Masturbation is when an individual stimulates their genitals for sexual pleasure, which may or may not lead to orgasm. Masturbation is common among men and women of all ages and plays a role in healthy sexual development.
Research has found that among adolescents aged 14–17 years in the United States, around 74 percent of males and 48 percent of females masturbate.
Among older adults, roughly 63 percent of men and 32 percent of women between 57 and 64 years of age masturbate.
People masturbate for many reasons. These include pleasure, enjoyment, fun, and tension release. Some individuals masturbate alone, while others masturbate with a partner.
This article looks at the potential side effects of masturbation and sorts the facts from the fiction regarding masturbation myths. It also identifies some of the health benefits of masturbation.
Many myths exist about the risks of masturbation, however none of these have been proven.
There are many myths about masturbation. Even though many of these have been debunked several times, they seem to resurface time and time again.
Most claims about masturbation are not backed up by science. There is often no scientific evidence to show that masturbation causes any of the adverse effects suggested. Masturbation will not cause:
- hairy palms
- impotence later in life
- erectile dysfunction
- penis shrinkage
- penis curvature
- low sperm count
- mental illness
- physical weakness
Some couples worry that their relationship must be unsatisfying if either one of them masturbates; this, too, is a myth.
Most men and women continue to masturbate either alone or together when they are in a relationship or married, and many find it an enjoyable part of their relationship.
One study found that women who masturbated had happier marriages compared to those who did not masturbate.
Masturbation side effects
Masturbation is harmless. Some people may experience chafing or tender skin if they are too rough, but this will usually heal in a few days.
If men frequently masturbate within a short space of time, they may experience a slight swelling of the penis called an edema. This swelling usually disappears within a couple of days.
Other potential side effects include:
Some people who worry that masturbation conflicts with their religious, spiritual, or cultural beliefs may experience feelings of guilt. However, masturbation is not immoral or wrong, and self-pleasure is not shameful.
Discussing feelings of guilt with a friend, healthcare professional, or therapist that specializes in sexual health might help a person to move past feelings of guilt or shame that they connect with masturbation.
Decreased sexual sensitivity
Aggressive or excessive masturbation techniques may lead to reduced sexual sensitivity.
If men have an aggressive masturbation method that involves too tight a grip on their penis, they can experience decreased sensation. A man can resolve this over time with a change of technique.
Enhanced stimulation, such as using a vibrator, may increase arousal and overall sexual function in both men and women.
Women who use a vibrator have reported improved sexual function and lubrication, while men experienced an improvement in erectile function.
The jury is out as to whether masturbation increases or decreases the risk of prostate cancer. Researchers need to conduct more studies before they can reach a conclusion.
A 2003 study demonstrated that men who ejaculated more than five times each week during their 20s were one third less likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer than those who ejaculated less often.
Researchers speculate that the reduced risk was because frequent ejaculation may prevent the build-up of cancer-causing agents in the prostate gland.
A similar link between frequent ejaculation and a lower risk of prostate cancer was discovered in a 2016 study. Researchers found that men who ejaculated 21 times per month or more had a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer.
In contrast, a 2008 study found that frequent sexual activity during a man’s 20s and 30s increased his risk of prostate cancer, especially if he masturbated regularly.
Disrupting daily life
In rare cases, some individuals may masturbate more than they desire, which may:
- cause them to miss work, school, or important social events
- interrupt a person’s daily functioning
- affect their responsibilities and relationships
- serve as an escape from relationship issues or substitute for real-life experiences
Someone who thinks they might be adversely impacted by their masturbation practice should speak with a healthcare professional.
A doctor or counselor may suggest talk therapy to determine ways that they could manage their sexual behavior.
Consulting a sex therapist may also help with coping strategies for excessive masturbation. To locate a local sex therapist, a person can visit the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT).
Masturbation may reduce stress and relieve tension.
Masturbation has many physical and mental health benefits.
Few studies focus specifically on the benefits of masturbation, but research suggests that sexual stimulation, including stimulation through masturbation, can:
- reduce stress
- release tension
- enhance sleep quality
- boost concentration
- elevate mood
- relieve menstrual cramps
- alleviate pain
- improve sex
Masturbation has also been identified as a strategy to improve sexual health by promoting intimacy, exploring self-pleasure, desires, and needs, reducing unwanted pregnancies, and preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV transmission.
Individuals who choose to abstain from sex or who do not currently have a sexual partner may often masturbate as a sexual outlet.
Masturbation also has sexual health benefits specifically for older women, such as less vaginal dryness and decreased pain during sex.
Some people may feel embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed when talking about masturbation. But masturbation is normal, healthy, and not something to feel guilty about.
Masturbation will not lead to blindness or cause physical and mental health problems. In many cases, masturbation has more health benefits than adverse effects.
Masturbation is usually only a problem if it begins to interfere with daily life and relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and romantic partners.
In those circumstances, it may be helpful to speak to a healthcare professional, especially a sex therapist.