Originally published on Mic.com
Masturbation: It feels great, it works wonders on your sex life, and pretty much everyone is doing it. So why aren’t we all talking about how awesome it is?
“Solo sex” is so natural that kids start to experiment with it as young as 5 years old, which Lena Dunham candidly reminded us of. And yet, we still feel shame and embarrassment about our habits, or at least wonder if we’re “normal,” thanks to ridiculous myths and societal expectations that tell us we’re weird, sex-obsessed, or even selfish for wanting to give ourselves a hand.
But there are virtually no downsides to masturbation – only pleasure, and the confidence that comes with knowing exactly how your body works. Here are all the awesome things you should know about one of humans’ favorite extracurriculars.
1. It’s one awesome activity that appeals to basically everyone.
You may not chat about techniques over brunch, but chances are most of your friends have masturbated at some point. The 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that 78% of all Americans have masturbated in their lives. Yes, there is a gender gap, but it’s shrinking: 92% of men in their 40s and 78% of women in their 40s have done it.
That gap is rooted in a variety of causes, from biological differences to societal stigmas discouraging women from experimenting “down there.” But some experts argue that as gendered sexual expectations evolve, women may someday match men in masturbation enthusiasm. One way we can speed that along: talking about it publicly, as the magnificent Anna Kendrick has done on Twitter.
2. It may help prevent cancer.
How many medical studies result in an expert recommending, “If these findings hold up, then it’s perfectly reasonable that men should be encouraged to masturbate”? A 2003 Australian study of 1,000 men who had prostate cancer and 1,250 who didn’t found that those who ejaculated the most were least likely to develop cancer. (It’s about flushing out ducts to prevent the buildup of carcinogens.)
Men also get a boost to their immune systems after masturbating to orgasm, since sexual arousal and orgasms increase the number of “natural killer cells” in the blood.
3. It’s the best painkiller around.
Your body loves it when you get off. For women, masturbation can decrease the pain of menstrual cramps. It leads to a release of endorphins, which increase your pain threshold, as well as serotonin and oxytocin, which cause pleasurable muscle contractions. The result? Relief!
It’s also recommended to menopausal women suffering from vaginal atrophy, thanks to its ability to increase blood flow and decrease pain in the genitals. Masturbation has also been shown to relieve migraine headaches; the rush of endorphins you receive after an orgasm acts as a natural pain reliever.
4. People who masturbate may actually have more sex.
Call it a self-love cycle. Tamara Pincus, a licensed clinical social worker and sex therapist from Washington, D.C., said that being in touch with your own sexuality could increase your drive over time.
“People who ignore their sexuality tend to not be that interested when the opportunity arises, and people who don’t masturbate often don’t have as much of a sense of what’s pleasurable for them, and because of that they may not get as much pleasure out of partnered sex,” Pincus told Mic. “That also leads to a decreased interest in having partnered sex.”
5. There’s no better way to figure out what you like in bed.
Experimenting on your own body is crucial to discovering what you need physically to have an orgasm, Denise Silbert, a psychologist and sex therapist from San Diego, told Mic. “If you don’t know what you like, how will you tell that guy or woman what you like?” she said. “Someone who isn’t orgasmic… [is] cutting off their sexual feelings, and masturbation is one of those things where you learn to connect mind-body.”
Exploring what turns you on also includes exploring fantasies, free of judgment. Determining what fantasies turn you on can help you be precise and honest about what you need from a partner during sex — something we don’t do enough of.
6. You can finally know what your partner looks and sounds like in THAT moment.
OK, so watching your partner masturbate may sound awkward or unusual. But getting a glimpse of what your partner looks and sounds like when they orgasm is a master class in what they actually enjoy, which can help to do away with all the sexual guesswork so many of us experience in bed. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ll ask [a client], ‘Is your partner getting sexual pleasure out of this? Are they orgasming?’ And the client will have no idea,” Pincus said.
Plus, being open with each other helps mitigate the embarrassment over an activity that shouldn’t be embarrassing at all.
7. Just a little bit can help you sleep.
Just like partnered sex, masturbation lowers blood pressure and releases endorphins, putting you in a relaxed and happy mood that helps drift you right off to sleep, sex therapist Judith Golden told Best Health magazine. Limited evidence also suggests that solo sex may relieve restless leg syndrome. Bonus: It’s way more fun than sleeping pills.
8. Touching yourself can boost your self-esteem.
Instead of being rife with shame, masturbation has the power to make us feel pretty great about ourselves. Frequent masturbators report having positive views of their sexual selves, especially when paired with open and honest communication that emphasizes the normalcy of the act.
In fact, masturbation is generally linked to improved psychological well-being; a 1991 study found that women who masturbated reported greater self-esteem than their non-masturbating counterparts.
9. None of those crazy masturbation myths are true.
Ever heard that masturbating will make you go blind? Or that it causes infertility and erectile dysfunction, and an addiction to vibrators? What about the idea that breakfast cereal cures your urges? Not one of these are true. In reality, religion, politics and ill-informed medical “wisdom” have perpetuated these myths to foster a fear of masturbation, which didn’t actually begin until around the 18th century.
“Most people masturbated, so [authority figures] could use that as a concept of gaining power,” Silbert told Mic. “If we didn’t have all this culturalization against it, we would be masturbating in a free society feeling good about it.”
10. It can be great for your love life.
Even if you’re in a relationship, masturbation can add a creative spice to your sexual arsenal. Silbert said it’s a fantastic option if one of you isn’t in the mood for penetrative sex; it can also be surprisingly thrilling to talk about your masturbation habits and masturbate each other. Pincus also suggested that it can help relieve pressure on couples to last the same amount of time during sex. “If masturbation is an option, it can take away a lot of the anxiety,” she told Mic.
In fact, the same 1991 study that linked masturbation with self-esteem found that married women who masturbated had more orgasms and greater marital satisfaction. Oh, and they required less time to achieve sexual arousal. Win-win!
11. There’s no reason not to do it!
You won’t get pregnant. You can’t get an STD. Although it’s possible to injure yourself (see 50 Cent’s assertion that he suffered a skeletal muscle injury from excessive masturbation), there’s not much to worry about. As long as your habits don’t get in the way of your work, relationships or sex life with partners, there’s no reason not to enjoy yourself.
“Why not have as many orgasms as you can, because it’s one of the nicest things your body does,” Silbert said. “We’re so against pleasure in this world. Who are you bothering?”