“I Always Feel like Somebody’s Watchin’ Me”: How Social Media Affects our Judgments of Masturbation

BY: Katherine Haus, B.A.

In days of yore, masturbation was thought to cause a broad range of illnesses and afflictions, both mental and physical (Madanikia, Bartholomew & Cytrynbaum, 2013). Popular religions, health practitioners and yarn spinners alike condemned the practice, but as the world continued to turn, researchers gradually found that it indicates normal sexual function, sexual health, and possesses benefits untold (Coleman, 2002). Modern research and medicine frequently confirm this to be true, and a large majority of adult men and women report masturbating (Coleman, 2002).

 
Despite these strides forward, many people report feeling guilt or shame from masturbation, and it is still highly stigmatized within our society. As such, there were no recent studies assessing judgment towards masturbation. In order to do so, myself and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) employed the use of hypothetical vignettes depicting either a man (Jeff) or a woman (Amy) engaging in masturbation (Haus & Thompson, 2018). A total of 525 participants (256 women, 269 men) were recruited to read one of these vignettes, and then complete a Sexuality Judgment Scale (SJS) indicating their perceptions of Jeff or Amy’s sexual history. Participant ratings on the SJS revealed that female participants rated Jeff higher on the SJS than Amy, an indication that men who engage in masturbation are seen as having more extensive sexual histories than women who masturbate. Interestingly, this same trend was not true for male participants.

 

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Although these results are surprising, it is possible that this judgment may be modeled by media portrayals of masturbation. As masturbation is considered to be an uncomfortable topic by parents, educators and researchers alike, the primary source of learning about masturbation comes from media sources (Kaestle & Allen, 2011). One of these sources is social media, where allegations of sexual misconduct among men in Hollywood are rampant amidst the wake of movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.

 
These movements are driven by empathy, and are focused on women’s consequences as a result of men’s actions. Other social media campaigns are centered around solidarity among women with slogans like “women supporting women” or “girls supporting girls.” It is possible that the increase in camaraderie among women has also increased the connection that women feel as members of a group, causing them to rate the other members of their in-group with less severity.

 
Although these movements are promoting positive changes geared towards equalizing our society, it is important to recognize all areas of issue caused by misconduct in order to minimize stigma and negative sexual experiences held by both men and women in our society. So next time you find yourself questioning someone’s sexual behavior a little to intensely, just take a step back and think for a moment. Why the hate? Just masturbate.

References

Coleman, E. (2002). Masturbation as a means of achieving sexual health. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 14, 5-16.

 
Haus, K. R., & Thompson, A. E. (Under Review). Feelin’ Myself: An Examination of the Endorsement of the Sexual Double Standard and the Backlash Effect related to Masturbation.

 
Kaestle, C. E., & Allen, K. R. (2011). The role of masturbation in healthy sexual development: Perceptions of young adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 983-994.

 
Madanikia, Y., Bartholomew, K., & Cytrynbaum, J., B. (2013). Depiction of masturbation in North American movies. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 22, 106-115.

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Are Men Really From Mars?

BY: ASHLEY THOMPSON, PH.D.

It has been ingrained in us since birth that men look for sex and find love and women look for love and find sex. For example, take every romantic comedy/romance novel ever written, women are often portrayed as the romantic saps whereas men are testosterone-filled and often sexually motivated. Research on attitudes toward sexuality and relationships supports this idea. For example, studies suggest that men report a stronger desire for casual sex, more permissive attitudes toward sexuality, and more sexually-oriented expectations for relationships as compared to women (Clark & Hatfield, 1989; Petersen & Hyde, 2010; Schmitt, Couden, & Baker, 2001).

Despite these well-supported gender differences, most of the research has relied on self-report surveys, which measure explicit attitudes/preferences. These explicit measures are not very reliable because people can easily fake or enhance their responses to make themselves look better. One way to get around some of these concerns is to assess implicit attitudes. Implicit attitudes are attitudes that exist just below awareness. They are the attitudes that people hold that they are not necessarily aware of. Thus, because these attitudes are subconscious, people are unable to fake or distort their responses.

The most common way to capture these implicit attitudes is to use a computer test called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). In a study of mine conducted at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), myself and a colleague did just that. In particular, we were able to use the IAT to assess people implicit attitudes toward sex and romance (Thompson & O’Sullivan, 2012). By showing 182 UNB students, 68 men and 114 women, images of couples engaged in various sexual activities as well as images associated with romance, the IAT revealed that BOTH men and women displayed an implicit preference for romance as compared to sex. This indicates that men AND women preferred images portraying romance over those portraying sex.

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Although these results may come as quite a shock, it is not completely unheard of in academia. In fact, some studies have indicated that men may be just as romantic as women if not MORE. Specifically, the latest findings by psychologist Marissa Harrison (2011), from Pennsylvania State University in the US, determined that men fall in love quicker and take longer to fall out of love when compared to women. In fact, it was found that men were three times more likely to declare their love before women when involved in a heterosexual relationship.

So, as it pertains to BOTH men and women, it appears as though Robert Frost was on to something: “Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”

References:

Clark, R. D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 2, 39-55.

Harrison, M. A., & Shortall, J. C. (2011). Women and men in love: who really feels it and says it first?. The Journal of Social Psychology, 151, 727-736.

Petersen, J. L., & Hyde, J. S. (2010). A meta-analytic review of research on gender differences in sexuality, 1993–2007. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 21–38.

Schmitt, D. P., Couden, A., & Baker, M. (2001). The effects of sex and temporal context on feelings of romantic desire: An experimental evaluation of sexual strategies theory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 833-847.

Thompson, A. E., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2012). Gender differences in associations of sexual and romantic stimuli: do young men really prefer sex over romance?. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 949-957.