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Happy news! Masturbation actually has health benefits

Conduct an Internet search for “masturbation,” and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of slang phrases for the act. This proliferation of slang phrases suggests people want to talk about masturbation…

Masturbation a natural and normal part of healthy sexual development. Eileen McFall

Conduct an Internet search for “masturbation,” and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of slang phrases for the act.

This proliferation of slang phrases suggests people want to talk about masturbation, but are uncomfortable about doing so directly. Using comedic terms provides a more socially acceptable way to express themselves.

So before we talk any more about it, let’s normalise it a bit. Masturbation, or touching one’s own genitals for pleasure, is something that babies do from the time they are in the womb. It’s a natural and normal part of healthy sexual development.

According to a nationally representative US sample, 94% of men admit to masturbating, as do 85% of women. But societal perspectives of masturbation still vary greatly, and there’s even some stigma around engaging in the act.

Related to this stigma are the many myths about masturbation, myths so ridiculous it’s a wonder anyone believes them.

They include: masturbation causes blindness and insanity; masturbation can make sexual organs fall off; and masturbation causes infertility.

In actual fact, masturbation has many health benefits.

Good for you

For women, masturbation can help prevent cervical infections and urinary tract infections through the process of “tenting,” or the opening of the cervix that occurs as part of the arousal process.

Tenting stretches the cervix, and thus the cervical mucous. This enables fluid circulation, allowing cervical fluids full of bacteria to be flushed out.

Masturbation can lower risk of type-2 diabetes (though this association may also be explained by greater overall health), reduce insomnia through hormonal and tension release, and increase pelvic floor strength through the contractions that happen during orgasm.

For men, masturbation helps reduce risk of prostate cancer, probably by giving the prostate a chance to flush out potential cancer-causing agents.

Masturbation also improves immune functioning by increasing cortisol levels, which can regulate immune functioning in small doses. It also reduces depression by increasing the amount of endorphins in the bloodstream.

Masturbation can also indirectly prevent infertility by protecting people from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can lead to infertility – you can’t give yourself one of these infections!

There is one final benefit to masturbation: it’s the most convenient method for maximising orgasms.

And there are plenty of additional benefits from orgasms generally, including reduced stress, reduced blood pressure, increased self-esteem, and reduced pain.

Good for your partner too

From a sexual health point of view, masturbation is one of the safest sexual behaviours. There’s no risk of pregnancy or transmission of sexually transmitted infections; there’s no risk of disappointing a partner or of performance anxiety; and there’s no emotional baggage.

And, only an arm’s length away, is mutual masturbation. Mutual masturbation (two partners who are pleasuring themselves in the company of the other) is a great (and safe) activity to incorporate into other partnered sexual activities.

It can be especially good to begin to learn more about what your partner likes and to demonstrate to your partner what you like. Open communication with a partner will improve your sex life and relationship, but is also important for modelling communication skills for younger generations.

Talking about masturbation also has benefits. Promoting sex-positive views in our own homes and in society, including around masturbation, allows us to teach young people healthy behaviours and attitudes without stigma and shame.

Parents and guardians who feel embarrassed or need extra guidance to do this should seek out sex-positive sources of information, like ones from respected universities.

Join the conversation

56 Comments sorted by

  1. Robert Darby

    logged in via Facebook

    The mere fact that puritanical Victorians regarded masturbation as physically destructive and morally impermissible should be sufficient reason in itself to assume, or at least hypothesise, the reverse: an activity that most people take up spontaneously is more likely to be beneficial than harmful. But the news took a long time to reach some people: as late as the mid-1960s some teachers at boys’ schools (e.g. my own) were solemnly warning their 12-13 year olds that masturbation caused blindness…

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  2. Mike Swinbourne

    logged in via Facebook

    Looks like I am in for a long and healthy life then.

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  3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

    Just to prove how much stigma is still associated with masturbation, look at Google.

    When you start typing a word into its search engine it provides a list of complete words - eg if you enter "stig" then the first suggestion is 'stigma'.

    But slowly type 'masturbation' into google and you will see that google never suggests 'masturbate' or 'masturbation', and that you can only search on this term by typing the whole word and then clicking enter.

    As Woody Allen said - “Don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone you love.”

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    1. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Why is masturbation attacked because sex sells. Basically modern mass media sustain a pretty solid 24/7 attack on masturbation as you are not buying and they use sex to sell everything from cars to cigarettes from holidays to alcohol.
      You masturbate and you are deny commercial advertising their most effective means of manipulating you and your choices. Which is also why they bend the rules by targeting children with sexual ideas as early as possible of course excluding masturbation whilst pushing them into sexual motivated purchases.
      Masturbation is genuinely a threat to a whole range of industries and the ability for them to manipulate people into buying their product. Now that is really whacked.

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    2. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Robert Tony Brklje

      I write about a sexual technique which leads to greater intimacy and connection in sex.

      My introduction page says:
      "Modern society encourages us to spend our time either making or spending money. No-one makes money while you spend time enjoying and enhancing your intimate life. This is one reason why life-enhancing techniques such as Devotional Sex do not get much publicity.

      For me the time and energy I spend living Devotional Sex is a very good investment. Without earning or spending money, my life has become far richer."

      As well as the commercial world being against us enjoy sex (including masterbation) when this is done without spending money we also have the churches and 'moralizers' who lobby against the joys of sexual activity.

      As you say, the world really is whacked.

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  4. Yuri Pannikin

    Director

    And here I am thinking that's what a 'selfie' is . . . no wonder it's taken off!

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    1. Anthony Santella

      Lecturer of HIV, STIs and Sexual Health at University of Sydney

      In reply to Claudia Gomez

      Thanks for sharing! We actually wrote this article more than a month ago, but it took some time to get it up on the website. Great minds must think alike!

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    2. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Claudia Gomez

      The need for both these articles is shown by the many anti-masturbation comments posted here.

      Though no-one has posted that masturbation makes you go blind it is clear that some still think that this practice will destroy marriage and civilised life as we know it.

      Imagine being the child of some of these conservative commenters!

      And note that some of this anti-masturbation campaign is organised - "Chris Lyte" and "Gabe Deem" have posted almost exactly the same long post with slight changes to the start and end.

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    3. Gabe Deem

      logged in via email @yahoo.com

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      lol I copied it and made slight changes, I don't think an agreement equals "organized". It pointed out so many flaws with this article, did you read that whole post Michael?!

      The fact is, this article takes facts about sex and applies them to masturbation.

      For instance, it trys to use a benifit of orgasm "increased self esteem" and apply it to masturbation. LOL Yea, jacking off with your pants around your ankles into a tissue really gives the ol' self esteem a boost.

      The real problem, is the fact that todays youth masturbate (almost always) with Internet porn or sex toys.

      These overstimulate us and are causing sexual dysfunctions.

      The "blind" myths are stupid indeed. If you were my child I would love you unconditionally, and advise you to stay away from porn, get a loving partner and have great, awesome sex, and a lot of it.

      Warning people of the harm a practice can cause and pointing out flaws of a misleading article, is not conservative, it is informative.

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    4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Gabe Deem

      Posting under two different names - is either real? - is not allowed.

      I did read one of your posts, and found it all highly selective and very biased against masturbation. It is clear to me that you have a moral objection and just went looking for every stone you could find to throw at the article.

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    5. Gabe Deem

      logged in via email @yahoo.com

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      huh? Gabe is my name, just me.

      "I did read one of your posts, and found it all highly selective and very biased against masturbation."

      Because I spent my youth masturbating, and ended up with porn induced Erectile Dysfunction at the ripe age of 23, so I have a problem when articles come out about how "healthy" masturbation is, when nothing is said about the fact that masturbation today is used hand in hand (pun inteded) with internet porn and sex toys.

      I also have a problem when an article…

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    6. Gabe Deem

      logged in via email @yahoo.com

      In reply to Gabe Deem

      Actually, I take the stoned comment back, I apologize to Spring and Anthony, as I know it is tuff being educated through school about how awesome masturbation is and being uneducated about the harm masturbating to internet porn is causing.

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  5. John Crest

    logged in via email @live.com.au

    No one has believed any of the "myths" for the last 50 years - if they even did then.

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    1. Robert Darby

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Crest

      Unfortunately that is not true, at least not in the Islamic world, where clerics (and some doctors) are entirely Victorian in their convictions, as outlined in this article from the Guardian (2006):

      Masturbation is generally frowned upon by Islamic scholars, though they disagree about how sinful it is. The Inter-Islam website describes it as an indecent practice that has "crept into the youngsters of today". Masturbation has become prevalent, the website says, because of the modern tendency for…

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  6. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer

    But you must have guilt -- otherwise, where does that leave the Church?

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  7. Yoshua Wakeham

    Science Student

    I agree that we should strive to talk more, and more positively, about masturbation. More pernicious than the blindness or infertility myths (which are pretty obviously false) is the underlying notion that masturbation is something shameful or even immoral. These ideas should be discussed – and hopefully thereby exploded.

    What this article fails to mention, though, is the link between masturbation and porn use (particularly for men). Putting the ethics aside for now, high levels of porn use and associated masturbation – at least for men – does seem to be at least anecdotally connected to mental health problems, social anxiety, and even erectile dysfunction.

    See http://www.yourbrainonporn.com for more info. There's not a lot of hard science in this area yet, unfortunately, and that's a valid criticism of this line of thinking. But we shouldn't be too quick to say there are no health risks associated with high levels of porn use and accompanying masturbation.

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    1. Virgil Starkwell

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Yoshua Wakeham

      Isn't this a comment about porn rather than masturbation? Or has masturbation coincidentally only become dangerous since the advent of widespread access to the Internet?

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    2. Yoshua Wakeham

      Science Student

      In reply to Virgil Starkwell

      I don't know that the two subjects can or should be treated separately, at least in the case of young men.

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    3. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Yoshua Wakeham

      I'm a neuroscientist. I've looked over that website and the author's TED talk, and all I will say is you should take everything on there with a large grain of salt. There's wild extrapolations to what will happen if you, as a human, watch porn, on the basis of slim experimental vidence and cross-species comparisons (i.e. at one point he's talking about male goats being given the choice of multiple females to mate with, then jumps straight to what this means for human males watching porn). Frankly…

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    4. Gabe Deem

      logged in via email @yahoo.com

      In reply to Chris Booker

      "There's wild extrapolations to what will happen if you, as a human, watch porn, on the basis of slim experimental vidence and cross-species comparisons "...

      Actually, tons of "experts are agreeing with Gary. Cambridge University came out with a study showing sensitization in guys brains who claimed to be porn addicts.
      -http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/pornography-addiction-leads-to-same-brain-activity-as-alcoholism-or-drug-abuse-study-shows-8832708.html

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  8. Andy Cameron

    Care giver

    "Parents and guardians who feel embarrassed or need extra guidance to do this should seek out sex-positive sources of information, like ones from respected universities."
    Is this for real!?

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    1. Anthony Santella

      Lecturer of HIV, STIs and Sexual Health at University of Sydney

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy, yes it's "for real"! We are certainly not suggesting that universities are the only credible source of knowledge, however, some people; especially some parents; may need access to information.

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  9. Rene Oldenburger

    Haven't got one

    To prevent prostate cancer - have a wank a day - should be put on all the brochures

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    1. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Anthony Santella

      Cant see any problem doing it actually, perhaps change the wording a bit. And having an apple a day while we're at it

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  10. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    The article says “Happy news! Masturbation actually has health benefits.”

    Now I would question this.

    Masturbation is a substitute, but in a feminist type society, masturbation may become the only form of sexuality someone experiences.

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    1. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      "but in a feminist type society," - any chance to hate on the empowerment of women aye gerald

      I know, it's frustrating, they think for themselves, earn their own money and don't NEED us anymore - it's almost like we have to become desirable somehow, like stop sitting on the couch all day, what a crazy world, damn feminists

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  11. Sue Ieraci

    Public hospital clinician

    I'm not sure if I've missed something here, but is the author really talking about masturbation, or about experiencing arousal or orgasm in general?

    Vaginal ''tenting'' and lubrication are features of sexual arousal - not specifically masturbation. Similarly, ejaculation, ''giving the prostate a chance to flush out'' is a feature of male orgasm - not just from masturbation.

    The article implies that there is something specific about masturbation that is distinct from other stimuli for arousal. I don't see any evidence that this is so.

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    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Well you must admit, that at least you can trust your partner to tell you the truth! No need for health checks beforehand. No messy emotional entanglements. No regrets in the morning.
      No need for contraception.

      As they say, if a cucumber would take out the rubbish for you, there woud be no need for men :-)

      (Sorry, Men. Actually I thnk most of you blokes are pretty nice :-) No more cucumber than I am cabbage looking :-)

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Your denigrating comment about men is fully acceptable in a feminist type society.

      No need to excuse it or apologise.

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    3. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Oh, Diddums,

      We girls were making these sorts of comments about boys long before feminism reared its ugly head.
      (Actually I think in the old days, the jokes were much crueller! We just didn't tell them in mixed company :-)

      Just think of it as the female equivalent of males' 'blonde jokes'.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      As a man, I attempt to be observant and far sighted, and I have noticed the gradual lack of respect for men, and a gradual devaluing of men that seems to characterise a feminist type of society.

      Within that type of society, there is a danger that women will be told to believe that masturbation is HEALTHY.

      And next they will be told to believe that masturbation is BETTER than a sexual relationship with a man.

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    5. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      oh, dear.

      Men it seems do NOT beleve that what is sauce for the goose is sayce for the gander!

      Just look back at the comic strips and "jokes" of the 1950s and 1960s and see just how ANTI-female they were.

      And, try thinking of yourself as a female when you evaluate a joke and you will see that even today, it is dominantly females who are put down in jokes that are considered 'polite'.
      And Yee-ha! That's not considering the jokes that are not considered suitable for mixed society! Sheesh!

      You people sound much like my B-I-L who is SO upset be advertisements now 'putting men down. But doesn't seem to mind those that put women down.

      Just learn to live with it fellas! If you cannot make a joke of life then the only thing left is despair!

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    6. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      > . . . And next they will be told to believe that masturbation is BETTER than a sexual relationship with a man. . . .>

      And whether or not THAT is the case, is entirely dependent on the man in question :-)

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    7. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      ".....As they say, if a cucumber would take out the rubbish for you, there woud be no need for men :-)...."

      And if sheep could cook and iron, there would be no need for women.

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    8. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Rather funny, perhaps women can take up vaginal knitting, which apparently exists

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    9. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      And since 'touche' is French for 'to touch', I will take that for a brilliant pun Evelyn.

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    10. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Dagwood comics frequently showed Dagwood being hit by his wife with a roiling pin.

      Female comedy is usually extremely narrow and limited to 1/ women making jokes about men, 2/ women making jokes about their own bodies, and 3/ women making jokes about their own mothers

      But back to the topic, and in a feminist type society where over 25% of houses have only one person in them, and depression and loneliness is becoming a very large problem, I am concerned about alienation of the genders, and possible suggestions from feminists that women should attempt to live without men.

      But not to worry, your attempt at a joke about men was ….normal female comedy.

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    11. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      So. You don't see THAT as anti-feminist?

      Portraying women as harridans who hit an honest bloke over the head? When reality would have men coming home drunk and beating up the wife!

      I don't know what female jokes you have heard -- but do NOT mistake Ellen de Generes and her ilk as 'female'.

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  12. Evelyn Haskins

    retired

    Hands up those who attended the Mass Debate in the Great Hall of Sydney Uni in 1963 (or was it 1962?)

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      No, but I have to admit to having used the Mass Debater line against an opponent during a debate at a conference some years ago.

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  13. Stephen Nicholson

    Town Planner

    On the other hand (oops) focussing on self-pleasure trains the brain to focus on self-pleasure. Not helpful in a healthy relationship which should be focussed on giving pleasure to your partner. Nor helpful for a future relationship.
    Perhaps we have become a bit too focussed on our immediate pleasure (sexual or otherwise). The temporary high from masturbation can't provide the richness and joys of a committed relationship, where you mutually share giving and receiving pleasure with another person. And getting that relationship is more about becoming a person worth being in relationship with, and less about finding the right person. (The same as you find happiness by fully engaging in a generous life, rather than thinking you can buy or create happiness.)
    If you want to get health benefits from anything, remember to keep it in moderation!

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    1. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to Stephen Nicholson

      We are all assuming here that relationships are compulsory and/or desirable i.e., that the right person will come along some day "some day he'll/she'll come along, the man/woman I love" blah blah.

      This post also assumes that relationships are good for everyone and that without a partner one is not worthy of receiving pleasure from another - "becoming a person worth being in relationship with".

      Relationships - professional, intellectual, sexual and/or social are beneficial and choosing to become auto-sexual is a valid choice.

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  14. Chris Lyte

    nurse

    Masturbation is an interesting, important topic, and it merits a journalistic team that is objective and portrays an accurate picture. Alas, this one has not done its homework because the news about masturbation is not all good, yet one is left with that distinct impression after reading this article. Let's take the article's claims one at a time:

    1) "For women, masturbation can help prevent cervical infections and urinary tract infections through the process of "tenting," or the opening of the…

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  15. Gabe Deem

    logged in via email @yahoo.com

    So many things wrong with this article, it is sad that some people will read it and keep jacking their way to sexual dysfunctions, or never develop the discipline to go out and find a loving partner.

    1) For women, masturbation can help prevent cervical infections and urinary tract infections through the process of "tenting," or the opening of the cervix that occurs as part of the arousal process.

    This links right back to this very same article. No citation.

    2) Masturbation can lower…

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    1. mark mc dougall

      educator

      In reply to Gabe Deem

      The new direction in The Conversation - Opinion shouts louder than Science.
      Such supposed wisdom from people who havent experienced enough of life to know where they are heading. Such is the prerogative of Youth. Let them get through their midlife crisis, see if their lives are fruitful...till then its spin - reckless.

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