Masturbation–the act of stimulating your own genitals for sexual pleasure. How does that word make you feel? What comes to mind? For a lot of people, both the word and the act feel very taboo, and maybe even full of shame. But at the same time, a recent study found that up to 92% of men and 76% of women in the U.S. masturbate, and rates are only increasing.

The study also found that most people underestimate the number of people who engage in masturbation. But with masturbation being such a taboo topic, that probably makes sense, right? Most of us aren’t telling others about what we do in the bedroom. I mean, how often do you talk to your friends about your masturbation habits? But whether you’re open about your self-pleasure practices or not, science has shown us that it’s a normal, healthy activity that comes with tons of benefits. Let’s dig into how masturbation can improve your sex life.

Benefits for Self

First, masturbation is a the safest form of sex you can engage in–it comes with no risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. It’s a safe way to explore your body and the types of stimulation that bring you pleasure. You can go at your own pace, free from the pressure that is sometimes present during partnered sex. Masturbation is also often a safe way to experience sexual pleasure during pregnancy (but it may not be safe for high-risk pregnancies, so please consult your doctor!). There are very few risks associated with masturbation, with the biggest being skin irritation from excessive stimulation and feelings of shame.

Research has also found that masturbation can be a powerful tool in addressing various sexual dysfunctions. Studies have found that masturbation can lead to an increase in desire, arousal, lubrication, and overall sexual functioning in women. It can also be used to help treat certain sexual dysfunctions in males, such as premature ejaculation. Masturbation helps us to know our bodies better and gives us a better understanding of what types of touches and sensations we find pleasurable–it’s different for everyone!

Relationship Benefits

As we already covered, masturbation allows you to explore your body and understand what types of stimulation bring you the most pleasure. In turn, you can share this with a partner. Not only is this a great way to improve communication with your partner, but it may also lead to more satisfying sex.

Mutual masturbation (i.e., masturbating with a partner) can also be a safe and pleasurable way to be sexually engaged with your partner if either of you experience sexual dysfunction. For example, penetration can be incredibly painful (or even impossible) for women with vaginismus. But mutual masturbation isn’t limited to people with sexual difficulties–maybe you’re just tired, and even though you’d love to be intimate with your partner, intercourse sounds too laborious. It’s a great option for all types of people and reasons; it’s a great way to connect with your partner and still experience sexual pleasure.

Physical and Mental Health Benefits

Masturbation can cause a flood of feel-good hormones in your brain, which leads to all kinds of positive effects in your body. Through research and anecdotal evidence, masturbation has been known to lead to:

  • Improved mood
  • Stress relief
  • Feelings of relaxation
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Reduction in time it takes to fall asleep
  • Pain relief (e.g. from headaches and menstrual cramps)
  • Possible decreased risk of prostate cancer (but more research is needed to confirm)
  • Improved self-esteem and body image
  • Strengthened pelvic floor
  • Improved immune function
  • Improved cognition (e.g. memory recall)
Shame Around Masturbation

Despite the benefits, we know that a huge number of people still feel a tremendous amount of shame around masturbation. This can be caused by a huge number of things, but two of the most common are cultural and spiritual beliefs. Many of us grow up being told that masturbation (or maybe sex in general) is “dirty” or “morally wrong.” This can stay with us for a long time, even if we no longer want to believe it.

Too much or Not at all

For others, their masturbation may feel out of control. You might feel like you do it too frequently, and you struggle to cut back. This may cause concerns in your relationship, or even be a source of sexual concerns when you are with a partner(s).

If masturbation is just simply something you’re not interested in, that’s okay too! While masturbation is normal and healthy, that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.