Tag Archives: sexuality

Your brain on masturbation

Credit: Pixabay.

Like all things taboo, there are a lot of myths and speculation surrounding masturbation and its effects on the human body.

There’s even a global movement called #nofap, whose followers (mostly men) are abstaining from masturbation in order to reap supposed health benefits, such as enhanced mood, energy, and self-esteem.

While there is still much to learn about how our bodies react to the chemicals and hormones released during sexual release, there are quite a lot of physical and psychological benefits to masturbation, supported by evidence-based science. Most researchers who study sexual health concur that masturbation is a healthy and universal behavior in the human sexual repertoire. 

Masturbation releases feel-good hormones that boost your mood

During masturbation, the brain releases a number of hormones, the most important being dopamine. Also known as the “happiness hormone”, dopamine is heavily involved in the brain’s reward system. Along with oxytocin, a hormone that improves social bonding, dopamine also improves mood and satisfaction.

Other hormones that are released during sexual release also include endorphins, testosterone, and prolactin. These have roles in reducing stress, increasing arousal, and boosting immune system function.

However, it’s yet unclear how these ‘feel good’ hormones differ based on the various forms of sexual release involved (sex vs masturbation or sex with a long-term partner vs sex with a short-term partner).

“I don’t think the science can answer this yet.  It appears that the same types of hormones are released but I think it would be very hard to ever say whether or not they are always released in the same quantity, ratio, or in the same way, regardless of the method to orgasm,” Heather Armstrong, Lecturer in Sexual Health at the Department of Psychology at the University of Southampton in the UK, told ZME Science.

“In terms of outcomes, I think sex (and masturbation) is so contextual that it’s impossible just to tease out one specific thing (i.e., orgasm) and say that that is the one thing causing good outcomes,” she added.

It alleviates stress and anxiety

During sex, hormones like oxytocin cement pair bonding, which is why it’s also known as the “love hormone”. However, even if you experience sexual release by yourself, the boost of oxytocin is associated with lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and relaxation.

You fall asleep faster

Many are aware that using masturbation before bedtime can ease one’s way into slumber. That’s because serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are released during sexual arousal and orgasm — and all three of these hormones are associated with reductions in stress and boosts in relaxation, which promote sleep.

Masturbation may improve immune function

The hormones serotonin and norepinephrine are known to boost REM and deep non-REM sleep, during which immune system proteins known as cytokines are released. These proteins identify infections and inflammation, thus enhancing protection against pathogens and disease recovery.

And also eases or prevents pain

Thanks to its immune system enhancing effects, orgasms can also ease chronic pain, which is often linked to poor immune function.

In a 2013 study published in the journal Cephalalgia, researchers found that sexual activity relieves pain caused by migraines or cluster headaches in up to a third of patients.

The authors of the study claim that endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, are released during orgasm thus numbing the pain of migraines.

Masturbation isn’t associated with mental illness

Some believe that masturbation can lead to depression in some cases.

At first glance, this doesn’t sound like a ridiculous idea. Like all sexual matters, masturbation is still a taboo topic even in western societies, which have made great strides in the past century in opening up about sex.

Even so, there are many people who have been socialized in religiously strict households and who might feel anxious or guilty when they masturbate as a result.

A 2018 study found that about 62% of male participants who were diagnosed with clinical depression also experienced some form of sexual dysfunction. Among this group, myths about masturbation were prevalent.

However, there is no evidence that suggests masturbation triggers or amplifies depression symptoms. If anything, masturbation should help ease depression thanks to mood-enhancing hormones released post-orgasm.

Low sex drive is a common symptom of depression, and masturbation might help boost it. A 2015 study found that female masturbation enhances sexual satisfaction, and helped women have more orgasms when they had sex with a partner.

Nevertheless, those who feel guilty and very anxious because they masturbate should see a therapist specialized in sexual health.

Masturbation is actually better than sex (for most women)

Sorry to break it to you, guys, but women generally climax quicker and more easily during masturbation than sex. No reason to feel too bad about it though, because it helps both sexes. A 2014 study showed that 35% of women who regularly had orgasms when they had sex also masturbated compared to only 9% of women who could climax regularly during sex but reportedly did not masturbate. As for heterosexual men, 95% climax regularly during sex, according to a 2017 study, regardless of their masturbation habits.

But although studies indicate that self-pleasuring leads to better and more frequent orgasms in relationships, many women believe that their masturbation habits can be perceived as a threat, or even an insult, to their male partner’s sense of sexual prowess. As such, many women refrain from masturbating while in a relationship or avoid proposing the use of sex toys during heterosexual sex with their partners.

This widely held belief was reported by a recent systematic review of hundreds of scientific papers relating to women’s experiences, motives, and perceptions of masturbation, where Dr. Armstrong is a co-author. The review goes on to highlight the most common reasons why women masturbate, including “as a practical alternative when a sexual partner was not around”, “if a woman did not reach orgasm with a partner”, or “as a tool to enhance partnered sex and partnered intimacy”.

Regarding differences between males and females in the positive outcomes for masturbation, Armstrong said: “There is no consensus on whether or not there are significant brain differences between male and females to begin with.  Further, because attitudes toward male vs. female masturbation (both individually and socio-culturally) tend to be quite different, it would be nearly impossible to tease out whether there is a “biological” brain difference, or whether any differences (if there are any) were because of other external factors.”

Is masturbation ever harmful?

Like all things, moderation is key. Excessive masturbation can damage relationships when it becomes the sole outlet of sexual expression. Masturbation can also be physically harmful when people experiment with objects that should have no business near their genitals, nevermind inside them.

“There are very few risks associated with masturbation. Skin irritation may be associated with frequent masturbation if adequate lubrication is not used,” Armstrong said.

There are many myths, however, that claim masturbation can cause prostate cancer (false), is addictive (the American Psychological Association doesn’t recognize masturbation as an addiction), is not safe while pregnant (false), that vibrators cause nerve damage (false), lowers sperm count (false, men don’t have a finite amount of sperm), or lowers testosterone (false — the idea dates from Greek and Roman times, but has no scientific evidence to back it up).

A note on porn

In this day and age, masturbation often goes hand in hand with porn usage. While masturbation, in and of itself, is generally healthy and normal, excessive consumption of video pornography can be associated with some negative effects.

Porn use can hijack the brain’s neural wiring, leading to a surge of unnaturally high levels of dopamine that can damage the reward system. Long-term, frequent use of pornography is also associated with sexual dysfunction, lower levels of marital quality and commitment to one’s romantic partner. Some researchers have gone as far as likening porn use to substance abuse.

“It’s very difficult to separate out porn use from masturbation.  Also, there could be differences between porn use without masturbation vs. masturbation without porn use vs. porn use with masturbation without orgasm vs. porn use with masturbation including orgasm.  I think the jury’s still out as well on the positive and negative effects of porn use.  It appears that for the majority of people, porn use is not problematic.  For the minority that do experience problematic porn use, it’s difficult to say whether porn itself leads to problematic use, or if the problematic use is the result (or a side effect) of other factors,” Armstrong said.

Bottom line: Masturbation is a healthy, normal, and very common (universal) form of human sexual behavior. However, sometimes it can have negative effects on mental health if people feel guilty about it, which is why it’s important to normalize it and have conversations about it. Porn use is a different discussion, but in order to reap the full benefits of masturbation, one should stay clear of excessive consumption of pornography.

Study finds most women are gay or bisexual — a personal take

One study, led by Dr. Gerulf Rieger of the University of Essex looked at human sexuality in an effort to understand exactly what makes the gentle sex tick. It recorded the biological responses (a fancy wording for arousal) of a sample of 345 women who watched videos of nude males and females. And the data is quite surprising: 82% of participants responded sexually to both men and women.

Image via Telegraph.uk

Women who identified as lesbians unsurprisingly showed a strong preference for the female form. But what the team didn’t expected was that 74% of the ones who reported their sexual orientation as “straight” were also aroused by the videos showing nude women, in addition to the ones showing only men.

“Even though the majority of women identify as straight,” Dr. Rieger said, “our research clearly demonstrates that when it comes to what turns them on, they are either bisexual or gay, but never straight.”

There are a few flaws that I see with this study though:

For starters, it doesn’t mention including openly bisexual women. Either this was not an option for the participants to choose from, or the data was lost during re-writing (i haven’t been able to locate the original papers of the study yet). Thought the argument could be made that if a large portion of the women identify as bisexual, the findings (i.e. women are bisexual) still stand, i don’t agree with that — the test aimed to find what fires up the imagination and loins of ladies everywhere, but maybe the test just happened to include mainly bisexual or so-called “bi-curious” women on accident; there’s a certain social stigma associated with homosexuality, and faced with a choice between hetero or homo-sexual, many of the participants could have chosen the first one out of the need for social acceptance, rather than personal preference in bed buddies — more and clearer options regarding sexual orientation would have been ideal.

Secondly — and this is not the fault of the study per-say but rather the one leading it — Dr. Rieger has a knack for generalization; 74 percent still needs an extra 26 percent for a whole.

Add this to the fact that previous work of his found that bisexuality in men doesn’t exist at all — again, pretty broad — you kinda start seeing a pattern.

But, just because I personally have some issues with how the study was carried out and Dr. Rieger’s inclination towards headline-grabbing statements, does not mean that the findings are wrong — he may very well be right on target, and there are no biologically heterosexual women out there. I’d definitely like to see more studies that come to test the good doctor’s findings.

And who knows, maybe we’ll find something about the ladies that we all can enjoy. But right now?…Naaaah.

[Journal reference]

Biologists discover new mutations which lead to asexuality

A team of evolutionary biologists at Indiana University has shown for the first time that asexual lineages of a species are doomed not necessarily from a long, slow accumulation of new mutations, but rather from fast gene conversions which unmask preexisting genetic mutations.

daphnia pulex

Copyright: Indiana University.

The groundbreaking research started with the sequencing of the entire genomes of 11 sexual and 11 asexual genotypes of Daphnia pulex – more commonly known as the water flea. This animal is used as a model for reproductive studies. The team discovered that every asexual organism shares common combinations of allelles (an alternative form of the same gene or the same genetic locus) for two different chromosomes transmitted by asexual males without recombination.

The whole thing spreads just like a contagious disease – although females become asexual, their sons need not be, and they spread the gene for asexuality further.

“One might think of this process as a transmissible asexual disease,” Lynch said. Exposure of pre-existing, deleterious alleles is, incidentally, a major cause of cancer, he added.

In the same study, they moved the age of the entire asexual radiation for D. pulex from millions of years to somewhere between 1.000 and 172.000 years. Some current asexual lines, Lynch explained, are only decades old.

“A pond of asexual daphnia may go extinct quite rapidly owing to these deleterious-gene-exposing processes, but the small chromosomal regions responsible for asexuality survive by jumping to new sexual populations where they again transform the local individuals to asexuality by repeated backcrossing,” Lynch said. “Soon after such a transformation, the processes of gene conversion and deletion restarts, thereby again exposing resident pre-existing mutations leading to another local extinction event. As far as the sexual populations are concerned, asexuality is infectious, spreading across vast geographic distances while undergoing no recombination.”

The team was also able to separate the genetic cause of asexuality – as it turns out, the entire line stems from a sister species, Daphnia pulicaria, possibly through a strange, unique hybridization event that brought the change.

“It is the contents of two non-recombining chromosomes derived from D. pulicaria that induce asexuality after male transmission of the otherwise asexual lineages,” Lynch said.

Women are more likely to wear pink and red during ovulation

It has been previously shown that during ovulation, women tend to increase their attractiveness to men (though not necessarily conscious). Not only do they change their voice pitch [1], but they also tend to dress more fashionable [2]. A new study published in Psychological Science adds to this growing body of research by suggesting that ovulating women may also choose inviting colors when ovulating.


The idea which sparked this research was a previous study, which concluded that men find women dressed in red most attractive. Why? That’s not entirely clear, but there are a few theories – the most notable is that women naturally become pink or red during sexual intercourse, in a type of ‘sexual blushing’. This idea is also strengthened by the fact that we like women who dye their face with red (lipstick).

In order to test this idea, researchers had 100 American and 24 Canadian women fill in a survey, in which they told the color of the shirt they were wearing, and the number of days since their last period. Specifically, in the American sample, 40% of the women in the likely ovulation group were wearing red/pink compared to 7% in the unlikely ovulation group (the numbers were 26% vs. 8%, respectively in the Canadian sample). Another way to look at the same data is that 80% of all women who are wearing red and pink are likely to be ovulating.

While this does seem like a very interesting ideqa and does make evolutionary and physical sense, I’d like to see the same study conducted on a much larger sample size, and preferably, from more countries – it’s quite possible that this may be a cultural variation.

[1] Haselton, M.G., Mortezaie, M., Pillsworth, E.G., Bleske-Rechek, A., & Frederick, D.A. (2007) Ovulatory shifts in human female ornamentation: Near ovulation, women dress to impress. Hormones and Behavior, 51, 40-45.

[2] Bryant, G.A., & Haselton, M.G. (2009). Vocal cues of ovulation in human females. Biology Letters, 5(1), 12-15.


Captain Obvious presents: men and women lie about sex to match gender expectations

A new study conducted by researchers from Ohio University concluded that both men and women will lie about their behavior to match cultural expectations.

captain obvious

Well now, this is a new one – who would have thought people actually lie to have sex? But it gets even better – they used student behavior for this study. The first thing they noticed was that male students were willing to admit that they sometimes engaged in behaviors seen by college students as more appropriate for women, such as writing poetry.

“John, what are your hobbies?”
“Poetry, my darling.”
Likely conversation between John and Mary, two fictional students. Spoiler alert: John doesn’t like poetry, he likes Mary.

In other news brought by Captain Obvious, the same study showed that men are more likely to exaggerate when it comes to their sexual affairs, while women do exactly the opposite.

“There is something unique about sexuality that led people to care more about matching the stereotypes for their gender,” said Terri Fisher, author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus. “Sexuality seemed to be the one area where people felt some concern if they didn’t meet the stereotypes of a typical man or a typical woman.”

Seriously? People spend time and money doing this kind of research, and come up with this kind of conclusions? Awesome…

G-spot study sparks controversy

The G-Spot debate is probably never gonna end; and who can carry it out better than the English and the French? They’d fight over absolutely anything: football (as in soccer), rugby, wine vs beer, you name. Now, the most recent topic is the G-Spot (am I supposed to write this with capital letters? Absolutely no idea) study conducted by a group of researchers from King’s College in London. According to their study, the… aforementioned spot probably doesn’t exist.


What they did was they took 1800 women, all of who were pairs of identical or non identical twins. The thing is, if the identical twins are… identical, they both should have the same spot. Well, no such pattern emerged, so the conclusions were obvious. The study, coauthors said: “[the study] shows fairly conclusively that the idea of a G-spot is subjective”.

Well of course somebody had to disagree with this, and of course it had to be the French. It didn’t take long for Surgeon Pierre Foldes to come back with a reply:

“The King’s College study shows a lack of respect for what women say. The conclusions were completely erroneous because they were based solely on genetic observations”

All’s fine until here, we have a scientific debate, two counterparts with arguments that state their case in a topic still open for debate. Until that is, a group of French gynecologists claimed they found the real reason why the British study is wrong: they’re British. Yep, they claimed it was the Anglo-saxon natural tendency to try to reduce absolutely everything to absolutes, including the “mysteries of sexuality”.

Gynecologist Odile Buisson took this even further, stating:

“I don’t want to stigmatise at all but I think the Protestant, liberal, Anglo-Saxon character means you are very pragmatic. There has to be a cause for everything, a gene for everything,” she said, adding: “I think it’s totalitarian”

She also added that the G-Spot is a reality for more than 60% of all women, and anything else is “medical machismo” (gotta hand it to the French, they sure have a way with words).

Until now, there’s been no reply of the English counterpart, but I’m absolutely sure they won’t leave their study (and national pride) tainted, and we won’t have to wait long for a reply. This is just how a scientific debate can turn personal, with no real benefits for anyone; but it sure is fun.