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Defeat Lust & Pornography 3 minute read

The Health Benefits of Masturbation

Last Updated: July 22, 2021

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:

  1. There is no documented health problems associated with not masturbating.
  2. Masturbation does not have the same kind of health benefits that intercourse does.
  3. 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.

  1. Hope

    This is all very healthy topics for discussion but I would like to suggest that you separate these discussions into different subject areas as: 1. Is masturbation risky or beneficial for the human body and the mind? 2. What types of sexual acts are a sin? 3. What is a human being to do to control their sexual urges and impulses? 4. What resources/web sites/support groups/books are there to help men or women control their sexual urges and impulses?

  2. John

    You mentioned research. I’m interested in reading and referencing the research. Could you share the source(s)? With Thanks & God Bless!

    • Chris McKenna

      Hi John – I’ve sent you an email with a response. Hope that helps!

      Chris
      Covenant Eyes

  3. Keith M.

    Chria, I am a gay Christian in recovery for two years now for sex addiction, including masturbation to fantasy. I no longer act out with others, and God has graciously restored me in many ways from my old life. Masturbation is where I still repeatedly fail. I once had 35 days, then relapsed.
    Recovery has challenged me to be very open about my struggles, and I have no shortage of advice from my pastor, brothers, sponsor and accountability partners. None agree. Your article is interestin but in no way new to me. From your article, I am reminded of the importance of being reminded over and over again about spiritual things.
    However I must emphasize that your arguests about what is healthy about sex all necessarily refer to benefits in a healthy marriage. No one has provided any argument for us who suffer as singles, whether gay or not, who will never marry. To this day, and much to my frustration, I have no solution as one who will always burn but never marry. Yet I am expected to be stronger than all the weak men (as Paul described them) who can and do marry. I am still waiting for a relevant spiritual and scriptural basis for my suffering, and for my expectations. Knowing all the while my expectations are not my own, they are imposed upon me.

    • Kay Bruner

      Much love to you, Keith, and thank you so much for being willing to speak up.

      I agree with you that the conservative evangelical church does not provide relevant spiritual or scriptural basis for the suffering of singles when it comes to sexuality, and in particular the suffering of gay singles. It seems like you’re just supposed to get straight-married, and if you don’t, well, pretend your sexuality doesn’t exist.

      I think the conservative evangelical church is terrified of sex, and when you’re afraid, you say dumb things. A lot of dumb things have been said by straight married men to single people, gay and straight, when in fact I think straight married men and women should probably shut up, sit down, and let our single ADULT brothers and sisters sort out their sexuality before God in a way that honors who they are.

      Here’s what I know.

      God loves you with an everlasting love, just as you are.

      You are precious to him, valuable, and beloved.

      Your sexuality is a part of you, and God loves you fully and completely.

      The church may not be able to answer the cry of your heart with proof-texts about ‘waht the bible clearly says’ but I encourage you to follow God’s heart of Love for you. I believe you will find every answer that you need there.

      I myself am straight and married, so with that I will sit down, shut up, and listen. Press on, and please tell us what you learn.

      Peace to you, Kay

  4. Austin

    What about for the teenager? I’m in college, would rather refrain from having sex before marriage because its God’s moral law to NOT have sex before marriage. Its meant for the bedroom. My case here is I think families back then ( old testament) were started a little earlier or at least younger in age. I’m 19 and a virgin. Masturbation for me is something that helps me keep my head on straight so i’m not constantly looking at girls as sexual objects. God designed us to be sexual beings right so its natural to have the urge. I do it for the release from that urge and temptation. That way i’m not tempted to “chase some tail” as some people might say. I need to finish college before I can even consider a relationship, otherwise how else could I support a family? I’m not trying to disprove the article or poke holes in it. To me there is a lot of truth here. I feel as though this pertains to married men though. I would like an answer that pertains to me. Like i said, I’m single, in college so I can get my degree to try and get a good job so I can support a family. I have sexual urges as a hormonal teenager but I masturbate instead of trying to have sex with someone outside of marriage. Is this still sinful? is this going to harm me? I thought it would be okay if i wasn’t having intercourse outside of marriage and if it kept me focused in school. Does anyone have an answer for me?

    • Chris McKenna

      Hi Austin, thanks for your honest sharing. It’s tough, tough work navigating purity as a single Christian. I wondered if I could challenge something you shared. It’s this, “God designed us to be sexual beings right so its natural to have the urge.” No doubt that God designed us to experience intimacy and sex with a spouse. The very design of our bodies teaches us that sex is intended to be experienced between a man and woman. But, what if you changed your belief? I would argue that we are primarily spiritual beings. Sex is not ultimate. It is not a need. None of us is required to act out sexually. What if instead of living a miserable life of urge suppression, you redirected that energy into Kingdom building activity?

      Even St. Paul recognized the fact that simply oppressing sinful behavior is pointless. In Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” It’s just coincidental that the verse references something with the hands :)

      I commend you for wanting to stay pure! In my experience, whenever I have to ask the question, “is this still sinful,” it usually means I know the answer, but I’m looking for someone to take my side. What does your heart tell you?

      Here’s an amazing e-book we wrote specifically for singles, if you’re interested in digesting a bit more: https://www.covenanteyes.com/singles-guide/

      Peace, Chris
      Covenant Eyes

  5. Scott N.

    Thanks Matt. Another God created method of ejection, in addition to nocturnal emmissions, is through squating to go to the bathroom. God designed this position, in my opinion, as the primary ejection method for single men, before nocturnal emmissions. Unfortunate the modern sit down toilet has made us forget this. I’ve never heard this mentioned before but for me, a single guy, (addicted to masterbation and porn for 15 years) now free for almost three years, this is much easier than the instability of mind/spirit produced the next day after a nocturnal emmission.

  6. Thank you for this great article! I have not looked at porn since November 2014, however I still struggle with masturbation, fantasy and lust. It is helpful to read articles like this one addressing the issues of masturbation and lust, not just porn. I’m the type of person that likes to know reasons I shouldn’t be doing something instead of just being told not to do it. Articles like this giving what I feel are valid points as to why I shouldn’t masturbate, lust or fantasize. If possible more articles addressing the topic such as this one would be welcomed.

  7. Benjamin Warner

    I have masturbated a lot and when I watch the video it has made me tell myself not to do it and quit doing other things.

  8. Thomas Weyandt

    I apologize for, as Mom would say, “flying off the handle” with my comment. I did not read the full article either. I just got steamed over the subject matter.
    I don’t willingly masturbate these days and when I do, it’s because of my porn addiction.
    I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be free of it. Going five days without porn masturbation seems like an accomplishment but I always end up returning to Internet porn.
    I do not like the person I turn into when I view porn. It is Dr. Jekyl becoming Mr. Hyde.
    I agree that there are no health benefits to masturbation and I don’t know about any health problems concerning the practice. I am just tired of my personal sin with masturbation to porn. Losing week after week, month after month is demoralizing.
    Next time I’ll read the whole article before engaging keyboard.

    • Thomas Weyandt

      I want to interject here that May is mental illness awareness month and it seems to be a secret among Christians. As a mentally ill Christian myself, the stigma is so great that some pastors won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. However, in my rural area, the county MH program reached out to pastors and happily, a number were willing to talk about the subject. Being a mentally ill Christian who also has pornography addiction/sin, it is doubly hard to live a life that is what life should be. My friends have all been or are mentally ill and are also Christians. It’s time the Church woke up and smelled the coffee.
      There are millions of us who are not ministered to by the Church because of stigma. I wish that someday that would change. As for myself, I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, schizoaffective disorder and avoidant personality disorder plus panic attacks and self harm and suicidal thoughts. My OCD caused me to become a religious fanatic and completely messed up my image of God and our relationship. OCD Scrupulosity is hell on earth. That is over and I finally surrendered my life to God and that has taken 44 years to be able to trust Him with my life. I urge the Church to take note of the mentally ill who are in pain, dump the stigma and began helping all of it’s mentally ill members who suffer enough in silence while the secular county MH does dare to minister to us. I thank God that my two female current pastors, who minister to the mentally retarded, are willing to deal with mental illness, learn about it and help. We should not suffer in silence anymore. My email is Sciquest2525@gmail.com if anyone is interested in learning more about MH you can contact me.

    • Jeremy Hanson

      Thomas,

      Just wanted to encourage you in your struggle. You are not alone with the feelings of discouragement and hopelessness with this issue. Be gentle with yourself and know that despite your mistakes you are not defined by them. That the desire that you have to fight this addiction is counter-cultural and takes serious bravery to face. It can be demoralizing to “lose” week after week. Remember that we only do these things out of our own pain. When we are hurting, we act out. Hang in there man….

    • dude

      I used to have mb problem but I was restricted to playboy topless pin ups, arty nudes and sex educational books in libraries and bookstores plus nude scenes in M rated films. Since then I have come to realize that the far greater danger lies in the vast internet and its endless ocean of sexually explicit films. While what I looked at is confronting (and somehow inconsistent with laws against pubic indecency), I have learned to toughen up a little and choose not to be affected by that stuff. As for actual pornography on internet, I have no attraction to it.
      By the way, I have never married and do not regard mb as an outlet!

  9. Thomas Weyandt

    There seems to be a concerted effort to brand masturbation as evil. For a widower/widow or a person who never married like myself at age 61, it is the only sexual outlet there is. I’m not saying masturbate to porn or images of your neighbor as that would be sin, but, imaginary women are okay if the content of the fantasy is not in itself pornographic which would be sin. I don’t currently masturbate except to porn which is a sin and have not attempted to masturbate to a controlled sexual fantasy with a made up person. If the practice is in itself sin, why is the Bible silent on the subject. In Exekiel 22-24, you find evidence that petting is sin but with masturbation, not a word.

    • Chris McKenna

      Hi Thomas – the Bible is silent on the specific issue of masturbation, but it is not silent on the original design of sex. In Genesis 1-2 there are some clues….that sex is meant as an outward “selfless” act towards another person which is clear based on the original design of men and women; that is is meant for pleasure with that person based in the chemical cocktail released during intercourse; that it creates oneness with that person in a Divine way that I cannot explain; and that it can create more life through pregnancy under the right circumstances. Is the act of masturbation sinful? I think it’s necessary to ask hard questions about the intent behind the act: https://www.covenanteyes.com/2013/01/14/masturbate-without-lusting/ I’m saying these things without any judgment, and truly want to just provide you things to consider, since I am a fellow man who has struggled mightily with this issue in my past. For years I believed the lie that I was created as a sexual being who would explode without an outlet, when instead, I’m created in His image as a spiritual being. I’m discovering that I’m more conformed to the image of Jesus if I’m a man who doesn’t masturbate.

      -Peace, Chris
      Covenant Eyes

    • Jeremy Hanson

      I may be the only atheist or agnostic that uses covenant eyes, so my motivations in this area have more to do with pornography and masturbation and their effects on the brain. The behavior of masturbation is part of a dynamic cycle of how we as sex addicts process our pain in an ineffective manner. I think that when there is a lack of self-care, the tendency to masturbate will increase. It is far more healthy to be aware of oneself and their emotions rather than to try to use a neuro-chemical drug to make us feel better.

  10. Thank you, Matt! WELL SAID!!! I love how you bring the science together with the wisdom of C.S. Lewis!

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