Ask Eva May Survey Findings on Masturbation Findings
As Masturbation May comes (hehe) to a close, I (Eva!) am celebrating the best way I can - by sharing the results of this month's Ask Eva survey!
If you've been following along with the Ask Eva sex research initiative so far, you know that research on sexual pleasure has been sorely lacking, and masturbation is no exception.
It turns out that masturbation was seen by sex research and doctors as a kind of illness for hundreds of years. In the 1800s, masturbation was linked to all kinds of conditions, including neurosis, "insanity", and at one point, up to two-thirds of all illnesses were linked in some way to solo sex.
It wasn't until sexologist Dr. Havelock Ellis came along in the late 1800s. He was inspired by his own experiences of shame around masturbation from the medical system and became one of the leaders in debunking and destigmatizing masturbation! More researchers like Alfred Kinsey in the 1950s and Shere Hite in the 1970s collected huge volumes of data on people's sexual experiences - including masturbation! They found that masturbation was extremely common, helping to further normalize solo sex.
Despite all of this work from sex research pioneers, there actually hasn't been a lot of progress made on modern masturbation research. Most current research on solo sex either looks at porn or explores masturbation in relation to partnered sex. That's where you all came in!! This month we had a record number of 939 responses for May's Ask Eva survey on everything to do with masturbation habits! The name of the game was to move away from a pathologizing view of masturbation, to describe the behaviors and preferences surrounding this sex act.
The sample for this month's survey was 88.8% (815) women, 6.7% (62) non-binary, and 4.5% (41) men, with 5.9% of individuals identifying as trans. With regards to sexual orientation, it was almost evenly split, as 51.40% of individuals identified as LGBTQ+.
Let's talk about frequency! How often did respondents masturbate? Over three-quarters (77%) of the sample masturbated weekly or more, with 37.1% of respondents masturbating several times a week, 28.6% masturbating weekly, and 11.3% masturbating daily.
15.3% were monthly masturbators, 5.6% masturbated less than once a month. 2.1% of the sample did not engage in masturbation.
Perhaps surprisingly, this prevalence of masturbation is actually quite high compared to previous research on the frequency of masturbation, especially among women. In one study of Portuguese women, only 10.9% reported masturbating more than once a week in the last year (1), another study of British adults found only 17.8% of women reported masturbated within the last week (2).
However, it is probably less surprising, as this survey is being conducted by a sex toy company and shared within sex-positive communities online, so it is likely that respondents may be more familiar with masturbation.
In terms of specific masturbation habits, the questionnaire included items of preferred time of day for masturbation, lighting, positions, music use, and erotic materials. Basically, how do you prefer to set up the perfect solo sex session?
Regarding the time of day, half participants preferred to engage in some nightly self-love (50.4%) or in the evening (21.2%). The remainder opted for a little sunshine on their solo sex, with 12.8% enjoying some afternoon masturbation, and 15.6% masturbating during morning or midday.
When setting the mood for a solo sesh, most preferred dim lighting (31.6%) or some lights off action (26.5%). A large minority didn't have a lighting preference (38.5%). But fear not, lights on masturbators! 3.4% of respondents also set the mood this way.
Let's talk about positions! Most participants had several go-tos for getting off. "Lying on back" was a clear favorite, preferred by 87.7% of participants. "Lying on stomach" or "humping or grinding" were also chosen, both by around 22% of respondents. Sitting (16%), "lying on side" (10.3%), and standing (5.5%) brought up the rear.
Most participants stuck to a music-free masturbation experience, with 47.1% never listening to music while masturbating and 21.8% rarely turning on some tunes. 25.8% sometimes listened to music, while 5.3% listened to music usually or always.
Of those who did respond that they listen to music during solo sex sessions, the top three genres of choice were hip hop (27.1%), pop (22.7%), and instrumental (15.6%) Honorable mention to the six respondents who listen to country music to get their groove on!
Do masturbation and pornography go hand in hand? For approximately half of the respondents, yes! 49.6% of participants cited consuming erotic materials like pornography or erotica usually or always during their solo sex sessions. Another 30.9% consumed it sometimes, 10.8% rarely and 8.7% never.
Video pornography was the most popular erotic material (79.9%), followed by images (31.6%) and written erotica (36.3%). Audio erotica came in fourth with 17.7% of respondents consuming this kind of erotic material.
Further debunking the myth that video pornography is a "guy thing", some great research has shown how women navigate porn to optimize their masturbation experiences, like looking on feminist or queer porn sites, pre-screening before starting to watch, or opting for amateur porn (3).
As a sexting researcher, I was especially interested in respondents' experiences with virtual sex - sexting, video sex, phone sex, etc. From this sample, approximately two-thirds of participants had ever participated in virtual sex during masturbation (62.8%).
Most participants had engaged in multiple forms of virtual sex, with approximately half of participants had ever participated in some form of sexting during masturbation and approximately 30% having participated in phone or video sex.
Last, but certainly not least, orgasm! The majority of respondents (79.3%) orgasmed always or usually during masturbation. 10.5% sometimes orgasmed, while 4.2% rarely orgasmed and 6.0% never orgasmed during masturbation.
Participants also had the opportunity to share what factors make it easier to orgasm during masturbation. A variety of orgasm-boosters were shared, from vibrators (shout out to Le Wand for so many orgasms!!), specific types of stimulation (such as clitoral, or combining internal and external stimulation), quiet toys, erotic materials, and involvement of a partner in mutual masturbation or voyeurism.
Many respondents also shared the value of privacy - put by one respondent "No roommates (freedom to be loud and masturbate whenever and wherever I want)", and another as "not having small children who can't seem to stay in their own damn beds at night." Other themes were elements associated with mindfulness, "getting outside of my head" and reducing pressure on one's self.
As I do every month, I wanted to give the biggest thank you to everyone for participating in this sex research initiative! By collecting data on people's experiences of pleasure we are filling important gaps in the field of sex research, helping create better sexual wellness products, and normalizing all of our experiences along the way!
(1) Carvalheira, A., & Leal, I (2013). Masturbation among women: Associated factors and sexual response in a Portuguese community sample. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 39(4), 347-367.
(2) Gerressu, M., Mercer, C. H., Graham, C. A., Wellings, K., & Johnson, A. M. (2008). British national probability data on masturbation prevalence and associated factors. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 266-278.
(3) Chadwick, S. B., Raisanen, J. C., Goldey, K. L., & van Anders, S. (2018). Strategizing to Make Pornography Worthwhile: A Qualitative Exploration of Women's Agentic Engagement with Sexual Media. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(6), 1853-1868. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1174-y