Masturbation Myths #3: Decreased Sensitivity
At LELO, we get asked all the time whether using a sex toy will reduce your sensitivity over time. This should be an easy one to refute. After all, if you’re ticklish, you don’t get less ticklish over time, right? There isn’t a mechanic by which interaction with the skin will cause the skin to stop responding.
But, these myths are pervasive, and for Masturbation Month, LELO is committed to tackling them bluntly. Without further ado, we ask:
DOES MASTURBATION DESENSITIZE YOU?
Another myth that feels like it could be true but isn’t is that masturbation decreases your intimate sensitivity if you do it ‘too much.’ This is actually quite high up on LELO’s List Of Things That Aren’t True, right up there with ‘penguins mate for life,’ ‘you lose most of your body heat through your head’ and ‘alcohol warms you up.’ Sadly, none of these are true either.
Again, a little common sense is required to tackle this. The myth is that the repeated friction of masturbation causes the nerve endings to deaden over time. That perhaps sounds reasonable: after all, heat can kill nerve endings, right? Well, technically, yes. But there’s no way a human could cause the kind of friction required to burn the nerve endings. That’s why we have to use sticks to start fires: if we could generate that kind of heat just with our hands, we’d all be able to survive in the wild without tools.
Similarly, while it might have a kind of placebo effect if we rub our temples when we have a migraine, the effect is not physiological. If you could rub away your sensitivity during masturbation, then surely you could rub away the pain of arthritis, for example.
The truth of this myth is exactly the opposite. Sexual stimulation increases healthy blood flow to your erogenous areas, enhancing sensitivity. While it’s true we can experience some numbness after vigorous sex, the sensations will return and over time become more intense – not less intense.
SO WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Like all the worst of humanity’s ideas, this one comes from 18th Century England. 1712 saw the emergence in London’s coffee houses of a pamphlet called ‘Onania,’ which by 1723 had been expanded into a book with the weighty title, ‘Onania; or, the heinous sin of self-pollution, and all its frightful consequences, in both sexes, considered, with spiritual and physical advice’.
This abomination of publishing is the root of most of our modern masturbatory myths, gaining traction in both the medical and theological fields of pre-industrial British learning. Everything from the rumor that masturbation causes insanity to connecting masturbation with Death By God can be traced to this book. The name itself is a reference to the biblical Onan, who was killed by God for disobeying His order to impregnate his brother’s widow, and ejaculating on the ground outside her body.
But there’s an interesting history to this book. The author was clearly a medical and spiritual man, but their identity remained unknown until almost three hundred years later, in 2002, when a Berkeley scholar traced the author to a poorly-remembered London quack called John Marten.
Marten, it emerged, had previously been imprisoned for obscenity after releasing a frankly bizarre pamphlet about venereal diseases. The pamphlet was crazy, but it sold well. So he wrote more poorly researched nonsense anonymously, and laughed every time someone paid money for it.
So, most of our masturbation myths come from an obscene London conman in the early 1700s. It even influenced Tissot, mentioned in the previous post about blindness, which in turn influenced John Harvey Kellogg to invent a boring foodstuff, Corn Flakes, to suppress the sex drives of the young. Look, I don’t have time to explain everything, just trust me, that’s true.
Read about other masturbation myths:
So what about you? What’s the craziest masturbation myth you’ve ever heard? Leave it in the comments…
Katy Thorn is a post-grad writer with a passion for writing about sex, sexuality, and all things rated R. She received her degree in Women’s Studies with a focus in Intersectionality at the University of California, Berkeley (Go Bears!). She has a cat named Yoko, drinks too much black coffee, and hates writing bios.