I’ve heard a bunch of different things about masturbation, and I’m so confused. Is masturbation bad for me?

This is such a great question! Masturbation is a very normal, common sexual activity. But, like with a lot of things related to sex, there’s a lot of stigma attached to it.

Masturbating means touching yourself for sexual pleasure. It’s completely normal (for people of all genders) to masturbate—and normal not to! Everyone is different. Many people masturbate for the first time during puberty, but even toddlers and young children often touch their genitals because it feels good. People masturbate in a bunch of different ways. There’s no “wrong” or “right” way to masturbate, so long as you’re not doing anything that could potentially harm yourself (like not washing your toys), and doing it privately.

Masturbation is a great way to discover and explore your own sexuality without worrying about pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), pleasing a partner, or how you look, sound or act during sex. With masturbation, it’s all about you—and that’s pretty awesome! Some people find that masturbating helps them relax, and even fall asleep at night. If you have a penis, masturbating may also help prevent wet dreams (also called nocturnal emissions).

Unfortunately, despite these bonuses, there’s still a lot of stigma and myths about masturbation.

Some common myths include that masturbation will make your hands hairy, make you blind, give you acne, make you bald, stunt your growth, take away your ability to have kids, and (for people with penises) use up all your ejaculate (semen, come/cum) so you can’t orgasm later in life. All of this is completely false! There’s also this false idea out there (mostly associated with boys) that masturbating makes you a “loser,” or is proof that you’re not having “real” sex. Again, this is a myth. Masturbating (or not!) is completely normal whether or not you’re having sex with a partner.

One other big masturbation myth out there is that girls don’t masturbate. But that is definitely NOT true! You should also know that using a vibrator or other sex toy to masturbate will NOT make you enjoy sex with other people any less.

Of course, overcoming this stigma is easier said than done.

Even if you know that masturbation is normal (and hopefully pretty amazing!), you may still experience guilt when you masturbate or think about sex. Remind yourself that what you’re doing is completely normal. Take a moment to practice some self-care and (a different kind of) self-love.

All of this being said, there are a few circumstances when masturbation could be unhealthy.

Even though there’s nothing shameful about it, masturbation is still a private activity. It is harassment to masturbate in front of someone else without their explicit, enthusiastic consent. If you use any vibrators, dildos, or other toys, make sure you wash them with soap and hot water after you use them—ESPECIALLY if you share them with anyone else, since toys can spread STIs this way.

If you masturbate multiple times a day, most days, for a long time, OR you find yourself giving up activities you used to enjoy in favor of masturbating, you may be relying too much on masturbation to make you feel good. Take a break, and find something else you enjoy. Go for a run, have a one-minute dance party, chat with a good friend, journal, or do another activity that makes you feel good about yourself. Talk to your health care provider or a counselor about what you’re going through.

Some people use porn (sexually explicit images or videos) to masturbate. That’s completely normal, but if you watch porn make sure you understand that it’s a fantasy, and is often different from real sex in a lot of ways. Learn more about porn and why it’s not usually like real sex.

If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC and have any other questions about masturbation, sexual health, sexuality, or anything else health-related, you can make an appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free, comprehensive, confidential health care. Our adolescent medicine specialists or health educators can answer any other questions you have—no judgment, no charge.

A version of this article was originally published in March, 2018.