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Masturbation May and the Science of Self-Pleasure

May 2, 2022 by Justin Lehmiller

It’s May, and that means it’s Masturbation Month yet again! So let’s talk about self-pleasure.

The origins of Masturbation Month 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.

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.

More than one-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 can be harmful to your health (and the health of your relationships). Some claim that masturbatory abstinence is better, hence the emergence of “Masturbation May’s” antithesis, “No Nut November.” However, research suggests that rather than being unhealthy, masturbation can actually be good for us in many ways.

For example, when you look at the reasons people report for masturbating, stress relief and help falling asleep are amongst the most common. To the extent that masturbation effectively accomplishes these things, that alone is plenty of reason to see how it can be good for our health. But the benefits don’t stop there.

Masturbation can also benefit our relationships. For instance, to the extent that masturbation helps you better understand your body and your pleasure sources, this information can help you to more confidently communicate what you want during sex. Masturbation can also potentially help us to resolve certain sexual difficulties, such as when it’s used as an opportunity to build up sexual stamina and allow you to last longer in bed.

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 really 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.

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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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