What is masturbation?
Masturbation is the self-stimulation of your genitals or other sensitive areas of your body for sexual arousal or pleasure. It’s a common behavior among people of all sexes, genders and ages. Masturbation plays an important role in healthy sexual development. It’s a normal, natural way to explore your body, feel pleasure and reach the point of sexual release (orgasm).
Masturbation may involve the use of your hands, fingers, sex toys or other objects. You may touch, press, rub or massage your genitals. You may insert your fingers or a sex toy such as a vibrator into your vagina or anus. You may also use a sex toy or another object such as a pillow to stimulate your penis, vulva or clitoris.
You may also find pleasure in touching, pinching or rubbing other erogenous zones such as your nipples or testicles. You may find the use of a lubricant helps reduce friction while manually stimulating yourself. You may enjoy reading or watching explicit material or thinking about sexual fantasies during masturbation, which can often lead to orgasm. Different people masturbate in different ways. It’s a personal decision, and there are many ways to do it.
Masturbation may be a solo act or it may involve a partner. In addition, it’s normal to masturbate whether you’re sexually active with other people or not. You may think masturbation is only something you do if you’re single. But both single people and people in sexual relationships masturbate.
What are the benefits of masturbation?
Masturbation is good for you. It has many physical and mental health benefits. Studies have shown that masturbation may:
- Reduce stress.
- Relieve tension.
- Improve sleep.
- Increase your focus.
- Boost your mood.
- Alleviate aches and pain.
- Enhance your sex life.
- Prevent anxiety and depression.
There’s no risk of getting pregnant, and it’s rare to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) through masturbation (be sure to clean any toys after use). In addition, when you have an orgasm, your body releases certain hormones called dopamine and oxytocin. Dopamine is sometimes called the “feel-good hormone” and oxytocin is known as the “love drug.” These hormones increase positive emotions in your body, such as happiness. They also work to counteract a hormone in your body called cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone.
Studies of male masturbation have shown it’s healthy to masturbate and even beneficial for long-term health. One study suggested that people assigned male at birth (AMAB) who ejaculate frequently may have a lower risk of prostate cancer. Ejaculating often may prevent the buildup of cancer-causing agents in your prostate gland.
Female masturbation has many other proven benefits. People assigned female at birth (AFAB) who masturbate are more likely to have an orgasm during sexual relationships with their partners. Female masturbation can also help provide relief for menstrual cramps. In older people, masturbation may lead to less vaginal dryness and decreased pain during sexual intercourse.
According to one study of married people AFAB, those who masturbated reported:
- More orgasms.
- Higher self-esteem.
- Increased sexual desire (libido).
- Greater satisfaction with their marriage and sex life.
During pregnancy, you may feel a heightened sexual desire, and masturbation can help release sexual tension. In addition, it may help ease some pregnancy symptoms including lower back pain.
What are the side effects of masturbation?
Masturbation doesn’t have any serious side effects. There are many myths about masturbation, but research hasn’t proven any of them to be true. Masturbation doesn’t cause:
- Vision loss.
- Hairy palms.
- Mental illness.
- Shrinkage or curvature of your penis.
- Decreased sperm count.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Lowered libido.
Although the myths are untrue, some people may experience certain unwanted side effects.
You may feel guilty or shameful about masturbating. This may be due to religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs. Scientifically, there’s nothing immoral or wrong about masturbation. However, you may hear otherwise within certain circles. If you’re feeling guilty, you may benefit from speaking to a sexual health therapist or mental health counselor. They can help you move past feelings of shame or guilt.
Compulsive sexual behavior
Sometimes masturbation can become compulsive (repetitive behaviors that are hard to resist) or excessive. Some people call this sex addiction or hypersexuality. If you find yourself missing work, canceling plans or forgetting responsibilities, you may be spending too much time masturbating. Too much masturbation may also affect your romantic relationships.
You may want to consider talk therapy. A counselor or therapist can help you decrease the amount of time you spend masturbating. You may also want to try finding a new activity to replace your urge to masturbate. Try reading a book, writing in a journal, taking a walk or jogging around the block.
Minor physical harm
If you masturbate too roughly, you may experience chafing or tender skin. In addition, masturbating a lot within a short time span may cause your penis to slightly swell. However, any minor physical effects should heal within a day or two.
Decreased sexual sensitivity
If you masturbate too often or too aggressively, it may lead to reduced sexual sensation. You may want to try another kind of stimulation, such as using a vibrator, to increase your sexual sensitivity. Enhanced stimulation has been found to increase overall sexual arousal and function.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Masturbation is a natural, healthy way to explore your body and feel pleasure. It’s a normal part of your sexual health. Masturbation has many physical and mental benefits and no severe side effects. You should feel comfortable touching yourself and experiencing self-pleasure. If you’re feeling guilty or you think you may be masturbating too much, reach out to your healthcare provider. Don’t be ashamed. Your provider can put you in touch with a therapist to help you resolve your issues with masturbation.
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