Why You Shouldn't Give Up Masturbation During the Pandemic


Man masturbating in bed with laptop.

A few years back, a bunch of guys on the internet started challenging each other to go the whole month of November without ejaculating. It’s “No Nut November,” as they call it. Men do this for a wide range of reasons, with some claiming that it enhances strength, energy, testosterone and/or focus. This year is no exception to the challenge—there’s a 2020 “Quarantine Edition” currently running on Reddit.

The truth, however, is that there isn’t any scientific evidence that giving up masturbation and ejaculation will enhance your health—in fact, if anything, research suggests that there are more potential health benefits to be had by indulging in self-pleasure than by abstaining. And, as I explain below, that may be especially true during the November of COVID-19.

Before we get into that, though, I should mention that this idea of abstaining from masturbation or taking a break from it is good for you is one that has a long history. In fact, we can trace this back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, among whom it was widely believed that sexual abstinence before a major sporting competition was crucial to success. To this day, many still subscribe to this belief; however, scientific evidence that abstinence improves athletic performance just hasn’t materialized.

There isn’t any evidence that masturbatory abstinence improves health, either. In fact, research suggests precisely the opposite: frequent masturbation is linked to more benefits than anything. For example, among men, frequent orgasm and ejaculation have been linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer [1]. Among women, masturbation has been shown to provide relief from symptoms of painful menstruation [2]. Likewise, other research has shown that masturbation may provide relief from chronic pain [2].

Masturbation may also be good for our mental health. This is an activity that a lot of people engage in for stress relief, and many find it to be an effective coping mechanism. For example, in one study of heterosexual men, more than half said they had used masturbation to relieve stress, and this was linked to several positive outcomes [3]. In the words of the study’s author: “individuals used masturbation to reduce stress in a manner which increased clarity, relaxation, [and] calm.”

Research on women has revealed similar findings: many report turning to masturbation specifically for self-care purposes, such as relieving stress and/or help falling asleep [4].

The stress-relieving and relaxing properties of masturbation would seem to be especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, a period during which levels of stress and anxiety have been significantly elevated for a prolonged period of time. Taking away an effective stress relief tool during this challenging time therefore seems ill-advised.

For a closer look at what the science of self-love has revealed, check out the video below and this article.

It’s worth noting that pretty much all of the research in this area is correlational, meaning we can’t really say what’s causing what. In other words, is masturbation benefiting health, or are healthier people just more likely to masturbate?

That said, if masturbation is something that was truly bad for our health, we wouldn’t be seeing what we’re seeing in the data. So even if we can’t say for sure that masturbation improves health and well-being, study after study shows that it certainly doesn’t appear to be harmful to our health. So maybe it’s time to stop worrying so much about masturbation—and maybe it should be encouraged rather than discouraged during times of high stress.

Watch more videos on the science of sex and relationships here.

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[1] Rider, J. R., Wilson, K. M., Sinnott, J. A., Kelly, R. S., Mucci, L. A., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2016). Ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer: updated results with an additional decade of follow-up. European urology, 70(6), 974-982.

[2] Brody, S. (2010). The relative health benefits of different sexual activities. The journal of sexual medicine, 7(4), 1336-1361.

[3] Leonard, A. (2010). An investigation of masturbation and coping style. In 38th Annual Western Pennsylvania undergraduate psychology conference.

[4] Carvalheira, A., & Leal, I. (2013). Masturbation among women: Associated factors and sexual response in a Portuguese community sample. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 39(4), 347-367.

Image Source: iStockphoto

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