Depending on whose opinion you are seeking, you will get differing opinions on masturbation. Religious pundits will frown upon it while some medics will look upon it ambivalently. There are also many myths around the practice. But what does science say?
According to Dr Joachim Osur, a clinical sexologist, masturbation is a normal stage in sexual development for both men and women. “Majority of people have done it. It is a part of growth and sexual development, one that is explored when a person realises that some parts of their bodies are pleasurable to touch and thus they embark on self-pleasuring.”
In fact, a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy showed that married women who masturbated more tended to be happier in their marriages. “…masturbators had significantly more orgasms, greater sexual desire, higher self-esteem, and greater marital and sexual satisfaction, and required less time to sexual arousal…”It reads in part.
A good ‘high’
When one experiences an orgasm from masturbation or sexual activity, chemicals known as endorphins are released by the body. They enhance the feeling of happiness and actively reduces one’s perception of pain. This is especially noted in women who experience pain during their menstrual flow. Additionally, after an orgasms, one gets a surge of the hormone Prolactin which helps one fall asleep.
Lower chances of prostate cancer?
While more studies need to be done to conclusively determine this, some studies like the Harvard Ejaculation Study published in 2014 found that increased ejaculations in younger men showed a lower incidence of prostate cancer. A separate study in Australia showed the same results. Scientists aren’t yet sure why, but maybe all that ejaculating is clearing more carcinogens out of the prostate.
But, too much of a good thing can be bad…
While studies have shown that masturbation can indeed reduce stress and have positive effects on health and relationships, it does have its downsides.
When it is used as an escape…
Once masturbation becomes a habit, it evolves into something more than just releasing built up sexual tension. The more one masturbates, the more they are likely to develop addiction.
“Self-pleasuring can go to any extent. Mostly, when such people begin partner sex, they stop. But there are occasions when they get problems with partner sex and then they resort back to it.” This is a trend that Dr Joachim has seen in his practice.
Pornography has also been linked to be one of the main reasons men and women get addicted to masturbation. In most cases, people who masturbate have a stash of adult movies or videos within reach wherever they are.
Inferiority complex has also sunken a substantial percentage of young people into masturbation. While coming into terms with the changing physique in adolescence, some feel their new looks may not appear “cool” to the opposite sex. Rejection by loved ones and idleness may also drive men and women to get the need to find pleasure in themselves when they cannot find a sexual partner.
When it replaces sex…
In addiction cases, self-pleasuring is more satisfactory as compared to partner sex. Masturbation can serve as an escape from relationship problems or offer a substitute for real–life experiences. It is mistakenly presumed that men make up the majority of masturbators. However, complexities of masturbation manifest in both men and women.
Sex organs’ confusion
Persistent masturbation may decrease sexual sensation, leading to weak erections and inability to participate optimally with partner sex. Dr Joachim says, “Some women who frequently masturbate find that they get to orgasm while self-pleasuring, but almost never with partner sex.” This inhibits sexual intimacy with a partner leading to frustration and unhappiness in couples.
Retarded (delayed) and premature (too quick) ejaculation are some of the issues associated with habitual masturbation. The latter has been one of the biggest complaints in sexual performance. When slightly aroused, even at work, such people tend to excuse themselves for a private time to discharge and release the tension. Retarded ejaculation is one poorly understood problem. In this case, a man has to reach orgasm on his own even after engaging with their partner for a long period of time.
Seek professional help
Masturbation is a taboo topic in our society. Most people would rather talk about it in hushed tones. When masturbation affects sexual life between you and your partner, consider seeking help from professionals. Clinical sexologists will help you uncover underlying triggers and deal with your dysfunctional sex life.
Nancy Nzalambi is a public health researcher with the National Hospital Insurance Fund.