The available research shows that masturbation isn’t bad for you — in fact, it can benefit your health.

Science says masturbation is not bad for youShare on Pinterest
Photography by Megan Madden; Prop Styling by Sara Schipani

There are a lot of myths about masturbation, partly because many of us can feel awkward talking about it. Some people claim that masturbation is bad for you and that it can even harm your body.

Although many people feel uncomfortable talking about masturbation, nearly all of us have done it at some point. It’s an entirely common practice, and, when done in moderation, is not bad for you.

Of course, whether you masturbate is up to you. Some people enjoy masturbating, while others don’t — and either way, that’s OK.

According to adult toy distributor TENGA’s 2020 self-pleasure report, 71% of Americans agree that masturbation improved their mood or was a form of self-care in the last year.

It also found 71% of Americans are OK talking about self-pleasure with their partner, and 51% are comfortable chatting with friends about it.

Here are other stats from TENGA’s survey:

Identifying factorsPercent that masturbates
Dating18%
Married44%
Single38%
Straight88%
LGBTQIA+20%
Men 54%
Women46%
Black14%
White56%
Hispanic21%

No. Despite what some people say, masturbation is not inherently bad for you. No evidence suggests it harms your mental or physical health.

Common myths about masturbation include the idea that it’ll make you go blind or that it causes impotence and infertility. There isn’t any evidence for this.

However, excessive masturbation, or masturbating incorrectly, can lead to some side effects.

Side effects of extremely frequent or improper practices

  • Bacterial infection, including UTIs — not from masturbating itself, but from not cleaning sex toys or hands properly before use
  • Skin irritation if you masturbate too frequently or too roughly
  • Edema on the penis (which is swelling) if you masturbate too frequently

Because masturbation is stigmatized, you might feel uncomfortable or guilty when masturbating.

Masturbation might also bring up some difficult emotions for you, especially if you have a history of sexual trauma. If this applies to you, you might benefit from talking with a therapist.

You might also find vaginal masturbation uncomfortable or painful if you have certain conditions, such as vaginal dryness or dyspareunia, which is recurring pain during vaginal penetration.

Erectile dysfunction and post-orgasmic illness syndrome, a rare condition where you can become ill after ejaculating, can also make masturbation unpleasant.

You may benefit from speaking with a doctor if you experience any of these issues.

For many people, masturbation is an enjoyable and pleasurable activity, and it could actually benefit your health.

Brain effects

Masturbation can trigger the release of certain hormones. This can have a positive effect on your mental and physical health.

These hormones include:

  • Endorphins, a natural pain reliever that can lift your mood and reduce stress
  • Dopamine, a hormone associated with happiness
  • Oxytocin, which is often called the love hormone and is associated with social bonding

These hormones may help reduce stress and improve mood.

Sleep

There’s very little research on the effects of masturbation on sleep, but many people claim that masturbating helps them sleep better.

And this makes sense: Because the above hormones are associated with relaxation and happiness, it’s no wonder why masturbating might help you fall asleep.

Stress

Endorphins, in particular, are associated with stress relief. The primary function of endorphins seems to be to reduce stress and pain. They’re often released in response to pain, but can also be released because of exercise, eating, or sex.

For this reason, masturbating can be a great way to relieve stress.

Self-awareness

Masturbating can be a good way to connect with your body on a physical, sensual, and sexual level.

It might improve your sexual experiences with other people, as you’ll know more about what you enjoy and what feels good for you. In this way, masturbation can improve your sex life.

How much masturbation is too much masturbation?

While masturbation addiction is not a mental illness as classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), it’s possible to develop an unhealthy compulsion around masturbating.

It’s hard to say how much masturbating counts as excessive masturbation because it varies from person to person. It might be more helpful to ask yourself how you feel about masturbating.

For some people, masturbating frequently is out of habit (for example, you’re used to masturbating before sleep or in the shower, and thus you habitually do it every day). Others feel a compulsion to masturbate.

The following signs might suggest you would benefit from reaching out for support:

  • you’re having difficulty with work or school because of a constant need to masturbate
  • you miss out on social activities or appointments to masturbate
  • you feel little pleasure while masturbating
  • you’re doing it because you feel you must, not because you want to
  • you find it hard to stop or reduce masturbating

If you can relate to any of this, online sex therapy resources could be helpful.

Masturbation isn’t inherently bad — in fact, it can have healthy and positive effects on your mind and body. However, excessive masturbation might lead to some side effects, and it is possible to develop a compulsion to masturbate excessively.

If you’re experiencing difficulties masturbating, or having side effects you’re not comfortable with, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.