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Ditch masturbation to up your testosterone? New myths about a safe and healthy practice

There is no scientific evidence that confirms any negative effects associated with pleasuring yourself, but the years go by and onanism remains under scrutiny. That’s a shame, because it’s a source of physical, psychological and social benefits

Mitos masturbación
Masturbation exercises the pelvic floor, strengthens the immune system and improves your relationship with your partner.Parinya Thippayawareewong (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In 1760 the Swiss doctor Samuel-Auguste Tissot published the book L’Onanisme, a text on the illnesses produced by masturbation. At the beginning of the 20th century, Doctor John Harvey Kellogg (yes, the guy who made the cereals) created a breakfast food based on wheat flakes designed for a healthy lifestyle in which, among other things, onanism was to be especially avoided. In the second half of the 20th century, it was normal to hear that self-pleasuring could cause vision problems, stunt one’s growth, or cause pimples to pop up on the face. Even in 2024, with as much information to which we now have access, one still hears that touching oneself burns energy, destroys happiness and reduces levels of testosterone. This kind of information is rife in Instagram posts that have racked up thousands of likes — and though these metrics clearly do not ensure quality of information, they are a measure of the popularity of the ideas contained the post. And so, the years go by, and masturbation stays subject to scrutiny.

There is no scientific evidence that confirms any of the negative effects associated with this practice of pleasure. Not even, for the popular myth that links the sexual activity to lower athletic performance. “Masturbation has many physical, psychological and social benefits. Its increase in dopamine and oxytocin levels, with its resulting drop in cortisol, is probably the main one on a physical level,” says Sergio Julve, educator and sex therapist. He adds, “Undoubtedly, it is very important to know our own body to take advantage of pleasure beyond orgasm and, in addition, to be able to share such knowledge with sexual partners. It exercises the pelvic floor, which reduces erection difficulties and urinary incontinence. It strengthens our immune system. And it improves relationships with one’s partner, contrary to what you might think.”

Which begs the question, why are there still so many voices against the practice? Perhaps the answer can be found in the origins of these myths, which have more to do with morality than science. In ancient civilizations, male masturbation was considered a normal sexual activity. So much so, that, for example, one of the Egyptian creation myths involves the ejaculation of the god Atum. Considering that he was alone at the time, one does not have to speculate much to imagine how he managed to produce that semen.

But when sexual activity became limited to reproduction, all other kinds were at first considered a sin and later, a disease. From that point on, various ailments from the physical (upset stomach, vomit, weakness … ) to mental (memory loss, attacks of rage, epilepsy…), began to be associated with masturbation. The stage was set for today’s Instagram chicanery. Julve adds to this, a capitalist component: “In a consumerist society with strong religious customs and traditions, in addition to terrible education deficiencies in matters of sexuality, it makes a lot of sense that a method for pleasure, that is in addition free of charge, suffers from a bad reputation.”

The NoFap movement

A simple search for the term NoFap on social networks like TikTok or Instagram brings back a multitude of results that advocate for the benefits of quitting masturbation: from having higher self-esteem and muscle growth to simply no longer being a loser. Fap is the onomatopoeia used in manga comics to describe the sound of male masturbation, and with the addition of No it becomes the name of a movement that emerged in 2011 to stop masturbation, mid-stroke.

Man searching for pornography videos,hand of male in pants,stimulate one's own genitals for sexual pleasure
Masturbation can be considered a negative act when it is associated with obsessive compulsion, but in that case, what is negative isn’t the practice itself, but rather, the addiction.Satjawat Boontanataweepol (Getty Images)

It all began with a study that associated a lack of ejaculation with a rise in testosterone. In this study, which was based on a total of 28 human subjects, an elevated peak of the hormone was observed after the seventh day without ejaculating. After that, no further variation in hormonal levels was observed. And although there are several studies that associate sexual activity with increased testosterone, or that have simply failed to find a relationship between the two factors, the 28-person finding was enough to give rise to an entire movement against onanism. “The greatest power that these groups exert is via suggestion, which is why education plays a fundamental role here,” says Julve. “There are two main kinds of profiles among NoFap fanatics: egomaniacs acting as leaders and people with very low self-esteem, feelings of guilt and emotional deficiencies.”

Though men are the primary targets of the NoFap movement, you can also find some videos of women commenting on their experience of quitting masturbation. The evidence for the benefits behind their decision to no longer practice self-pleasure is the same as in the case of men: non-existent.

Could masturbation have any negative effects?

Masturbation could be considered a negative act when it is associated with obsessive compulsion, but in that case, what is negative isn’t the practice itself, but rather, the addiction. This is not a question of quantity, but rather the attitude with which it is practiced. If masturbation is done out of need rather than a desire, the practice begins to separate from the pleasure of orgasm and become a technique for reducing anxiety. If not being able to self-pleasure in a specific moment makes a person more nervous or irritable, or if it begins to affect their everyday life … these could be signs of possible problematic behavior.

The evidence for the benefits behind some women’s decision to no longer practice self-pleasure is the same as in the case of men: non-existent.
The evidence for the benefits behind some women’s decision to no longer practice self-pleasure is the same as in the case of men: non-existent.David Pollack (Getty Images)

At any rate, there is no information on how many people are addicted to masturbation, which suggests the problem is not wide-reaching. It is associated with pornography consumption, though it is similarly difficult to identify the percentage of individuals who practice a problematic use of sexually explicit content.

It is also important to keep in mind that what for some people can be beneficial, can be prejudicial for others. “Everyone has a different sexuality and the need to generalize is akin to renouncing diversity. When it comes to addiction, a gradual reduction or adaptation of schedule and location may be sufficient, but in those cases, it is best to see a properly qualified professional before things get out of hand. Sexologists are no longer hard to find,” says Julve.

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