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Masturbation's Not-So-Dirty Secret? It's Good for Our Health
It doesn’t take much to convince someone masturbation has at least one upside: Experience one orgasm, and most people are likely to want another (and another, and another…). But while pleasure is arguably worth it strictly for its own sake, masturbation has a lot more to offer than toe-curling orgasms. Despite a cultural failure to take self-love seriously, it turns out that regularly getting it on solo can be good for our physical and mental health, our relationships, and our overall happiness.
Masturbation Nation — The Need-to-Know
According to some researchers, up to 95 percent of men and 89 to 92 percent of women across the country report having masturbated (i.e., having touched one’s self for sexual pleasure), and 52 percent of women have used a vibrator . But while nearly equal rates of men and women get down with their own selves, it seems men do so much more frequently. Forty-six percent of women report masturbating less than once a month each year, while their male counterparts engage in regular monthly (or more frequent) masturbation sessions at rates nearly three times as high.
Even though nearly all American adults have rubbed one out at some point or another, cultural attitudes toward masturbation remain much less universally accepting. A Google search for “psychological effects of masturbation” turns up 10 pages almost exclusively devoted to sources claiming that masturbation is a terrible sin and promising to help masturbators “cure” themselves. While these sources are hardly the only type of masturbation education out there, they represent a more general cultural failure to take seriously masturbation’s role in sexual health.
Historically, masturbation has been stigmatized as being both a sign and a cause of mental health issues. While modern cultural attitudes make masturbation slightly less taboo, Sexologist and Sexuality Educator Megan Andelloux often sees history repeating itself. “As children, many people were shamed or chastised when caught masturbating,” says Andelloux. “If they don’t get taught that sexuality and masturbation are common and can be healthy, then they can’t have those conversations with their own children down the line.” People may also be uncomfortable talking about masturbation because it’s a private, vulnerable activity, says Sex Therapist and Greatist Expert Ian Kerner.
Cultural discomfort with the topic of masturbation is further exacerbated by some wild myths, among them the (false) ideas that masturbation will stunt growth, cause blindness or deafness, cause stuttering, cause hair to grow on the palms, make a person “promiscuous,” and even kill people (If that were true, the world wouldn’t have a population problem).
Masturbenefits — The Physical and Mental Health Payoffs of Masturbation
Masturbation may not help anyone develop hairier palms, but it does boast some legitimate health benefits. On a physical level, taking some “me” time is a great way to relieve sexual tension without any risk of pregnancy or contracting an STI. It can also improve sleep, relieve muscular tension, and reduce stress . Frequent orgasms in general have been shown to lower blood pressure and improve overall health, while vibrator use in particular can boost sexual satisfaction and is associated with practicing healthy behaviors (such as eating well and exercising) even outside the bedroom .
Masturbation can also give our relationships a boost. It often proves therapeutic for the sexual health of a relationship by allowing individuals to get in touch with their own pleasure points and needs, which can improve communication between partners and enhance sexual satisfaction.
Solo masturbation also has some big mental health payoffs. It’s even been shown to increase women’s feelings of self-esteem. (Unfortunately, little research exists about the relationship between men’s self-esteem and masturbation habits.) And according to Andelloux, “masturbation can be a self-soothing behavior that calms down our minds […] gets us in touch with our bodies, and gives us time to focus on ourselves instead of worrying about what others think.”
Kerner concurs. “In my experience, healthy, happy people — people in good relationships, people with good sex lives — masturbate. When people don’t, it might be a signal that something else is going on that might be unhealthy [such as stress, past trauma, or leading an unhealthy lifestyle]. In general, I tend to look at masturbation as a sign of health.”
Dancing With Yourself — Your Action Plan
While research on the health benefits of masturbation remains limited, the existing positive findings are a good reason to continue exploring the role it plays in sexual and overall health. In the meantime, take matters into your own hands with the action plan below.
1. Pick the Right Time
Make sure you can take your time and won’t be rushed at any point in the process by a roommate returning home, needing to leave for work or an appointment, etc.
2. Pick the Right Place
Choose a location that is both comfortable and private. Worrying about whether someone’s going to walk in on you will definitely make it harder to enjoy the moment.
3. Set the Mood
Dim the lights, light candles, put on some music — whatever you need to do to help yourself feel relaxed and present. Most importantly, commit to providing a judgment-free atmosphere for yourself.
4. Consume Some Media (optional)
Literary erotica or porn can help you feel aroused, but they’re certainly not a requirement for a satisfying experience — the imagination can prove just as powerful of a stimulant.
5. Start by Simply Being Naked
Take a moment to gaze at and appreciate your naked body, and get comfortable with your own nudity. If you struggle with body image, it can be helpful to draw your attention to the things that you like most about your body.
6. Touch Yourself
Begin to explore your body with your hands (or a toy). Take the time to experiment with what feels good to you — different pressures, strokes, textures, etc. can all yield different sensations.
7. Don’t Fixate on Orgasm
No need to put pressure on yourself to “make it” to orgasm. There’s plenty of enjoyment (and health benefits) to be had just from helping yourself feel good.
Why do you think society keeps masturbation under wraps? Share in the comments below or get in touch with the author on Twitter @lauranewc.
- Prevalence and characteristics of vibrator use by women in the United States: results from a nationally representative study. Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S., et al. Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009 Jul;6(7):1857-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01318.x⤴
- Pleasurable behaviors reduce stress via brain reward pathways. Ulrich-Lai, Y.M., Christiansen, A.M., Ostrander, M.M., et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2010 November 23; 107(47): 20529–20534⤴
- Prevalence and characteristics of vibrator use by women in the United States: results from a nationally representative study. Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S., et al. Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009 Jul;6(7):1857-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01318.x. Epub 2009 May 7⤴
Comments Leave a comment
This is an interesting and important article to help make people feel at ease with what is a normal human activity (as supported by the statistics you quote).
The only thing is, if masturbation isn't the cause, where is all this hair on my palms coming from??? :-)
Obviously the action plan is for women.
I believe this article is important and should be shouted from the housetops! Too bad that in our quasi-Puritanical society self pleasure is considered sinful. Even the topic is taboo in conversations. The only answer is to publicize the benefits. And I'll bet thousands upon thousands of widows/widowers would be grateful to hear that it's not only okay to practice solo love, but mentally and physically healthful.
It's useful article, I guess. Mastubation is a natural act of a human, it is supporting active life in many aspects, including sexual.
I love you Greatist, but your articles on sex miss the mark. Before you label me as a Jesus Freak, hear me out...Sex is awesome! It is the self-giving act that unites a husband and wife. It is holy! It is not something that should be exploited and used for selfish pleasure. The sad part is-- our society has become so disoriented that things like masturbation, abortion, pre-maritial sex, and contraception are becoming accepted as "natural." (There is a reason divorce rates are so high people!). As a young woman, I think it's hard for our generation to even be informed about other options, because we are constantly being bombarded with "safe sex." I usually skip over these types of articles, but the line was crossed here and I hope that you take the time to ponder my thoughts.