The Science of Masturbation

May 13, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

Man masturbating in bed with laptop.

It’s May, and that means it’s Masturbation Month! With many of us living under lockdown and quarantine orders at the moment, now seems like the perfect time to talk about self-pleasure.

The origins of Masturbation Month actually date back to 1995, when US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders publicly said that masturbation is a natural part of human sexuality and something that should perhaps be taught in sex education courses.

Elders’ comments set off a political firestorm that ultimately led to her being fired. To mark her unjust dismissal, sex toy company Good Vibrations declared May 14 to be National Masturbation Day, which was later expanded to include the whole month.

On a side note, I had the honor of meeting Dr. Elders at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality conference in 2017, where she was a keynote speaker. She is truly an inspiring person and continues to do important work in the field.

A quarter century after Elders’ firing, masturbation is something that continues to be controversial. In fact, a lot of people today still think that masturbation is an unhealthy activity that causes a wide range of ill health effects, with many arguing that abstinence is better, hence the emergence of things like “No Nut November.” However, research suggests that rather than being unhealthy, masturbation could potentially be good for us.

For a closer look at what the science of self-love has revealed, check out the video below and this article.

Of course, it’s worth noting that most of the research in this area is correlational, meaning we can’t truly say what’s causing what. In other words, is masturbation benefiting health, or are healthier people just more likely to masturbate?

That said, if masturbation truly was bad for our health, we’d expect the data to be telling a very different story—it would be linked to negative instead of positive outcomes. So even if we can’t say for sure that masturbation improves health, study after study shows that it certainly doesn’t appear to harm health. So maybe it’s time to stop worrying so much about masturbation, take a cue from Dr. Elders, and just enjoy ourselves.

Watch more videos on the science of sex and relationships here.

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Image Source: iStockphoto

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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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