Q&A: Can Masturbation Cause Physical Damage To The Clitoris?

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QUESTION: My new girlfriend tells me that she started exploring her genitalia at quite a young age, now (at age 21) she thinks that her clitoris is not giving her the normal sensations when it is stimulated (i.e., she wonders if it has possibly been de-sensitized by the earlier activity). Can you advise on how likely it is that her clitoris has been physically damaged?

Based on reports from parents, teachers and other caregivers, research suggests that most young children (boys and girls) touch their own genitals as part of typical child development and exploration.

In one study, in which scientists asked college students to recall their experiences during childhood, approximately 40% of women and men remembered stimulating their own genitals – not just out of curiosity, but for the sake of pleasure – prior to puberty.

Unlikely To Cause Damage

Many teenagers stimulate their own genitals, as your girlfriend recalls doing during the ages of 12-18. Typical self-masturbation at any age is extremely unlikely to cause any lasting damage to the genitals. In fact, masturbation experience often helps men and women learn more about what feels good, comfortable, and pleasurable for their body.

Most men and women first experience orgasm during masturbation alone, perhaps because it is both an extremely common activity and because there is no pressure to please a partner. That said, many women do not experience orgasm until they are in their twenties, thirties or are older.

There are many reasons why women often find it difficult to feel aroused or to experience orgasm when being intimate with a partner. Some of these reasons have to do with pressure that women place on themselves to have an orgasm, pressure they may feel from a partner, impatience (it can take a long time – sometimes 30 minutes or an hour or more – for women to orgasm), difficulty relaxing or body image.

Often women find it difficult to feel aroused or to orgasm because they have received inaccurate or incomplete information about sexuality and are consequently trying things that are not that effective (e.g., only masturbating for a few minutes, or are trying to orgasm through penile-vaginal intercourse which is possible but less likely than more direct clitoral stimulation).

Slow Down And Talk To Your Partner

If your girlfriend has difficulty feeling aroused with you, try slowing things down and making sure that you are both comfortable with your sexual choices.

Talk with each other about what feels good and what doesn’t, how she feels during sexual activity with you (e.g., relaxed, pressured, anxious, excited, etc), and try to listen without judging or jumping to conclusions.

Your relationship, as you mentioned, is new and it can take time to get to know each other, bond and feel comfortable in order for many women (and men) to feel aroused and ready for sexual sharing.

Make Orgasm Not As Much A Goal

While it is sweet of you to want her to enjoy sexual activity with you, try not to make orgasm so much of a goal that it ends up being a source of pressure for your girlfriend. Orgasm, after all, is only one aspect of sexuality. Far more of a couple’s time is typically spent in day to day bonding as well as sexual play and enjoyment, rather than sexual orgasm (which only lasts a matter of seconds).

Change In Clitoral Sensation

It is possible that your girlfriend has noticed a change in clitoral stimulation; however that does not mean that her clitoris is damaged or has been desensitized by years of “use”. Sometimes body sensations simply feel different at different times of life.

While your girlfriend, at age 21, is by no means “old”, her body is different than it likely was at age 12 or 13 given the hormonal changes that occur around the time of puberty, and then change again as young women and men leave puberty behind.

Sensation may be affected by many things including age, hormones, relaxation and medication use (such as birth control pills and antidepressants) and mood. If she is uncertain or has questions about her health or body sensations, she should check in with her healthcare provider.

However, assuming she is in good health, she may be able to better focus on sexual pleasure by exploring her body and what its sensations are like now (regardless of what they used to be like), and how they will continue to change not only over time and with age, but also depending on the type of stimulation that is used.

It may be helpful to remove orgasm as the goal for now and to instead focus on sexual pleasure, intimacy, bonding and enjoyment of each other.

Recommended Reading

If this is something your girlfriend wants to learn more about, the book Becoming Orgasmic: A Sexual and Personal Growth Book for Women may be useful.

Kinsey Confidential

is a service of The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Sexual health experts answer your questions and provide newspaper columns and weekly podcasts.
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