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8 facts about masturbation that you probably didn’t learn in sex ed
Here are some of the unsung benefits.
When it comes to the masturbation-related questions people ask the internet, many of the answers have tended to come from religiously motivated groups. More often than not, these outlets offer a negative view of sex. Yet for many people, the urge to have sex—whether partnered or solo—is something that simply comes up whether or not the scripture they subscribe to condones it. Is masturbation bad for you? And if not, what are the benefits of masturbation? We’ll get to that, but first, a note on the haters.
Is masturbation bad for you?
Science has given us ample data to support the idea that masturbation constitutes a healthy human instinct. However, groups like XXX Church and Reddit’s NoFap—the online community made up mostly of men who, for largely baseless reasons, refrain from masturbation—still exist. These outspoken groups paint masturbation, sex as addictive. NoFap, for example, bills itself as “a comprehensive community-based porn recovery website” intended to help visitors kick their masturbation habits. Healthier, happier lives, according to NoFap, are lives unburdened by the constant need to jerk off.
NoFap does have a women-specific subgroup, but for the most part its forums skew toward a belief that “females” are some kind of other, creatures who can somehow sense, smell the abundance of stored semen, imbued with manly power. It is, in short, incel-adjacent bullshit. But if you ask the internet, “is masturbation good for you,” be warned that these types of opinions factor in.
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The most important benefits of masturbation
As David Ley, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction, has previously told the Daily Dot, when people come to his office and complain that sex, porn, and/or masturbation have messed up their lives, the underlying issue typically has to do with other themes entirely. Many never knew the benefits of masturbation because they grew up in conservative, religious environments that demonized sexual urges.
Maybe their schools doubled down on sex as dangerous themes in sex education or heavily emphasized abstinence. There are many reasons why a person might be ashamed or afraid of their sexual proclivities. However, we have a lot of data that highlights the benefits of masturbation. Regular masturbation can boost mental and emotional wellbeing.
“Masturbation is … actually good for you, physically and mentally,” Alicia Sinclair, a certified sex educator and CEO of b-Vibe & Le Wand, tells the Daily Dot. “Not only is it a chance to take time for yourself and ideally disconnect from the outside world, but it can also be a wonderful opportunity to take time and explore what feels good to your body.”
“Plus, it feels great,” she says. “And I believe we could all use more good feels.”
1) Masturbation helps relieve pain
“When you masturbate, you release endorphins,” Sinclair says. “Not only do endorphins make you feel good—similar to the effects of a good workout—but they actually can help reduce different types of pain.”
As we have previously reported, large-scale studies have demonstrated orgasm’s ability to mitigate pain associated with cluster headaches and migraines. One of many benefits of masturbation is that orgasm also proves itself useful in dulling menstrual pain for the same reason. When you climax, your brain releases a chemical cocktail that includes oxytocin, AKA nature’s ibuprofen. So, rather than popping a pill for your pounding skull or your aching uterus, consider penciling in some solo time instead. Many people have an easier time achieving orgasm during masturbation than they do in partnered sex, anyways.
2) Masturbation relieves stress and improves your mood
“When you have an orgasm, your body releases endorphins, which are hormones that block pain and make you feel good,” Sinclair explains. In addition to relieving pain, oxytocin—also known as the love hormone—triggers the safe, warm, happy feelings often associated with romance. During orgasm, the amygdala (the part of the brain that rules anxiety and fear) seems to basically shut down.
At the same time, though, orgasm also floods the brain with dopamine, the hormone associated with our neurological pleasure and reward systems. A surge in this “feel good” hormone, alongside a hormone that reduces physical pain and promotes feelings of calm and comfort, means we feel more relaxed and satisfied post-orgasm. “Giving yourself pleasure, releasing those endorphins, and really taking time to reconnect with your body is an amazing way to ease the anxieties of everyday life,” Sinclair says.
3) Masturbation boosts sexual function
The brain also releases dopamine when we taste chocolate, drink caffeine, and ingest addictive substances. While sex isn’t proven to be addictive, an orgasm feels great and makes most people want more. “The more pleasure you can feel in your own body, the more you’re naturally crave it,” says Vanessa Marin, sex therapist and creator of Finishing School: Learn How To Orgasm, an online course for women.
The idea that masturbation causes erectile dysfunction is a myth. Regular orgasm actually helps keep our sexual systems in good working order. In uterus-havers, masturbation activates and strengthens pelvic floor muscles, which in turn seems to boost arousal, response, and sensation during sex.
“Since the body works on a use-it-or-lose-it principle, masturbation can be very supportive of good sexual functioning,” Madeleine Castellanos, the Sex MD, tells the Daily Dot. “It promotes healthy blood flow to the genitals and reinforces the connection between the brain and the sex organs. In doing so, masturbation also increases blood flow all over the body and increases oxytocin secretion which promotes trust, relaxation, and more vibrant muscles and tissues.”
4) Masturbation helps you sleep
“Masturbation is often also used as a sleep aid, of sorts—helping people who are having trouble sleeping doze off,” Sinclair says. “Many people cite that falling asleep is actually one of the core reasons that they masturbate—the effects are that powerful!
In addition to hormones that promote relaxation and drown out discomfort, orgasm also affects our serotonin, vasopressin, and norepinepherine levels. Like oxytocin, vasopressin combats the stress hormone cortisol, meanwhile, serotonin (another feel-good neurotransmitter) and norepinephrine work in tandem to regulate our REM cycles and improve sleep quality.
5) Masturbation improves partnered sex
“Asking for what you want in the bedroom with a partner is important to achieving sexual satisfaction, but it’s not always easy,” Sinclair says. “Whether it’s because we don’t know what we want or because we’ve never vocalized it before, speaking up about desires can be tough.”
The first step in communicating your needs involves figuring out what those actually are. Masturbation helps you to pinpoint what feels good to you and what doesn’t. “People who learn to give themselves pleasure through masturbation can more easily teach a partner about what feels good for them physically and what arouses them psychologically,” Castellanos says.
Knowing what you don’t like is just as important as knowing what you do, and being able to communicate that leads to more satisfying and connected partnered sex.
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6) Masturbation improves body confidence
Getting to know your body and what makes it feel good helps counteract the shame culturally assigned to sexuality. This can be particularly important to those who identify as women and who have long been “socialized to feel embarrassed or ashamed of their genitals,” Marin explains. “But the more familiar you get with your own genitals, the more confident you feel with them.”
In addition to regularly inducing surges in the hormones that make you physically feel good, learning to view your genitalia as a source of pleasure can go a long way toward improving sexual confidence, helping you to feel comfortable in your own body.
7) Masturbation is the safest form of sex
Masturbation is you time, which means no one else’s genitals—and the infections they might carry—enter into the equation. Of course, masturbation with a partner can be great, but solo sex is the safest form of sex there is. This is one of the biggest benefits of masturbation: Your hand can’t get you pregnant, and masturbation won’t leave you with an STI.
Furthermore, the Women’s Health Network reports that, for those of you with uteruses, vaginas, and cervixes, masturbation may actually decrease your risk of reproductive infections. In addition to relieving pain and lubricating vaginal tissue, orgasm flushes unfriendly bacteria out through the cervix, potentially reducing the incidence of urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and cervical infections.
8) Masturbation provides excellent opportunities for alone time and privacy
I am the firmest believer that, if more people learned to enjoy and feel comfortable spending time alone, then we would all enjoy happier and more rewarding relationships with others. Especially when it comes to sex, there’s a tendency to prioritize others’ pleasure. “Masturbation is a time for a person to focus solely on their pleasure without emotional entanglement or complication,” Castellanos says.
Solo sex is a time to relax by yourself and to enjoy yourself without having to factor in anyone else’s needs. Masturbation, according to Marin, “means removing yourself from your usual surroundings and creating time and space for yourself.” Particularly in a period when our political readers cook up new stress, agitation, and fear specials every goddamn day, carving out time to step away and concentrate on one thing that makes you feel good even for a second seems, to me, both beneficial and prudent. Masturbation: consider it self-care.
Claire Lampen is a lifestyle reporter who covers sex, gender, and reproductive rights. Formerly a Fulbright fellow, she has published work with Vogue, Gizmodo, Refinery29, Teen Vogue, the BBC, Vice, Marie Claire, and more.