Many myths and misconceptions continue to spread the idea that masturbation is somehow harmful to health. However, masturbating may have several health benefits.
Deciding whether to masturbate or not is a personal choice. However, masturbating may have several positive effects, including boosting hormones and chemicals that promote positive emotions, feelings, and sensations.
Meanwhile, most negative effects associated with masturbation focus on how someone feels about the act itself, rather than the physical implications on the body.
Read on to learn how masturbation affects the brain, as well as what masturbation addiction is, treatment and prevention methods, and when to see a doctor.
There are numerous potential health benefits of masturbation.
Hormone and chemical release
Research shows that masturbation, as well as other sexual activities leading to sexual pleasure or orgasm, trigger the release of hormones and chemicals involved in the brain’s pleasure-reward center. These include:
Dopamine: Known as the “happiness” hormone, dopamine is an important neurotransmitter involved in motivation, movement, and reward-seeking.
Oxytocin: The “love” hormone oxytocin has a wide range of behavioral and physiological effects, such as promoting sexual, social, and maternal behaviors associated with happiness. The hormone also helps support well-being, positive social interaction, growth, and healing.
Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps mediate happiness, optimism, and satisfaction. There is also a link between higher serotonin levels and an increase in mood.
Endorphins: Endorphins are known as “feel-good” chemicals that reduce pain better than morphine. They are responsible for the pleasurable rush or high associated with exercise.
Prolactin: Prolactin is a hormone that promotes physiological responses to reproduction, stress management, and emotional regulation.
Endocannabinoids: These neurotransmitters are vital to rewarding behaviors such as exercise, social interaction, and eating. They also help regulate processes such as pain, inflammation, metabolism, cardiovascular function, learning and memory, anxiety, depression, and addiction.
Norepinephrine/noradrenalin: This is a stimulating neurotransmitter that increases and regulates dopamine transmission, a substance linked to levels of happiness.
Adrenaline: Adrenaline lowers stress by helping regulate heart rate, blood vessel and airway diameters, and aspects of metabolism.
Release of these various hormones can, in turn, lead to the following health benefits:
Reduced stress and anxiety
A 2019 study that surveyed 778 adults found there was a clear perception of favorable sleep outcomes associated with orgasm. Many respondents felt masturbation helped reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and improve sleep quality.
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. Endocannabinoids are also known to help regulate pain and inflammation processes. These natural painkillers could also help ease menstrual pain.
Improved immune function
Masturbation raises levels of prolactin and endocannabinoids, which help regulate the immune system. It also boosts the hormones and neurotransmitters that lower stress.
Masturbation may increase hormone levels associated with a positive mood, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.
Improve focus and concentration
By increasing levels of hormones and neurotransmitters involved in learning, memory, and motivation, masturbation may improve focus and concentration.
Masturbation can raise adrenaline levels. Researchers associate higher levels of salivary and urinary adrenaline with higher levels of personal growth or a sense of life purpose. Learning how to pleasure oneself can also be empowering and improve body image.
Improve sexual function
Many of the hormones and neurotransmitters involved in the human sexual response cycle help regulate the cycle themselves by promoting the release of stimulating compounds at higher levels.
Prolactin has a neuroprotective effect, reducing neural damage in response to stress. Dopamine also seems to contribute to healthy cognition. A 2016 study found that sexual activity increased recall and number sequencing in older males and recall in older females aged 50–89.
Reduced blood pressure
Oxytocin and endocannabinoids may also help reduce blood pressure.
While most people experience positive effects from masturbating, this is not true for everyone.
Some may be morally or religiously opposed to masturbation and feel guilty or shameful for engaging in masturbation or even thinking about it.
Excessive masturbation can also cause physical problems such as irritated or broken skin, swelling of the genitals, and cramps.
Masturbation is also difficult for some people to engage in positively, especially in those with sexual dysfunction or a history of abuse. These people may find it very embarrassing or even distressing to engage in masturbation.
Currently, the American Psychological Association do not recognize masturbation or sex addiction as a mental health condition. Rather, most specialists classify excessive masturbation as a compulsive sexual behavior (CSB) or out of control sexual behavior.
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists state that there is not enough evidence to support the classification of sex or porn addiction as a mental health condition.
Treatment and prevention
Some people are more prone to CSBs because of certain health conditions, such as:
In people with these conditions, treating the underlying medical issue often helps reduce sexual compulsions and behaviors.
Some illicit drugs and prescription medications, especially those that increase dopamine levels, may also increase someone’s sex drive. These include:
- Parkinson’s medications
In these cases, stopping or altering medication or drug use can often reduce sexual compulsions such as excessive masturbation.
Some forms of psychological therapy may also help reduce CSBs and manage their negative repercussions, including:
Limited research also shows that some medications may help reduce CSB, such as:
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
Support groups, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, offer programs to help people manage or reduce CSB.
Some tips and techniques can also help reduce or prevent excessive masturbation. These include:
- avoiding pornography
- seeking help from a mental health professional or doctor who specializes in sexual health
- getting enough exercise
- improving social connections and relationships
- staying busy
- understanding a person’s triggers, for example, boredom, fear of intimacy, or shame
When excessive masturbation starts to interfere with daily life, psychological well-being, or physical health, ask a doctor or therapist for help.
People should also consider seeking professional help if feelings of guilt, shame, or other negative emotions interfere with sexual functioning, pleasure, or relationships.
Masturbation triggers the release of hormones and neurotransmitters linked with positive emotions, sensations, and physiological responses.
Masturbation is generally a healthy, risk-free way to engage in sexual activity. It could also allow a person to learn about personal likes or dislikes. It may even improve elements of well-being, such as happiness, relaxation, self-esteem, and body image.
However, a person should speak with a doctor or therapist if masturbation interferes with daily life, relationships, sexual function, or physical health.
Additionally, people can seek professional help if masturbation causes intense or pervasive negative feelings, such as guilt, shame, regret, distress, and embarrassment.