“There is nothing legal that comes close to orgasm, pleasure-wise,” Dutch neuroscientist Dr Janniko Georgiadis wrote in Exposing Orgasm in the Brain. Yet for the 37% of us who masturbated during the last month – according to research by UCL – those shudders go deeper than smiles. In fact 32% of women masturbate to aid sleep, discovered sex educator Dr Carol Ellison. While Indiana University found that regular vibrator users – around 53% of women – had more sexual desire, less negative body judgement, and were more likely to book a smear test than those who don’t.
The benefits of masturbation are so great that medical experts are now raising its status beyond simply fun. “As a clinician, I do recommend thinking of masturbation as a health behaviour, just like getting to sleep on time and avoiding smoking,” confirms Dr Tierney Lorenz, who studies the link between mental, physical and sexual health.
Why? Here’s the hormonal science that links your hand to your happy face.
It lifts a mental slump
Wherever you fall on the blues spectrum – from a bad day to a lingering dark spell – the powerful chemical threesome of oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins are natural (and cost-free) angst relievers. “Orgasm releases all three in a powerful blast that rushes through the body from brain to limbs,” describes sex therapist Dr Gloria Brame (www.gloriabrame.com). For starters, oxytocin relaxes us by reducing cortisol levels. Then there’s the neurotransmitter dopamine, itself dubbed ‘the happiness chemical’, which makes people feel such an emotional buzz that it can become intoxicating. Plus the post-orgasm endorphin release – an identical surge of joy to ‘runner's high’, minus the trainers.
“Healthy, natural sex chemicals from orgasm are widely acknowledged as a stress-buster,” Dr Brame says.
It can help you sleep
As well as reducing levels of snooze-disrupting cortisol, orgasm boosts prolactin – a chemical that’s released by the brain during sleep and, if injected into animals, makes them tired immediately. “The brain chemicals are calming, but it’s not just about them,” explains Dr Brame. “Masturbation itself exhausts energy. Orgasm involves the participation of nerves, muscles and the cardiovascular system: your muscles are working, your heart is pounding and you’re burning calories. Masturbate at the end of a long day, or after building up tension, and an orgasm can knock you out.”
For some women, however, it has the opposite effect. “An orgasm perks up their mood so much, relaxing them and bringing them happiness, that they actually feel livelier.”
It increases libido in partnered sex
“Masturbating regularly may increase sexual desire because sexual activity increases testosterone production (which, in turn, can fuel further desire),” believes Dr Lorenz. Put simply: the more orgasms you have, the more likely you are to want to continue having them, and therefore the more interested you'll be in sexual activity with a partner. The biochemical benefits of orgasm are thought to be equal regardless of whether you climax via touching yourself, being touched by a partner, oral sex or penetration. “Masturbation is a more sure-fire way for women to have an orgasm, though,” Dr Lorenz continues. “So if you want to learn how to climax, or to access the health benefits of orgasm, masturbation would be the way to go.”
BUT… you need to be comfortable
The benefits only work if your mind is onboard. “I’ve worked with people who felt so ashamed of masturbating that their negativity ruined the positive benefits it could accrue,” admits Dr Brame. So the key is it’s all about what feels right for you. “The most important thing is being comfortable in your own body,” Dr Brame says.
Need a libido boost for your solo session?
Moody’s Nutritionist Lola Ross recommends Ginseng and Shatavari to boost libido; zinc, which supports production of testosterone which influences libido; EPA/DHA omegas and Flaxseed Oil support hormone and neurotransmitter communication across whole body. Plus, she adds: "It’s important to support thyroid, which influences most processes in your body including sex hormone regulation and libido. Include foods containing iodine such as sea vegetables, iodised salt and foods containing the amino acid tyrosine, such as cheese, meat, eggs and whole grains."
Words by Gemma Askham