Need a reason to masturbate tonight? We’ll give you twelve. Sexual health experts break down the health benefits of masturbation that go way beyond pleasure.
The stigma behind masturbation has got to go. No matter what you’ve been told (don’t get us started on sexual health myths), the science is clear: There are many health benefits of masturbation.
Masturbation, in its simplest form, means stimulation of the genitals for pleasure. But it’s a source of self-exploration more than anything else—like starting a new hobby or dating someone who isn’t your “type.” You don’t have to do it. You also don’t have to like it just because you tried it. But if you do decide to engage in some self-exploration by way of masturbation, you’re simultaneously taking care of your health in many ways. Below, experts explain 12 of the research-backed benefits of masturbation. (Want in on the action? Check out our roundup of the best sex toys on the market, according to experts.)
1. Masturbation Can Strengthen Self-Worth
While affirmations and exercise can help strengthen self-worth, masturbation can too. “Self-pleasure offers us the opportunity to regain confidence and gives us a way to give back to ourselves,” says Jo Portia Mayari, conscious sex and relationship coach. This self-worth and confidence transfer into every area of life, including the bedroom. That’s because low self-esteem may be impacting your sex life. One 2020 study suggests that body image dissatisfaction can play a role in the ability to orgasm during solo or partnered sex.
But going solo can help, according to research. In fact, one study suggests that for some people with vulvas, there’s a positive correlation between masturbation and positive body image.
2. Masturbation Can Help You Communicate Your Needs
Have a tough time telling your partner what you want during sex? Masturbation can help. “When you engage in a regular self-pleasure practice, you learn how to be in a relationship with your body’s needs, wants, desires, and boundaries,” says Mayari. This sets you up to talk about sex in your relationship, which is something you should feel just as comfortable talking about as other situations in life.
“Masturbation is a way to get to know one’s body: what you like, dislike, what turns you on, and what makes you tick,” says Irma Garcia, CSE and founder of the Dirty South Sexual Education Instagram page dedicated to revolutionizing the way we learn about sexual health. The more you know about your own needs, the easier it is to communicate them to someone else.
3. Masturbation Can Improve Sleep.
If you have trouble falling asleep, masturbation may be able to help. “It allows for better sleep patterns and better sleep in general,” says Dr. Juan Michelle Martin, licensed physical therapist. During sexual activity, there’s a release of oxytocin and vasopressin—both of which are hormones that aid in regulating stress. One 2019 study confirmed that masturbation, with or without orgasm, improves not only the quality of sleep but how quickly you drift into it.
4. Masturbating Can Regulate Your Nervous System.
Did you know there’s actually a link between masturbation and the nervous system? Turns out, masturbation is a great way to calm anxiety or relieve stress. One 2014 study shows that oxytocin, the feel-good hormone released during masturbation with orgasm, regulates your stress response by increasing your sense of wellbeing. “When we’ve got increased oxytocin levels, we’ll have decreased cortisol levels and cortisol is our stress hormone,” says Martin. “So you typically tend to find in the moment, at least in the interim, a decreased level of stress in the body.”
This is why when you masturbate, you aren’t thinking about your mounting to-do list. You’re in the moment. “Self-pleasure releases a cocktail of feel-good hormones from dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and more which can influence your mood. All of these hormones help calm and regulate your nervous system,” says Mayari.
5. Masturbation Can Make You Happier.
So going solo can help calm you down, but does masturbation make you happy? According to experts, yes. It makes you happier because it’s a pleasure-filled activity, and pleasure makes us happy. One 2011 study suggests that all sources of pleasure activate the same part of the brain that leads to a flood of positive emotions. With the influx of serotonin and dopamine released into the body when you masturbate, “We have not only a state of euphoria, but we also have improved wellbeing,” says Martin.
6. Masturbation Can Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor.
While there are benefits for everyone, there are some serious benefits of female masturbation. Namely, the impact masturbation has on the pelvic floor. “One of the things that masturbation does is that when you orgasm, specifically, it allows for engagement of those pelvic floor muscles,” says Martin. How? During an orgasm, the muscles around your reproductive organs contract, which helps to strengthen your pelvic floor. Masturbation also improves awareness of the pelvic floor muscles. Awareness is beneficial because you’re able to recognize and understand what this part of your body is doing in response to certain stimuli, like toys.
The pelvic floor is often described as a hammock or diamond-shaped group of muscles that work as part of our pelvic organ system. “The top two benefits of a strong pelvic floor are increased sexual sensation and improved bladder control,” says Garcia.
7. Masturbating May Lower the Risk of Prostate Cancer.
Wondering what the benefits of male masturbation are? One of the biggest ones is the link between masturbation and prostate cancer. “Research has shown that masturbation with ejaculation has shown a decreased risk of prostate cancer,” says Martin. Indeed, one study shows that of the 40,000 people with penises studied, those who ejaculated more frequently throughout their adult life had a lower risk of prostate cancer.
8. Masturbation May Expand Your Perception of Sex
Masturbation can introduce you to the concept of pleasure without orgasm. Of course, you can orgasm with masturbation. But “orgasm is not the end-all, be-all,” says Garcia. “It’s important to decentralize it for healthier sexual experiences.” When you’re having sex with the sole intention of an orgasm, you lose sight of the vast world of sexual experiences.
With masturbation, you become more in tune with yourself. And when you do that, you’re able to access a deeper level of connection with yourself. “You meet your whole self—including your sexual/relational hangups, emotions, thought patterns, blockages, and resistance,” says Mayari.
Dopamine, the hormone that’s associated with pleasure and reward, is released during all types of sexual stimulation. Recognizing sexual experiences as more than a task to reach the goal of orgasm gives you the chance to develop a healthier relationship with sex.
9. Masturbation Can Alleviate Pain.
You’ve probably heard someone say having sex gets rid of a headache. But does masturbation help headaches? There’s actually some truth behind the claim. When you orgasm, endorphins are released into the body which “help to naturally alleviate pain,” says Martin. One study shows a 75 percent increase in the pain tolerance threshold of women who masturbated.
10. Masturbation Can Reinforce Bodily Autonomy.
While sex with a partner might potentially pull focus away from your own needs and wants, masturbating can help you get in touch with them. Masturbating can show you that you have complete control over what you do with your body. “Masturbation helps with bodily autonomy and sexual satisfaction in that as you explore your body, you become more versed in things that you like and things that you may not like,” explains Martin. When you understand that you have full control over your body, you’re put in a better position to ward off unwanted advances and situations.
Bodily autonomy is valuable for everyone to have but is especially valuable for people with vulvas, whose bodies have been contested or reprimanded for centuries.
11. Masturbating Can Aid in Healthy Sexual Development.
If you’re feeling disconnected from your body, masturbation can help. Case in point: Children may touch or rub their private area because they think it feels good, without really knowing what they’re doing. Turns out, masturbation plays a major role in healthy sexual development. It helps children learn about their bodies and the world around them. One article in the journal Clinical Pediatrics suggests that masturbation is a healthy activity and it’s the misconceptions and misplaced reactions from adults that can negatively influence a child’s relationship with the act.
The same holds true into adulthood—your sexuality can continue to develop later in life and masturbation allows for exploration. “Human sexuality is a spectrum of behavior, all of which is perfectly normal including masturbation,” says Garcia.
12. Masturbation Can Bring You Closer to Your Partner
Masturbation can’t lead to sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy, making it “the safest sex you can have,” says Garcia. If you aren’t in a situation where sex with penetration is an option, mutual masturbation can be a great way to still enjoy a sexual experience without risking anyone’s health.
“It allows for mutual exploration and mutual appreciation of bodies,” says Martin.
Masturbation can influence many facets of your health, not just the physical. Whether or not you want to try it is entirely your choice. Sexual experiences are personal and there are no wrong ways of exploring.