity of each child or young person and explanations should always be gradual and clear.
  • Establish some rules around masturbation. It should be normalized that people masturbate and that they shouldn’t feel any shame about it. However, it’s an intimate act and, if done with another person, there should be consent from both parties. Also, this implies not sharing details about it if the one who does it doesn’t want to give them or others don’t want to hear about it.
  • The how is as important as the what. Your gestures, your tone of voice, and your body language also transmit a lot of information, beyond the content itself. Try not to contradict what you say with what you do. So, if you notice that you don’t know how to approach the topic or it makes you uncomfortable, you can use audiovisual resources.
  • Ask what your children know or think. Many times, young people have misconceptions, which prevent them from connecting in a healthy way with sexuality and lead them to experience it with guilt.
A father walking with his arm around his teenage son.
Don’t pretend to know everything. Just acknowledge your limitations, seek out information, and broach the subject with your kids. You can even take advantage of series and movies to open the space for empathetic and honest dialogue with them.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know everything

Finally, it’s important for adults to relax about the idea that we have all the answers to all the questions when it comes to masturbation in adolescence or sexuality in general. If there’s one thing that children come to teach us, it’s that more than once, you’ll learn with them and from them. For this reason, the best thing to do is to admit one’s own limitations, to inform oneself in order to find an answer or even to discover it together. Create the space for exchange and give adolescents the possibility to acquire in time the useful tools to enjoy a full life.

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  • Perla, Felipe , & Gutiérrez-Quintanilla, Ricardo , & Sierra, Juan Carlos (2010). Actitud hacia la masturbación en adolescentes: propiedades psicométricas de la versión española del Attitudes Toward Masturbation Inventory. Universitas Psychologica, 9(2),531-542.[fecha de Consulta 28 de Mayo de 2022]. ISSN: 1657-9267. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=64716832019
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