In my Human Sexuality class at the University of Florida, students can choose to complete a Psychology Today-style blog for a class project. In past years, I have chosen the top five submissions, and the students vote on their favorite, with the winner given the option of having me edit their post and publish it on my Psychology Today blog. In 2013, a student wrote a blog on the health benefits of masturbation, which I edited and put on my Psychology Today blog site.The following blog includes a few excerpts from that original blog, as well as substantial excerpts from the self-love chapter (“Taking Matters in Your Own Hands”) from Becoming Cliterate.
A recent Gallup Poll reported that half of Americans regularly take a vitamin or nutritional supplement. Clearly, many adults in the U.S are taking steps to improve their health.
There is one healthy activity, however, that is a source of shame for many individuals. That activity is masturbation. For many, the source of the shame is the fact that many religions condemn masturbation. A lot of them point to a bible story where a guy named Onan is supposed to have intercourse with his brother’s widow to make a baby. He refuses, “spills his seed,” and is struck dead. But, here’s a twist: Modern bible experts aren’t sure if he’s struck dead for not making a baby with his dead brother’s wife or for masturbating—and some think he didn’t even masturbate at all, but “spilled his seed” when he pulled out so as not to ejaculate inside her. Modern experts also point out that aside from this one ambiguous story, the bible says little about masturbation in general and almost nothing about female masturbation. That’s why these experts disagree about whether the bible is against masturbation or not. It’s also why a lot of respected religious leaders from diverse faiths actually say masturbation is acceptable. One affirming spiritual masturbation quote that I love (rom the book “Mirror of Intimacy”) is:
Masturbation is … an inherent gift. The design of the human body gives us free access to our genitals….it’s clear this function was granted for our enjoyment.
But, religion isn’t the only source of guilt. Sometimes people feel guilty because they’ve been told that masturbation is harmful. This is a relic of what people were told in the olden days. In the 18th century people were warned that if they masturbated, their hands would get covered in warts and hair. Yikes! People were also told that masturbation caused blindness, acne, and infertility. Also, doctors observed patients in mental hospitals masturbating and concluded masturbation was the source of the patient’s mental disorders. The truth is that the patients were just doing what most of us do—although with less privacy and at more frequency since they were cooped up with little else to do. Anyway, the bottom line is that in previous generations, medical experts told people that masturbation was the root of a lot of illnesses.
And, now, we know that just the opposite is true! As Jenny Block, author of “OWow” writes:
Have a migraine? Masturbate. Feeling stuck creatively? Masturbate. Feeling blue? Masturbate. Can’t sleep? Masturbate. Mired in stress? Low self-esteem? Sex drive in low gear? Chronic pain? Masturbation is good for what ails you.
All of this is true—indeed, backed up by research. Masturbation can relieve pain and menstrual cramps, create a sense of well-being, improve sleep, reduce stress, and increase self-esteem. And, there’s more. Masturbation has been found to improve body-image, burn calories, and enhance your immune system (so you get sick less often). One study suggests that men can reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer through regular masturbation, and another notes that for women, masturbating can flush old bacteria from the cervix, decreasing the chances of developing a urinary tract infection. There’s even more, but I assume you get the point: Masturbation has great health benefits!
Yet, here’s the important thing. It’s not the masturbation that’s causing all these benefits. It’s the self-induced orgasms! As stated by Gloria Brame, Ph,D., “Orgasms release feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin that lift your spirits, boost your satisfaction, and activate the reward circuits in your brain.” Brame also says that “An orgasm is the biggest non-drug blast of dopamine available.” In short, a masturbation-induced orgasm creates feelings of euphoria; it’s a safe, free, and natural high.
And, speaking of orgasms, research shows that women who pleasure themselves have more orgasms with partners as well. That’s because the more orgasms you have by any method, including by giving yourself one, the more sexually responsive you will be. The same goes for sex in general. That is, the more sex you have, including with yourself, the more sex you want. That’s why women who masturbate have more, not less, sex with partners.
Masturbation is also a cornerstone of modern sex therapy. Those who seek professional counseling for sexual difficulties are often instructed to masturbate to learn about their bodies and then encouraged to communicate what they discover to their partners. This is particularly important for women who are having difficulty reaching orgasm with a partner. Specifically, because every woman’s genital nerves are positioned a bit differently, what every woman needs to orgasm is unique to her. Thus, sex therapists advocate that women first learn what they need by themselves, and then teach partners what this is. That’s why, in my relatively new book, Becoming Cliterate, I have a chapter on self-love (including a how-to guide), as well as a chapter on sexual communication.
Masturbation certainly requires more time and effort than taking a multivitamin. Yet the research on vitamin and supplement benefits is riddled with conflicting results, whereas the findings on masturbation are unequivocal. What Woody Allen called “sex with someone you love” is beneficial for your physical, emotional, and relational health. Love yourself today!