I speak at a lot of conferences, and many in my audiences are young men in high school or college. When I talk about the negative impact of pornography and masturbation, it’s not uncommon for me to get a lot of questions afterwards from these guys. You see, a lot of these guys have been told that not masturbating is actually unhealthy.
Since the days of psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Alfred Kinsey, people picture the sexual impulse as if it’s this boiling, tumultuous force that needs an outlet or it will explode in harmful ways.
The Health Benefits of Masturbation
What does medical science actually tell us about this? Many studies have been done about this and always with really mixed results. But then in 2010 a very helpful paper was written for the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Dr. Stuart Brody compiled the research from a lot of studies and found that while ejaculation is associated with positive health effects, not all ejaculations are created equal.
Once researchers started distinguishing between masturbation and vaginal intercourse, there was more consistent results among the different studies. Researchers have found that more frequent masturbation does not have the same kind of positive health effects that sexual intercourse does. In many cases, there are no health associations when it comes to masturbation, and it instead has negative effects. For instance, men who masturbate more tend to have more prostate abnormalities, have less of an ability to recover from ED, and tend to have more signs of depression.
In short, we can say this:
- There is no documented health problems associated with not masturbating.
- Masturbation does not have the same kind of health benefits that intercourse does.
- Masturbation, in specific ways, can be shown to be unhealthy.
The fact is, the body has built-in mechanisms that come with the build up of hormones in our system. For instance, semen can be ejected during a nocturnal emission.
The Impact of Masturbation and Sexual Fantasy
So let’s be really honest here: no man ever masturbated because he was fantasizing about the possible health benefits. Most men masturbate because of sexual fantasy.
I remember reading a short letter written by Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis where he offered some hard-hitting advice about masturbation to a good friend. He said a man’s sexual appetite is designed to lead a man out of himself, to be a self-gift that both completes and corrects his own personality—first by sharing oneness with a lover and then with the creation of children. However, with masturbation, the appetite is turned back in on itself and “sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.”
What is the harm in this? Lewis says the problem with masturbation is that a man comes to prefer the dark prison of his imaginary sexual harem over the repeated intimate embrace that could transform him into the man he should become. Here’s what he writes,
For the harem, [that is, the fantasy women in his imagination] the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides, he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself.…After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.
If you struggle with masturbation, don’t buy the lie that it is somehow really healthy for you or harmful for you to avoid. Not at all. In fact, by training your brain to not retreat into fantasy or in many cases pornography, you are training yourself to be the man you ought to be: someone whose sexuality is truly relational, intimate, and giving, not just a solo experience.
Want to learn more about the science of porn use?
The more frequently men view pornography, the more they are likely to say they are less satisfied with sex and relationships.
Science shows us that acting out with pornography taps into our powerful neurochemistry, and this can quickly lead a person to use porn habitually. Much like a drug, the chemicals that fire when watching porn cause the brain to increasingly crave it until eventually it can feel almost impossible to break free. If you want more information about the science of porn use, check out the free e-book, The Porn Circuit.