I’ve spent the month of May, National Masturbation Month, researching the many benefits of solo sex. Recently, though, I’ve noticed a growing movement of people who claim that not jerking off is good for you.
The reasons vary, but they boil down to three main claims. First, that masturbation can easily become an unhealthy and uncontrollable compulsion. Second, that masturbation lowers testosterone in the body leading to a decrease in performance in high-demand sports and a harder time getting it up and getting off with another person. Third, that masturbation clouds the mind and interferes with the ability to focus on other things.
There is a kernel of truth to all of these, but I think they need to be challenged. Masturbation can become compulsive, although I believe that’s rare. If you masturbate mostly when you are upset or angry, would rather do that than almost anything else and you’re unhappy about your self-pleasure habits, it may have become a compulsion. But the problem is the compulsion, not the masturbation itself. It’s that you don’t have any other tools in your kit for dealing with stress or negative emotions and you don’t have other joys in your life. Cutting back won’t solve the problem unless you find ways to resolve those emotions and find other things that make you happy.
The second claim about testosterone is partly true, but it’s complicated. I can find only one study that actually addresses this question. Researchers found that testosterone levels in their subject rose significantly on the seventh day of no masturbation. Testosterone did not continue to rise after the seventh day, so even if this effect is correct, if you continue to abstain after seven days, you won’t see any further benefit. If you start again, you have to quit again for at least seven days. Some athletes claim that they perform better (sportswise) when they hold off from getting off before important competitions. There is no scientific evidence to support whether this has anything to do with testosterone. It may be that the build up of sexual energy alone drives a more amped-up performance.
Regarding the third claim, people have used forms of sexual abstinence for spiritual or psychological benefit for millennia. Some people believe that after a period of abstinence, they feel more calm and mentally clear—sometimes simply from the fact that they are neither seeking nor anticipating sex. Let’s face it, sex is a major human drive that preoccupies a lot of us. Deciding to take it off the table could give you a lot of extra time to think about something else. However, some people find just the opposite, that the longer they abstain from any kind of sex, the more obsessed with it they become.
Choosing to refrain from masturbation for a period of time could be a healthy and enlightening experience for some people. That doesn’t mean, as these new abstinence sites imply, that getting yourself off is bad for you. It may be possible to have too much of a good thing—but in the end, it’s still a good thing. V
Brenda Kerber is a sexual health educator who has worked with local not-for-profits since 1995. She is the owner of the Edmonton-based, sex-positive adult toy boutique the Traveling Tickle Trunk.