All the ways that masturbation can make you healthier
For a small study, published in 2014 in the International Journal of Impotence Research, researchers reported that 35% of women who regularly climaxed during sex also masturbated compared to only 9% of women who climaxed during sex and reportedly did not masturbate.
During your period, your uterus contracts to shed its lining, which can cause painful cramps. However, an orgasm increases blood flow to the genitals and releases endorphins, which may relieve cramping. It’s a similar reason exercise can also help get rid of period cramps.
Women who are pregnant may enjoy masturbation more so than partnered sex, says Milstein. That’s because sex with a partner can be more awkward depending on what stage of pregnancy you’re in.
Alternative to pregnancy sex
Moreover, some male partners worry about hurting the fetus, so masturbation might be less nerve-wracking. However, sex while pregnant is perfectly safe for both mother and child.
Unique benefits of masturbation for men
There are fewer benefits that are unique to masturbation in men but are still worth noting.
Reduced risk of prostate cancer
There’s some evidence, including a 10-year study of almost 32,000 men published in 2016 in European Urology, that masturbation may help reduce a man’s risk of prostate cancer.
Milstein says most of the research shows ejaculation is what lowers cancer risk, whether that’s through “partnered sex, even wet dreams, or masturbation.” The theory is that “you’re kind of flushing out the system,” or getting rid of potentially problematic bacteria or toxins that can be cancer-causing, she says.
Both Milstein and Prause say that the research on prostate cancer has been mixed. A study published in 2016 found some factors, like the age range of study participants, could be complicating a clear verdict on whether ejaculation is linked to lower prostate cancer risk.
Satisfy a high sex drive
Due to men’s higher levels of testosterone — which contributes to libido — sex drive is typically higher in men than in women. Therefore, masturbation may be a great way for men in heterosexual relationships to manage their increased urges. Prause says some men say that they use masturbation as a means of reducing the sexual burden on their partners.
Negative side effects of masturbation
Of course, there are a few potential downsides to masturbation if you’re not being careful.
Sexually-transmitted diseases and infections
While masturbation is generally safer when it comes to spreading sexually-transmitted infection, there is still a risk. When sharing toys, opt for hard, non-porous materials to make cleaning easy. If your toy is porous, like a jelly dildo, Milstein says to use a condom, and then throw it out after each use as well as clean the toy.
Masturbation can occasionally have a negative effect on mental health. Sometimes, people feel guilty when they masturbate, which can prevent them from fully relaxing and enjoying the experience.
“It’s one of those things we need to start normalizing and having conversations about, especially with women,” says Milstein “I think we need to make space for that conversation. If it feels good for you, that’s the important part of it, and it’s not threatening your relationship.”
Some may see self-pleasure as a threat to their romantic relationship. However, Milstein says they shouldn’t let this be a downside. Rather, “masturbation is a valuable piece of what people can do to better their relationship with themselves, and enjoy sexual activity on their own, but also with their partners. I think it can help their relationship if there’s communication about what you find from it.”
Sexual pleasure is highly individualized. What pleasures you may be different from another. Masturbation is a healthy way to explore your unique sexual interests. And along the way, you may feel more relaxed, less stressed, and improve your sex life.
“The more we can encourage people to get to know their own bodies, the more they can communicate [what feels good] to their partners,” says Milstein.
If you’re having trouble orgasming — whether through masturbation or sex — you may want to consider seeking medical advice. A sex therapist can help you explore the cause.
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