In fact, as Mia Sabat, sex therapist at Emjoy explains, masturbation has several positive effects on the brain.
Masturbation effects on the brain
1. Releases happy hormones
The brain releases many beneficial hormones during orgasm, including: dopamine, often referred to as the happiness hormone; endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers; and oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. All of these hormones are beneficial to your brain and body in many ways, as they collectively boost your overall wellbeing.
2. Increases self-esteem
Oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone, has a big impact on your overall self-esteem. When released, oxytocin contributes to feelings of increased confidence, especially in relation to how you perceive your body, mind, and emotions. In fact, a study conducted in 2015 found a link between confidence and masturbation in women, concluding that women who masturbate have higher self-esteem than women who do not.
3. Boosts mood
It’s no surprise that a surge of pleasure can boost your mood – but do you think of it as an act of self-care? You should! By giving yourself love and attention, you enable your brain and body to reap the rewards, similarly to if you were enjoying a bubble bath. Orgasms, however, add an extra degree of complexity that a body scrub or relaxing facial can’t achieve.
Because orgasms release a rush of dopamine and endorphins, you give your body a release that will make you feel happier, more relaxed and in an overall better mood post-orgasm. Take note for the next time you feel stressed, anxious or in need of pampering – you won’t regret it.
4. Lowers stress and anxiety
It’s no myth that sex can make many people feel heavy-eyed. Research has even linked sex to a better, more restful slumber, thanks to all the feel-good hormones released during orgasm. Oxytocin encourages your body to sleep when released, so it makes sense that increasing levels of this chemical through orgasm can help you enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep, too.
The hormone vasopressin may have a role to play too. Its levels in the blood are increased by sexual arousal and are higher during sleep but whether its release will directly induce sleep is yet unproven. Oxytocin further helps to counteract the restless side-effects of the stress hormone cortisol, so next time you’re stuck counting sheep, try seeing if an orgasm can help you feel drowsy.
8. Boosts libido
One of the biggest concerns shared by many women is the loss of desire. Masturbation is, without a doubt, one of the key methods you can use to increase sexual desire and boost libido. Each time you masturbate, you learn a little more about your mind, body, and preferences. Understanding how you do, and don’t, like being touched plays a key role in increasing your libido and overall sex drive.
9. Improves body positivity
Learning to appreciate and understand the beauty of your body is a very powerful thing, especially as many people struggle to love what they see reflected in the mirror. Realising that we can make ourselves feel good can help us accept, appreciate and love the amazing body that we have been given, consequently helping us to be kinder to our minds and bodies.
Next time you’d like to masturbate, take care to notice how amazingly your body responds to every touch, and connect with all it can achieve – it’ll help to form a mind-body connection you’re sure to love.
10. Increases pleasure awareness
Pleasure awareness takes on a snowball effect: the more you experience pleasure, the more you think about it, and ultimately, the more you want it! As this desire increases, you will make a continuously greater effort to achieve your desires. When you haven't had an orgasm for a while, most of the time you won't even think about it – and that is completely normal.
Practice pleasure awareness by taking notice of the small things that stimulate you in everyday life, and explore these pleasures to see what’s worth pursuing. By cultivating this mind-body connection, you’ll become significantly more aware of what gets your mind going, even from the smallest things.
If you need a little help stimulating your mind to seek pleasure, try experimenting with different forms of erotica. Just remember that, when it comes to pleasure, always prioritise connecting with your mind at a pace that feels natural and comfortable to you.
11. Easier to achieve orgasm
Orgasms, stimulation and arousal are all born in the brain. By releasing these hormones more regularly, and practicing how you enjoy touching yourself, you’ll be able to better understand your orgasm journey. Not only will you feel more connected to noticing when you’re aroused, but it’ll happen more often, too. As your arousal increases, you’ll be able to experiment with edging, shallowing, multiple orgasms, and more to determine exactly what sends you over the edge.
12. Overall brain health
Studies have found that orgasms increase blood flow to multiple regions of the brain – including your sensory region, your brainstem and your frontal cortical regions. By stimulating blood flow, orgasms cause a surge of oxygen to flood your brain – essentially giving your brain a healthy boost of the element it needs to thrive. As such, an orgasm acts like a workout for your brain – causing a surge in activity and stimulation.
13. Reduces brain fog
Many people, especially those with chronic health conditions linked to higher levels of inflammation throughout their bodies, can sometimes experience brain fog. Brain fog presents as slower thinking, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, and/or confusion. Recommendations for dealing with brain fog include reducing stress, exercising and spending time doing activities you enjoy.
Because masturbation has been found to stimulate the production of endocannabinoids (neurotransmitters that play a critical role in regulating the body), stimulating the endocannabinoid system through actions like orgasms may help to reduce brain fog.
14. Increases mindfulness
When you enjoy an orgasm, it’s important to understand that it is much more than a physical or sexual act. You might be surprised to learn that some studies have found that during an orgasm, a part of the conscious mind literally turns off to allow you to experience pleasure fully.
What is more mindful than being completely immersed in an orgasmic moment? When you dedicate time to looking after your body and mind, with the goal of simply feeling good, you are practicing mindfulness, wellness, and self-care, all in one go.
Masturbation might be something that you associate with teenagers, but the truth is it can benefit you across your entire lifespan. A study conducted in 2016 found that elderly adults who engaged in sexual activity – including masturbation – had better cognitive function than their peers who abstained.
For women in particular, this meant better memory recall. It seems that masturbation may not only be beneficial for your brain in the short-term, it could also protect your brains’ overall health for many years to come.
Are there any negative effects of masturbation on the brain?
Masturbating as often as you want is not a problem unless it ends up being an obsession. If the need to masturbate is constant and you stop doing your usual daily activities to masturbate, or if you can’t control it and end up masturbating in inappropriate places, then there is a problem.
Whilst not an effect on the brain, if you continue to masturbate despite having irritated or broken skin in the genital region, you should consider seeking support. If you fear that you are in this situation, you should visit a sex therapist.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health UK.