For many parents and teens, the idea of talking about masturbation sounds like an exercise in horrendous discomfort and awkward silences. Many adults believe there’s nothing to be gained from it, either; they may think that masturbation is pretty self-explanatory. But, in fact, many kids have questions about masturbation. If a parent wants to know how to talk about masturbation with their child, sometimes the easiest way is to simply answer each question as it comes.

  • What is masturbation? In simple terms, masturbation means touching your genitals in a way that you find pleasing often to the point of having an orgasm.

  • Why do people masturbate? Masturbation is generally considered pleasurable. It also can release sexual tensions in an appropriate way for people who cannot or are not ready to engage in sexual intercourse.

  • Can masturbation be harmful? There are no physical risks to masturbation.

  • How much is too much? You shouldn’t overindulge to the point where masturbating affects other areas of your life, like your schoolwork or your social life. You also should be mindful of the people around you. Even if you are doing fine in school, you may need to limit yourself if you find yourself constantly getting in trouble for monopolizing your family’s one bathroom.

  • What about privacy? Masturbation and privacy go, well, hand in hand. If your family shares a smaller space, this can be difficult. Your parents and siblings should certainly give you as much privacy as possible, but you have to remain conscious of other family members’ rights as well.

You can’t hog the bathroom or come in late at night and make a lot of noise and then expect others to respect your rights. If you want to be treated as an adult, then you have to act like one also.

  • When do people usually start to masturbate? Sex hormones kick in at puberty, and this is usually when masturbation begins. That point is different for every child; it can start as early as the preteens or not begin until the late teens. In fact, even young children may enjoy the sensations of self-touching.

  • What if someone doesn’t want to masturbate? You shouldn’t feel that something is wrong with you if you don’t masturbate. If you feel the need, that’s fine, but it’s just as fine if you don’t feel like doing it. As with all aspects of your sexual life, the decision is yours — you have control.

  • Do boys masturbate more than girls? Surveys have shown again and again that boys masturbate more than girls do. The reasons for this are unclear, although some attribute it to things as varied as easier access, quicker arousal, and less sexual repression for males. The numbers, however, may be edging closer as women become more sexually literate.