Your kid is probably going to masturbate. Awful, we know. And when that awkward and totally normal day comes, it might just be at the expense of your couch’s virginity. According to experts (and quite a lot of horrified parents), kids tend to start with couch cushion, soft object, and pillow masturbation before working their way up to more self-contained acts of onanism. And it all starts sooner than parents might hope.
“Childhood masturbation is remarkably common and has even been observed in utero,” Michael Reitano, a family physician, told Fatherly. Reitano says that masturbation may begin as early as age four, and peaks at adolescence when 90 percent of young men partake (and the rest lie). The use of a pillow, cushion, or the entire couch is part of that sexual exploration, he says.
Mary Fisher, a licensed sex therapist, adds that young children are usually unaware of what they’re doing (beyond the fact that it feels good) so they rub against familiar items in familiar places. “Most adults prefer to masturbate in places that feel safe and comfortable; this is no different for children,” Fisher explained to Fatherly. “Certainly, couches can feel safe and comfortable.”
It’s not just a boy thing. A recent Reddit thread that asked “Girls what’s the strangest thing you’ve masturbated with?” provoked no less than 4,000 enthusiastic responses from women reminiscing about their erstwhile romances with pillows and couch cushions. One even claimed that at age 34, she still had better orgasms with pillows than with partners. And it’s not just Redditors. Comedian Giulia Rozzi has told stories about her love affair with a bean bag chair. Nick Kroll’s new animated Netflix series Big Mouth has an entire episode dedicated to one character impregnating a pillow. A quick Google search (do it yourself, we’re not linking to that…) confirms that this is a widespread phenomenon. Whether or not mothers and fathers realize it, couches are fair game for puberty.
Now, what to do about. In most cases, your kids masturbating on your couch is perfectly normal, if not a little unsettling. It’s at home, in a private setting, and rubbing up against a pillow is a quite common early accidental masturbation technique. At the same time, if your child is engaging in public masturbation or attempting to perform sex acts on peers, talk to your pediatrician. In rare cases, this can be a red flag indicating that a child has been sexually abused.
But as long as the behavior falls within normal masturbating parameters, the key is to not freak out. “Laying on them a sense that they have done something wrong is one of the few ways the child can be harmed,” Reitano says. Instead, Fisher recommends using this as an opportunity to teach kids about how their bodies work, and what is appropriate in social versus private situations.
Reitano and Fisher add that children often masturbate for the same reason adults do—because they’re stressed. The best thing parents can do to help is to keep how much pressure they’re putting on their kids in check. Perhaps save that energy for buying a new couch every few years.