Talking with Our Daughters about Masturbation
By Dina Alexander, MS
Recently, we posted an article about moving past shame and talking to kids about masturbation.
So why are we posting an additional article focusing on talking to our daughters about masturbation? Let me answer that question with a question: Why do we get so worried when our daughters masturbate?
When we find out a girl is masturbating we often think one of two things:
We think a predator has abused or harmed her. “Something must have happened to her.”
We think that something might be “wrong” with her, that she is a sexual deviant.
Now, I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of sexual abuse! And indeed, predators do victimize kids in a myriad of ways that are sometimes acted out. However, most girls and boys start masturbating for the simple reason that it is a natural behavior that feels good.
So why are we more bothered by girls masturbating?
Unlike boys, girls are not typically socialized to search for sexual pleasure. Nor do they receive as much encouragement to be self-reliant. Further, we usually place the full responsibility of modesty and sexual morality on them. We sometimes go so far as to blame girls for being sexually abused because of their clothing or being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”
Finally, in our words and actions, we tend to teach our daughters that “good girls” don’t seek sexual pleasure and don’t touch themselves. These factors taken together may be why girls typically feel profoundly more shame talking about and engaging in masturbation than do boys.
How can we more effectively address the topic of masturbation with our daughters?
First, examine your feelings and fears when it comes to the idea of your daughter masturbating. Are you carrying feelings of shame when it comes to this topic? What worries you about your daughter masturbating (versus your son masturbating)?
Are you okay with the idea that your child is just exploring her body? Are you more bothered by the idea of your child trying to feel pleasure or perhaps orgasm? Remember, most children have not connected masturbation with sexual feelings or ideas. This is a teenage and adult notion of masturbation.
Decide if it is something you are okay with or not. Some people feel that masturbation is unhealthy for anyone or that it should be a highly restricted activity. Whatever you decide for your home, get rid of the shame (for your own sexual behaviors and in your discussions with your daughter).
Understand that even if you believe that masturbation is unhealthy, it doesn’t change the fact that everyone, including our children, are sexual beings. Eventually all of our kids will have a sexual experience of some kind.
Be practical and realistic. Some parents worry that discussing sexuality will encourage sexual behaviors. Data does not support this viewpoint. Providing straightforward answers gives your children information so they can make good choices about their own bodies and health which affects them directly and their families indirectly.
Remember, most kids will masturbate at some point. Think carefully about what you say. When they do masturbate, do you want them to remember scolding, shameful language? Or thoughtful, understanding words?
Be calm and nurturing. It’s easy to freak out and take this topic too seriously. Don’t! In the grand scheme of possible problems, diseases, grades, behavioral issues, and family dilemmas, this is not a huge concern. You love your kids. Be kind and calm in these talks.
Start a dialogue and be prepared to answer questions. This may be the one topic you are most uncomfortable with, but it is best if you start the conversation with your child. Establish yourself as a source of information when your kids are young. Be ready to explain questions about anatomy, the function of various anatomy and other sexual topics that may come up.
Give real information and explain WHY. I’m starting to lose track of how many women have told me that they feel that their masturbating in their teen and college years has made it difficult to orgasm with their partners. However, some studies indicate that masturbation in teen and college years can help a woman to orgasm more easily with a partner and be more comfortable with her body. Again, if you feel that masturbation is healthy, tell your daughter so. If you feel it unhealthy, explain why!
Talk about addiction. Masturbation is concerning when it becomes a child’s main source of coping and self-soothing or if it becomes an addictive behavior. This is true for both genders. For teenagers it can be, as with any addiction, a replacement for processing emotions. Talk to your daughter about this. Help her find other ways to process her feelings—whether it’s by talking to you, journaling, or using some type of art—but help her know it is not a shameful act. You don’t want her feeling shame around her sexuality (Goff, 2015).
If you feel there is a major concern, check out the list of problem behaviors at the end of this article.
Explain why masturbating to porn is unhealthy. For older kids and teens, pornography often accompanies masturbation. Help your child understand that the porn industry is targeting them, purposely gearing their content toward young audiences. Just like alcohol or drugs, starting on porn at a young age affects the brain deeply and can create a habit that is difficult to break in adulthood.
Discuss with your kids the addictive and hateful nature of pornography. Make sure your child understands that masturbating to porn also changes the way we view other people, reducing them into objects to be used.
If you are religious, remember, God doesn’t use shame to teach and neither should we. Shame separates us from God. It does not bring us closer to God and it doesn’t bring us closer to our kids.
A bottom line worth stressing is that masturbation should not play a major role in your child’s life, either as a source of relentless guilt or as a frequent and persistent habit that displaces healthy sexual relations in the future.
For more helpful information about talking to your kids about sex, masturbation, intimacy, and other vital topics, check out our 30 Days of Sex Talks series (for ages 3-7, 8-11, and 12+).
There are affiliate links in the blog post. When you use them to make purchases, we thank you for supporting Educate and Empower Kids!
Dina Alexander is the founder and president of Educate and Empower Kids, an organization determined to strengthen families by teaching digital citizenship, media literacy, and healthy sexuality education—including education about the dangers of online porn. She is the creator of How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography and the 30 Days of Sex Talks and 30 Days to a Stronger Child programs. She received her master’s degree in recreation therapy from the University of Utah and her bachelors from Brigham Young University. She is an amazing mom and loves spending time with her husband and three kids. Together, they live in Texas.
Comprehensive Sex Education: Research and Results. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/1487
Goff, S. (2015, February). How Do I Talk to My Daughter About Sex and Masturbation? Retrieved July 11, 2017, from http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/february/how-do-i-talk-to-my-daughter-about-sex-and-masturbation.html
Mintz, L. (2014, January 28). A Touchy Subject: The Health Benefits of Masturbation. Retrieved July 11, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stress-and-sex/201401/touchy-subject-the-health-benefits-masturbation
Roberts, K. (2016, October 05). The Psychology of Victim-Blaming. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/the-psychology-of-victim-blaming/502661/
Sexual Behavior and Children: When Is It a Problem and What to Do About It. (2012). Retrieved July 8, 2011, from https://depts.washington.edu/hcsats/PDF/TF-%20CBT/pages/3%20Psychoeducation/Child%20Sexual%20Behaviors/Sexual%20Behavior%20and%20Children.pdf
UW Medicine Harborview Medical Center
What Are Common Sexual Behaviors in Young Children? (2013, August 25). Retrieved July 10, 2017, from https://pediatriceducation.org/2013/08/26/what-are-common-sexual-behaviors-in-young-children/