Masturbation is commonly defined as touching one’s own body, including sex organs, for sexual pleasure.
Masturbation has long been a discussion of debate. Many religious groups have deemed it sinful for centuries as a sexual act outside of marriage. Children have been told it is wrong and unhealthy through myths about how the act could cause hairy palms, blindness, and genital shrinkage.
Masturbation, as agree upon by doctors, psychologists, and anthropologists, is a normal act of existence among humans and many other species of primates. A 2003 study conducted in Australia by a team led by Graham Giles of the Cancer Council found that frequent masturbation in men could help prevent prostate cancer. In women, studies find that masturbation is helpful in guiding sexual activity with partners. As much as 95% of men and 89% of women have reported that they have masturbated. For many people, masturbation is used a way to relieve sexual tensions and can be used as a safe alternative to sex for people who want to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Okay, so it’s normal. And it may have helpful benefits. But, does masturbation help mental illnesses like depression? The scientific answer lies in chemicals our bodies naturally produce called endorphins. Endorphins have a similar chemical structure as Morphine. They are released in our bodies through exercise, laughing, and even through orgasms. They are natural pain relievers and have also been found to control stress, regulate intestines, and control moods. Sound like a miracle anti-depressant to us! A study from Duke University in 2000 even found that 45 minutes of exercise, three times a week, was as effective as the antidepressant, Zoloft. Another shows that endorphins released during masturbation lessen physical pain such as headaches, menstrual cramps, and joint pain. But is this just a quick fix for a bigger problem?
Some believe that using masturbation to ease depression is comparable to eating a large pepperoni pizza to ease depression. It’s a quick pleasure at the time but many people are wrought with guilt afterwards. Much like the calories we stress over after that last bite, religious teachings and conservative backgrounds end up causing guilt and further depression in many people after masturbation. This, like food, can cause a person to spiral into an addictive cycle of pleasure and guilt. It seems that there has been an epidemic in porn and sex addiction in the last decade because of the Internet. These addictions only lead to more pain and depression.
Other health benefits
The researchers at the University of Sydney's public health department, Spring Chenoa Cooper and Anthony Santella, suggested, based on the detailed research that masturbation has significantly more health related benefits, than just anti-depressant effects.
According to the scientists, as more people masturbate more regularly in today's sexually liberated society, that might be part of why lifespans are increasing. They cite a 2010 Indiana Univ. study, which found that 94 percent of men and 85 percent of women admit to masturbating -- though the true numbers might be higher. The researchers suggest even babies masturbate in the womb, citing prior research.
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.
Researchers summarized years of sweat and vigorous research worldwide which has helped scientists discover physiological explanations of why masturbation is so beneficial. They write that the health benefits may be particularly potent for females, explaining:
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 lead to a] lower the 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 they point out that past studies have shown masturbation helps release toxins from the prostate gland. These toxins can cause cancer if they build up over time. So in effect sex and masturbation can help "fight" some, if not all prostate cancer.
They write that masturbation arouses the cortex of the adrenal gland, a tissue located on top of the human kidneys, to produce a slight spike in cortisol, boosting immunity. Masturbation -- like sex -- also releases endorphins, particularly when an orgasm is achieved. These brain chemicals, whose actions resemble those of opiate-containing drugs, decrease depression, boosting feelings of satisfaction and well-being.
The informal review of the topic reaches its climax concluding that thanks to work of hundreds worldwide of researchers worldwide conducting studies alone or together in groups, a scientifically sound analysis is being realized at last regarding the health effects of masturbation. They summarized that a wealth of studies has shown that masturbation -- be it solo or with a partner -- was "the most convenient method for maximizing orgasms". They conclude that masturbation leads to "reduced stress, reduced blood pressure, increased self-esteem, and reduced pain."
They state that while masturbation with a partner can produce many benefits, solitary masturbation carries its own perks as it reduces "performance anxiety". The summary illustrates that in some regards, the internet -- which serves as the world's largest, most accessible collection of pornography -- may be one of the best disease-fighting tools mankind has at its disposal.
Masturbating with Partner
From a sexual health point of view, masturbation is one of the safest sexual behaviors. 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 behaviors and attitudes without stigma and shame.
Why Solo Masturbation Cannot Replace Sex with Partner?
Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, says there are two separate pleasure systems in our brains: one for exciting pleasure and another for satisfying pleasure. Masturbating to fantasies and especially pornography activates the exciting system, but leaves the satisfying system starved for “the real thing.”
The exciting system is fueled by the neurochemical dopamine. Dopamine focuses our attention, giving our brain a little feel-good reward, helping us become sexually aroused, gearing up for sex. The satisfying system involves actually having sex—touching, kissing, caressing, and really connecting with someone—which provides a calming, fulfilling pleasure. The problem with masturbation is that the satisfying system is never activated.
The more one masturbates to porn, the more dopamine is released in the brain. Eventually dopamine receptors and signals fatigue, leaving the viewer wanting more but unable to reach a level of satisfaction. This desensitization in turn impacts the prefrontal cortex—the “executive control” center of the brain—causing what is called hypofrontality. This means a loss of self-control and a propensity to addictive behavior.
Are There Any Risks with Masturbation?
There are no health risks with masturbation. Skin irritation is possible, but using plenty of lubrication will keep that from happening.
If you worry that you masturbate too much, ask yourself this question: Does masturbation interfere with my daily functioning? If it interrupts or gets in the way of your job, your responsibilities, or your social life, you may want to talk with a therapist.
Many people feel shame or guilt about masturbating. People who receive negative messages about masturbation when they are young often carry feelings of shame into adulthood. Approximately 50 percent of women and 50 percent of men who masturbate feel guilty about it.
Negative feelings about masturbation can threaten our health and well-being. Only you can decide what is healthy and right for you. But if you feel ashamed or guilty about masturbating, talking with a trusted friend, sexuality educator, counselor, and/or clergy member may help.
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