Positive & Negative Effects of Masturbation

Masturbation can have several physical (physiological) benefits. Self-stimulation of the genitals may be used as part of sexual therapy to help women learn how to experience orgasm or help men learn how to delay orgasm.

Masturbation can help relieve pelvic pain and discomfort associated with non-bacterial prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland) in males or menstrual periods (menstruation) in females. It also can help to relieve stress and improve sleep. Male infertility usually is diagnosed using a semen sample that is obtained through masturbation.

Masturbation also can have a number of mental and emotional (psychological) benefits. It can improve self-esteem by helping people become more confident in their sexuality and more aware of their bodies. Self-stimulation may improve intimacy by helping people discover what sexual techniques are most pleasing to them.

Although masturbation can be a healthy part of human sexuality, it may have a negative impact on relationships and on psychological health in certain circumstances. For example, masturbation that becomes compulsive, obsessive, or uncontrollable, or that takes the place of a healthy sexual relationship can have an unhealthy effect on psychological well being. It is important for sexual partners to openly communicate about all aspects of sexuality and sexual behavior, including masturbation.

In the past, masturbation was thought to be a sexual perversion and even today, certain cultures and religions oppose the practice and regard it as "sinful" behavior. These conceptions can cause stress and lead to feelings of guilt and shame in some people.

Like other types of sexual behaviors, masturbation should only be performed in a safe, comfortable, private environment. Most communities have laws against performing sexual acts in public, as well as laws prohibiting exhibitionism (e.g., exposing the genitals in public). Masturbating in public is considered public indecency, is unhealthy, and is against the law.

In some cases, people use lubricants or insert sex toys (e.g., vibrator, dildo) or other objects into the vagina or anus during masturbation. It is important to avoid using lubricants containing harsh chemicals (e.g., scented lotions and creams) in the genital area. These substances can cause a serious reaction (e.g., skin irritation). It also is important never to insert a breakable object or an object that is not easily removed into the body. These objects can cause injury.

Frequent and/or vigorous masturbation can result in minor skin injuries (e.g., abrasions, bruising) in the genital area. The extended use of battery-operated sex toys can cause them to overheat, resulting in severe burns.

Many people fantasize during masturbation. Fantasizing usually involves using the imagination or reading, listening to, or watching material that increases sexual arousal or pleasure. Sexual fantasies are a normal part of human sexuality as long as they do not interfere with relationships or daily life.

Preoccupation with sexual fantasies can sometimes lead to damaging consequences, such as sexual addiction, sexual obsession, and spending too much time and money on sexual materials (e.g., pornographic web sites, chat rooms, magazines, videos, phone calls, sex toys).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 08 Dec 2008

Last Modified: 07 Sep 2011