Masturbation is a healthy and enjoyable activity that has many possible health benefits. However, some research suggests a potential connection between masturbation and depression.

Hundreds of years ago, it was a common belief that masturbation was an immoral act that could result in mental health issues. However, researchers have long since disproven this, noting that masturbation is a normal sexual activity that can provide both physical and mental health benefits.

Although the general attitude toward sexual self-exploration is changing, some cultures may still condemn the act. Additionally, having depression can affect how a person feels about masturbation and sex.

In this article, we will discuss the possible links between masturbation and depression.

A close up of a person sleeping on a bed.Share on Pinterest
Mike Ramirez/EyeEm/Getty Images

The act of masturbation itself does not cause depression. It is a natural, pleasurable activity that may boost self-esteem and help a person explore their sexuality.

Additionally, research suggests that masturbation and other sexual activities that result in pleasure can lead to the release of hormones and chemicals involved in the brain’s pleasure-reward center. As such, masturbation could even provide antidepressant effects.

That said, some people who masturbate experience anxiety or guilt about it. Historically, masturbation has been a social taboo, with some cultures viewing the act as forbidden and sinful.

In the past, many people in positions of authority would also condemn the act and suggest that masturbation was detrimental to health. However, medical professionals began to abandon this view as research started to highlight the benefits of masturbation.

Masturbation is a common, safe activity that can offer many sexual health benefits, but some religions and cultures continue to prohibit it. Although masturbation does not cause depression, a person’s religious, cultural, or social views may cause them to feel bad about it.

Furthermore, while masturbation is a normal and healthy sexual practice, it can become a problem if it develops into a compulsive behavior. Some research suggests that excessive masturbation that begins to disrupt life may increase the risk of mental health conditions and depressive symptoms.

In a 2018 study, 62.5% of male study participants with depression were found to experience some sexual dysfunction. Myths about masturbation, such as negatively affecting penis size or causing sexual dysfunction, were also more prevalent among those with depression.

Masturbation will not have any effect on whether a person develops depression, but having depression can reduce a person’s sex drive, or libido, and may cause them to lose interest in masturbation.

Depression may make a person lose interest in activities that they usually enjoy, including sex. It is not uncommon for a person with depression to experience low libido. Depressive symptoms, and other factors, can affect people differently. While some may experience a loss of their sex drive, others may be able to maintain their sex drive.

Masturbation itself may help. A person may find that masturbating helps them feel sexual again, but this is highly personal. Many people go through phases of masturbating more or less frequently, which may not have any effect on their mental health.

Certain medications for depression may also reduce a person’s libido. Not all treatments have this effect, so if a specific medication decreases a person’s sex drive and becomes bothersome, a person can discuss other options with their doctor.

Communication with a partner is essential if mental health is affecting libido. If one or both partners are experiencing low libido due to depression, they can find other ways to maintain intimacy, such as cuddling and giving massages.

A person whose partner has depression may find that masturbating can meet their own sexual needs until their partner feels like reconnecting.

As well as reducing sex drive, depression may make a person feel:

  • sad
  • guilty
  • hopeless
  • worthless
  • tired

Depression may also cause physical symptoms, such as unexplained aches and pains and weight changes. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of depression should consult their doctor, who will be able to help them access treatment.

People can use a combination of talk therapy and medication to manage depression. Lifestyle changes and stress-relieving activities may also help. These include:

  • exercising regularly
  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • reducing alcohol intake
  • practicing yoga, mindfulness, or meditation
  • journaling and thinking positively
  • participating in fun and social activities, such as spending time with friends

The most effective mix of treatment and self-management strategies will vary from person to person.

Evidence shows a correlation between masturbation and good mental and physical health. Even though masturbation is not harmful, some people never masturbate or only do so rarely — this is also healthy and normal.

The possible health benefits of masturbation may include:

Boosting self-esteem

Masturbation may improve a person’s body confidence and self-esteem. A 2015 study suggests that partnered females who masturbate have higher self-esteem than those who do not.

Making it easier to orgasm

When a person learns what feels good through masturbation, they may find it easier to orgasm during sex with a partner.

A 2015 study looked at the link between female masturbation and sexual satisfaction. Researchers compared the experiences of two groups of married females.

Those in one group had experienced orgasms from masturbation, while individuals in the other group had not. The study found that those who had orgasms when masturbating had more orgasms and greater sexual satisfaction.

Increasing sex drive

There may also be an association between masturbating and a person’s sex drive. Research suggests that married females who masturbate may have higher sex drives than those who do not.

Possibly lowering risk of prostate cancer

Although additional studies are necessary, initial research suggests that frequent ejaculation may lower a man’s risk of prostate cancer. A 2016 study found that men who reported more frequent ejaculation were less likely to receive a prostate cancer diagnosis later in life.

Improving sleep

Masturbating to reach orgasm may help a person get a good night’s sleep. During and after orgasm, feel-good hormones flood the brain. These hormones include:

These help a person relax, which may improve their sleep.

While research highlights the many potential benefits of masturbation, other research notes that it could contribute to negative mental health outcomes in some individuals. People may use terms such as ego-dystonic masturbation, or masturbatory guilt, to describe feelings of embarrassment or shame following masturbation.

Many cultures may consider masturbation taboo and condemn the act as immoral. Research notes that individuals who feel guilt after masturbation are more likely to experience psychological problems.

A 2021 case study notes that while more research is still necessary, feelings of masturbatory guilt may lead to the development of depression. This could suggest that masturbatory guilt is a type of delusional thinking.

This term refers to a belief that a person firmly insists is true despite evidence to the contrary. As such, it is not just the guilt but the false belief that masturbation is wrong that leads to depression.

If a person feels guilty or anxious about masturbating, they may want to discuss this with a healthcare professional. Their doctor will be able to recommend a therapist who specializes in sexual health and can help a person improve their relationship with masturbation.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of depression should also speak with a healthcare professional, who can recommend treatments to help them manage the condition.