3 min

Why do people masturbate differently?

What gets you off can change, so what does that mean for how you do it?

Credit: Indiana Joel/Daily Xtra

Dear Dr Ren,

I am curious. Is there a difference in the way “vanilla” folks masturbate as compared to “kinky” BDSM folks?

The more involved I become with kink, the kinkier my masturbatory fantasies have become, but my hands-on hasn’t really changed. This has left me wondering: do kinksters do it differently?

This oyster is starting to open for me, and I would appreciate your expert suggestions.

Curious Oyster


Dear Curious Oyster,

Yours is a logical question. One would think that as our fantasies, and even our behaviours change, that our corresponding masturbatory patterns would as well. 

But, no. Just as a baby duck imprinted to a puppy rather than a mama duck will follow that dog throughout its life regardless how many other ducks are available, so too we embrace our early sexual pleasuring patterns even when others could easily intrigue us.

One of Kinsey’s interview questions was, “How do you masturbate?” Open-ended though it was, the question’s most common response was, “The usual way.” 

We generally learn to masturbate early and in private, and we do not discuss this activity with others. Indeed, each of us believes the way we get off is the way everyone else does. 

In fact, there are several conventional masturbatory patterns sufficiently similar that many of us claim one as our usual, and add variations which we use occasionally. Even so, the alternates take more time and concentration. 

Usually we lie on our backs and use our fingers or a vibrator to manipulate our genitals to a state of high arousal and eventual orgasm. Alternative positions include side-lying or standing up, but the method is essentially the same.

A fair number of women lie on their stomachs with pillows, blankets or stuffed animals underneath them, but still use their fingers or a vibe to stimulate their clitoral and labial regions. Many enjoy the feeling of fullness obtained by inserting something in their vagina prior to orgasm.

Men’s corollary is to stick something up the bum, adding prostate stimulation. Regardless of gender, this practice is a matter of personal preference.

Generally it doesn’t make much difference how we pleasure ourselves so long as we enjoy it and it gets the job done. 

However, for some males, there is a style that becomes problematic. It bears the unwieldy title of Traumatic Masturbatory Syndrome.

When men engage in TMS, they lie on their stomachs, often with a pillow under their hips, and tighten their thigh and buttocks muscles rhythmically until they ejaculate. They may or may not rock their hips. They do not touch their genitals with their hands, which are often held tightly at their sides or pulled up against their chests.

You may wonder why your position during masturbation would matter at all — and ordinarily it doesn’t. 

If you lie on your side, or on your back, or even sit while jerking off, your face and body are exposed to your surroundings. Your hands are likely encircling your penis and stroking your thighs, chest and testicles. 

In TMS, this is not the case. 

Boys who learn this masturbatory technique isolate with their fantasies during arousal and ejaculation. They close their eyes and go inside — these are not porn watchers. 

Since they do not touch themselves, they do not learn to associate touch with the pleasure of sex. Also, their rigid body form does not mimic the fluid lovemaking of partnered sex in later years.

It is this problem with transferring erotic patterning from solo to partnered sex that prompted sexologists to dub this “traumatic” masturbatory syndrome, for these fellows experience great difficulty relating erotically to another person. 

Everything about partnered sex feels foreign to them. The touch of another’s skin, so much a turn-on for a man who has learned to associate stroking with pleasure, is a distraction and/or an annoyance for one who lies silently, internally focused, clenching and releasing his muscles, hands balled into fists. Eye contact is difficult, as are relaxing and changing positions during lovemaking. 

Murmuring sweet nothings? Not likely. 

In fact, sharing the journey from erotic stirrings to orgasm is next to impossible for a man who has learned to masturbate on his stomach without touching his genitals. He becomes sexually crippled in terms of partnered sex.

Other than in the case of TMS, how you jerk off doesn’t much matter. 

What you are asking about, Curious Oyster, is why your more expansive fantasy material, and even your increasingly uninhibited behaviour, isn’t changing your buzzing off pattern. 

The answer is that it doesn’t need to. 

Though we may add to our basics for the purpose of arousal — and masturbation with a partner in attendance is surely a different experience — when it comes to getting the job done, we return to our original “imprinting” pattern because it is familiar and efficient. 

When the fantasies of hot wax and clothespins have spun you into a frothy lather, you will likely still bring yourself off just as you did at age 13. 

It’s comforting, really, to know that some things we can always count on.

This story was originally published on April 22, 2008, and has been republished in honour of International Masturbation Month.

This story is filed under News & Ideas, Sex, Canada, Opinion
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