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The Muse, autoeroticism in art, modeled by Nina Longshadow at Opus

Autoeroticism, autosexuality, or self-gratification,[1][2] is a practice of sexually stimulating oneself, especially one's own body through accumulation of internal stimuli.[3]

The term was popularized toward the end of the 19th century by British sexologist Havelock Ellis, who defined autoeroticism as "the phenomena of spontaneous sexual emotion generated in the absence of an external stimulus proceeding, directly or indirectly, from another person".[4] In simpler terms, autoeroticism could be described as any form of sex requiring only one person.

The most popular form of autoeroticism is masturbation. Though the terms autoeroticism and masturbation are often used interchangeably, they are not synonymous as not all autoerotic behaviors are masturbatory. Nocturnal emissions, sexual fantasies, and sexual arousal to 'sexually-neutral' stimuli (music, scenery, art, risk, spiritual reverie, etc.) are also examples of autoeroticism.

Terminology and concept[edit]

A 1977 paper titled Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups, by Myra T. Johnson, contrasts autoerotic women with asexual women: "The asexual woman ... has no sexual desires at all [but] the autoerotic woman ... recognizes such desires but prefers to satisfy them alone." Johnson's evidence is mostly letters to the editor found in women's magazines written by autoerotic/asexual women. She portrays them as invisible, "oppressed by a consensus that they are nonexistent," and left behind by both the sexual revolution and the feminist movement. Society either ignores or denies their existence or insists they must be ascetic for religious reasons, neurotic, or asexual for political reasons.[5]


Some people use sex toys such as dildos, vibrators, anal beads and Sybian machines while alone. Proof of autocunnilingus is miniscule[6] but autofellatio is thought to occur in less than 1% of the male population,[7] possibly because of the physical flexibility required to perform it.

Criticism and controversies[edit]

Some people, for religious or personal reasons, disapprove of autoeroticism on moral grounds.[8] For example, masturbation is considered a sin by the Roman Catholic Church.[9] Teaching adolescents about masturbation remains controversial in some parts of the world. For example, in the USA in 1994, President Bill Clinton fired Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders in part because she advocated teaching about masturbation in schools as a way of preventing teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.[10]


A few autoerotic practices are considered unsafe, and sometimes even lead to death.[11] These include autoerotic asphyxiation and self-bondage. The potential for injury or even death that exists while engaging in these practices rather than the partnered versions (erotic asphyxiation and bondage, respectively) becomes drastically increased due to the isolation and lack of assistance in the event of a problem.

In other animal species[edit]

Autoerotic behavior has been observed in many species, both in the wild and in captivity. Individuals of some species, such as apes and dolphins, have been known to create tools for autoerotic purposes.

Increase of autoeroticism during COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent worldwide lockdown starting in March 2020, there was an increase in autoerotic sexual practices of 40% according to a study done by International Journal of Impotence Research.[12]


  1. ^ "'I'm autosexual and I fancy myself more than other people'". BBC Three. 16 May 2019. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  2. ^ "What Is Autosexual?". WebMD. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  3. ^ "Medical Definition of AUTOEROTISM". Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  4. ^ Lagache, Daniel; Laplanche, Jean (1988). The language of psycho-analysis. London: Karnac Books. p. 45. ISBN 0-946439-49-4.
  5. ^ "Asexul and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups" found in ed. Gochros, H.L.; J.S. Gochros (1977). The Sexually Oppressed. Associated Press. ISBN 978-0-8096-1915-3
  6. ^ Liggio, Fernando (2010). "Trattato moderno di psicopatologia della sessualità" - "Modern treatise on the psychopathology of sexuality". Biblioteca Universitaria. p. 65. ISBN 978-8-86292-023-0. Retrieved 19 October 2023.(in Italian)
  7. ^ William Guy; Michael H. P. Finn (1954). "A Review of Autofellatio: A Psychological Study of Two New Cases". Psychoanalytic Review (41): 354–358.
  8. ^ Capps, Donald (2003). "From Masturbation to Homosexuality: A Case of Displaced Moral Disapproval". Pastoral Psychology. Springer. 51 (4): 249–272. doi:10.1023/A:1022531614396. S2CID 141206226. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  9. ^ "II. The Vocation to Chastity, 2352". Catechism of the Catholic Church, part 3, section 2, chapter 2, article 6. The Holy See. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
  10. ^ Duffy, Michael (19 December 1994). "Getting Out the Wrecking Ball". Time. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 22 July 2007.
  11. ^ Turvey, Brent E. "An Objective Overview of Autoerotic Fatalities". Corpus Delicti. Archived from the original on 15 March 2019. Retrieved 23 December 2006.
  12. ^ Cocci, Andrea; Giunti, Daniel; Tonioni, Camilla; Cacciamani, Giovanni; Tellini, Riccardo; Polloni, Gaia; Cito, Gianmartin; Presicce, Fabrizio; Di Mauro, Marina; Minervini, Andrea; Cimino, Sebastiano (September 2020). "Love at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic: preliminary results of an online survey conducted during the quarantine in Italy". International Journal of Impotence Research. 32 (5): 556–557. doi:10.1038/s41443-020-0305-x. ISSN 0955-9930. PMC 7221326. PMID 32409643.

External links[edit]

Media related to Autoeroticism at Wikimedia Commons

Further reading[edit]