Myth vs Fact, Sex Ed

Is Masturbation Bad For Your Health?

January 12, 2012 by Justin Lehmiller

“Masturbation: the primary sexual activity of mankind. In the nineteenth century it was a disease; in the twentieth it’s a cure.” – Thomas Szasz

One of the most common sexual topics people are curious about is masturbation. Specifically, people often wonder whether it is possible to do it “too much” or if touching oneself will “cause problems.” The basis for these concerns likely stems from the fact that masturbation has historically been viewed as an immoral activity that can cause negative health effects, including everything from blindness to hairy palms to insanity. These warnings about the dire personal and moral consequences of self-stimulation persist even today. But is there any truth to them?

The answer from the modern medical and psychological communities has been a resounding “no.” In fact, if anything, research on self-stimulation has actually demonstrated the opposite pattern of effects, such that masturbation tends to be associated with better (not worse) physical and psychological health. For example, masturbation is correlated with higher levels of self-esteem [1] and, among men, a reduced likelihood of developing prostate cancer [2]. Oddly enough, some physicians have even suggested that masturbation may relieve nasal congestion [3] (which means that for sufferers of colds and allergies, self-love could potentially be a cheaper and more natural alternative to Afrin!). Furthermore, to the extent that masturbation reduces the number of sexual partners an individual has, it may also help limit exposure to sexually transmitted infections.

As for the question of whether it is possible to masturbate “too much,” there is no specific number of times per day or week that experts would agree constitutes excessive masturbation. Studies of college students indicate that the average man masturbates 12 times per month compared to about 5 times per month for the average woman [4]. However, what is average is not necessarily “normal”—normalcy comprises a wide range of responses, not just a single number. Thus, whether you are above or below these averages, there is nothing inherently wrong with you. However, if you find that you are masturbating more or less frequently than you would like and this is creating personal distress or problems in your life (e.g., if you masturbate so much that it is making you late for work, or if you masturbate so little that you are afraid you may have a problem with your sex drive), then you may wish to seek professional help. But if your desired amount of self-pleasure is not affecting your life negatively, then there is nothing for you to worry about!

Read more articles about masturbation here.

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[1] Hurlbert, D. F., & Whittaker, K. E. (1991). The role of masturbation in marital and sexual satisfaction: A comparative study of female masturbators and nonmasturbators. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 17, 272-282.

[2] Giles, G. G., Severi, G., English, D. R., McCredie, M. R. E., Borland, R., Boyle, P., & Hopper, J. L. (2003). Sexual factors and prostate cancer. British Journal of Urology International, 92, 211-216.

[3] Zarrintan, S. (2008). Ejaculation as a potential treatment of nasal congestion in mature males. Medical Hypotheses, 71, 308.

[4] Pinkerton, S.D., Bogart, L.M., Cecil, H., & Abramson, P.R. (2002). Factors associated with masturbation in a collegiate sample. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 14, 103-121.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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