It’s kind of wild that female masturbation is still something of a taboo topic. This is especially galling when you take the benefits of female masturbation into account. It would be one thing if masturbation were just this thing you do without any potential payoff, but in reality, masturbation—and the orgasms it may cause—can bring a lot of good into your life. These benefits aren’t even just limited to your sexual health.
“I recommend [masturbation] to the women I [treat],” says Kelley Kitely, L.C.S.W., a women’s mental health expert based in Chicago, tells SELF. “But a lot of women are embarrassed by it. My hope is that we can normalize it for women, too, because it’s such a natural function,” Kitely says. “I like to refer to it [on the same level of importance] as eating, sleeping, and brushing our teeth.” Sign us up.
Although there’s not a wealth of science on the subject (can researchers pursue that a little more fervently, please?), many experts believe masturbation can improve your wellbeing in various ways. As a bonus, if you go with the most basic version, “masturbation is safe, easy, and free,” Wendie Trubow, M.D., president of Five Journeys Integrative Medicine, tells SELF. Still not enough to sell you? Read on for why you should go ahead and get off. Whether you’re a master-bator, or a self-love newbie, think of this as a primer or reminder of why you should touch yourself, bust out a toy, or otherwise go after it in the way that delights you most. As Dr. Trubow tells SELF, how you do it is “really a matter of personal preference.” But we’d argue that it’s a matter of personal care that you do it at all.
Before we dive into our rationale, a quick note on terminology: We understand that you don’t need organs like a uterus or vagina to be a woman. In this article, we’re using terms such as “female masturbation” to represent the act in people with vaginas in accordance with the science on the subject—but many of these benefits are in effect no matter your gender or sexual and reproductive organs.
OK, now for the benefits:
1. The focus necessary to orgasm can help push stress from your mind.
Picture the most mind-blowing orgasm—or even the most incredible non-orgasmic sexual experience you’ve ever had. Chances are it probably didn’t happen while you were fretting about a big work presentation or mentally running through your endless to-do list.
Getting to orgasm often requires putting any stressful thoughts out of your mind, then the wave of pleasure compounds that effect. Orgasm “shifts the focus” away from anything that is stressing you out, says Kitely. While we can’t present you with a landmark piece of science backing this up, just think about how stress often recedes when you throw yourself into something you really enjoy. It’s basically the same situation here.
Since we’d be remiss not to mention that some people have a hard time achieving orgasm and that orgasm isn’t a necessary part of a fulfilling experience, let’s be really clear here: Any kind of sexual pleasure, orgasmic or not, may help take your mind off the stressful realities of day-to-day life. Even if it’s temporary, that’s still a win!
2. An orgasm-induced endorphin release can also help with stress relief and put you in a great mood.
So, here’s part two of masturbation’s stress-relieving powers: Having an orgasm releases endorphins that can help quell stress, at least temporarily, Dr. Trubow tells SELF.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters that can bring about positive feelings. To be fair, there aren’t scientifically solid major studies that show a clear link between masturbation, endorphin release, and positive feelings. However, it is a generally accepted medical fact that physical activity helps to increase your endorphins, according to the Mayo Clinic. What is masturbation if not an incredibly pleasurable form of physical activity? Think about the moment after you’ve had an orgasm: You’re all like “V is for victory,” right? (Right before you sigh, smile, and take a nap, which we’ll get to in just a second.)
FYI, those endorphins are like the ones you get from a great workout, says Kitely, so that runner’s high now becomes your orgasm high. This means that perhaps there’s something to the idea, then, that masturbating before heading into the office can leave you with a clearer head, just like exercise can. Some people have even reported having more energy post-masturbation orgasm, says Kitely, just as people can experience an increase in energy after exercise. All good things.
3. Having an orgasm could also make you really tired, potentially helping you to fall asleep.
Let’s chat about what happens as you work your way toward orgasm. This process is part of what is known as the sexual response cycle, and going through it is a major reason why orgasmic release feels so great.
As you masturbate or have sex, your body cycles through different stages that come with very real physiological changes. For instance, in desire, the first phase, your heart and breathing rates start climbing, and your clitoris becomes engorged with blood so you actually have a little erection, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Your muscles get all tense, too, in preparation for release. These kinds of changes ramp up as you approach orgasm.
When you reach orgasm, then, you unleash all that pent-up energy and tension. Your muscles spasm. Your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing are at their highest, most frenetic rates, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Is it any wonder that all of this can be exhausting, and in the post-orgasm resolution phase, you may experience some fatigue?
It’s not just that all this work and release can be tiring. One theory holds that orgasm (whether through masturbation or sex) appears to prompt the release of more prolactin, a hormone that is linked with sexual satiety and is also implicated in sleep.
Obviously, it’s not like an orgasm is a failsafe sleep aid, especially if you have sleep issues like insomnia. But for some people, the relaxation masturbation provides can be a great way to get really tired really quickly (or really slowly, depending on how you go about your masturbatory business). “It’s great to do right before bed, in the bath, or during other relaxing nighttime rituals,” Kitely tells SELF. “It naturally just puts people in a meditative state,” she says.
4. Exploring what gets you off the best can help you feel more self-assured in your sexuality.
There’s some outdated yet still pervasive cultural stigmatization when it comes to female masturbation. This can translate into people with vaginas often feeling ashamed of their own bodies and sexuality, Kitely says. A huge benefit of female masturbation comes down to doing away with that shame. One of the most enduring, immutable facts about human nature is that we’re sexual beings. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s wonderful.
“I really believe firmly in [masturbation] building confidence and self-esteem for women and knowing their own bodies and what they like,” Kitely says. Masturbation is one of the best ways to learn about your sexuality, help you understand what your preferences are, and learn how best to reach orgasm] if that’s something your body can do. And when you’re consistently, perhaps quite literally tapping into this really special part of yourself, you’re probably feeling pretty, pretty good. (Yes, that’s Larry David you hear saying that in the back of your mind.)
5. It may help increase your libido. (Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too.)
This is the best kind of vicious cycle, in that it’s not really vicious at all.
Dr. Trubow explains it as a “feed-forward” mechanism, which means that the more one stimulates oneself, the more one wants to be stimulated. This is another benefit of female masturbation that really comes down to human nature: When you experience a little bit of something that’s amazingly pleasurable, whether it’s a delectable piece of carrot cake or a delightful orgasm, you’re probably going to want more of that good stuff.
This would be awesome no matter what, but there’s one reason why it’s particularly great: Many people with vaginas deal with low libido at some point. There’s a vast range of potential causes, including depression, pain during sex, drinking too much alcohol, chronic illness, and fatigue, according to the Mayo Clinic. No matter the source, it can be awful to feel like you’re losing touch with the sexual part of yourself. That’s where masturbation comes in for some people.
“A woman who is looking to get back into being sexual is encouraged to masturbate since it can lead to more sexual thoughts and better sexual response,” says Dr. Trubow.
With that said, sometimes masturbation isn’t enough to boost a low libido. You definitely shouldn’t feel like you’re failing in any way if this is your experience. All it means is that you may benefit from seeing a medical professional who can get to the root of your low libido and offer potential ways to treat the issue.
6. If you’re in a relationship, masturbation may make you more interested in having sex with your partner.
This comes from the same feed-forward mechanism Dr. Trubow explains above: Once you feed your libido, it often desires more. That might translate into even more masturbation, in which case, go you. And, if you have a partner, it can also mean more sex with them. It’s not just about quantity—the quality might go up thanks to your masturbation, too.
So, real talk for a sec: Masturbation did help my relationship. By heightening my own sexual awareness, I’m more conscious of what I like and can direct my husband to those specific spots or feelings. Figuring out what you like with a partner is special. But feeling the freedom to explore your sexual likes and dislikes on your own—then bringing that into your relationship—is another way of creating an overall greater sex life together.
More sex in a relationship is often a totally welcome and exciting development. The only exception is if masturbation is actually getting in the way of connecting with your partner, Kitely says. It’s one thing if you happen to masturbate more than you have sex with your partner and you’re both perfectly happy with that. But if you find that your masturbatory habits are disrupting your relationship or life in some way, seeing a sex therapist might be a great idea. Here’s how to find one.
7. You can give your heart a bit of a workout if you really get active.
To be clear, we’re not saying masturbation is enough of a workout that it can replace your usual exercise sessions. But remember how we talked about the sexual response cycle, and specifically how it involves an increase in your heart and breathing rate? It stands to reason that if you have a really long, intense bout of masturbation, you may get your heart rate up significantly enough to give it a workout.
Unfortunately, science hasn’t yet delivered a final verdict on how much of a heart workout masturbation, sex, and orgasms really offer. But, according to the experts, over time masturbation may be able to at least slightly contribute to improved cardiovascular health and endurance. “The power [of] this depends on how vigorously a woman is masturbating,” Dr. Trubow says. “If she can sustain her heart rate and work up a sweat, then it’s great for cardiovascular health!”
8. You can also give your pelvic floor a workout while you masturbate.
It’s pretty hard to talk about the benefits of female masturbation without discussing the pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support crucial internal organs like your bladder and uterus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Having a strong pelvic floor is important because it can help you avoid or lessen issues like leaking pee when you sneeze, laugh, or cough. (This kind of thing can happen after you have a baby, for instance.)
The cool thing about having a pelvic floor is that it’s really just like other muscles in your body—it responds to strengthening exercises. In this case, these strengthening exercises are known as Kegels. The first step in doing Kegels is identifying your pelvic floor muscles, which you can do by stopping your stream of pee (or pretending you’re doing that even if you’re not peeing). Feel that kind of internal clench? Those are your pelvic floor muscles at work.
There are different Kegel workout regimens, like squeezing and holding the muscles for five seconds, then releasing, and doing 15 reps of that sequence three times over. But you can also work out your Kegels while you masturbate with toys like small, weighty Ben Wa balls you insert inside your vagina. As a bonus, a stronger pelvic floor may translate into stronger orgasms, too.
9. You might give your butt and inner thighs a mini-workout.
It would be pretty cool to see masturbation-induced gains at the gym, right? OK, let’s start with the (slightly) bad news first. Not to be too much of a downer, but just like masturbating isn’t going to work your heart the same way a cycling class would, it’s probably not going to give your thighs and glutes any kind of major strengthening benefits.
However, that doesn’t mean masturbation won’t do anything at all in this arena. Thanks to your sexual response cycle, your muscles do tense up and spasm as you get sexually excited and achieve orgasm (whether through masturbation or sex). So, the end result is that you probably naturally engage muscles in areas like your inner thighs and butt as you work to get off. There are few things better than finding a form of exercise that barely feels like exercise at all, which is just another reason why masturbation can be such a blessing.
10. Masturbating increases blood flow to the vagina, which may help counteract menopause’s uncomfortable effects on the area.
You’re probably already aware of some characteristic menopause symptoms, like hot flashes. But did you know that menopause can affect your vagina, too?
According to the Mayo Clinic, menopause happens when your ovaries start producing a low enough level of hormones like estrogen and progesterone that you no longer have a menstrual cycle. You officially enter menopause when you’ve gone a full year without a period, which typically happens in a person’s 40s or 50s in the United States. (The average age is 51, the Mayo Clinic notes.) Things like having a hysterectomy or undergoing cancer treatment such as chemotherapy can put a person into menopause earlier than this.
In addition to regulating your menstrual cycle, estrogen helps to promote vaginal lubrication, the Mayo Clinic says. So, when this hormone is dropping in the months and years leading up to menopause (perimenopause) and during menopause itself, you can deal with a phenomenon known as vaginal atrophy, which essentially means your vagina might be much drier than usual, leading to discomfort (especially during penetrative sex and masturbation).
There are various treatments for this, including vaginal lubricants and moisturizers, the Mayo Clinic says. But the organization also mentions the fact that staying sexually active can help because it increases blood flow to the vagina, prompting more lubrication. Whether you incorporate that sexual activity through masturbation or with a partner (or both), it may help relieve some vaginal discomfort.
Dr. Trubow also specifically recommends that perimenopausal and menopausal people try masturbating with internal toys such as dildos to “maintain vaginal resiliency.” “[These toys] can train the vaginal muscles to expand and maintain elasticity,” Dr. Trubow says.
With that said, you don’t need to try this technique if it’s uncomfortable for you. If you’re dealing with symptoms like vaginal dryness and discomfort, talk to your doctor to make sure you land on the most effective treatment plan possible.
11. Masturbating can help relieve menstrual cramps, too.
If you get cramps when you get your period, you might not want to move at all, much less put in the effort required to have an orgasm. But it may actually be able to help lessen those cramps, at least in the short-term.
Quick biology refresher: When you have your period, it means your uterus is sloughing off any endometrial lining it’s built up to support a potential pregnancy. It would be super helpful if your uterus could do this without bothering you at all, but sometimes it results in pain. You can thank prostaglandins for that.
Prostaglandins are hormone-like chemicals that prompt your uterus—which is a muscle, FYI—to contract in order to expel that unnecessary lining. Voilà: Now you have cramps. And, while it may feel like masturbation is no match here, we’ve got one word for you: endorphins. Those feel-good neurotransmitters don’t only help relieve stress, they actually seem able to relieve pain, too. This can result in your cramps dwindling, perhaps even significantly if you’re lucky. (Tried it. It works for me.) The major caveat here is that sometimes these endorphins aren’t going to be a match for period pain, no matter how strong the orgasm. If you have period cramps that are painful enough to really interrupt your life, don’t leave this one up to masturbation—see your doctor for help.
12. You can experiment with having multiple orgasms.
This huge benefit of female masturbation is a real reward for all your hard work. Here’s the deal: If you have one orgasm, you can probably have another one again—and soon. Dear reader, welcome to the incredible world of multiple orgasms.
Let’s return to that sexual response cycle for a second. Once your orgasm is over, your body basically returns to normal functioning. Your heart rate and breathing decline, your vagina and breasts come down from their heightened swollen state, your brain can produce coherent thoughts again—you get the gist. At this point, you can go about whatever else is on your agenda for the day. Or, if you want, you can go after another orgasm again pretty much immediately.
It’s much easier for people with vaginas to have multiple orgasms because there’s no need for a refractory period, which is the recovery time people with penises need before they can reach orgasm again, the Cleveland Clinic explains. Depending on how your specific body works, you might want a little break anyway if your genitals are feeling overly sensitive. But overall, having a vagina means you can get back on the orgasmic horse much more quickly than if you had a penis.
13. Sexual activity—including masturbation—is associated with better cognition as you age.
You might feel like your brain and vagina are two completely separate entities, but they may be more connected than you think. Some research shows that sexual activity, masturbation included, is linked with better cognition in aging adults.
For instance, a 2017 study in The Journals of Gerontology studied 73 people between the ages of 50 and 83 who participated in a range of sexual activities (including masturbation) at varying frequencies. The study authors found that more frequent sexual activity was associated with higher scores on cognitive tests that evaluated thing like memory and verbal fluency.
These study results backed up a similar study from 2016, this one published in Age and Ageing. This earlier study was much larger, examining 6,833 adults from the ages of 50 to 89 who participated in various forms and frequencies of sexual activity, including masturbation. The study authors found that, overall, sexual activity was associated with a “modest benefit” in various aspects of cognitive function in older adults, specifically between sexual activity and memory recall in older women.
Experts aren’t yet sure why this connection may exist, but they posit that neurotransmitters like dopamine, which is involved in sexual activity, may offer a protective benefit for the brain.
None of this is to say that masturbation is the key to keeping your brain sharp no matter your age, or even that it’s certain to directly benefit your brain health for the time being. But what scientists have found so far here is pretty cool.
14. And, perhaps amazingly, some experts believe masturbating can even temporarily strengthen your immune system.
OK, stay with us here. This is by no means concluding that masturbating is going to make your immunity skyrocket. Sometimes things like the common cold are just going to get you no matter how much very happy time you spend playing with yourself in bed or wherever else strikes your fancy.
But there may be something to the idea that good sexual health can translate into good overall health. One admittedly tiny study (again, science, more attention on this subject, please!) supports this notion. A piece of 2003 research in NeuroImmunoModulation recruited 11 very game volunteers who agreed to abstain from sex for 24 hours, watch pornography, then masturbate until orgasm. There was also a control session that involved watching a documentary and not masturbating at all.
The researchers found that five minutes post-orgasm, the study subjects had an increased level of certain types of lymphocytes (white blood cells that help your immune system fend off illness). The scientists concluded that specific components of the immune system appear to activate with sexual arousal and orgasm.
Is one 11-person study enough to say that you should definitely masturbate because it will absolutely make you less likely to get sick? Nope. But think about this: Your immune system is at its best when you’re engaging in a variety of healthy lifestyle habits such as getting enough sleep and reducing stress as much as you can. As you now know, masturbation can help you succeed in these areas—so, in some senses, it really may make you healthier overall.
Additional Reporting by Zahra Barnes