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Masturbation no longer hands-off topic

By Jennifer Parks , Canwest News Service

Remember when touching yourself sexually was a dirty secret you'd rather die for than share with your best friend?

Once discovered, the joys of masturbation (even though you probably didn't know its correct name at the time) gave rise to a thirst for self-knowledge that proved unquenchable. No rumours of rotting in hell, going blind, getting pregnant or growing hairy palms could dissuade you.

Today's young people aren't shackled by the old taboos around masturbation. They're free to explore their bodies and minds, and develop healthy sexual self-knowledge -- and, most significantly, they're no longer afraid to talk about it, says one Edmonton sex educator.

"When I ask students if masturbation is normal, they all say, 'yeah.' There doesn't seem to be any guilt left about it with young people," says Brian Parker, who has a PhD in human sexuality and teaches sex ed classes in local schools. At one high school Parker visited, all the guys, and all the girls -- except for one -- told him they have masturbated.

"The one who admitted she hadn't before was ganged up on by the other girls," says Parker.

There's a knowledge that masturbation is a practice of self-love, not "self-abuse," as it was referred to historically by religious and medical authorities (not to mention the Boy Scouts of America).

Today, this knowledge and openness have the potential to optimize our lovemaking and improve our relationships with self and significant other.

"Anorgasmia is the second-most frequent sexual dysfunction that affects women, and we've found that these women often don't masturbate," says Parker.

"We always recommend they get to know their body and its patterns. Anorgasmia is quite often psychological. If they're not comfortable with their genitals or with masturbating, it can inhibit sexual self-expression."

More guys than gals masturbate -- 94% of men, and 70% of women -- according to a U.S. study by the Kinsey Institute. Parker says societal programming has a lot to do with these statistics.

"It's OK for guys to be sexual, but not women. He is called a stud, and she is a slut. I think that still plays a role in masturbation as well," he says.