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Masturbating Through the Ages — Do You Stop Jerking Off as Much as You Get Older?

Age ain’t nothing but a number when it comes to pleasuring yourself

While you might remember your early teen years as some of the more, um, frantic in terms of masturbation, the real action generally comes slightly later: According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior put forth by Indiana University, men’s solo masturbation habits peak between the ages of 18 and 29. One massive caveat here: It’s important to note that in any study regarding masturbation, the magnitude of underreporting may be substantial.

The frequency of the time-honored hobby declines from age 30 onward, but why does this slow-down happen? Does our testosterone gradually deplete as we age, slowing our sex drive? Or is it that, as 30-somethings with jobs, children and responsibilities, we simply don’t have the time and freedom to crank one out every time we have a spare five minutes? According to experts in the fields of human sexuality, it’s not the years that slow you down — it’s the mileage.

Why We Start Masturbating in the First Place

“Two main factors drive men’s need to masturbate,” says Steve McGough, an associate professor of clinical sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Those factors: Physiology, or the rise and fall of testosterone and hormones in your body; and psychology, or how your brain uses fantasies and stress relief to influence how often you masturbate.

It all starts, of course, during puberty. “That’s when the hormones really kick in — this is the first factor in causing men to masturbate when they’re young, turning thoughts into fantasies,” McGough explains. “Suddenly, things feel good that didn’t before.” Once you couple raging hormones with other typical teen behaviors (for example, an inability to resist the urge to do whatever feels good in the moment), you’ve got a recipe for masturbatorial frenzy.

“However, hormones begin to decrease in your 20s, then more in your 30s, and more significantly in your 40s and 50s and onward,” says McGough. “Hormone levels and how they change and decline are highly influenced by both genetics and health.”

Notice, McGough says health, not age. It’s a common misconception that age alone causes men to feel fewer regular urges: The truth is that it’s far more tied to physical well-being. So if Gramps is still looking sprightly, chances are he’s still feeling frisky, too.

Healthy Body = Healthy Sex Drive

A 2012 study out of the University of Adelaide found that the drop in testosterone experienced by many men was actually dependent on health factors like depression, weight gain or quitting smoking, rather than age. “If you truly have clinically low levels [of testosterone], your sexual functioning and drive will be impacted,” says Nicole Prause of Liberos LLC, a sexual biotechnology company. “But the usual decreases associated with aging generally aren’t in a range that should affect sexual functioning or drive.” Some research suggests that in fact, testosterone would need to drop by 70–80 percent to truly affect sexual functioning.

This erroneous belief comes from the fact that early scientific studies failed to account for health as a factor, leading to the idea that getting old automatically equals less lead in the pencil. But Prause argues that “health has been the best predictor of sexual activity, including masturbation, in older adults whenever studies include that control.”

Carol Queen, a staff sexologist at Good Vibrations — a site that both sells and promotes discussion around sex toys — agrees. “As hormonal levels shift again in late middle age/early old age, the urge to masturbate may lessen, but often it doesn’t disappear. If a man is in good health, this desire is often retained throughout much of his lifespan.”

Basically, as long as you’re physically active, without any major injuries or disabilities — both physical and mental — your erotic desire will remain steady as you age. “Diabetes, cancer and chemo, circulatory system issues like blood pressure, heart disease, and other neurological issues like depression,” are among the real “libido killers,” according to Queen, since they either dominate your mental state and lower your sex drive, or make you physically unable to endure the rigors of masturbation.

Don’t Discount How Much a Part of Life Masturbation Becomes

One major psychological difference between adulthood and your teenage years, argues McGough, is that as you age, you’ll compartmentalize masturbation into more of a routine for stress release or even just a mental break — a bit like exercise or meditation, only in a form that’s unacceptable to practice at your local yoga studio.

“For most men it becomes something that’s a key part of their life,” he says. “Even if their physiological drive has decreased, if it’s part of their ritual for either reducing stress or adding a momentary pleasure, it’s likely something they place a lot of importance on fulfilling regularly.” If you routinely take a moment to “relax” every morning before you shower, for example, you’ll probably keep doing it out of habit, even if you’re not feeling especially horny.

This can become something of a vicious cycle: Some men feel physiological stress because they haven’t orgasmed in a while, in the same way someone might feel stress build up from not getting into the gym one week. “Not ejaculating when there’s the drive to tends to cause men to be more alert, edgy and irritable,” says McGough. This leads to a regular masturbation schedule simply because, according to McGough, “they miss the pleasure and distraction of it as a way to deal with the stress.”

So for some, it’s not even an erotic act — it’s just another chore, albeit a more fun one than most.

Nor Does a Significant Other Slow Us Down

Another misconception about men’s masturbating habits is that if they’re in a sexually healthy relationship, they’ll masturbate less. A study highlighted by Michael Shelton in Psychology Today, however, found this isn’t the case. “Masturbation isn’t a feeble substitute for sex with a partner — a common belief I hear often in treatment,” Shelton writes. “If this were true, men and women who have active sex lives would be expected to masturbate less frequently than persons without partners, yet research finds little correlation between frequency of masturbation and frequency of intercourse.”

For the masturbator with a strict routine, it seems, even frequent sex with a new partner isn’t enough to derail a schedule once it’s firmly entrenched: If you’re a once-before-going-to-sleep kind of guy, that’s probably going to continue even if you’ve spent all weekend in bed with someone else.

Shelton goes on to highlight another study, which found college students who masturbated frequently also had sex more frequently. “While masturbation may indeed be a substitute for single people and those whose partners eschew sexual activity,” he concludes, “it is also an integral behavior in the sexual repertoire for many who already have satisfying sex lives.” So people who masturbate a lot don’t necessarily do it because they can’t get sex — they just really like doing it.

A First-Hand Account

If the science doesn’t convince you, try taking it from an actual older dude. Tom Ingrassia, a 63-year-old man who responded to our request for comments on the subject, has been in the same relationship since he was 22: Despite his age and lengthy marriage, so far, nothing much has slowed him down. “My physical need to masturbate hasn’t decreased as I’ve aged: I still have a healthy libido and drive, and enjoy the sexual release on a regular basis,” he says. “I’ve been married for 41 years in a happy relationship, and I actually masturbate more now than when I was younger. Daily masturbation also allows me to fantasize, and is a relaxation technique for me.”

Long story short, provided you stay in good health, you’ll probably continue to keep those forearm muscles strong throughout most of your adult life. Health aside, the only thing that’s really going to affect the frequency with which you masturbate is how much you feel like masturbating. “Even when my wife and I had more frequent sex when we were younger, I masturbated regularly,” Ingrassia admits. “It’s simply something that I enjoy doing very much.”

Just remember to lock the bathroom door and everything else will be fine.