7 Health Benefits of Masturbation and Why You Should Do It Often
We’re seeing a phenomenal shift in the way people are reassessing their own personal health and well-being over the past few years. From CBD oils and plant-based diets going mainstream to wellness-focused vacations and corporate yoga taking centre stage, it seems many people are putting themselves first for a change.
But there’s still one topic that remains taboo — the normal, very enjoyable and very healthy ultimate “self-love” experience of masturbation.
What people don’t realize is that as much as it feels good, the health benefits of masturbation, especially among women, are actually astounding. Studies have shown that masturbating regularly can relieve stress and anxiety, allow you sleep better, improve circulation to the pelvic region, help flush the cervix and prevent infections, and even reduce menstrual cramps and other pain. Not only are the physical health benefits there, but the emotional and mental health benefits are also things more people, those single and those in relationships, should take note of.
So why are so many women still keeping silent about self-pleasure?
Jess O’Reilly, Toronto-based sexologist (PhD) and host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast, touches on the pained history of self-pleasure and the ongoing issues women still face to this day, dating back from the Victorian era.
“Women’s sexual pleasure is an act of defiance in a culture that continues to frame women’s bodies as objects of desire and pleasure beneath and for the male gaze,” O’Reilly mentions. “Masturbation is the ultimate taboo, as it allows a woman to take pleasure in her own hands — figuratively and literally. Though some groups (e.g. young, straight, white, skinny women) have the privilege to reclaim some degree of sexual pleasure, others (e.g. queer women, WOC – [women of colour], older women, women living with disabilities) continue to be forced to the margins with sexuality rendered invisible, comical or commoditized.”
We still have a long way to go to change people’s minds about masturbation. The first step is to show just how beneficial it is to do the deed and to recognize that it’s all part of a healthy, happy lifestyle. Here are 7 reasons why masturbation is good for your health.
Mental Health Benefits of Masturbation
1. Your brain lights up… in a good way
First things first: here’s what happens to your brain during an orgasm.
From buildup to peak orgasm, the hippocampus, amygdala, cerebellum and hypothalamus all work together to get you there. At first touch, the brain’s genital sensory cortex region fires up, according to this study, in which women masturbated in an MRI machine. Continued stimulation stokes your hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for dreamlike memories and fantasies, as well as the amygdala, which is associated with high emotions and intense feelings.
Right before orgasm, activity in your cerebellum is steadily increasing, triggering muscle tension in your thighs, butt and abs, as the frontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex and insula turn on, allowing you to feel pleasure. Finally, the hypothalamus releases oxytocin, sometimes known as the “love hormone,” as the nucleus accumbens gets a flood of dopamine — the feel-good grand finale of brain responses.
Why is this all a good thing? For starters, the imagination centre of your brain gets a bit of a workout, especially during solo masturbation. In masturbation, the female’s brain’s prefrontal cortex (a region of the brain associated with creative thinking), also lights up — with partner sex, on the other hand, certain elements of it actually turns off. Basically, giving yourself an orgasm could give your brain a better workout than doing a crossword puzzle or Sudoku.
2. It improves your mood
Masturbation instantly releases all those feel-good endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, for that sense of euphoria — induced by you and you alone! And many studies have shown that women who report personal satisfaction with their sex lives live a better, happier quality of life overall.
Although these natural “happiness hormones” like serotonin, which is used in antidepressant medicine, may help relieve depressive feelings, O’Reilly reminds us to be cautious not to overstate the causal link between masturbation and lower levels of depression and anxiety. “However, as masturbation can result in a flurry of feel-good chemicals in the body and produce pleasurable sensations, it’s possible that it could elevate mood and be associated with positive mental health outcomes,” she adds.
3. Masturbation can be part of your mindfulness practice
Ever heard of “mindful masturbation”? It’s basically what it sounds like: embracing a level of focus and awareness while you pleasuring yourself. A recent BuzzFeed article entitled 9 Masturbation Tips That Are Basically Self-Care introduces this idea well. “Mindful masturbation is designed to increase your understanding of your body, discover new feelings, and help you explore new ways of pleasuring yourself," says Daniel Saynt, in the article. Saynt is the founder of The New Society for Wellness (NSFW), a sex-positive club based in New York City that hosts exclusive sexual education workshops and sexual wellness “adventures.”
“The ‘goal’ is to be able to say, ‘I really know my body. I know what toys and touches I like. I’ve spent this time with it. I’ve pleased myself,'" he continues in the BuzzFeed piece.
O’Reilly also advocates masturbation as part of your mindfulness practice — and mindfulness has been associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety, similar to the benefits of meditation.
In fact, O’Reilly has an entire online course on Mindful Sex, but you can begin with a few exercises that she recommends:
Jess O’Reilly’s ‘Mindful Sex’ Exercises
Wave breathing: Visualize yourself lying on a beach; with each inhale allow the waves to roll over your body and with each exhale allow the waves to retreat and roll back out to the ocean.
Cloud breathing: Visualize yourself inside a warm fluffy cloud; with each inhale, allow the cloud to tighten over your body providing warmth and comfort and with each exhale allow the cloud to expand into the blue sky.
Deep, relaxed breathing can heighten your reaction and encourage your body and mind to experience the pleasure of massage with a genuine degree of presence. Whether you are giving or receiving, your breath impacts your interpretation of sensations and helps to put your mind into a state conducive to experiencing pleasure. Intrusive thoughts can also often be dismissed through conscious breathing involving a focus on our inhalations and exhalations.
Breathing is elemental to activating the relaxation response, which is a positive physical state of deep rest considered the opposite of our stress-induced flight or fight response. Harvard physician Herbert Benson’s research suggests that this response gives rise to a sense of calm, pleasure, refreshment, and overall well-being as your blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones decrease. As your mind is cleared of clutter and your levels of anxiety and stress plummet, your body becomes primed to respond to physical and sexual stimuli.
To help prepare your body for relaxed, conscious breathing and encourage a state of physical tranquility, lie in a comfortable position with one hand on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose allowing your hand to rise as your belly fills up with air. Exhale through your mouth allowing your natural sounds to emanate effortlessly. After a few minutes, perform a mental scan of your body beginning at your toes and working your way up to your scalp to intentionally relax each muscle as much as possible. You may want to try the tense-and-release method of progressive relaxation or simply visualize each body part falling into a heavy state of serenity. If you find that the massage becomes arousing, embrace the pleasure, but stay focused on your breathing maintaining a steady rhythm and profound depth.
If your anxiety is related to intrusive thoughts, visualize putting your intrusive thought in a box and shelving it away. You can get to it later. If your mind wanders back to it, don’t fret (go easy on yourself!). Simply remind yourself that you can take care of it tomorrow, as it’s shelved away for the time being so that you can enjoy your time with yourself and/or your partner.
It’s important to note that it’s often easier to develop a skill (like mindfulness for presence) outside of the bedroom first; once you’ve practiced it and it becomes easier, you’ll find that it translates in the bedroom as well. So you may not visualize waves as you breath during sex, but as you become more comfortable being present and in your body, you’ll likely find that feeling in the moment comes more easily during sexual activity — and your anxiety may dissipate.
Physical Health Benefits of Masturbation
4. It can actually improve your skin
Studies show that, for women, masturbation keeps tissues in the vagina elastic and healthy, plus it increases blood flow. But did you know it may actually help to improve your skin?
“Researchers believe that these beauty benefits are triggered by increased levels of DHEA,” O’Reilly says. “One study by neuropsychologist Dr. David Weeks found that those who reported having sex an average of four times per week looked approximately 10 years younger than their actual age.”
But if masturbation feels good, it can also improve your mood which can reduce stress and improve the look and feel of your skin, she adds. And if masturbation helps you to get a good night’s sleep (this is associated with the spike in oxytocin at peak arousal), you may also reap the beauty benefits of resting and allowing your body to regenerate while you sleep.
Which leads us to the next physical health benefit of masturbation…
5. It helps you sleep better
Can’t sleep? Masturbate. It’s been proven time and again to help prevent insomnia through hormonal release. After orgasm, the oxytocin and endorphins that are released have a naturally calming effect, relieving tension, reducing stress and allowing you to fall asleep quicker.
6. Masturbation can help reduce menstrual cramps and other pain
Masturbating on the regular may actually help you become much less sensitive to pain — that includes menstrual cramps.
“The hormonal changes in the body that accompany arousal and orgasm result in endorphin release that can help soothe headaches, cramps and other body aches,” says O’Reilly. “Research suggests that the spike in oxytocin right before orgasm can have a palliative effect and cause pain thresholds to double. The contractions of orgasm may also help to soothe cramps associated with menstruation.”
In another now-famous 1985 study from Rutgers University, women who masturbated to orgasm became much more capable of dealing with pain as well as detecting it. Pain tolerance increased by 74.6% and their ability to detect pain increased by 106.7%, according to the study. No need for Midol when you got masturbation.
Emotional Health Benefits of Masturbation
7. It helps promote self-love and improves our self-esteem
At the end of the day, isn’t this what it’s all about? Masturbation should never be considered a dirty or shameful thing, when in fact, it actually allows us to build healthier connections with ourselves and our bodies. Self-pleasure allows us to embrace every inch of ourselves, mentally and physically, through exploration, imagination and finding that elusive “me” time. You yourself can learn exactly what feels good and in turn, enrich your own sex life with your partners since you know what you want and how to communicate it.
“Masturbation is correlated with positive body image and self-esteem, so even if it doesn’t change your body, it can change the way you feel about your body,” O’Reilly adds. “When your body performs for you (through dance, sport or sex), you often feel more comfortable in your own skin; and when you’re comfortable in your skin, sex is hotter — for you and your partner(s).”
Many are quick to adopt new wellness fads that may be more harmful than helpful (jade eggs, anyone?). But masturbation isn’t anything new — it’s just misunderstood. It’s time we put this taboo of women and masturbation to bed and open ourselves up to discussing its immense health benefits and self-love power.
~The Vitarock Team