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What Religion Gets Wrong About Masturbation

It's not bad for you. It's good for you.

The history of the world’s religions is one of significant strife: Protestants and Catholics in deadly battle; Shiites and Sunnis at long-lasting war; Christians and Muslims in constant conflict; Christians and Muslims persecuting Jews; Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists oppressing Muslims; Muslims persecuting Bahais and Copts; and so on.

And yet, amidst all this discord, there is one thing that the world’s major religions do seem to agree on: masturbation. A large number of major religions have long declared it to be bad, immoral, sinful, and injurious.

Touching yourself to produce sexual pleasure, according to many religious doctrines, is harmful—both spiritually and physically. John Wesley, the founder of Methodist Christianity, preached that masturbation caused nervous disorders and madness. Ellen Gould White, the founder of Seventh Day Adventism, disparaged masturbation as “vice.” The Catholic Church currently castigates masturbation as “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that masturbation is a "form of uncleanness” that can be " mentally corrupting.” Among the Mormons, Jains, Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, Buddhist monks, and most schools of Islam, sexual self-pleasure is strictly forbidden.

While the world’s religions may appear to be of one mind about masturbation, it is likely a dramatically mistaken mind. According to the personal experiences of billions of people, as well as the empirical findings of science, masturbation is actually not bad for you. It is, in fact, rather good for you.

In a recent study conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen, Germany, orgasm resulting from masturbation was shown to boost the white blood cells that help fight infection. This study confirms what other researchers at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction have found, specifically that:

  • Masturbatory orgasms lower stress by producing dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, which act to counter stress-inducing cortisol levels.
  • Masturbation fosters relaxation, which helps people sleep better, which is extremely important in maintaining health.
  • Masturbation is correlated with bolstering the immune system.

As a recent report from Big Think summarizes, “While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.”

Other researchers have found that self-produced orgasms can reduce pain from migraines. For women, masturbation can decrease menstrual pain, and for men, it is correlated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. Additionally, masturbation is one of the safest ways to experience sexual pleasure, given that the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease is zero.

And yet, despite the manifest harmlessness—and additional physical and psychological benefits of masturbation—some religions continue to wrongly condemn it as both dangerous and shameful.

While it is impossible to know exactly why the various people who created the world’s major religions promulgated such hostility to and stigmatization of masturbation, we do know that they lived in times when superstition reigned and science was in its stumbling infancy. The people who gave us the Torah, the Bible, the Qu’ran, and the Vedas did not know about germs, or dopamine and serotonin, or how communicable diseases spread, or how our immune systems work. Their sexual ethics were tribal, parochial, mythical, patriarchal, fearful, and societally immature. And they were objectively wrong about many things—especially regarding masturbation. It does not cause harm or pain, but rather has multiple benefits. It is, in short, a very sound and healthy practice.

As more and more humans reject the religions of old, they may experience increased well-being—both physically and emotionally—as they satisfy themselves sexually, unencumbered by old ignorance, needless distress, or toxic self-loathing.

More from Phil Zuckerman Ph.D.
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