Did your parents ever say anything to you about masturbation when you were a child or teen? Did you hear other kids talking or joking about it when adults weren’t around? If you attended church as a teen, did the youth workers address masturbation at all? What did you imagine God thought about masturbation during your teenage years? Were your own thoughts about masturbation conflicted?
Some of you are like me and heard nothing from adults but plenty of irreverent talk from other kids. Others of you may have heard very conflicting or confusing statements from a variety of sources. It is no wonder that parents have anxiety about addressing the topic of masturbation with kids. I want to ease your anxiety and help you feel more comfortable addressing masturbation when the need arises with your children.
Masturbation is not the most concerning issue a teenager faces. Learning how to manage feelings and relationships in God-honoring ways is far more important. That said, “What about masturbation?” is the number one question parents ask me when I am speaking at events and conferences. Obviously parents want help knowing how to address masturbation with their children.
I do not recommend you talk to your adolescent about masturbation if you have not talked first about emotions and feelings and second about God’s design for sex. Don’t start your child’s sex education with a conversation about masturbation. That is getting priorities out of line. Masturbation is a topic within the larger scope of sexuality.
The second thing to remind yourself is that adolescents do masturbate. Surveys have shown for decades that 96% of men admit to masturbating as boys. In circles who study human sexuality the joke is, “And the other 4% are lying.” Similar surveys show that about 50% of women admit to masturbation as teen girls or younger.
This does not mean that masturbation continues indefinitely once it starts. What these statistics show is that most adolescents experiment with what we may label as masturbation.
In many cases what an adult may consider masturbation actually starts out as an adolescent’s curiosity and exploring their own changing body. Often “masturbation” is at first an accidental discovery. A child may not even have a word for what they experience in such a situation. A parent certainly does not want to place shame on a child for situations like these.
Of course, once an adolescent experiences the pleasure of masturbation it will be difficult for them to not want to repeat the experience. Rather than think of this as
“bad” it is more helpful to consider this a form of immature behavior.
This is most easily understood by comparing masturbation to something like an anger outburst. When kids reach adolescence the combination of limbic system development and massive increase in hormones gives them much stronger emotions. It takes time—usually years—before they learn to not overreact to these new strong emotions.
It takes teenagers years to develop the needed skills to stop reacting to anger in an outburst or by shutting down and isolating. Anger outbursts and shutting down are childish, immature behaviors that take years to grow beyond.
In the same way, the limbic system and hormone increase also cause the body to be super sensitive during adolescence. For many new adolescents, simply taking a shower can feel like an erotic event.
To have an expectation that an adolescent would never, ever touch themselves in a way that brings pleasure is like expecting them to never overreact to anger. Both are immature reactions to heightened senses they have not learned to master. Both will take years to mature beyond.
Conversations to Have with Adolescents
The following is an edited (shortened) excerpt from my book, Honest Talk: A New Perspective on Talking to Your Kids About Sex. These are good conversations to have with all children, boys and girls, as they enter puberty.
1. We can Talk About Masturbation
Masturbation is something we can talk about if you have questions or concerns. I will not judge you for your questions.
2. Adolescents and Teens Usually Masturbate
You are not “bad” if you masturbate. Masturbation is an immature sexual behavior that you can outgrow.
3. Wet Dreams Happen to Teen Boys
Wet dreams happen a lot with some boys and very rarely with others. When you have a wet dream, you may wake up to a sexual dream. You are not a bad person because you had a sexual dream. You can ask God to “clean your mind” of those images and talk with your parent if you want.
4. Masturbation to Pornography or Sexual Fantasy is Harmful
Pornography use is harmful [the book goes into detail about how it harms the brain]. Masturbation while looking at pornography or having a sexual fantasy locks those images into your mind.
5. Compulsive Masturbation is Harmful
Masturbating once or more a day creates harmful patterns and expectations in your life [the book goes into detail on how].
6. Masturbation is a Childish Response to Negative Emotions
After a while you will probably find the main reason you masturbate is to feel better rather than face stress, anxiety, or disappointment. Masturbation does not help but only delays what you need to deal with.
7. Moving Away from Masturbation is a Process
It usually takes time to move away from masturbation. It is okay if you start by reducing how often you masturbate.
8. Talk to God About Masturbation
There is nothing God does not want to talk to you about. You can ask Him questions and tell him your feelings as you try to mature in your sexuality.
You might be feeling anxious just reading this blog, much less talking to your kids about masturbation. It is possible your own past related to masturbation makes this conversation difficult. If so, I recommend reading or re-reading the blog, Before You Talk with Your kids About Sex.
It is possible to become calm with this subject, however. Forgive your younger self if he or she did not manage masturbation well. Your younger self was doing the best he or she could and likely had not help at all. Your child does have help—you.
God does not love your child less if they struggle with masturbation. God understands your child’s struggle even more than you can. This is not the most important issue in your child’s sexuality. What is important is that your child knows they have someone they can talk to and who will respond with support and love.
For more information, see chapter 9 ofHonest Talk: A New Perspective on Talking to Your Kids About Sex.