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Give yourself a hand: the health benefits of masturbation

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Masturbation, the act of stimulating your own genitals for pleasure, is a normal and healthy part of a person’s sexual experience and a great way to discover what you’re comfortable with. The best part is, it’s for everyone.

Some people enjoy masturbating regularly, where others prefer to not at all. Both are totally okay! Regardless of your relationship status, age, sexuality, or gender identity, it’s a healthy way to learn more about your body with many surprising health benefits.

Read on to discover the benefits of safe self-pleasure for all, and how to continue healthy conversations on this topic.

The health benefits:

Masturbation releases endorphins that influence mental wellbeing1

Masturbation, and often consequently orgasm, releases endorphins—hormones which create feelings of pleasure and wellbeing. Endorphins are known to control our response to stress, and ultimately work to improve our mood and calm us down.

Orgasms may help reduce menstrual cramping and speed up childbirth2, 3

During orgasm in women, trans and gender-diverse people, the uterus contracts and relaxes whilst releasing endorphins and our love hormone, oxytocin. Both hormones relax the body and can make you feel happier and less stressed, which can have an especially positive effect during menstruation. Oxytocin can act as a natural painkiller, which some find assists in reducing menstrual cramping.

Fun fact: some specialists recommend masturbation during labour4 – though it may be the last thing you feel like doing at the time! The release of oxytocin can make contractions progress faster during labour, whilst also promoting bonding with your newborn as it triggers nurturing behaviour.

Masturbation can help promote positive body image5

Several studies have found a correlation between masturbation and positive body image. In women particularly, those who masturbate more frequently become more able to associate pleasure with their bodily responses. In realising this, they may develop greater satisfaction with their body and have an improved sense of self.

The health benefits don’t stop here: masturbation has also been shown to promote better sleep, reduce stress and increase relaxation.

The sexual health benefits:

Masturbation is a form of safe sex

Of all sexual activities, masturbation is the safest. When masturbating solo, there’s absolutely no chance of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or becoming pregnant.

It helps you become familiar with your sexual responses

Masturbation can help individuals to realise what they enjoy and dislike, as well as form sexual boundaries for themselves. This may help people better communicate their wishes to their sexual partner/s in the future.

Associated stigmas:

Some people feel embarrassed about masturbation due to outdated myths.

In the past, masturbation has sometimes incorrectly been thought to be just for men, and blamed for causing health issues, perversions, reduced sexual function, infertility and more—none of which are true.6

It’s important to remember there is nothing shameful about having a relationship with your own body. No body part you have is “wrong”, and nothing your body does is abnormal.

For some who choose to masturbate, it is seen as an act of self-care, a time for learning and/or personal development.

A mother talks to her daughter about masturbation

Talking about masturbation with young people:

Unfortunately, masturbation and sexual activities can get a bad rap due to these myths and stigmas. Studies have found that young adults and teenagers seek sexual health information predominately through the Internet, for reasons of privacy and confidentiality.7

It’s important for us all to work towards normalising sex-positive messages about masturbation to reduce associated feelings of shame and fear in our youth.8 When approaching the subject as a parent, carer or teacher and communicating with young people, here are a few important things to remember when preparing yourself to have a conversation:

  • There is no “right age” or set time to discuss masturbation with children. Whilst some don’t explore it until their teen years, other children may begin touching their genitals as toddlers to self-soothe. If you haven’t noticed anything, it’s recommended to talk to them about self-pleasuring when they near puberty.
  • Rather than focusing on the activity, place a focus on the setting in which it occurs in. Remind your child that masturbation is fine if they are aware that it is a private activity which they should do in a private place.
  • Ensure your child copes with stress in a healthy way. People can turn to masturbation as a coping mechanism, which can affect their life and/or activities.
  • Remember that masturbation doesn’t always have to be viewed with a sexual lens. It’s a normal way for children and teenagers to explore their body and senses.

Consent

Where mutual masturbation occurs (masturbation with another or others), consent is required from all parties. Ask each other for permission, pay attention to changes in body language and remember that people can change their mind at any point.

Remember that masturbation is a form of sex. A person cannot have sex with or perform a sex act with someone who has not given their consent. To put it simply, it is illegal to have sex, or to continue to have sex with a person who changes their mind and no longer gives consent.

It is not uncommon for masturbation with a partner to lead to penetrative sex. Make sure you are staying safe by using protective contraception. You can get an STI through any form of unprotected sex; vaginal, anal, oral sex and use of sex toys.

Remember, it’s individual

Sexual pleasure is very individual and looks different for everyone. Remember that masturbation is a healthy and safe sexual activity that can make you feel relaxed, happier, and more comfortable within yourself.

If you have any questions or are unsure on how to discuss this topic with your children, please see your GP for professional and personalised advice.

For more information on sexual health

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Last updated: 2 November 2021