01/24/2023 by Leanna Racine
Taking Self-Love Into Your Own Hands: Let’s Talk Masturbation
Did you know that January is Self-Love month? Masturbation, or the act of sexually stimulating yourself, has many scientific health benefits and no severe side effects. Once referred to as the “solitary vice” and purported to cause ailments like poor digestion, memory loss, and impaired vision by leading doctors such as Dr. John Kellogg (yes, the same man that invented Kellogg's Cornflakes), our scientific understanding of the benefits of masturbation has come a long way. Research now supports the fact that masturbation is a healthy practice and offers a host of benefits for our mental and physical health. Let’s dive deeper:
What Is Masturbation?
Masturbation refers to stimulating yourself for sexual arousal or pleasure. It may involve touching the genitals or other sensitive areas of your body with hands, fingers, sex toys or other objects for pleasure or to reach orgasm. People masturbate in different ways with different types of touch to different places, and some enjoy reading or looking at sexual or explicit materials or imagining sexual fantasies. It is normal for people to masturbate whether they are single or in sexual relationships.
Benefits of Masturbation
Research shows that masturbation offers significant mental and physical health benefits, including:
- Reducing stress
- Improving sleep
- Relieving muscle cramps and tension
- Improving focus
- Boosting mood
- Releasing sexual tension
- Enhancing your sex life
- Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles
- Improving self-esteem and body image
Masturbation, or other sexual activities that increase sexual pleasure or orgasm, trigger the release of hormones that are beneficial for physical and mental health, including dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins, prolactin, and endocannabinoids.
These hormones play important roles in our well-being. For example, the release of oxytocin in particular helps lower stress by decreasing cortisol levels and may promote relaxation. Similarly, the increase in endocannabinoids and prolactin may help improve immune function and decrease stress. Endocannabinoids and endorphins help regulate pain and inflammation, and the release of these hormones from masturbation may help ease discomfort from migraines, headaches, or other physical aches and pains. Dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins are associated with a positive mood, and therefore masturbation may help boost your mood.
Masterbational Insanity: Busting Myths about Masturbation, Potential Risks, and Addressing Barriers to Self-Pleasure
Masturbation has been regarded as deviant and sinful behavior throughout different time periods and cultures, and even by the medical community. In particular, by the early 18th century, masturbation was referred to as “The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution”, and American and European physicians believed that masturbation led to insanity. During the 1830’s, Sylvester Graham, a popular health reformer of the day (and yes, creator of the Graham cracker), preached that pleasurable sensations such as those from masturbation and sexual activity were immoral, and that immoral behavior led to negative health consequences. In the early 20th century, Dr. Kellogg devised “masturbation cures” from as bizarre as putting cages over genitals, to as barbaric as performing circumcisions without anesthesia or surgical removal of the clitoris. Thankfully our understanding of masturbation has evolved. However, even today, there are misconceptions and myths about masturbation that just are not true: research has not shown masturbation to cause vision loss, shrinkage of the penis, decreased sperm count, infertility or erectile dysfunction.
There may be some risks involved with masturbation, such as compulsive sexual behavior if the frequency of masturbation causes distress, has a negative effect on relationships, or interferes with professional or social responsibilities. Speaking with a sex counselor or therapist may help if you feel like masturbation is causing strain on your life. Other risks of masturbation include minor physical harm such as swelling, chafing, or skin irritations; and decreased sexual sensitivity from masturbating very frequently or aggressively.
Like sex, our perceptions and beliefs around masturbation can be complicated and often conflicting. Masturbation exists at the intersection of stigma and pleasure, and depending on religious beliefs or cultural upbringing, some people may experience guilt or shame around masturbation, or feel that it is immoral. Though our religious or cultural beliefs may differ, it is good to keep in mind that from a scientific perspective, masturbation is a very normal part of human sexuality and offers many benefits for our mental and physical health. Speaking with a therapist or counselor may help you better understand your own beliefs around masturbation and improve your ability to explore your own body and engage in a self-pleasure or masturbation practice.