It doesn’t take much to convince someone masturbation has at least one upside: Experience one orgasm, and most people are likely to want another (and another, and another…). But while pleasure is arguably worth it strictly for its own sake, masturbation has a lot more to offer than toe-curling orgasms. Despite a cultural failure to take self-love seriously, it turns out that regularly getting it on solo can be good for our physical and mental health, our relationships, and our overall happiness.
Masturbation Nation—The Need-to-Know
According to , up to 95 percent of men and 89 to of women across the country report having masturbated (i.e., having touched one’s self for sexual pleasure), and 52 percent of women have used a vibrator . Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S., et al. Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009 Jul;6(7):1857-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01318.x. But while nearly equal rates of men and women get down with their own selves, it seems men do so . Forty-six percent of women report masturbating each year, while their male counterparts engage in regular monthly (or more frequent) masturbation sessions at rates nearly three times as high.
Even though nearly all American adults have rubbed one out at some point or another, cultural attitudes toward masturbation remain . A Google search for “psychological effects of masturbation” turns up 10 pages almost exclusively devoted to sources claiming that masturbation is a terrible sin and promising to help masturbators “cure” themselves. While these sources are hardly the only type of masturbation education out there, they represent a more general to take seriously masturbation’s role in sexual health.
Historically, masturbation as being both a sign and a cause of mental health issues. While modern cultural attitudes make masturbation slightly less taboo, Sexologist and Sexuality Educator often sees history repeating itself. “As children, many people were shamed or chastised when caught masturbating,” says Andelloux. “If they don’t get taught that sexuality and masturbation are common and can be healthy, then they can’t have those conversations with their own children down the line.” People may also be uncomfortable talking about masturbation because it’s a private, vulnerable activity, says Sex Therapist and Glamourgirlz Expert Ian Kerner.
Cultural discomfort with the topic of masturbation is further exacerbated by some , among them the (false) ideas that masturbation will stunt growth, cause blindness or deafness, cause stuttering, cause hair to grow on the palms, make a person “promiscuous,” and even kill people (If that were true, the world wouldn’t have a population problem).
In reality, so long as it doesn’t interfere with a person’s relationships or daily life (or cause serious chafing), , says Andelloux. More than that—it’s .
Masturbenefits—The Physical and Mental Health Perks
Masturbation may not help anyone develop hairier palms, but it does boast some legitimate health benefits. On a physical level, taking some “me” time is a great way to relieve sexual tension of pregnancy or contracting an STI. It can also improve sleep, , and . Ulrich-Lai, Y.M., Christiansen, A.M., Ostrander, M.M., et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2010 November 23; 107(47): 20529–20534. Frequent orgasms in general have been shown to lower blood pressure and , while vibrator use in particular can and is associated with practicing healthy behaviors (such as eating well and exercising) even outside the bedroom . Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S., et al. Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009 Jul;6(7):1857-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01318.x.+Epub+2009+May+7.
Masturbation can also give our relationships a boost. It often for the sexual health of a relationship by allowing individuals to get in touch with their own pleasure points and needs, which can improve communication between partners and .
Solo masturbation also has some big mental health payoffs. It’s even to increase women’s . (Unfortunately, little research exists about the relationship between men’s self-esteem and masturbation habits.) And according to Andelloux, “masturbation can be a self-soothing behavior that calms down our minds […] gets us in touch with our bodies, and gives us time to focus on ourselves instead of worrying about what others think.”
Kerner concurs. “In my experience, healthy, happy people—people in good relationships, people with good sex lives—masturbate. When people don’t, it might be a signal that something else is going on that might be unhealthy [such as stress, past trauma, or leading an unhealthy lifestyle]. In general, I tend to look at masturbation as a sign of health.”
Dancing With Yourself—Your Action Plan
While research on the health benefits of masturbation remains limited, the existing positive findings are a good reason to continue exploring the role it plays in sexual and overall health. In the meantime, take matters into your own hands with the action plan below.
1. Pick the Right Time
Make sure you can and won’t be rushed at any point in the process by a roommate returning home, needing to leave for work or an appointment, etc.
2. Pick the Right Place
Choose a location that is both . Worrying about whether someone’s going to walk in on you will definitely make it harder to enjoy the moment.
3. Set the Mood
Dim the lights, light candles, put on some music—whatever you need to do to and present. Most importantly, commit to for yourself.
4. Consume Some Media (optional)
Literary erotica or porn can , but they’re certainly not a requirement for a satisfying experience—the imagination can prove just as powerful of a stimulant.
5. Start by Simply Being Naked
Take a moment to gaze at and appreciate your naked body, and with your own nudity. If you struggle with body image, it can be helpful to draw your attention to the things that you like most about your body.
6. Touch Yourself
Begin to explore your body with your hands (or a toy). Take the time to —different pressures, strokes, textures, etc. can all yield different sensations.
7. Don’t Fixate on Orgasm
No need to put pressure on yourself to “make it” to orgasm. There’s (and health benefits) to be had just from helping yourself feel good.
Thanks to and Glamourgirlz Expert Ian Kerner for their help with this article.