Despite the fact that it's been over two decades since Sex and the City introduced the world to the rabbit vibrator, solo sex is a practice that's all too often taken for granted and deprioritized. A 2020 global survey, conducted by the sexual empowerment brand Womanizer, found a "global masturbation gap," noting that around 35% of female respondents said they don't masturbate at all versus 18% of male respondents.
But whether you're happily partnered or single, there's a major case for making self-pleasure a part of your wellness routine. "Orgasming on a regular basis can help self-esteem, sleep, pain relief, and potentially a healthier life overall," points out Casey Tanner, certified sex therapist and expert for LELO.
Here, 10 unexpected benefits of self-pleasure, according to Tanner and other experts.
When life feels like it's going totally off the rails and you need to chill, your first thought might be to get yourself to yoga or happy hour with friends, but staying in and grabbing your favorite vibe might be just as effective.
"Masturbation is the ultimate release of stress, pent-up emotions, and a distracted mind," notes Shannon Chavez, Psy.D., K-Y's sex therapist. That's because it spurs the release of oxytocin — which makes you feel safe and calm and simultaneously reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
At the same time, self-pleasure causes a flood of certain neurotransmitters responsible for mood and pleasure — dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Not only do these chemicals make you feel more buoyant, but they'll boost your motivation to have another pleasurable experience (another orgasm, anyone?) stat.
The release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin can also help usher you off to dreamland, says Tanner. "This is because dopamine helps move cortisol, the neurotransmitter released during stress, out of the central nervous system," she notes. This snooze-inducing effect helps you feel more relaxed immediately, so you might find self-pleasure allows you to skip the melatonin.
No matter your starting point — super-horny or not quite in the mood — masturbation can amplify your sex drive, says Tanner.
"Regardless of what your genitalia look like, during sex and orgasm the body releases testosterone, which increases sex drive, creating a positive feedback loop in which the desire to orgasm more increases the likelihood of a person seeking out sex/masturbation, which in turn leads to further release of endorphins," she points out. In short, the more stimulation you offer yourself, the more you want, and the more pleasure you get to enjoy all around.
On the flip side, some people find that skimping on sexual pleasure leads to a loss of desire for it, notes August McLaughlin, certified sex educator and host of the podcast, Girl Boner Radio. "Masturbating regularly can serve as a helpful reminder to your body and mind that such pleasure is worthwhile — it keeps it top of mind," she says.
Your sex drive isn't the only type of energy that self-pleasure can bolster, notes Chavez. Regular masturbation can truly be thought of as a form of cardio, as it elevates your heart rate, brings oxygen to tissues throughout the body, and regulates the nervous system. In turn, you'll build endurance and boost overall energy. It's for this same reason that frequent romps between the sheets — by yourself or a partner — can stave off cardiovascular disease.
Think of masturbation as a master class on your sensual identity and body, says McLaughlin. "You discover what feels good and what you may want to experience with a partner, and you can become an empowered teacher," she notes. "All of that can make sex more appealing and gratifying."
From boosting your vitamin C intake to sipping echinacea tea, it's possible you've never been more conscious of caring for your immune system. And if you want to be even more protected against viruses, be sure to enjoy self-pleasure on the regular, advises Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., ASTROGLIDE's resident sex researcher, who points out that masturbating to orgasm has been found to stimulate the immune system. "It increases the absolute number of leukocytes — white blood cells that can help fight off infections," notes Lehmiller.
If you feel like you get sidelined from life by period cramps, self-pleasure — aka "menstrubation" — could offer some relief, explains, Aviva Romm, M.D., midwife, herbalist, and author of Hormone Intelligence. For starters, a solo sex session can increase blood flow to the uterus, which helps relieve the pain that comes along with uterine contractions during your period (which are often worse for women with a heavy flow). And orgasm results in a flood of feel-good hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, and noradrenaline, which reduce pain and improve your sense of well-being, effects that may last for as long as an hour after you climax.
As you age, you naturally begin to lose muscle tone in the pelvic floor, which can lead to a whole array of fun symptoms like incontinence and difficulty emptying your bladder. But experiencing frequent orgasms — ahem, like the kind you can give yourself — is a great way to this muscle group active, toned, and healthy, says Kristine D'Angelo, a clinical sexologist and certified sex coach.
Dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters released during self-pleasure, is also responsible for learning, memory, and concentration, points out Chavez. For that reason, it might improve focus and concentration. (A 2020 study found that medications like Ritalin, which improve focus and concentration, may be effective because they boost circulating dopamine levels and make people more motivated to complete tough tasks.)
At the same time, you might get some of the same effects as you would from your favorite meditation app, as solo play supports mindfulness. "It helps you focus on being in the moment and being embodied," she notes.
It bears noting that being able to fulfill your own needs and give yourself pleasure can be truly empowering. "Leaning into desire and acts that induce pleasure can help you feel more satisfied and increase overall perceptions of one's own attractiveness," acknowledges Tanner.
Ultimately, making more time for self-pleasure aligns you with your own desires as a sexual being, says Tanner, and there's no doubt that'll enhance your self-esteem and confidence.