Stress and Sex

Helping women decrease stress and enhance desire.

A Touchy Subject: The Health Benefits of Masturbation

A student guest blogger touts masturbation.

In my Human Sexuality class at the University of Florida, students can choose to complete a Psychology Today-style blog for a class project. I then choose 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 this site. The following is an edited version of the winning blog from my Fall 2013 class, originally submitted to me by UF junior Jason Hannay.

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A recent Gallup Poll reported that half of Americans regularly take a vitamin or nutritional supplement. It appears that adults in the U.S are becoming steadily more health-conscious and taking steps to improve their own health.

There is one healthy activity, however, that is often considered a taboo topic in our culture and even a source of shame for many individuals. That activity is masturbation. Information provided by Planned Parenthood tells us that “Negative feelings about masturbation can threaten our health and well-being. Only you can decide what is healthy and right for you. But if you feel ashamed or guilty about masturbating, talking with a trusted friend, sexuality educator, counselor, and/or clergy member may help.”

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The organization's website also lists the varied health benefits of masturbation, including: creating a sense of well-being; enhancing sex with partners both physically and emotionally; increasing the ability to have orgasms; improving relationship and sexual satisfaction; improving sleep; increasing self-esteem; improving body image; reducing stress; releasing sexual tension; relieving menstrual cramps; strengthening muscle tone in the pelvic and anal areas; and reducing women’s chances of involuntary urine leakage and uterine prolapse. Another recent study suggests that men could 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.

Masturbation is also a cornerstone of modern sex therapy. Those who seek professional counseling for sexual difficulties, including inability to orgasm, are typically instructed to masturbate to learn about their bodies and then encouraged to communicate what they discover to their partners. Many outstanding self-help books, such as Becoming Orgasmic and The Elusive Orgasm, suggest masturbation as a core strategy, and sex educators including Betty Dodson and Corey Silverberg, tout the benefits of the practice and provide how-to guides.

There is a biochemical basis for the positive effects of masturbation. It "releases feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin that lift your spirits, boost your satisfaction, and activate the reward circuits in your brain," reports Gloria Brame, Ph.D. "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.

Considering all the benefits, why aren’t more people—especially women—masturbating regularly? Societal taboos and the resultant shame they cause are partly to blame. For women, there may also be another reason: Stated simply, female masturbation presents more of a logistical challenge than does male masturbation, and reaching arousal takes longer for women than for men. Finding sufficient private time to reach arousal and/or orgasm may be difficult for women who share a bed with a partner or who have children.

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" and what Betty Dodson called "selfloving" is beneficial for one’s physical, emotional, and relational health.

Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., is the author of A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex: Reclaim Your Desire and Reignite Your Relationship.

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