‘Tis the season to curl up under blankets and get cozy. And who better to get cozy with than yourself? ;)
Historically, masturbation has been put down or even considered dangerous (spoiler alert: it’s not). Lustful thoughts were often denigrated, and sexual desire — especially if you were a woman — was considered “bad” or “wrong.” But sexual pleasure is a big part of sexual health, and that’s closely related to mental health, which we should all obviously pay close attention to.
Basically, while some religions or social attitudes would like you believe that any kind of sexual stimulation or arousal equals sexual immorality, this is patently untrue. In fact, solo sexual activity is very healthy, and has a whole bunch of health benefits associated with it, including reducing stress. And in our busy crazy modern lives, who doesn’t have some of that going on!?
What is masturbation?
According to Healthline, “[m]asturbation is a common activity, which involves touching the genitals or other sensitive areas of the body for sexual arousal or pleasure. Masturbation is a natural and safe way to explore your body, feel pleasure, and release built-up sexual tension. It occurs among people of all backgrounds, genders, and races.”
So, masturbation is when you touch yourself specifically for the purpose of sexual pleasure and/or release. And, like we mentioned, there are plenty of health benefits associated with masturbation and self-stimulation.
For example, masturbation strengthens your pelvic floor. Yep, according to Jessa Zimmerman, certified sex therapist and author of Sex Without Stress, “The contractions that occur with orgasm strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, helping with urinary issues like incontinence and erectile function.”
By the way, since we’re on the subject, masturbation does not cause erectile dysfunction. According to Healthline, “It’s a common belief that masturbating too much can cause erectile dysfunction (ED). ED happens when you can’t get or maintain an erection. This is a myth that’s not based on facts. Masturbation does not directly cause erectile dysfunction in men. This idea overlooks some of the complexities of masturbation and the physical and mental causes of erectile dysfunction, many of which have nothing to do with masturbation or porn.”
In fact, certain methods of masturbation can actually help with sexual dysfunction like premature ejaculation (PE). How, you ask? Through edging, which is a practice of getting close to climax and then backing off. Then you do it again, and again. You’re basically training your body on how to get close to orgasm but not go over the edge.
In the words of Medical News Today, “Edging is the practice of engaging in sexual stimulation to the point of ejaculation before stopping and starting again. It involves cycles of stimulation that can lead some people to a more intense orgasm. People who ejaculate prematurely may find edging beneficial because it can increase the duration of sexual activities. This might also provide more opportunities for experimentation and confidence-building during sex.”
Is masturbating normal?
Hell yeah, it is! It’s not just normal, it’s actually strongly recommended by numerous experts. For example, according to clinical sexologist Gloria Brame, Ph.D., “Masturbation should become a regular part of your personal care routine, kind of like brushing your teeth.”
Why? Well, one reason is that it can help calm you down. Your body actually releases natural painkillers when you orgasm, so masturbating to climax can help with things like headaches or menstrual cramps. Masturbation during pregnancy is also okay, albeit with a few precautions.
Masturbation is for everyone! Gay, straight, pansexual, male, female, non-binary — it doesn’t matter. Everyone can masturbate. If you’ve got a body, you’ve got what it takes. There are many types of masturbation you can experiment with, from anal masturbation to guided masturbation.
If you’re wondering how many people masturbate, it’s a lot. One study of older adults showed that 27-40% of women and 41-65% of men had reported masturbating within the past month.
You may notice a disparity there in terms of male versus female masturbation. The fact is, sex research repeatedly shows that women tend to feel more hesitant to touch themselves or express themselves openly when it comes to sex. Sex therapists and others can help when it comes to being more open around sexuality.
According to sex tech CEO Liz Klinger, it can also be a great idea to set the scene, so to speak, before getting hot and heavy with yourself:
“Before you lay in bed or turn on the water faucet in the shower, set expectations of what you’d like to do ahead of time. Although the orgasm is thought of as the goal and the conclusion to a sexual experience, hinging whether you enjoyed something over having an orgasm will likely set you up for disappointment. There is so much more to sex, masturbation, and using adult sex toys than whether or not you had an orgasm. Each time you are intimate with yourself, you can learn a bit more about yourself, you can feel good, and you can feel good about setting aside time for yourself for relaxation and self-care."
In other words, everyone masturbates, and everyone can use the practice as a way of engaging in self-love.
Is masturbating healthy?
It sure is. There are lots of health benefits for both men, women, and non-binary folks.
For example, according to Hannah Nichols of Medical News Today, “A 2003 study demonstrated that men who ejaculated more than five times each week during their 20s were one-third less likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer than those who ejaculated less often. Researchers speculate that the reduced risk was because frequent ejaculation may prevent the build-up of cancer-causing agents in the prostate gland.”
Another reason to masturbate is to get to know your own body. For example, if you’re a vagina-owner and you’ve always been curious about G-spot orgasms but you’re not sure whether you’ve had one, it can be super helpful to use or buy a sex toy that helps you target your G-spot (or G-area, really) and start exploring on your own.
According to OB-GYN Kerry-Anne Perkins, “Perhaps the trickiest part of G-spot play is that it’s nearly impossible to locate your own G-spot with your fingers while lying on your back. That means to truly find out what G-spot stimulation feels like. You’ll either need an effective G-spot toy — or a skilled partner.”So if you’re sans a skilled partner, you can pick up a G-spot vibrator that’s designed to get all up in there. Plus, you’ll be able to go at your own pace. Sometimes during partnered sex, we can feel pressured move faster than our bodies are actually ready for, or we can’t quite relax all the way (especially with a newer partner). One of the advantages of masturbation is that we get to go at our pace and do whatever we want, with no fear of judgment.
This may be obvious, but another advantage of masturbation is that you don’t have to worry or even think about birth control. Ain’t no sperm gettin’ anywhere when you’re doing it all yourself. And the fact is, especially if you’re a vagina-owner who’s still in their fertile years, sometimes concerns about possible baby-making can prevent full and deep relaxation. When you’re flying solo you don’t have any of those things to track. So you can just fully let go!
Is it possible to masturbate too much?
Now, how much is too much masturbation, you might be wondering? If you have a strong sex drive and no sexual partner, you may find yourself going for that erotic stimulation a whole lot.
According to PsychCentral, “Because masturbating releases ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain, like other addictive substances and behaviors, some believe compulsive masturbation could be considered an addiction. For example, approximately 40 studies have found people with hypersexual behavior may share the same brain changes observed in people with clinical addictions.”
However, excessive masturbation (aka masturbation addiction) is not recognized by psychological professionals as a mental health condition in the DSM-5. Neither is sex addiction or porn addiction. Instead, mental health experts refer to these as examples of compulsive sexual behavior.
That said, you may still be concerned about your own situation, and your feelings are valid. “Although masturbation addiction isn’t recognized in the DSM-5, it can still cause distress, feelings of shame, and social or relationship issues. This can profoundly impact a person’s life, making it feel like a genuine condition for someone experiencing it.”
Basically frequent masturbation is not necessarily a problem. But if you’re concerned that you’re doing it too much, or that you may be contending with compulsive sexual behavior, it might help to talk to a healthcare professional like a sex therapist.
A few other fun tidbits about masturbation
Another great thing about masturbation is that you can “fulfill” any sexual fantasy you want. You don’t have to worry about whether it’s appropriate or whether you’d actually do it in real life … you get to be in charge of your own sexual satisfaction. In fact, this can be a form of sexual medicine. You exploring your own sexy imagination is a beautiful thing.
Another question you may have is whether it’s appropriate to masturbate even when you’ve got a committed sexual partner. Yes, it is! In fact, according to a study published in 2015, married women who masturbated reported not just having more orgasms, but also described higher levels of self-esteem, boosts in their sexual desire, and higher satisfaction in both their marriage as well as their sex life overall.
Even if you’re in a committed relationship, it can actually be super fun to engage in mutual masturbation. You might do this to avoid pregnancy, or if one of you is having a certain STI outbreak that’s transmissible at that time, or just because it’s fun!
Finally, it’s good to remember that when it comes to masturbation, you don’t have to mimic sexual intercourse. For example, some clitoris-owners don’t even penetrate themselves when masturbating. Maybe they’ll grab their bullet vibe and just go to town over their clothing! You can have an orgasm all kinds of different ways; direct genital stimulation isn’t always one of them.
Masturbation is healthy both physically and mentally. It’s an easy, free, and meaningful way to connect with yourself, learn about your body, and engage in stimulating self-care. So get out there and start caring! ;)