Masturbating is something that many of us do, but few of us talk about.
One Australian study found that over 70% of men and 40% of women had masturbated in the year prior to being surveyed, although men masturbated twice as frequently as women (on average, six times in the last four weeks as opposed to women’s three times).
And while we suspect that figure may actually be higher, there are a lot of myths around masturbation. Some are funny, a few are a bit weird, and others are downright harmful. In the interest of clearing up some of these urban legends and (hopefully) removing a bit of stigma from self-loving, we’re going to set the record straight and play masturbation myth-busters.
False: Masturbation will make you go blind, get acne, or grow hair on your palms
There are a whole host of unpleasant physical side effects that masturbation is said to cause. These three are some of the most common ones we’ve heard, and fortunately they are all false.
There’s no evidence linking masturbation and blindness, or masturbation and hairy palms—and given the amount of people out there in the world who masturbate, we reckon blindness and hairy palms would be a lot more common if these myths were actually true.
Masturbation doesn’t cause acne either, although we think the link between these two things developed because many young people begin exploring masturbation at the same age as they start developing acne. But one thing doesn’t necessarily cause the other, so you can rest assured that masturbating will not cause acne—or any other physical changes.
False: Masturbation affects fertility
We did a lot of research into this, and there’s no proof that masturbation can affect fertility either negatively or positively. Anecdotally, it was suggested that regular masturbation may increase fertility as it could make you feel more relaxed, less stressed, and more in-touch with your sexual urges—important things for anyone trying for a baby! With regards to sperm count specifically, it has previously been thought that regular masturbation could lower sperm count but this is not true2. The body continually produces sperm—you are never in danger of ‘running out’.
(Mostly) False: You can get an STI from masturbating
The most common way to contract an STI is by having sexual contact with someone who has an STI. STIs don’t appear out of nowhere—they have to come from somewhere, which is why they’re usually transmitted during partnered sex rather than masturbation. However there is a slight element of truth in this myth, because some bacterial or fungal infections, like bacterial vaginosis, can occur from using vibrators, non-vibrating devices or objects for masturbation that haven’t been cleaned properly. These infections are usually very easily treated, but it’s worth taking the extra time to clean your devices after every use just in case.
(Somewhat) True: Masturbation can be addictive
There isn’t a conclusive scientific view on whether or not masturbation is addictive. Some people believe any behaviour can be addictive, while others believe that calling masturbation addictive makes it seem like something that’s not natural to do—and that isn’t true. However you look at it, masturbation is definitely something that makes us feel good, and it is possible to become quite attached to things that make us feel good. There’s no measurable amount of masturbation that’s healthy or unhealthy, but if you find that masturbating is interfering with your daily life and relationships, or you’re uncomfortable with how often you masturbate, it’s worth speaking with a doctor or mental health professional.
False: You won’t be able to enjoy sex with a partner if you masturbate
Masturbation can help us develop a clear picture of what turns us on and how we like to be touched—but can we get too attached to that picture? Some people believe that if we masturbate too much, we may not be able to enjoy having sex with a partner anymore because we’ll get too used to pleasuring ourselves. There’s no scientific evidence for this, however we do know that sometimes if you’re used to getting yourself off, it can take a bit of time and adjustment to get off with someone else. This wouldn’t be because you’re too used to masturbating, it’s likely just because being with a new partner can be a nervous and exciting experience—and sometimes when we’re nervous and excited, it’s harder to get into our comfort zone and make ourselves come like we do when we’re alone.
Contrary to the belief that masturbation will lessen your enjoyment of sex, though, we believe it is more likely to increase it. Knowing what you enjoy and how you like to be touched is really useful for having better sex with someone else, because it means you can tell—or show—them what you enjoy. Having more information about our sexual wants and needs is always a good thing.
False: Masturbation can cause erectile dysfunction
Again, we researched this pretty thoroughly and couldn’t find any evidence that linked masturbation to erectile dysfunction, which is generally defined as the inability to maintain an erection. There are many causes of erectile dysfunction: some of the most common ones are age, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, neurological conditions, and prior physical trauma to the body.
As you can see, masturbation is not listed among those causes—although The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy did discuss the case of a man who felt so guilty about masturbating that it led to depression, which in turn led to erectile dysfunction5. And we do want to mention that heavy usage of porn has been linked to some difficulties getting aroused when with a partner—our mates at Pilot have talked about this, and porn addiction, in a really helpful article. No matter the cause, we reckon it’s worth speaking to a doctor if you’re concerned about your erections. They’ll be able investigate the cause of the problem and work with you to find a solution.
(Mostly) False: Masturbation can cause clitoral numbing
Most people who’ve used a vibrator have probably heard the myth that vibrators can permanently damage your clitoris or vulva by numbing them. Certainly you might feel a bit of short-term numbness or over-sensitivity after a particularly intense masturbation session, but it’s not true that you could permanently damage or numb yourself from masturbating. A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that vibrator usage was ‘rarely’ associated with any side effects, and suggested that vibrators actually be recommended to people to help improve their sex lives.
False: Masturbation will ‘ruin’ you for future partners
What a depressing thought! Some people believe that if you masturbate too much, or at all, you’ll somehow spoil yourself for future sexual partners. This myth is pretty harmful, because not only is it totally false but it also suggests that we’re more attractive to future partners if we’re sexually inexperienced. Nothing could be further from the truth: there’s no right or wrong level of sexual experience to have, whether it’s with yourself or someone else—and any partner who judges you for having masturbated or had sex prior to meeting them (or any partner who judges you for not having done that) is not the right person for you. If anything, learning what turns you on and what you enjoy will help you in future relationships, because you’ll have a better idea of what you like and what you don’t.
False: How you masturbate defines your sexuality
People masturbate in all sorts of ways. We touch ourselves in different places, we use different sexy devices, and we think about different things—so it can sometimes be an interesting and even confronting experience exploring our own sexuality through masturbation. It’s pretty normal to have fantasies during masturbation that don’t reflect your desires in the real world so if, for example, you ordinarily identify as heterosexual but find yourself occasionally fantasising about people of the same gender, don’t stress. This may just be your brain exploring some interesting sexual configurations to see what you enjoy. It’s your choice whether or not to explore the things you think about to get turned on.
False: There’s a right and wrong way to masturbate
There are so many beliefs about how and why we should masturbate that it’s sometimes hard to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. Should we masturbate a lot or a little? When we’re single or when we’re not? With a vibrator, or without? The truth is that there’s no one, correct way to masturbate—everyone does it differently. Some people don’t do it at all, and that’s fine too! One of the best things about masturbation is that you get to focus totally on yourself for a while, and do something that feels good for you without worrying about anyone else. So long as you’re being clean, safe, and respectful when you masturbate, we say go for it—do what feels good, and enjoy yourself!
- Richters, Juliet, de Visser, Richard O., Badcock, Paul B., Smith, Anthony M. A., Rissel, Chris, Simpson, Judy M., and Grulich, Andrew E. 2014. Sexual health, vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 461—471. Accessed 19 November 2020, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25376999/>.
- Nnatu, S. N., Giwa-Osagie, O. F., and Essien, E. E. 1991. Clinical and experimental obstetrics and gynecology, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 39—42. Accessed 19 November 2020, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2054949/>.
- Wyllie, Michael G. 2005. ‘The underlying pathophysiology and causes of erectile dysfunction’, Clinical cornerstone, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 19—26. <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1098359705800456>, accessed 22 November 2020.
- Ludwig, W. and Phillips, M. 2014. ‘Organic causes of erectile dysfunction in men under 40’, Urologia Internationalis, vol. 92, no. 1, pp. 1—6. Accessed 22 November 2020, <https://doi.org/10.1159/000354931>.
- Chakrabarti, Nandini, Chopra, V. K., and Sinha, V. K. 2011. ‘Masturbatory guilt leading to severe depression and erectile dysfunction’, Journal of sex & marital therapy, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 285—287. Accessed 22 November 2020, <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00926230290001402?journalCode=usmt20>.
- Herbenick, Debra, Reece, Michael, Sanders, Stephanie, Dodge, Brian, Ghassemi, Annahita, and Fortenberry, J. Dennis. 2009. ‘Prevalence and characteristics of vibrator use by women in the United States: results from a nationally representative study’, The journal of sexual medicine, vol. 6, no. 7, pp. 1857—1866. Accessed 22 November 2020, <https://www.jsm.jsexmed.org/article/S1743-6095(15)32585-6/fulltext>