Scores of Canadians breathed a sigh of relief and reached for the Kleenex last week, when news reports alerted the nation that it was indeed perfectly normal to masturbate.
Sex educator and counselor Sue Johanson titillated a reporter from the Toronto Sun with some hefty statistics: "99 percent of men of all ages masturbate regularly and the other one percent are liars," Johanson said.
But she allowed that accurate numbers have not yet been crunched for masturbating women.
"A lot more women masturbate than will talk about it," Johanson continued, "and most women's first orgasm is from solitary masturbation." But self-pleasure begins in male babies about 10 minutes after they're born, she said. "Little boys grab their penis and don't let go. It's their best friend. They're addicted to it. They talk to it."
Johanson did not offer any specific statistics for this claim -- nor did she refer to videos of masturbating babies or other physical evidence -- but her line of reasoning is this: As little boys grow up, they're told by their parents not to touch their penises in public. Not in church, not on the bus to school, not anywhere. As puberty arrives, boys will discover this exciting new toy attached to their body, ignore their earlier instructions, and then it's off to the races, masturbation-wise.
If parents happen to walk in on their child in the midst of a masturbatory frenzy, New York sex educator Sari Locker offers some words of advice: Turn around and leave the room. If the moment comes up later in conversation, "Apologize for interrupting their private time. Do not criticize or say anything to instill guilt or shame."
Masturbating children (as well as adults) feel guilty, in part, because of long-standing societal taboos against such behavior, according to Alex McKay, research coordinator for the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. "The reason is that sex is supposed to be geared towards reproduction, and masturbation is about as far away from that as you can get," says McKay.
But he believes that this taboo is gradually disintegrating, and Canada is on its way to becoming a happy, pro-masturbating society. "There is now a wide-ranging consensus among health professionals from all disciplines that masturbation is psychologically healthy and something most people do," he says.
Masturbation is the most common human sexual practice, but also the least-researched or debated, says McKay. Further research into the area would yield more insight into human sexual fantasy, desires and preferences.
Another Canadian voice of authority also gives the thumbs-up to jerking off. Saskatoon sex therapists Bill and Carolyn Chernenkoff say they promote both mutual and private "self-stimulation." The Chernenkoffs say there's nothing more healthy for hormone-crazed teenagers than masturbation. If the kids are diddling themselves, that means they won't be risking their health by having sex with so many partners.