Myth vs Fact

A Little (Or A Lot) Of Masturbation Won’t Hurt Your Health

September 2, 2013 by Justin Lehmiller


For centuries, numerous religious, political, and medical figures have argued that masturbation is hazardous to one’s health and can lead to a wide range of negative effects, including everything from blindness to paralysis to insanity. In fact, in the not-too-distant past, medical textbooks went so far as to label masturbation a form of “self-abuse” and made outlandish arguments about how the loss of one ounce of semen is as detrimental to the body as losing forty ounces of blood! Such warnings about the dire consequences of self-stimulation have certainly lessened over time, but they persist even today. So what exactly are the health implications of masturbation?

Research on self-stimulation has revealed that, if anything, people who masturbate tend to have better 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]. Research has also found that masturbating to orgasm appears to provide a boost to the immune system. Specifically, men who recently had a masturbatory orgasm experienced an increase in leukocytes and natural killer cells (both of which are helpful in fighting off infections) compared to men who abstained [3]. Not only that, but some physicians have even argued that masturbation relieves nasal congestion [4], which means that for sufferers of colds and allergies, self-love could potentially be a cheaper and more natural alternative to Afrin! Of course, it is also worth mentioning that masturbation is just about the safest form of sex anyone can have because there is no risk of spreading or contracting sexually transmitted infections.

So does this mean that masturbation is always healthy? Not necessarily. For example, if your masturbation habits are creating personal distress or problems in your life (e.g., if you masturbate so much that it is making you late for work every day) or if your masturbating becomes compulsive, then you may wish to seek professional help. Also, there are some rare masturbation techniques that can be quite dangerous (e.g., autoerotic asphyxiation, which involves masturbating while depriving yourself of oxygen). However, in the vast majority of cases, masturbation (whether you do it a little or a lot) is not going to hurt you and, to the contrary, may actually provide some health benefits.

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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] Haake, P., Krueger, T. H., Goebel, M. U., Heberling, K. M., Hartmann, U., & Schedlowski, M. (2004). Effects of sexual arousal on lymphocyte subset circulation and cytokine production in man. Neuroimmunomodulation, 11, 293-298.

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

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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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