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Masturbation is the manual excitation of the sexual organs, most often to the point of orgasm. It can refer to excitation either by oneself or by another (mutual masturbation), but most commonly it is restricted to refer only to such activities performed alone. It is part of a larger set of activities known as autoeroticism, which also includes the use of sex toys and nongenital stimulation. Masturbation and sexual intercourse are the two most common sexual practices.

The word is believed by many to derive from a plural Greek word for penis (μεζεα) and the Latin word turba, meaning disturbance. A competing etymology based on a Latin phrase meaning "to defile with the hands" is regarded by most dictionaries as "an old conjecture". The word onanism is sometimes used as a synonym, but that word is rarely used today, especially since it originated in what is most likely a misinterpretation of the Biblical passage Genesis 38:7-9, in which Onan "spilled his seed (semen) upon the ground", now thought to be a reference to a practice of coitus interruptus.

Females commonly stroke or rub the vulva, especially the clitoris. Women may also use running water to stimulate the vulva. Some women enjoy stimulation of the vagina by inserting fingers or an object. The most common technique of male masturbation is simple stroking of the penis until ejaculation occurs, either by gripping the skin of the shaft and moving it up and down or by using a lubricant to slide the hand over the shaft and head of the penis. Men who can reach their penis with their tongue sometimes also perform selffelatio[?], which is licking their own penis. Both sexes sometimes use lubricating substances to improve the sensation available. Members of both sexes may also masturbate by pressing or rubbing the genital area against an object, such as a pillow, or by inserting fingers or an object into the anus. Electric vibrators provide a strong stimulation of the penis or vulva/clitoris that many people enjoy, and may also be inserted into the vagina or anus. Members of both sexes may also enjoy touching, rubbing, or pinching the nipples while masturbating.

Reading or viewing pornography, or sexual fantasy, are common adjuncts to masturbation.

Both from the standpoint of avoiding unwanted pregnancy and that of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, masturbation is the safest of sexual practices. There is no credible scientific or medical evidence that manual masturbation is damaging to either one's physical or mental health. Solitary masturbation carries no risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Masturbation with a heterosexual partner can result in pregnancy only if semen contacts the vulva. Masturbation with a partner of any sex can theoretically result in transmission of sexually transmitted disease by contact with semen or female sexual fluids, and such contact should be avoided with any partner whose disease-negative status you aren't sure of. Objects inserted into the vagina or anus should be clean and of a kind that will not scratch or break. Care should be taken not to fully insert anything into the anus - any object used should have a flared or flanged base; otherwise retrieval can require a visit to the emergency room. Most modern dildos and anal plugs are designed with this feature.

Masturbation in history and society

As noted above, modern medicine recognizes that there is no significant harm (short term or long term) caused by the practice of masturbation, and regards it as a normal practice. In past times, however, some medical professionals taught that all sorts of deleterious effects could occur as a result of masturbation. Since the 18th century, many "remedies" have been devised for masturbation, including regularly eating corn flakes, physical restraint, electric shock, treating the genitalia with stinging nettles[?], or surgically removing them entirely. In later decades, the more drastic of these measures were increasingly replaced with psychological techniques, such as telling children they will get hairy hands or that their face will turn green from masturbating.

It has been argued that the practice of male circumcision for non-religious reasons, still wide-spread in some countries, arose originally as one of the most popular remedies against masturbation. See circumcision for a detailed discussion. Extreme male circumcision where much of the penis' skin is removed is in fact effective against masturbation because erections can become very painful, severely restricting the sexual use of the organ. Even routine male circumcision complicates masturbation, as it often requires the use of a lubricant to reduce friction in some masturbation techniques, a mechanism the foreskin provides naturally.

Many conservative religious groups teach masturbation to be a sinful practice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2352, lists masturbation as one of the "Offenses Against Chastity" and calls it "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action" because "use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." It goes on to caution that extenuating factors could exist, such as immaturity, habit, or psychological problems.

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