Rethinking the Wonders of Adult Masturbation

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Mainstream masturbation advice

How much masturbation is right for you? Consider the facts and make your own experiment.

Have you been taught that adult masturbation is so healthy that it's practically a tonic, that all orgasms are equally beneficial, that there's no such thing as too much ejaculation, and that there are dire consequences from not masturbating very frequently?

If so, you'll be stunned to learn that these widespread beliefs rest on little more than hearsay, and are not supported by recent science. In fact, a growing body of research is undermining them. Researcher Rui Miguel Costa recently summed up the current research (reported below) in the Archives of Sexual Behavior: "Masturbation is Related to Psychopathology and Prostate Dysfunction."

Solid information about masturbation is particularly important today. With the advent of highspeed and endless erotic novelty-at-a-click, it's easy for users to override the body's signals that it has had enough. Moreover, for today's twenty-somethings masturbation and Internet porn use are pretty much synonymous, so if masturbation's "good for you," then using Internet porn to masturbate even more frequently will keep you extra healthy. Youthful logic at its best!

This is not to say that anyone should feel bad about engaging in solo sex. It's just to say that you might see benefits from rechanneling your sexual desire. Meanwhile, here's the skinny on five popular masturbation myths:

Myth # 1 - "You can't cut back on masturbation without harming yourself"

Thousands of guys (and even some gals) are discovering that cutting out masturbation to porn, and temporarily abstaining from/drastically reducing masturbation are actually resulting in the opposite of harm or repressed sexual response—namely, surprising benefits.

You can find their reports on forums like this one, which poses a 90-day challenge. Here are 3 self-reports from other sites (more self-reports):

I'm a 20-something year old guy and ... I've been neglecting a lot of relationships as a result of [porn use]; I've been easily irritated, overly critical, shy and insecure - the list goes on. I  abstained from porn/masturbation last summer without knowing I actually had a problem on my hands (pun intended) but MAN did I feel a difference! I became more aware, happier, more social, optimistic and stable. My experience was reeking of what I can only describe as a powerful masculinity and inner calmness; it was what life should be. I was extremely witty, outgoing, hyperactive and creative. Today (before quitting) I am somewhat insecure, shy, approval seeking, and nowhere near emotionally independent.

I am 21 years old, and I feel like I have a lot of things to make up for all of these last few mostly unproductive years. To say I become spineless if I indulge in PMO is seriously an understatement. I just become too emotional, no confidence, no clarity, can't think straight. And I seriously have gone YEARS living like this. Now I am controlled, stable, focused, super confident, and have a very sharp mind. And this is only 22 days. When you save your energy up, you get that unconquerable will where what would have been huge walls in your past become little knee-high fences you just have to step over.

The other day, I found different report cards and teacher evals from before I started chronically masturbating and after. There was a noticeable difference in both my performance (no pun intended) and in the way my teachers evaluated me. My academics were clearly stronger before I started whacking it several times a day. Yes, it could be a coincidence but I honestly do not think so after noticing how much more productive and focused I am when I lay off for a short while.

Myth # 2 - "There's no such thing as too much masturbation"

Guys are reporting that too much masturbation is definitely possible with today's highspeed porn. Here are some indications (taken from self-reports of heavy Internet porn users):

  • Masturbation to the point of dry ejaculation or painful climaxes
  • Sores, blisters, swelling, bruise marks or calluses on one's genitals from too much friction
  • Loss of ability to "feel" intercourse or oral sex
  • Loss of interest in real sex with real partners, uncharacteristic sexual tastes
  • Edging for hours to defer climax, often because it is becoming less pleasurable
  • Other chronic addiction-related symptoms, such as uncharacteristic social anxiety, brain fog, depression, youthful sexual performance problems, and severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop, etc.

Why has our culture not investigated the possibility of too much masturbation? Probably becauseuntil quite recentlyfew people slammed into the wall of excessive masturbation. They quit when they'd had enough.

The culprit today is effortless access to ever-novel sexual stimuli hot enough to override our innate sexual satiety, and even throw some brains into addiction. This is such a new phenomenon that research hasn't caught up with reality. Many stories are heart-rending, and the role of highspeed evident:

I was a bodybuilder. I went from 220 to 180, even WITH exercising and eating lots of organic food and excess calories. I was wasting away to nothing. I started getting all these weird irrational fears around people. I felt shaky and weak. My voice is more hollow, if that makes sense. I lost myself. I was depressed constantly. I stopped leaving my house; my friends slowly faded. So I'm now a skinny socially awkward pale weirdo, lol, where I used to be the King of my campus... wtf! I didn't change ANY OTHER VARIABLE IN MY LIFE except for getting addicted to pornography and fapping more often. That's it. I was still thinking positively, going out to bars, eating healthy, exercising, all that jazz. The ONLY thing that increased was my love affair with the fake girls on the blaring pixelated screen. I seriously feel like I can't concentrate or comprehend much after a binge, some days I'm literally bed-ridden because my eyestrain is so bad....

Consider this guy's poor co-worker:

A few months ago the company handed out new smart phones for navigation to employees who did not already have one. It was only a matter of time before my co-worker discovered the magical world of porn. The other day he was driving down the road in a company car and masturbating on the highway WITH another coworker in the car. It's also destroying his relationship with his wife because he would rather go home and jack-off to porn than have sex.

Limitations are natural in all other physiological activities, whether drinking water, eating, exercise, time in the sun, weight-lifting, staying awake or staying in bed. Moreover, other mammals have limits on their sexual activity. For example, if rats ejaculate before they have recovered from sexual satiety, they show marked symptoms. Humans also have limits. Compared with other species, for example, viable human sperm is somewhat easily depleted.

For now, however, the belief that self-pleasuring is unbound by the rule of moderation remains firmly entrenched. This assumption may arise in part because, as people slip into addiction (thanks to the supernormal stimulation of highspeed porn), they mistake inflamed cravings for a monster libido. A 30-year old said,

I really empathize with the younger guys who started on highspeed from the onset of puberty. It's kind of like shooting heroin before you've even had your first beer.

No amount of climax or edging will satisfy an addicted brain, so those who get hooked feel like they never have enough. Also, when guys who are severely addicted quit, they often experience a temporary, but alarming, drop in libido and penile sensitivity—not to mention other agonizing withdrawal symptoms—which can drive them right back to highspeed porn in a panic, and deeper into their addiction.

Myth # 3 - "Orgasm is orgasm"

Since the time of Kinsey it has been asserted, but never supported by evidence, that all sexual behavior is equivalent. That has been more an assertion of ideology than fact. —Stuart Brody, research psychologist

Intercourse (PVI) is related to better psychological and physical health, better sexual function and better intimate relationship quality—compared with both masturbation and other partnered sexual behaviors. Said one woman:

I did not have morning depression after orgasm during the decade I was having orgasms with my husband. All the affection that filled our lovemaking smoothed out and covered up the negative effect orgasm seems to have on me as a widow. Climaxing with a loved one is very different from climaxing with empty lips and vagina.

As explained in The Lazy Way to Stay in Love, certain behaviors register with a primitive part of the brain as attachment cues. Such cues bond humans because they soothe the brain's defensiveness by releasing oxytocin in the amygdala. They are a natural anti-anxiety mechanism. Regular warm touch, for example, has been shown to reduce blood pressure, especially in men.

Does affectionate intercourse register as an attachment cue in a way that solo sex does not? Certainly differences show up even in the hormonal signature of the two activities. For example, intercourse with climax releases four times the prolactin of masturbation, helping to put the brakes on sexual desire for a time. In other words, climaxes obtained by different means are not interchangeable in terms of effects.

It makes perfect sense that intercourse offers greater physiological and psychological rewards than other jollies because evolution favors behaviors that can propel genes into the future. An exchange of affectionate touch probably registers as rewarding precisely because it helps bond parentsand offspring with two devoted caregivers have better survival odds.

Solo sexMoreover, as Brody and others have pointed out, evolution would select for psychobiological mechanisms that reward PVIbecause incentives to masturbate instead entail fitness costs. Indeed, today's supernormal sexual stimuli appear more than capable of enticing some users away from the benefits of PVI (and genetic immortality).

Obviously, masturbation today is not uncommon among those also having intercourse, but interestingly, even then, masturbation is not icing on the cake. In fact, greater masturbation frequency is associated with dissatisfaction about several aspects of life independently of PVI frequency, and even seems to diminish some benefits of PVI.

If you can, compare intercourse and masturbation yourself and see what you observe over the days following.

Myth # 4 - "Frequent masturbation benefits your sex life"

Did you know that greater masturbation frequency is associated with impaired sexual function in both men and women, and with greater dissatisfaction with relationships and less love for partners? Greater masturbation frequency is also associated with more depressive symptoms and several other indicators of poorer physical and mental health, including greater blood pressure reactivity to stress, anxious attachment and immature psychological defense mechanisms.

Obviously, this research doesn't prove masturbation causes these problems, but it does make it tough to assert that masturbation is a health tonic. In short, if you are lucky enough to have a partner, follow Bill Maher's hilarious advice and at least make masturbation your second choice.

Myth # 5 - "Frequent masturbation prevents prostate cancer"

Unclear. It may be that the health benefits of orgasm are primarily related to sexual intercourse with another human being, specifically penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) not masturbation. However, most of the existing prostate-cancer research inadvertently veiled this reality by asking poorly chosen questions. Researchers assumed that all ejaculations would have equal effect on prostate cancer (if any), so they counted masturbation, PVI and other orgasm-producing behavior simply as "ejaculation." Also, they had to rely on men's recollections about sexual activity decades earlier.

Results were, not surprisingly, inconsistent. As the researchers of the study most frequently cited in support of Myth # 5 stated, "Nine studies observed a statistically significant or nonsignificant positive association; 3 studies reported no association; 7 studies found a statistically significant or nonsignificant inverse relationship; and 1 study found a U-shaped relationship." In one study, frequent masturbation alone was a marker for increased risk of prostate cancer in the 20s, 30s and 40s when researchers finally thought to distinguish masturbation activity from PVI (in 2009). PVI proved to be protective of prostate health in older men and neutral in effect in younger men. A more recent study found 19% less prostate cancer in more frequent ejaculators. However, many questions remain unanswered, such as what else the researchers controlled for.

If ejaculation were especially protective against protate cancer, one would think that priests would be at risk for unusually high rates. Apparently, that is not the case. A quick search pulled up two studies that looked at priests and prostate cancer. Examining the records for 6226 priests, the first found "Twelve deaths from prostatic cancer were observed while 19.8 were expected" based on rates in comparable males. The other study found no statistically significant difference in prostate cancer rates between 1432 priests and other men.

To explore the medical position on prostate risk factors as of June, 2015, organized into easily readable sections, check out Prostate cancer risk factors by Cancer Research UK.

In any case, quite apart from prostate cancer, in men with ED, frequent masturbation was associated with other problems of the prostate, including higher prostate specific antigen levels and swollen or tender prostate. In other words, an attempt to masturbate your way to a healthy prostate may not work out.

Now that you've reconsidered the popular masturbation myths, make your own experiment. Challenge yourself for a couple of months and see what you notice. Everyone's brain and habits are different. Ultimately, it's the results in your own laboratory that matter to you.


Addendum: Descriptive Experiences and Sexual vs. Nurturant Aspects of Cuddling between Adult Romantic Partners

From the study: "Cuddling frequency and enjoyment [correlates] positively with partnered sexual activities, but negatively with solitary sexuality." In other words, the more someone masturbates, the less he enjoys affectionate contact. Not surprisingly, many ex-porn users report that cuddling becomes increasingly pleasurable with time. 

Studies on the overlap between sex and drugs in the brain    


Love this!

And I'm so glad this is being put out into the world. There's far too much of the Comso-like "modern" sex advice out there that really doesn't seem to be getting folks anywhere. Thank you!