The vast majority of adults have masturbated before, and most do it with some regularity. However, despite how common this behavior is, it remains taboo. All too often, masturbation is seen as a source of shame, embarrassment, and/or anxiety.
Part of the reason for this is that, historically, masturbation has been viewed as a sinful and pathological activity—something that is ultimately bad for you and your health. In fact, in the not-too-distant past, some physicians actually warned that masturbation could lead to everything from blindness to insanity.
Masturbation isn’t just viewed by many as an unhealthy activity, though—it’s also often seen as reflecting some deficiency or problem in one’s sex life. Some people assume that if you’re sexually satisfied, there shouldn’t be a need to masturbate at all.
However, these views are all wrong. Masturbation is a normal, healthy activity that is linked to a wide range of benefits. And pursuing self-pleasure doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sexually unfulfilled. In fact, frequent masturbation can actually be a sign that your sex life is really good!
So, since we’re in the midst of “Masturbation Month,” let’s take a moment to open up the conversation, bust some myths, and review some of the scientifically-established benefits of self-pleasure.
Masturbation Just Might Be Good for Your Physical Health
The claim that masturbation is harmful to your health just isn’t true. If anything, research has found that masturbation tends to be linked to better—not worse—health outcomes.
For example, among men, several studies have found that frequent orgasm and ejaculation are associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. Among women, research finds that masturbation can provide relief from symptoms of painful menstruation. And across genders, masturbation has been shown to provide temporary relief from chronic pain.
There is also some research finding that masturbation to orgasm appears to stimulate the immune system. Specifically, it is linked to an increase in the absolute number of leukocytes, which are cells that can help fight off infections.
Most of the studies in this area are correlational, which makes it impossible to disentangle cause from effect. It’s likely that the link between masturbation and health is bidirectional. So, while masturbation may have health benefits, it’s also likely the case that people who are in better health to begin with probably masturbate more.
Although more research would be helpful for establishing causality in this area, the pattern of results we see is utterly inconsistent with the idea that masturbation is unhealthy. There’s no evidence that it’s harmful to health and, in fact, it just might improve it.
Masturbation May Be Good for Your Mental Health
If you look at the reasons people report for masturbating, you’ll see that they are many and varied. There isn’t just one reason we do it!
Yes, experiencing pleasure is one of the big reasons. But beyond simply having fun and making us feel good, masturbation can have a number of other benefits.
For example, some people report that masturbation helps them to relax or fall asleep. Thus, masturbation can be an effective form of stress relief. And after living with a global pandemic for a few years now, who doesn’t need more of that?
Masturbation can also provide relief from feelings of boredom and loneliness. Thus, not only can it help us to pass the time, but it can also give us a temporary mood boost.
Masturbation is thus a multi-purpose activity that can help us to meet a wide range of psychological needs in a way that can help bolster our mental health.
Masturbation Can Help You Have Better Sex
Although masturbation is often viewed as a sign that something is lacking in one’s sex life, the reality is that masturbation can sometimes be a sign that you’re sexually satisfied—and it can actually help you to have even better sex, too!
Among women, research has found that the more sexually satisfied a woman is, the more likely she is to masturbate. Having great sex can rev up sexual desire, thereby increasing the odds of self-pleasure. In this way, masturbation can actually serve as a complement to an amazing sex life, as opposed to simply being a substitute for the sex you aren’t having. In other words, sex and masturbation can go hand in hand, so to speak.
While sex can sometimes give masturbation a boost, it can also go the other way around. Masturbation is a way that we can learn more about our bodies. It’s an opportunity for self-exploration that can allow you to see what feels good—and what doesn’t. It’s also a chance to uncover new sources of pleasure.
In light of this, it’s not surprising that masturbation has been linked to enhanced self-esteem and sexual self-confidence. When you know your body better, you’re better equipped to ask for what you want and need during partnered play, which can make sex all the more satisfying.
Other Benefits of Self-Pleasure
Beyond what we’ve covered above, masturbation has a number of other potential benefits. For example, solo sex is actually the safest sex that you can have, especially during a global pandemic or STI outbreak.
It’s also a way to gratify sexual urges and needs when you don’t have a partner, or when you and your partner can’t physically be together—and also during periods of life when you and your partner might have very different levels of interest in sex, such as when one partner is undergoing a particularly stressful time.
Given the many purposes that masturbation serves and the benefits that accompany it, many sex therapists see a role for solo sex in sex therapy. For example, it can be one way to help boost sexual desire among those who report clinically low levels of desire.
The idea that masturbation is inherently harmful or unhealthy is a myth. The reality is that self-pleasure is normal and healthy, and good for us in a lot of ways.
Masturbation can be beneficial for both our physical and mental health, it can enhance sexual self-confidence and increase sexual pleasure, and it can even be therapeutic. Self-pleasure is self-care.
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