7 Masturbation Myths That Need to Be Debunked Once and for All

7 Masturbation Myths That Need to Be Debunked Once and for All
Illustration: Angelica Alzona (Photos: Shutterstock)

Masturbation is a normal part of human physiology, but we (as a society) have managed to invent dozens of truly bizarre myths just to guilt ourselves into feeling bad whenever we do it. (Did anybody ever think they would really go blind or grow hair on their palms?)

Anyway, here’s the truth about some of the more common misconceptions, from whether there is such a thing as too much, and how it can affect both your health and your romantic relationships.

Myth: Everybody does it/nobody else does it

Photo: Aleksandr Ozerov, ShutterstockPhoto: Aleksandr Ozerov, Shutterstock

When you’re younger, you might think you’re the only person who has figured out how to make yourself feel good this way; and once you realise you’re not alone, you might think that literally everybody is doing it.

The truth is that masturbation is very common, but not universal. One survey found that 94% of men and 85% of women have ever done it; another found the numbers to be 91% and 78%. (These studies only reported results under these two genders.)

But when you’re looking at any given age group (or if you ask whether somebody has masturbated in the past week, or the past month), the numbers are a lot smaller. Teenagers who reported masturbating in the past month ranged from 43% to 61%, depending on age group, for the guys; for girls, the numbers were 24% to 26%. The youngest age group in the survey, 14 to 15 years old, had the lowest numbers.

We can’t be sure how much the numbers represent how many people are actually getting off by themselves, and how much they reflect people’s willingness to admit it. But it’s pretty clear that masturbation is very common, and also that if you’re not doing it on the regular, you’re still in good company.

Myth: Masturbating kills your gains (or your health)

Photo: Rido, ShutterstockPhoto: Rido, Shutterstock

A few influential weirdos in the 1800’s claimed that masturbation would sap people of their vital energy, leading to physical and mental illness. John Harvey Kellogg (of the cornflakes family) and Sylvester Graham (of Graham cracker fame) are among the most famous. But the idea was a pervasive one, and it’s just as much bullshit as their idea that eating bland cereals and crackers will tone down your libido.

Masturbation doesn’t affect your performance in the gym, nor your overall health. Remembering the numbers from above, it would be silly to think that 90% of us could be engaging in a normal bodily function and that that normal bodily function is somehow hurting us.

Myth: You’ll ruin your ability to enjoy partnered sex

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Aside from the fact that masturbation and partnered sex aren’t mutually exclusive, this is another myth without any basis in reality. Masturbation can help you learn what you enjoy, thus helping you to be more confident and a better communicator in bed.

There is a rumoured condition known as “death grip syndrome” that proposes that too much force on the penis can lead to numbness, which could then interfere with your ability to enjoy other sexual acts. But it’s never been verified to actually exist, and if it does, it’s an extreme — not a thing that will inevitably happen under normal conditions. (There is also no counterpart relating to the vagina or clitoris.)

That said, it is possible to become so used to your masturbation routine that you have trouble getting out of your comfort zone with a partner. We have some tips here on how to address those issues.

Myth: Masturbation decreases your testosterone

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Sexual activity (of any kind) does seem to affect testosterone levels in people of all genders, but the relationship is complicated.

There’s no reason to believe masturbation or sex affects your testosterone levels in the long term. Hormones fluctuate from hour to hour and day to day (not to mention monthly if you have a cycle). This is where masturbation may affect your hormones: It’s normal for testosterone levels to rise and then fall in response to sexual activity.

But the lack of a long-term effect means that masturbating regularly isn’t causing a loss of testosterone; and it also means that it’s not increasing your testosterone enough to make you lose your hair (male pattern baldness is triggered by testosterone in people who are genetically prone to it). So no, masturbation won’t lower your testosterone or make you go bald.

Myth: You can masturbate “too much”

Photo: Puripat Lertpunyaroj, ShutterstockPhoto: Puripat Lertpunyaroj, Shutterstock

While the nofap crowd loves to talk about people becoming “addicted” to masturbating, there’s no basis for this either. Even if you masturbate a ton, that’s just a sign of a high libido and maybe too much free time. It’s not a problem in itself.

The only case when this could be a problem is if you are masturbating so much that it interferes with your daily life, which may be the case if masturbation is a compulsive behaviour for you. In other words, that would be the result of a mental health condition, and not the cause of one. Talk to a mental health professional if you are masturbating so much that it causes you distress, takes up more than an hour of your day, and interferes with your work or social life.

Myth: Masturbation causes (or prevents) prostate cancer

Photo: Ann Baldwin, ShutterstockPhoto: Ann Baldwin, Shutterstock

You may have heard that masturbation causes prostate cancer. You may have also heard that it prevents prostate cancer. The truth is that the relationship hasn’t been studied well enough to give us any solid answers. One large survey asked men about how often they ejaculated (sex, masturbation, and wet dreams all counted) and found that those who ejaculated the most were the least likely to develop prostate cancer.

But that’s not conclusive evidence that masturbation protects you from cancer. It could be that the people who ejaculated more were also healthier in other ways. Other studies have come up with mixed results; one 2016 review looked at 16 papers on the topic and wasn’t able to come up with a definitive answer either way.

Myth: It’s not normal to masturbate if you’re in a relationship

Photo: oneinchpunch, ShutterstockPhoto: oneinchpunch, Shutterstock

Just because you’re having sex with a partner doesn’t mean you have to stop having it by yourself. Solo masturbation is common among people who are in sexual relationships, and can be a good way to deal with differing sex drives.

One study even found that married women who can orgasm from masturbation have more satisfying sex lives than married women who do not. It’s not clear whether this means that masturbating causes one to have a healthy sex life (as I’ve seen people try to spin these results), but clearly the two can coexist happily.

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