Masturbation and depression: Is there a link?

Mental Health
Masturbation is a healthful and enjoyable activity that has many possible health benefits. Is there any connection between masturbation and depression?

Some people believe that masturbation can cause mental health issues, but this is an outdated idea that researchers have long since disproven. On the other hand, having depression can affect how a person feels about masturbation and sex.

Read on to learn all you need to know about masturbation and depression.

Are masturbation and depression linked?

Woman facing away lying in bed
Depression may affect a person’s sex drive, but masturbation does not cause depression.

Masturbation does not cause depression. It is a natural, pleasurable activity that may boost self-esteem and help a person explore their sexuality.

That said, some people who masturbate do feel guilty or anxious about it. Historically, masturbation has been a social taboo.

The outmoded view that linked masturbation and mental health problems came about in the early 1800s.

By the 1900s, medical professionals had abandoned this view because research into psychology and sex had made it clear that the practice of masturbation was nearly universal.

Masturbation is a common, safe activity that can offer many sexual health benefits, but some religions and cultures continue to prohibit it.

Although masturbation does not cause depression, a person’s religious, cultural, or social views may cause them to feel bad about it.

A 2018 study found that 62.5 percent of male study participants with depression experience some sexual dysfunction. Myths about masturbation were also more prevalent among those with depression.

Masturbation will not have any effect on whether a person develops depression, but having depression can reduce a person’s sex drive, or libido, and may cause them to lose interest in masturbation.


How depression affects libido

Depression may make a person lose interest in activities that they usually enjoy, including sex. It is common for a person with depression to feel less interested in sex than they previously did.

Communicating this to a partner is helpful. If one or both partners are experiencing a low libido due to depression, they can find other ways to maintain intimacy, such as cuddling and giving massages.

Masturbation may also help. A person experiencing depression may find that masturbating helps them feel sexual again, but this is highly personal. Many people go through phases of masturbating more or less frequently, which may not have any effect on their mental health.

Certain medications for depression may also reduce a person’s libido. Not all treatments have this effect, so if a specific medication decreases a person’s sex drive and becomes bothersome, they should speak to a doctor about other options.

A person whose partner has depression may find that masturbating meets their own sexual needs until their partner feels like reconnecting.

Managing depression

man jogging or running through park in winter
Regular exercise can help manage depression.

As well as reducing sex drive, depression may make a person feel:

  • sad
  • guilty
  • hopeless
  • worthless
  • tired

Depression may also cause physical symptoms, such as unexplained aches and pains.

Anyone experiencing the symptoms of depression should speak to their doctor, who will be able to help them access treatment.

People can use a combination of talk therapy and medication to manage depression. The lifestyle changes and stress-relieving activities below may also help:

  • exercising regularly
  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthful, balanced diet
  • reducing alcohol intake
  • practicing yoga, mindfulness, or meditation
  • journaling
  • spending time with friends

The most effective mix of treatment and self-management strategies will vary from person to person.


Benefits of masturbation

A growing number of studies show a correlation between masturbation and good health. Even though masturbation is not harmful, some people never masturbate or only do so rarely — this is also healthy and normal.

The possible health benefits of masturbation include:

Improving sleep

Masturbating to reach orgasm may help a person get a good night’s sleep. During and after orgasm, feel-good hormones flood the brain. These hormones include:

These help a person relax, which may improve their sleep.

Making it easier to orgasm

When a person learns what feels good through masturbation, they may find it easier to orgasm during sex with a partner.

A 2015 study looked at the link between female masturbation and sexual satisfaction. Researchers compared the experiences of two groups of married women. The women in one group had experienced orgasms from masturbation, while the women in the other group had not.

The study found that the women who had orgasmed when masturbating had more orgasms and greater sexual satisfaction.

Increasing sex drive

There may also be an association between masturbating and a person’s sex drive. Research suggests that married women who masturbate may have a higher sex drive than those who do not.

An older study from 2009 recruited 3,800 women and found that 52.5 percent of them masturbated with vibrators. The results showed that vibrator use significantly improved sexual function, including arousal, desire, lubrication, and having an orgasm.

Boosts self-esteem

Masturbation may also improve a person’s body confidence and self-esteem.

A 2015 study suggested that partnered women who masturbate have higher self-esteem than those who do not.

May lower risk of prostate cancer

Although additional studies are necessary, initial research suggests that frequent ejaculation may lower a man’s risk of prostate cancer.

A 2016 study found that men who reported more frequent ejaculation were less likely to receive a prostate cancer diagnosis later in life.

When to seek help

If a person feels guilty or anxious about masturbating, they should speak to their doctor. The doctor can recommend a therapist who specializes in sexual health and can help a person improve their relationship with masturbation.

Anyone experiencing the symptoms of depression should also speak to a healthcare professional, who can recommend treatments to help them manage the condition.

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