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Atlanta, GA — The myths that masturbation leads to blindness, or causes you to grow hair on the palms of your hands, or will cause someone to be impotent later in life, or leads to mental illness, have all been debunked many times; but they seem to have a life of their own and crop up again and again. I get letters from young men worrying that masturbating is causing their penises to curve erect. Of course, some curvature of the erect penis is an ordinary and unimportant thing.

Common themes from women are that masturbating will cause them to no longer be considered a virgin, in societies where virginity is still highly prized, or that it will somehow make them infertile. When I was in high school, the entire track team vowed to stop masturbating before our big meet in the belief that it would somehow sap our strength. Masturbation causes none of these things.

I suppose that these worries stem from the almost universal guilt that people seem to feel about masturbating — guilt that makes it a secretive practice, that makes them vow to stop doing it, and that is then multiplied when they start doing it again. Masturbating is perceived as a weakness, something that an influential person can and should stop doing.

Masturbating has been an almost universal practice since history has been recorded. Probably 90 percent of men have masturbated at some time (and many say the other 10 percent are lying). It is also widespread among women, especially since women’s liberation began to enable women to know and appreciate their bodies.

With so many people doing it, medical science would undoubtedly have had a lot of opportunities to determine if the practice causes any medical problems. In fact, no blindness, deformed penises, infertility, mental illness or other problems large or small have ever been attributed to masturbation.

Many researchers, including Kinsey, reported on people who masturbated 4 times a day or so for years and suffered from no diseases as a result. Many married men and women masturbate, not because they don’t have satisfactory sex with their partners, but because they occasionally like the alternative of giving themselves pleasure.

And that’s the whole point — masturbating is one of the few pleasurable things in life that we can do almost anytime and anywhere, as often as we want, without gaining weight, getting lung cancer, being arrested or causing ourselves to become ill. There is no down side if one can avoid that guilt so many people have.

If you are someone who masturbates, finds it pleasurable and wants to continue, pay no attention to TV show jokes about it causing blindness, or rumors of other terrible things that it can bring on. If you are a parent worrying about whether your child masturbates, start worrying if he or she doesn’t. It is common and normal for children to find pleasure in fondling themselves, and this will naturally evolve into masturbating when they are mature enough.

All of our body parts perform better if used or exercised, and our sexual functions are no different. Many urologists believe that regular sexual activity is beneficial for the prostate gland, and it doesn’t matter if that is an activity with a partner or solo.