By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Dec 22, 2023
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Cite this Response

Alice! Health Promotion. "What are the side effects of masturbation?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 22 Dec. 2023, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/what-are-side-effects-masturbation. Accessed 26, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2023, December 22). What are the side effects of masturbation?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/what-are-side-effects-masturbation.

Dear Alice,

Having read a few posts related to the question, "Is masturbation harmful?", most of the answers I've seen seem to suggest that the only possible harm could be psychological, in the sense that masturbation may be a distraction from one's normal routine.

What about the actual PHYSICAL side effects? Some things can not be dismissed as mere "wives' tales"! For example, when I masturbate often, I do notice a darkening under my eyes. I am only 28, but having been at this a while, it does seem as though I can not as easily become erect, or stay erect for as long as I used to. I may not have grown hair on my palms, but I have noticed (and I'm willing to concede that there may be no causal relationship here) that I have become somewhat hairier, in all the wrong places.

Please set the record straight as to what, if any, harmful PHYSICAL side effects may result from masturbation, and why, in the face of my testimonial and no doubt countless others, such symptoms as I have described are dismissed by yourself and your peers as "myths."

Dear Alice,

Does masturbation affect your growth if you are not yet fully grown?

Dear Reader 1 and Reader 2, 

You're right in that masturbation can cause some physical side effects. Some of these side effects can include minor injuries, infections, or sensitivity to touch. That said, there's been research to support the benefits of masturbation that also debunks some of the myths around self-pleasure. Read on to learn more. 

Masturbation likely won’t be the cause of dark circles under the eyes. Nor will it influence your ability to stay erect, increase hair growth anywhere on your body, or affect your body’s development. The symptoms you've described, Reader 1, are likely coincidental and may be caused by other factors like genetics, age-related changes, diet, sleep, or overall health. These beliefs, including ones that masturbation makes you blind, mentally ill, and infertile, or causes you to have gas are all myths that research has disproven. These myths have existed since the 1700s and have often been used to scare people into following religious and cultural norms. It wasn't until the early 1900s that health research started busting those myths. 

However, frequent or intense masturbation can lead to unwanted physical side effects such as: 

  • Minor injury or irritation. You may experience chafing or tender skin if you masturbate too roughly or don’t use enough lubrication. The penis may start to swell if you masturbate a lot within a short period of time. The vulva and vagina may also be irritated by things like scented lotions or oils. 
  • Infections. Vaginal infections can occur if germs from the anus get into the vagina. Getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is also possible if you’re masturbating with another person and touching their genitals or sharing sex toys. STIs are spread through semen, vaginal fluids, or when genitals touch each other, so if you’re masturbating on your own, there’s almost no chance of getting an STI. The one exception is herpes, which can be spread if you touch cold sores in your mouth and then touch your genitals. 
  • Decreased sexual sensitivity. If you masturbate too often or aggressively, you might find that your body’s less sensitive to stimulation. 

Psychologically speaking, masturbating may become compulsive or lead to feelings of guilt. This may be especially true if masturbation is seen as immoral or wrong by your beliefs or the people around you. Compulsive masturbation—when masturbation becomes hard to resist or excessive—can affect your responsibilities and romantic relationships. To understand if this is the case for you, it may be helpful to evaluate whether masturbation impacts your ability to go about your day-to-day. If you experience either of these affects you may want to consider visiting a mental health professional to work together and create a plan of how to address the issues. 

Enough about side effects! Did you know that masturbation has physical and psychological benefits? Masturbation has been shown to reduce stress, tension, and pain while promoting better sleep, focus, and mood. These effects may come from the release of endorphins (“feel-good” chemicals in the brain) through an orgasm. Masturbating on your own is also a safe way to explore your sexual preferences because you can’t get pregnant and there’s almost no chance of getting an STI. Knowing your preferences can then go on to enhance communication and sex with other people. Knowing how to give yourself sexual pleasure can also feel empowering and help to improve body image. 

If you choose to masturbate, you may want to consider the following tips to maximize your pleasure and safety: 

  • Lube: For maximum comfort and less irritation, try using plenty of lube. Water-based lube is a universally good choice. Some people prefer using lotion on their penis, but those with a vagina are advised to avoid putting lotion and oil-based products in the vagina to reduce the risk of vaginitis
  • STI prevention: To prevent STI transmission, be sure to wash your hands before touching your genitals. If you're using any sex toys to help get the job done, consider cleaning them first. If it’s a shared toy, you might also consider putting a condom on them to reduce any potential for transmission. If the sex toy is entering more than one hole of the body, be sure to use a new condom for each destination. 
  • Reduce pressure and stress: Masturbate when it's enjoyable for you and explore! You shouldn’t feel any pressure to masturbate or do any kind of sexual activity if you aren’t in the mood. When you do feel like getting it on, though, you might try different techniques, positions, times of day, or mood music to learn what feels best. 

Here’s to busting myths and staying safe, 

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