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Masturbation Experiences of Swedish Senior High School Students: Gender Differences and Similarities

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Research about masturbation tends to be limited to the assessment of masturbation incidence and frequency. Consequently, little is known about what people experience connected to masturbation. This might be one reason why theoretical approaches that specifically address the persistent gender gap in masturbation frequency are lacking. The aim of the current study was to explore several aspects of masturbation in young men and women, and to examine possible associations with their social backgrounds and sexual histories. Data from 1,566 women and 1,452 men (ages 18 to 22) from 52 Swedish senior high schools were analyzed. Comparisons between men and women were made regarding incidence of and age at first masturbation, the use of objects (e.g., sex toys), fantasies, and sexual functioning during masturbation, as well as about their attitudes toward masturbation and sexual fantasies. Cluster analysis was carried out to identify similarities between and differences within the gender groups. While overall more men than women reported experience with several of the investigated aspects, cluster analyses revealed that a large proportion of men and women reported similar experiences and that fewer experiences are not necessarily associated with negative attitudes toward masturbation. Implications of these findings are discussed in consideration of particular social backgrounds.
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Masturbation Experiences of Swedish Senior High School
Students: Gender Differences and Similarities
Wiebke Driemeyer
Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Outpatient Department for Sex Therapy, University
Medical Center Essen, Germany
Erick Janssen
Institute for Family and Sexuality Studies, Department of Neurosciences,
University of Leuven, Belgium
Jens Wiltfang
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Medical Center Göttingen, Germany
Eva Elmerstig
Faculty of Health and Society, Centre for Sexology and Sexuality Studies, Malmö University,
Research about masturbation tends to be limited to the assessment of masturbation incidence and
frequency. Consequently, little is known about what people experience connected to masturbation. This
might be one reason why theoretical approaches that specically address the persistent gender gap in
masturbation frequency are lacking. The aim of thecurrentstudywastoexploreseveralaspectsof
masturbation in young men and women, and to examine possible associations with their social
backgrounds and sexual histories. Data from 1,566 women and 1,452 men (ages 18 to 22) from 52
Swedish senior high schools were analyzed. Comparisons between men and women were made
regarding incidence of and age at rst masturbation, the use of objects (e.g., sex toys), fantasies, and
sexual functioning during masturbation, as well as about their attitudes toward masturbation and
sexual fantasies. Cluster analysis was carried out to identify similarities betweenanddifferenceswithin
the gender groups. While overall more men than women reported experience with several of the
investigated aspects, cluster analyses revealedthatalargeproportionofmenandwomenreported
similar experiences and that fewer experiences are not necessarily associated with negative attitudes
toward masturbation. Implications of these ndings are discussed in consideration of particular social
Although masturbation is a common sexual activity and an
important aspect of sexual development and well-being (Arafat
& Cotton, 1974;Dodson,1987), it is a relatively neglected
topic in sex and social science research (Coleman, 2003). One
of the factors comparatively well established but not well
understood involves gender differences in masturbation:
More men than women report ever having masturbated, and
on average, men engage in it more frequently than women do
(e.g., Gerressu, Mercer, Graham, Wellings, & Johnson, 2008;
Herbenick et al., 2010b; Reece et al., 2010). Although different
explanations have been offered for this nding, few theories
exist that aim to provide a framework from which to under-
stand gender differences in masturbation. From one perspec-
tive, cultural and social aspects are regarded as crucial factors.
Compatible with this view, Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, and
Michaels (1994), describing their ndings on masturbation
from a representative survey in the United States, hypothesized
that masturbation behavior is largely determined by social
characteristics (i.e., master statuses).
Indeed, sex differences
in masturbation are less distinct in more liberal countries and in
younger generations (e.g., Kontula & Haavio-Mannila, 2003).
Correspondence should be addressed to Wiebke Driemeyer, Clinic of
Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Medical Center Essen,
Wickenburgstraße 21, 45147 Essen, Germany. E-mail: wiebke.
One reason for the lack of information might be that this topic, and
perhaps even more so, research on this topic, is considered particularly
sensitive; the willingness of young people to report masturbation behavior
has been observed to be low (Halpern, Udry, Suchindran, & Campbell,
2000). This aspect should be considered when interpreting reports about
masturbation, especially in the context of social and cultural factors.
Copyright: © The Society for the Scientic Study of Sexuality
ISSN: 0022-4499 print/1559-8519 online
DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1167814
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For example, some of the lowest percentages of men and
women who indicate having ever masturbatedhave been
found in studies in China (men 45%, women 10%; Das,
2007), Russia (men 65%, women 32%; Kontula & Haavio-
Mannila, 2003), and Croatia, although the latter included only
women (60% ever masturbated;Baćak & Štulhofer, 2011).
Higher incidences of masturbation have been reported in stu-
dies in Sweden (men 96%, women 79%; Lewin, Fugl-Meyer,
Helmius, Lalos, & Mansson, 1998), Great Britain (men 95%,
women 71%; Gerressu et al., 2008), and the United States (men
89% to 94%, women 72% to 85%; Herbenick et al., 2010a).
Moreover, lower reports of masturbation experience have been
found to be associated with higher levels of religiosity and
lower levels of education (Baćak & Štulhofer, 2011; Gerressu
et al., 2008; Laumann et al., 1994). Petersen and Hyde (2010b),
in their meta-analysis about gender differences in sexuality,
observed that gender differences in masturbation are smaller
in countries with greater gender equity, consistent with social
structural theory (Eagly & Wood, 1999). According to this
theory, psychological gender differences are a result of inequal-
ity in the division of power and labor in a society. Thus, the
dominance of men in labor would go along with a degradation
of women as objects for mens sexual satisfaction and a sup-
pression of female sexuality. From this perspective, being less
religious (i.e., being the subject of powerful religious institu-
tions) and more educated would mean to have more power and,
hence, to be sexually more self-determined (Hyde and Durik,
2000). Sexual scripting theory (Simon & Gagnon, 1986)is,
according to Oliver and Hyde (1993), the only theory that
directly addresses gender differences in masturbation behavior.
The concept of sexual scripts refers to internal states that are
predominantly formed during early adolescence and subse-
quently organize sexual preferences and interactions of indivi-
duals. Cultural and social aspects are of great importance to this
concept as it emphasizes the symbolic meaning of behaviors.
From the perspective of scripting, gender differences in mas-
turbation might be interpreted to mean that men more than
women have learned to connect sex to sexual pleasure. Mens
early adolescence is, according to Simon and Gagnon (1986),
to a greater extent characterized by solitary sexual activities,
while women prepare for the adult female role and conse-
quently connect sex more to relationships. Plante (2015)dis-
cussed how social and cultural aspects can implicitly (e.g., via
social learning, peers, parents) and explicitly (e.g., via media
and school education) inuence different pathways of sexual
development of men and women. In Western societies, man-
hood is associated with semenarche, while womanhood is
associated with menarche. Consequently, at an early stage,
men learn to connect pleasure and orgasm to their genitals,
whereas women are taught to attribute pain and discomfort to
theirs. Consistent with this, qualitative studies have revealed
that negative attitudes toward masturbation are more common
among young women, whereas young men are more likely to
emphasize the advantages of masturbation, such as involving
fewer (health and other) risks (Hogarth & Ingham, 2009;
Kaestle & Allen, 2011). However, quantitative studies have
shown that attitudes toward masturbation have become more
similar between men and women than the actual behavior in
recent years (Petersen and Hyde, 2010a). In an attempt to
explain this persisting gender gap in masturbation frequency,
Leitenberg, Detzer, and Srebnik (1993) speculated that biolo-
gical factorsincluding differences between men and women
in anatomy and in awareness of genital sensations and response
are involved.
Whereas several theoretical approaches exist that may help
explain gender differences in masturbation, almost none of
them specically address gender differences in masturbation.
One reason why theory development in this areawhich
involves the expression of sexual desire in a mostly nondya-
dic contextappears to be so limited is that there is little
knowledge about masturbation in general. Studies concerned
with this topic tend to be limited to the assessment of mas-
turbation incidence and frequency (Coleman, 2003;Tiefer,
1998). Consequently, with the exception of a few qualitative
studies (Hogarth & Ingham, 2009; Kaestle & Allen, 2011;
Youn g , 2006), relatively little is known about why and how
people masturbate, what they experience connected to mas-
turbation, and what their thoughts and feelings are about
masturbation in general and their own experiences in parti-
cular. Variables such as attitudes toward and experience of
orgasms or use of fantasy during masturbation have rarely
been assessed (however, for exceptions see Laumann et al.,
1994; Leitenberg & Henning, 1995)and,asyet,notbeen
integrated into a comprehensive model or theory of masturba-
tion. Instead, some recent research has focused on the role of
masturbation as compensatory as opposed to complementary
sexual behavior, as well as on associations between masturba-
tion frequency and well-being (sexual, physical, and psycho-
logical) (for a literature review, see Driemeyer, 2013).
Findings are mixed for connections between masturbation
frequency and sexual activity within a relationship, but indi-
cations exist that men masturbate less often if they are in a
relationship (congruent with sexual outlet theory; Kinsey,
Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, &
Gebhard, 1953) while women seem to masturbate indepen-
dently of sexual activity within a relationship.
During adolescence, masturbation is more frequently
engaged in than any other sexual activity (Herbenick
et al., 2010a). Also, sexual self-image and concept develop
during adolescence and inuence future sexual experiences
and behavior (Buzwell & Rosenthal, 1996; Hensel,
Fortenberry, OSullivan, & Orr, 2011; Rostosky, Dekhtyar,
Cupp, & Anderman, 2008). Therefore, adolescence provides
us with a window into the development and early expression
of masturbation behaviors and mens and womens attitudes
and feelings toward it. Gender differences in masturbation
frequency have also been found among adolescents
(Robbins et al., 2011), and young men have been found
to, on average, start to masturbate at a younger age than
young women, although among young women the onset age
varies more than among young men. Still, our knowledge
about adolescentsmasturbation behavior and experiences is
limited, and even more limited than what is known about
this in adults.
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The aim of the current study was to explore several
aspects of masturbationincluding the use of fantasy and
the experience of orgasmin young men and women, and
to examine possible associations with their social back-
ground and sexual history. To allow for a more differen-
tiated view, both between-gender and within-gender
differences were investigated, and gender similarities were
The data on which this study is based were collected as
part of a larger survey, conducted in Sweden (Elmerstig,
2009), on third-year senior high school students(upper
secondary school) experiences with and attitudes toward
their bodies and sexuality.
A total of 84 out of 134 public and private schools of two
counties of Sweden, Östergötland and Skåne, were asked to
participate in this research. Both counties comprise country-
side areas, small- to medium-sized cities, and industrial as
well as university areas. To obtain two equivalent regions,
Malmö, a large city in Skåne County, was excluded. In
Östergötland all 34 schools were contacted, and in Skåne
County 50 out of 100 schools were contacted. Of the 84
schools, 31 declined because of lack of time, and one school
declined because of the topic of the study. Data from 1,566
women and 1,451 men (aged 18 to 22 years)
from 52
different schools and 226 different classes were included in
the analyses. Detailed descriptions of the procedure and
ethical considerations have been published elsewhere
(Elmerstig, Wijma, & Swahnberg, 2013). Students volunta-
rily lled out questionnaires in the classrooms. Provisions for
privacy were made. The central ethical review board at the
Swedish Research Council in Stockholm approved the study.
The questionnaire used in this study consisted of 201
questions, covering various aspects of sexual behavior, atti-
tudes, and experiences, including those related to masturba-
tion (i.e., sexual stimulation of ones own body in the
absence of others) (Elmerstig et al., 2013). The participants
were asked if they had ever masturbated; how old they were
the rst time they masturbated; if they used objects (e.g., sex
toys) during masturbation; if they fantasized during mastur-
bation; and whether they experienced orgasm during mas-
turbation. They were also asked whether they agreed or
disagreed with various statements (e.g., that masturbation
is disgusting, that sexual fantasies are disgusting, that sexual
fantasies are exciting). In addition, men were asked about
erection problems and early ejaculation during masturba-
tion; and women were asked about the experience of clitoral
pain during masturbation. For responses, 6-point Likert
scales were used (Never to Every time; Strongly disagree
to Strongly agree). For men and women without any mas-
turbation experience, the response option Not relevant to me
was provided where appropriate.
Statistical Analysis
IMB SPSS Statistics, version 20.0 (IBM, Armonk, NY)
was used for statistical analyses. Two-tailed independent sam-
ples ttests were used for continuous data, chi-square analysis
was used for categorical data, and Mann-Whitney Utests were
used for ordinal and not normally distributed data. Tests of
signicance were carried out using a 95% condence interval
(CI). Cluster analysis was used to create, within men and
women, subgroups of respondents that represent different
combinations of masturbation experience and attitudes toward
masturbation and toward sexual fantasies. The number of
clusters was established with a hierarchical clustering method
using squared Euclideansdistanceforarandomsampleof
10% of all cases. The identied number of clusters for women
and for men was subsequently used for a K-means cluster
analysis. This type of analysis sorts cases into groups with
the goal of obtaining minimum variability within and max-
imum variability between groups.
Sample Characteristics
Demographic and sexual characteristics of study partici-
pants are presented in Table 1.
Masturbation Experiences and Attitudes
Close to all men (98.9%) and most women (85.5%)
reported that they had masturbated at some time during
their lives (X
= 180.6, p< .001). Only participants who
reported ever having masturbated were included in further
analyses. Women with masturbation experience started mas-
turbating, on average, at a later age than men did (M= 13.7
versus M= 12.5, respectively; U= 198905, p< .001). Also,
women showed more variability (SD = 2.6 versus 1.7 for
men) and a greater range (119 versus 518 for men) in age
of rst masturbation.
Use of Objects and Fantasies, and Orgasm During
Masturbation. Women reported a higher frequency of
use of objects during masturbation than men (U= 583532,
p< .001, see Figure 1 and Figure 2), but few women (8.0%)
and almost no men (1.4%) reported using objects during
masturbation more than sometimes. A considerable
proportion of women (42.5%) and some men (12.9%)
used objects seldom or sometimes. Men reported a higher
frequency of fantasies during masturbation than women
(U= 649762, p< .001), but only 13.2% of women (4.6%
of men) reported never using fantasies. The frequency of
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fantasies during masturbation varied in both groups, but
twice as many men (31.3%) as women (15.0%) reported
using fantasies every time while masturbating.
The reported frequency of orgasms during masturbation
was higher for men than for women (U= 524238.5,
p< .001; see Figure 1 and 2) and varied less among men
(SD = 1.1) than among women (SD = 1.9). About two-thirds
of men (67.2%) reported experiencing orgasm every time
they masturbated, compared to approximately one-third of
the women (34.6%). A considerable number of women
(18.4%) reported never experiencing an orgasm during mas-
turbation (2.4% of men). More women than men (34.5%
versus 26.2%, respectively) reported that it was easier to
have an orgasm during masturbation than during sexual
activities with a partner (e.g., petting, oral sex, vaginal
intercourse, anal intercourse) (X
= 18.98, p< .001; results
not shown). Also, more women than men (19.8% versus
11.8%) indicated that they experienced the most pleasant
orgasms during masturbation (X
= 26.79, p< .000; results
not shown).
Most of the men reported experiencing erection problems
never (70.6%) or seldom (23.5%), but some (5.1%) reported
experiencing erection problems sometimes during masturba-
tion. Early ejaculation during masturbation was reported at
similar rates, with 65.9% of men having never had early
ejaculations during masturbation, 22.6% seldom, and 8.4%
sometimes. Among women, clitoral pain during masturbation
was reported at fairly low rates as well: 76.4% of women never
and 18.9% seldom experienced pain during masturbation. A
small percentage (4.0%) experienced it sometimes.
Attitudes Toward Masturbation and Sexual Fantasy.
Women and men differed in their attitudes toward male
masturbation (U=829322,p< .001; see Figure 3 and
Figure 4) but had similar attitudes toward female
masturbation. Although attitudes tended to be more negative
Table 1. Sample Characteristics
(n= 1,566)
(n= 1,451)
Demographics %
Age (years) M=18.26,
SD = 0.5
SD = 0.6
Education < .001
Vocational 51.7 810 57.8 839
General 48.3 756 42.2 612
Country of birth .301
Sweden 91.8 1,431 92.8 1,340
Other country 8.2 128 7.2 104
Religion < .001
Atheist/no answer 34.3 536 48.6 704
Christianity 60.5 948 45.6 661
Islam 4.4 69 3.9 56
Other religion 0.8 13 2.1 30
SD = 1.3
SD = 1.3
< .001
Sexual orientation < .001
Heterosexual 89.5 1,387 96.1 1,376
Bisexual 4.7 73 1.0 15
Homosexual 0.5 7 0.6 8
Do not know/unsure 5.4 83 2.3 33
Number of sex partners
0 19.7 303 24.0 343
1 19.2 296 18.1 259
25 37.9 584 38.5 550
More than 5 23.2 357 19.4 278
Current relationship status < .001
In a relationship 49.9 780 33.2 479
Not in a relationship 50.1 783 66.8 965
Ever masturbated < .001
Yes 85.5 1,328 98.9 1,424
No 14.5 225 1.1 16
Percentages given if not otherwise specied.
Strength of religious beliefs on a 6-point Likert scale: 1 (No religious
belief)to6(Strong religious belief).
Use of Objects
Use of
Clitoral Pain
Fairly frequently
Almost every time
Every time
Figure 1. Women: Use of objects, fantasies, and orgasm and sexual function during masturbation.
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Use of Objects
Use of Fantasies
Erection Problem
Early Ejaculation
Fairly frequently
Almost every time
Every time
Figure 2. Men: Use of objects, fantasies, and orgasm and sexual function during masturbation.
Strongly disagree
Strongly agree
“Female masturbation
is disgusting”
“Male masturbation is
“Sexual fantasies are
“Sexual fantasies are
Figure 3. Women: Attitudes toward masturbation and sexual fantasies.
“Female masturbation
is disgusting”
“Male masturbation is
“Sexual fantasies are
“Sexual fantasies are
Strongly disagree
Strongly agree
Figure 4. Men: Attitudes toward masturbation and sexual fantasies.
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toward masturbation by individuals of the same gender (and
more so by men), around three-quarters of women and men
strongly disagreed that female and male masturbation is
disgusting. Negative attitudes toward sexual fantasies were
in the minority as well: 64.0% of women and 70.5% of men
strongly disagreed with the statement that sexual fantasies
are disgusting, and very few strongly agreed (women 1.1%,
men 1.2%). In contrast, about one-third of men (36.7%) and
women (32.9%) strongly agreed with the statement that
sexual fantasies are exciting, but twice as many women
(3.4%) as men (1.5%) strongly disagreed.
Cluster Analysis of Masturbation Patterns
The cluster analysisusing fantasy use, object use, and
experience of orgasms during masturbation, as well as
attitudes toward masturbation and sexual fantasies
revealed a three-cluster solution for women and a two-
cluster solution for men (see Tab le 2). After performing
K-means clustering the greatest proportion of female
respondents was assigned to Cluster 1 (N= 661; 50%);
the remaining women were, with approximately similar
percentages, assigned to Cluster 2 (N=289;22%)and
Cluster 3 (N=305;23%).WomeninCluster1were
characterized by more positive attitudes toward masturba-
tion and fantasy and had the highest rates of fantasy and
object use during masturbation and the highest rates of
experience of orgasms during masturbation, as compared
to the other two clusters. Women in Cluster 2 shared
relatively negative attitudes toward masturbation and sex-
ual fantasies, reported the lowest use of fantasies and use
of objects during masturbation, but did not report particu-
larly low rates of orgasms during masturbation. Cluster 3
had attitudes that were relatively similar (and positive) to
women in Cluster 1, and they reported medium rates of use of
fantasies and objects during masturbation. However, orgasm
rates were lowest in this group. The three clusters were named
Positive/More Active/Orgasm Every Time (Cluster 1),
Negative/Less Active/Orgasm Sometimes (Cluster 2), and
Positive/Intermediately Active/Orgasm Seldom (Cluster 3).
The terms negative and positive refer to the participants
attitudes, and the word active indicates whether the use of
objects and of fantasies were reported in higher or lower rates.
As for men, the majority was assigned to Cluster 1
(N= 873, 61%) and the remaining men were assigned to
Cluster 2 (N=477,34%).Cluster1wasassociatedwith
positive attitudes toward masturbation and fantasy and
high rates of fantasy use and of orgasms during mastur-
bation. Men in Cluster 2 reported more negative attitudes
toward masturbation and fantasy and medium use of
fantasies during masturbation. Yet men in Cluster 2
experienced orgasms during masturbation about as fre-
quently as men in Cluster 1. Object use (M=1.2versus
1.1, F=9.4,p< .003) did not differentiate between the
two clusters.
Demographic and Sexual Characteristics of Womens
and Mens Clusters
For both men and women, differences were found
between clusters in age of rst masturbation
experience of orgasms (p<.001;seeTable 3).
Moreover, for women, differences were found between
clusters with regard to how easy and how pleasant
orgasms during masturbation are in contrast to those
experienced during other sexual practices (p< .001). In
addition, womens clusters differed in religion
(p= .002). Among men, differences with regard to
religion were not signicant (p=.063),butclustersdid
differ in educational background (p<.008).
The mean age of rst masturbation was lowest in
Cluster 1 (Positive/More Active/Orgasm Every Time) for
both women (M=13.0)andmen(M= 12.4). Among
men, the difference between both clusters was small, but
for women those in Clusters 2 and 3 started masturbating
at a considerably older age. Also, all women in Cluster 1
reported having had an orgasm at some time (during any
sexual activity), as compared to 88.6% of women in
Cluster 2 and 75.7% of women in Cluster 3. Almost
half of the women in Cluster 1 reported that it was easier
for them to experience an orgasm during masturbation as
compared to during sexual activities with a partner, while
most women in Clusters 2 and even more in Cluster 3
reported experiencing orgasm more easily during other
practices than during masturbation. Similarly, the propor-
tion of women who reported that orgasms during mastur-
bation (versus during other sexual activities) were most
pleasant was highest in Cluster 1 (27.5%) and lowest in
Cluster 3 (6.5%). Among men, although the difference
was not large (+3.3%), more men in Cluster 1 than in
Cluster 2 reported that they had experienced orgasms and
that it was easiest to experience an orgasm during mas-
turbation (+5.1%). The number of sex partners was high-
est for participants in Cluster 1 for both women and men.
For example, 29.4% of women in Cluster 1 (versus
20.5% in Cluster 2 and 25.0% in Cluster 3) and 20.6%
of men in Cluster 1 (versus 16.9% in Cluster 2) reported
having had more than ve sex partners in the past.
Only for women did we nd differences between clusters
relevant to religion. Compared to the other two clusters, a larger
number of women in Cluster 1 identied as atheists (35.7%).
Differences in education were only found for the mensclusters.
Although both clusters had more men with a more vocational
than general/economic educational background, this difference
was largest for Cluster 2 (62.1% versus 37.9%).
This study focused on masturbation behaviors in young
men and women, including their attitudes toward
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Table 2. Mean Scores of ParticipantsMasturbation Experiences for the Different Clusters
Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3 Cluster 1 Cluster 2
Active/Orgasm Every Time
(661; 50%)
Active/Orgasm Sometimes
(289; 22%)
Active/Orgasm Seldom
(305; 23%)
Active/Orgasm Every Time
(873; 61%)
Active/Orgasm Almost Every Time
(477; 34%)
Use of fantasies
4.31 1.93 3.40 5.19 3.04
Use of objects
2.13 1.30 1.86 1.22 1.14
Experience of orgasm
5.53 3.00 1.75 5.69 4.98
Female masturbation is disgusting
1.16 1.75 1.24 1.11 1.70
Male masturbation is disgusting
1.21 1.71 1.22 1.22 2.29
Sexual fantasies are disgusting
1.30 2.76 1.27 1.18 2.14
Sexual fantasies are exciting
5.18 2.92 5.11 5.30 3.88
Includes only participants who have reported experience with masturbation.
5% missing data.
6-point Likert scale: 1 = Never,2=Seldom,3=Sometimes,4=fairly frequently,5=Almost every time,6=Every time.
6-point Likert scale: 1 = Fully disagree,6=Fully agree.
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masturbation and sexual fantasies as well as experience with
orgasm, fantasies, and use of objects (e.g., sex toys) during
masturbation, and explored possible associations between
these variables and the participantssocial backgrounds
and sexual histories. We found that more men than women
reported experience with masturbation and that they used
fantasies more frequently than women. Moreover, men
reported more frequent orgasms during masturbation, but
more women stated they experienced their most pleasant
orgasms during masturbation. Also, women reported a
higher frequency of use of objects during masturbation
than the men in our sample. Another important nding
was that more than half of all men and women reported
very similar experiences with and attitudes toward mastur-
bation. As the cluster analyses further revealed, more nega-
tive attitudes were associated with less frequent use of
fantasies and a lower frequency of orgasm during masturba-
tion, and this was the case for both men and women. A third
cluster, which we found for women only, was largely char-
acterized by a low frequency of orgasm during masturbation
and by a preference for experiencing orgasms during part-
nered sex, while general experience with orgasms during
any sexual practice was lowest in this group.
Other studies have found that women masturbate less
often than men and that the variability in the frequency of
masturbation is larger among women than among men (e.g.,
Leitenberg et al., 1993). In the current study, we found a
similar pattern for the experience of orgasm during mastur-
bation. This could be one of the reasons for why men
masturbate more than women, since the experience of
orgasm can be a strong motivator and primary reinforcer
for practicing sexual activities (Pfaus, 2009), and orgasm
frequency during masturbation has been found to be
strongly associated with masturbation frequency (Laumann
et al., 1994). Likewise, the use of fantasy during masturba-
tion was reported more often by men than by women, which
is consistent with the results of a meta-analysis about gender
differences in sexual fantasies (Leitenberg & Henning,
1995): Across 13 studies, 85.9% of men and 68.8% of
women had ever had fantasies during masturbation. In a
study by Jones and Barlow (1990), a greater number of
fantasies during masturbation also correlated with a greater
frequency of masturbation. Moreover, these authors found
that a greater number of sexual urges (externally generated
sexual thoughts) was correlated with a greater frequency of
masturbation and that women reported fewer sexual urges
than men. The nding that women used objects and sex toys
more often than men during masturbation also ts with the
ndings of studies about vibrator use by adults. For exam-
ple, it has been found in the United States that 53.7% of
Table 3. Demographic and Sexual Characteristics of Women and Men in Each Cluster
Women Men
23 p12 p
Education .119 .007
Vocational 52.6 54.3 46.6 54.4 62.1
General 47.4 45.7 53.4 45.6 37.9
Country of birth .395 .201
Sweden 94.8 93.4 92.7 94.2 92.4
Other country 5.2 6.6 7.3 5.8 7.6
Religion .002 .063
Atheist/no answer 35.7 26.9 26.6 45.8 44.7
Christianity 62.3 67.8 67.5 49.8 47.7
Islam 1.8 4.5 4.5 2.4 5.3
Other religion 0.2 0.8 1.4 2.0 2.3
Mean strength of religious belief (16) 2.01 2.12 2.13 .249 1.89 1.91 .821
Relationship at the moment .453 .674
Yes 53.2 51.4 48.9 34.6 33.4
No 46.8 48.6 51.1 65.4 66.6
Number of sex partners (lifetime) < .001 < .001
0 11.0 18.4 14.2 18.8 30.3
1 17.9 23.7 18.6 19.3 17.2
25 41.7 37.4 42.2 41.3 35.6
More than 5 29.4 20.5 25.0 20.6 16.9
Mean age of onset of masturbation 13.0 14.9 14.4 < .001 12.4 12.9 < .001
Experience of orgasm during any practice 100.0 88.6 75.7 < .001 99.7 96.4 < .001
Easiest orgasm during < .001 .066
Masturbation 48.9 18.0 11.5 27.8 22.7
Other practices 51.1 82.0 88.5 72.2 77.3
Most pleasant orgasm during < .001 < .490
Masturbation 27.5 12.5 6.5 11.3 12.7
Other practices 72.5 87.5 93.5 88.7 87.3
Percentages given if not otherwise specied.
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women have never used a vibrator during masturbation as
compared to 83.4% of men (Herbenick et al., 2009; Reece
et al., 2009). The numbers found in our study regarding
object use are very similar to those found in the U.S.
samples, even though the age range of participants in our
study was much smaller (1822 versus 1860 in the U.S.
studies). It seems probable that objects and sex toys are used
more by women to experience orgasms during masturbation
because some of them might not have learned to explore
their genitals in a sexual way.
Despite the fact that the young women in this study used
fantasies and experienced orgasm less often during mastur-
bation as compared to the young men, they did not hold
more negative attitudes toward masturbation. This is in
contrast with the results of a previous, qualitative study
(Kaestle & Allen, 2011) and the ndings of research in
older generations and sexually less liberal countries (e.g.,
Kontula & Haavio-Mannila, 2003). On the other hand, it is
consistent with the nding that, in the case of masturbation,
attitudes toward it have become more alike in men and
women than the behavior itself (Petersen & Hyde, 2010a).
This should apply even more to a country as sexually liberal
as Sweden, with a high level of gender equality and fairly
open sex education. The results of this study show that
differences persist not only in the frequency of masturbation
but also in experiences connected to masturbation.
For the purpose of further differentiating and conse-
quently better understanding these ndings and because
frequencies of most measures varied widely among men
and even more among women, cluster analysis was used
to test for the presence of subgroups within genders.
Three clusters were identied in women and two clusters
in men. The rst cluster was very similar for men and
women (representing in both the combination of positive
attitudes, use of objects, and the experience of orgasm
every time) and included the largest proportion (> 50%)
of both men and women. The second cluster was also
relatively similar for men and women, and was character-
ized by more negative attitudes toward masturbation and
toward sexual fantasies and by lower orgasm frequencies
and use of sexual fantasies during masturbation. The fact
that both clusters were very similar for men and women
could be interpreted as a validation of the gender simila-
rities hypothesis, which states that gender differences with
regard to sexual behavior are mostly negligible (Hyde,
2005). It could be explained with increasing equalization
in the sexual socialization between men and women
(compatible with sexual scripting theory) and with
increasing balance of power between them (compatible
with social structural theory) that goes along with reduced
oppression of female sexuality. Thus, women might feel
more entitled to experience sexual pleasure just for them-
selves without feeling selsh, guilty, or dirty.
The characteristics of these clusters suggest that people
with more negative attitudes toward masturbation and fanta-
sies tend to be less active(use of objects and fantasies)
during masturbation and experience orgasms less frequently.
However, the frequency of having sexual fantasies and
experiencing orgasms during masturbation differed to a
greater extent between the womensclustersascomparedto
the mens. This could be interpreted in accordance with the
notion of erotic plasticity by Baumeister (2000): Female
sexuality is in general more malleable and sensitive to socio-
cultural variables than male sexuality, and therefore social
aspects (here supposedly reected by attitudes) are connected
to sexual behavior more strongly in women than in men. It
also ts in that fewer of those young men and women in the
clusters with more positive attitudes identied themselves as
religious (in men only by a trend) and, although we only
found this in men, fewer of them attended a vocational
program. Previous research has identied an association
between a higher degree of education and a lower degree of
religiosity and masturbation frequency (e.g., Baćak &
Štulhofer, 2011;Gerressuetal.,2008), but the results of the
current study suggest this may to some extent also apply to
other aspects of masturbation, including the use of fantasies,
objects, and the experience of orgasm. Regarding sexual
characteristics of the rst cluster, they include women and
men who started masturbating at a younger age and who
reported the highest number of sex partners. Almost all of
them had experienced orgasm during at least some kind of
sexual activity and more women (but not men) than in the
second cluster indicated that orgasm during masturbation is
easier and more pleasant than orgasm during sexual practices
with a partner. Thus, compared to those in Cluster 2, women
and men in Cluster 1 were in general more positive about
sex, more active, and more experienced. They easily experi-
enced orgasm during masturbation but two-thirds of the
women and almost 90% of the men prefered orgasms during
other activities. However, the remaining men and women,
who prefered orgasms during masturbation, might use a
certain technique during masturbation that cannot be or is
not intended to be transferred to sex with a partner. It can be
assumed that many of the women in the less masturbation-
positive second cluster lacked such a masturbation technique
and were in general sexually less skilled (Fugl-Meyer, Öberg,
Lundberg, Lewin, & Fugl-Meyer, 2006)astheyalsoused
fantasies and objects less frequently. It is not probable that
physiological differences are the reason for group differences
between those clusters, because it has been shown that ana-
tomical differences of the genitals might determine whether
women experience orgasms during intercourse but not during
masturbation (Wallen & Lloyd, 2011). In any case, it should
be considered that no evidence is adduced in this study for a
causal relationship between attitudes and sexual experiences.
It is possible that attitudes inuence how men and women
masturbate and what they experience by doing so, but it is
also possible that experiences during masturbationorgasms,
for examplehave a reinforcing effect and thereby inuence
attitudes toward the behavior.
However, the third cluster, which we found for women
only, included women with a more complex pattern of
attitudes and behavior. The most salient difference
between women in this cluster and the other clusters is
Downloaded by [Indiana University Libraries] at 16:54 04 May 2016
that orgasm frequency was reported to be lowest despite
the fact that attitudes were positive and fantasy and object
use were intermediate. The demographic and sexual back-
grounds of these women are characterized by the lowest
likelihood of having ever experienced orgasms during any
practice and by the highest reports of orgasms being
easier and more pleasurable during other practices than
masturbation. Also, the average age of rst masturbation
was the highest for this cluster. Women in this cluster
reported a higher lifetime number of sex partners than the
women in the cluster with more negative attitudes
(Cluster 2), while they were comparable in terms of
religion (more religious than women in Cluster 1). And
considerably (although not signicantly) more women of
this group were involved in a general (more theoretical)
study program than in both of the other groups. Taken
together, these ndings seem to suggest that the women
in Cluster 3 were sexually active and open-minded, yet
they did not experience orgasms as frequently (24.3%
never), especially not during masturbation. We can only
speculate that those women masturbated less often than
women in Cluster 1. So why did they seldom experience
orgasms during masturbation and why did they prefer
orgasms during other sexual activities? One possibility
is that they subconsciously disapproved of masturbation,
while they were sexually liberal only on a cognitive and
behavioral level (e.g., high number of sex partners).
Reports of religion and education would support this
assumption. Alternatively, but not contradictorily, sexual
pleasure might for those women be linked to romantic
feelings, meaning to have sex with a partner. However,
because the experience of orgasms can require some
experimentation with and knowledge of onesownbody,
which those women might have lacked, some of them
have not yet experienced orgasms at all. The women
might be in search of someone with whom they can
experience sexual pleasure and therefore have a relatively
high number of sex partners. The assumption that those
women connected sexual pleasure to romantic relation-
ships is congruent with sexual scripting theory but also
with evolutionary theory, which states that womenssexu-
ality is more partner oriented while men are sexually
more exible for the highest possible reproductive
We acknowledge that the current study has some weak-
nesses and limitations. Because the study was part of a
broad survey about sexual behavior, some questions were
quite general and not dened in detail (e.g., about attitudes
toward masturbation). Furthermore, some data were lacking:
No information about the frequency of masturbation or
about whether the students currently masturbated was
assessed. Therefore, gender differences could not be viewed
against the background of different masturbation habits.
Moreover, it would have added to our ndings if informa-
tion about pornography use had been collected. Also, more
subjective variables, such as reasons to masturbate and
feelings connected to masturbation, would have allowed
for even more differentiated analyses of gender differences.
Those weaknesses are met in a follow-up study.
This study provides some novel and much-needed
insights into young mens and womens masturbation beha-
viors and experiences, and we hope that it contributes to a
more differentiated view of the well-established gender gap
in masturbation behavior. In conclusion, it was shown that
the frequency of not only masturbation is different between
women and men but also the experiences during masturba-
tion, and that within-gender differences exist as well. Those
differences within the gender groups are associated with
attitudinal aspects toward masturbation and with aspects of
the biographic and sexual backgrounds in men and in most
women. In particular the frequency of experience of orgasm
should be included in further research that aims at examin-
ing gender differences in masturbation and its role as com-
pensatory versus complementary sexual behavior.
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... The knowledge about solo sex experiences among the general population clarifies the importance to include individual experiences of sexual activity and use of sexual aids when assessing sexual issues, also when it comes to rehabilitation of individuals with an ABI. Research in general populations have shown gender differences with more females than males having tried sex-toys and sexual aids [16][17][18][19]. This could be a result of differing societal norms regarding attitudes towards male versus female use of sexual aids [16][17][18][19]. ...
... Research in general populations have shown gender differences with more females than males having tried sex-toys and sexual aids [16][17][18][19]. This could be a result of differing societal norms regarding attitudes towards male versus female use of sexual aids [16][17][18][19]. These different attitudes might also affect sexual rehabilitation after ABI, both from health care professionals' and patients' perspectives. ...
... Among all participants, many showed a positive attitude towards sexual aids: 28% had tried some and 11% were interested in trying. Women who had resumed sexual life, had tried sexual aids to a greater extent than men (52 vs 22%), which is in line with Ronen [19], Driemeyer [16], Hebernick [17] and Reece [18] et al.'s findings in general populations. It is worth mentioning that participants who wrote free-text answers regarding adjustments that had worked out well emphasized the use of sexual aids, both alone and with partner. ...
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... For example, investigations about the performance of vulvar self-examination often focus on early diagnoses of vulvar diseases or abnormalities rather than sex-education strategies, including NS-GSE (Choi & Park, 2019;Preti et al., 2021). There is a lack of epidemiological research on NS-VPS in nonclinical populations, and only a few epidemiological studies have examined S-VPS for solitary masturbation or partnered sex in healthy women (Driemeyer, Janssen, Wiltfang, & Elmerstig, 2017;Herbenick et al., 2009;Jing, Lay, Weis, & Furnham, 2018;Schick, Herbenick, Rosenberger, & Reece, 2011). ...
Vaginal penetration skills and behavior are considered different aspects of vaginal penetration. Nevertheless, these terms are used interchangeably in most genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder (GPPPD) intervention studies, possibly impacting the assessment and selection of intervention outcomes. This is the first theoretical essay on the relevance of nonsexual vaginal penetration skills in understanding and treating GPPPD symptoms, mainly for patients with vaginismus complaints. We aim to provide avenues for further empirical research and new perspectives for assessing, preventing, and treating GPPPD symptoms. We highlight the conceptual boundaries, overlaps, and commonalities between vaginal penetration skills and vaginal penetration behavior and the implications for measuring and selecting GPPPD treatment outcomes. We then briefly explain vaginal penetration skills as a self-learning process and review the impact of fear, anxiety, and cognitive factors on GPPPD symptoms. We also outline the role of the nonsexual genital self-exploration skills in later penetration behavior and offer implications for a new GPPPD patient-centered treatment approach.
Men purportedly masturbate for a variety of reasons, but systematic investigation of men’s reasons has been lacking. We analyzed reasons why men masturbate (n = 2967, mean age = 37.7, SD = 12.9), whether men with and without sexual problems differ in their reasons, and whether those reasons vary with the frequency of masturbation and partnered sex. Results indicated that deriving pleasure, decreasing sexual tension, and reducing anxiety/stress were among the top motives, whereas partner issues were cited less frequently. Men with sexual dysfunctions showed only minor differences from men without sexual dysfunctions, the former more often citing anxiety/stress reduction as a motive. In addition, samples tapping participants from two world regions showed only minor differences in their patterns of responding. Motives for masturbation were also related to both the frequency of masturbation and the frequency of partnered sex. Overall, these findings indicate that men, like women, masturbate primarily for the positive reinforcing effects of pleasure, but in contrast with women, men are also more likely to use masturbation for the negatively reinforcing effects of reducing anxiety/distress. Unsatisfying sex with the partner and/or relationship issues were cited as a reason for masturbation in only a minority of men.
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This content analysis examined the literature on female masturbation from 2000-2020. We sought to elucidate the demographics of women most often studied, whether scholarship favored people with more privileged identities, and the degree to which the literature is sex-positive. Our hypotheses were: a) there is a gap in sex research surrounding female masturbation for women with marginalized identities, and b) the literature will be predominantly sex-positive. Using the search terms "female masturbation" and "women & masturbation" we analyzed 85 articles. Results showed that female masturbation scholarship is primarily sex-positive; however, the samples' demographics still tend to be less marginalized and more privileged. Further, the results varied based on the articles' country of origin. This study highlights gaps in the study of female masturbation among marginalized women and the need to improve sex positivity within the literature. Future research directions are discussed.
Sexual pleasure is a meaningful linkage of physical sensations of sexual contact with affective interpretations of those sensations, and is a key milestone of sexual development during adolescence. However, sexual pleasure is not simply cerebral assessment of sexual outcome but instead rests in the ways each specific body generates sensation in the context of social, cultural, interpersonal, and intrapersonal meaning. The understanding of sexual pleasure during adolescence is enlarged through assessment of sexual embodiment from consideration of diverse bodies—those associated with spina bifida, autism spectrum, and gender dysphoria. The objective of this chapter is to contribute to a framework for understanding the development of sexual pleasure during adolescence.KeywordsSexual pleasureAdolescentEmbodiment
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Objectives Sexual health includes the state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being related to sexuality. Masturbation is an important sexual activity with many potential benefits which has gained considerable interest in sexuality research in the past twenty years; however, this research is the first of its kind within the Aotearoa/New Zealand context. In this in-depth investigation, we examined frequencies of, reasons for, and activities during masturbation as well as the relationship between masturbation and other factors. Methods Participants were 698 New Zealand women at least 18 years of age participating in a 42-item anonymous online survey collecting comprehensive information about sexual practices and related factors. Results The results indicated that female masturbation has high prevalence in the New Zealand population. Conclusion The pattern of results enabled us to identify the positive effects of masturbation, masturbation practices commonly used by New Zealand women and the differences between New Zealand women who masturbate frequently and less frequently.
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Objective Masturbation is a behavior that can enhance sexual functioning. This study aims to analyze differences between men and women in different masturbation parameters, and to examine their relation with orgasm satisfaction in sexual relationships.Method One thousand three hundred and thirty-fifth men and women from the Spanish population aged 18–83 years (M = 36.91; SD = 11.86) participated in an online survey. A questionnaire was used to collect socio-demographic. Sexual history data, negative attitude toward masturbation, solitary sexual desire and orgasm subjective experience upon masturbation were assessed. Given the differences between men and women, independent regression models are proposed to explain orgasm satisfaction in the sexual relationships context.FindingsMen, compared to women, masturbated at a younger age (p < 0.001), and reported higher current masturbation frequency (p < 0.001) and more solitary sexual desire (p < 0.001). Women reported greater intensity in the subjective orgasm experience on its Affective (p < 0.001), Sensory (p < 0.001) and Intimacy (p < 0.001) dimensions. Regarding regression models, the Affective dimension of orgasm was a common parameter in men (β = 0.36; p < 0.001) and women (β = 0.24) to explain orgasm satisfaction during sexual relationships. In men, solitary masturbation frequency (β = −0.10; p = 0.027) acquired a significant role. In women, the model also included age (β = 0.09; p = 0.038), negative attitude toward masturbation (β = −0.12; p = 0.005) and solitary sexual desire (β = −0.19; p = 0.001).Conclusion When dealing with men and women's orgasm difficulties in the sexual relationships context, it is important to consider the role of masturbation. In men and women, the Affective dimension of the orgasm experience explain the orgasm satisfaction in sexual relationship. Also, in men, the solitary masturbation frequency is negatively related with orgasm satisfaction in sexual relationship, supporting the compensatory hypothesis of masturbation. In women, in addition to the Affective dimension, the orgasm satisfaction in sexual relationship is explained, negatively, by the negative attitude toward masturbation, and positively, by the solitary sexual desire, which could be associated with more sexual self-knowledge. The relevance of masturbation in understanding sexual functioning is highlighted.
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This paper compares contemporaneous and retrospective reports of adolescent masturbation experience, partnered sexual behavior, and nonsexual problem behavior. Analyses are based on data from 59 White males who were followed for 3 years in early adolescence and later reinterviewed as young adults. Comparisons of adolescent and adult reports about adolescent behavior indicated that adolescent masturbation, but not coitus and wet dreams, was more likely to be reported in young adulthood than in adolescence, even when confidential reporting techniques were used. In contrast, nonsexual problem behavior occurring during adolescence was more likely to be reported in adolescence than in early adulthood. These findings are consistent with other literature indicating that masturbation is a distinctly sensitive behavior that adolescent respondents may be particularly reluctant to report. These results suggest that adult retrospective reports may more accurately represent adolescent masturbation activity, but may underrepresent adolescent nonsexual problem behavior.
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This study examined the constructions of sexuality among a sample of 470 adolescent high schoolers in Grades 10-12. Using cluster analysis, five different sexual styles were identified: Sexually Naive, Sexually Unassured, Sexually Competent, Sexually Adventurous, and Sexually Driven. These styles were characterized by differences in gender, age, and virginity status. The styles, however, were not simply delineated along demographic lines, indicating the efficacy of examining patterns of sexual self characteristics rather than single variables to explore adolescent sexuality. The sexual styles also differed in their levels of sexual risk-taking with both casual and regular partners, number of sexual partners in the last 6 months, and number of "one-night-stands." These differences were coherent with the sexual styles and thus offered both concurrent validity for the styles and an indication that these styles may be associated with sexual behavior. To understand adolescent sexual behavior and sexual risk-taking, it is essential to consider the ways in which young people construct a sense of themselves as sexual beings.
The aim of this study was to examine the prevalence and correlates of masturbation among sexually active young women in Croatia. Data were collected in 2010 in a cross-sectional national probability study of youth sexuality. The analyses were based on a subsample of 416 female participants aged 18 to 25 years old. Sixty percent of the young women reported that they masturbate. Results from the multivariate logistic regression analysis indicate that the participants in the older age group (22 to 25 years old) were more likely to report masturbation (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.92, p < .01) compared with their younger counterparts. Pornography use was positively associated with masturbation (AOR = 5.92, p < .001) while attendance of religious services was associated with lower odds of reporting masturbation (AOR = 0.42–0.41, p < .05). The findings are discussed in the context of the sociocultural constraints on female sexuality and sexual health related to self-pleasuring.
Abstract The present study examines the prevalence of women who continue to have vaginal intercourse (VIC) despite pain, avoid telling the partner, and feign enjoyment. It also considers the reasons for this behavior. A sample of 1566 female senior high school students (aged 18-22 years) completed a questionnaire concerning their experiences and attitudes toward their body and sexuality. Forty-seven percent (270/576) of those women who reported pain during VIC continued to have VIC despite the pain. The most common reasons were that they did not want to spoil sex for or hurt the partner by interrupting VIC. Feigning enjoyment and not telling the partner about their pain were reported by 22 and 33%, respectively. Continuing to have VIC despite pain was associated with feelings of being inferior to the partner during sex, dissatisfaction with their own sex lives and feigning enjoyment while having pain. Pain during VIC is reported by every third young Swedish woman, and almost half of those still continue to have VIC. The major reason given is noteworthy - prioritizing the partner's enjoyment before their own - and indicates that young women who continue to have VIC despite pain take a subordinate position in sexual interactions.
Written as an intriguing and accessible textbook for courses on gender, sociology, and sexuality, Sexualities in Context presents a broad overview of the socio-cultural elements of sexualities. The summary of the contexts of sex and sexual behaviors/identities is both intelligent and readable. With helpful anecdotes and examples of the social construction of sex and gender roles, students are empowered to think outside their comfort zones and encouraged to explore the topic of sex in a new context. With eminently readable language and useful pedagogical features like end-of-chapter questions, suggested projects, and suggested further readings, Sexualities in Context is the ideal textbook to help students recognize sex as not only a personal issue, but a socially constructed issue as well.