I talk to young people about a variety of different topics every day. From the fact that they are unique and unrepeatable, to dating advice, to healthy social media habits, to their dignity and worth. A lot of different topics that really get to the core of what young people are asking nowadays: Who am I and how am I supposed to live?
Given the wide array of topics, one of the questions I get asked most frequently is this:
Is masturbation healthy?
The answer is no. Masturbation is not healthy. When I give this answer they often seem confused. The person asking will usually cite some articles they read online that says masturbating is a healthy practice and even leads to certain health benefits.
I was curious what they were reading, so I decided to do some research of my own and, let me tell you, there’s a lot of stuff out there. If you were to do a quick Google search of the question, you’d find article after article saying that masturbation is normal, fine, and healthy. Some articles will even suggest masturbating frequently as part of a healthy lifestyle.
The thing is, however, none of these articles are solidly backed up by provable data. First of all, none of these articles are medical journals. They are nearly always popular health websites. They either cite studies that are vague, cite the number of people who reportedly masturbate (as if the number of people doing it proves it’s health benefits), or cite nothing at all in order to prove their point. Seeing all this, I don’t blame these young men for being confused on this issue.
It takes a little digging, but a look at the masturbation research literature out there actually reveals that most studies either come back inconclusive or negative. Despite the narrative these Google searches would lead you to believe, there is not an overwhelming collection of research saying masturbation is healthy. In fact, the most clear and concise studies actually say the opposite.
For example, a study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine took a sample of numerous masturbation empirical research studies to look at the effects of masturbation on happiness, health, etc. Most popular articles will typically put their claim on masturbation being healthy by pointing to the frequency of reaching orgasms as the contributing factor. So this study particularly looked at orgasms and found that not all orgasms are created equal nor have the same effects.
It was found that orgasm reached during sexual intercourse actually led to greater happiness, a greater sense of love, and greater chances of health. But orgasm reached during masturbation actually had an inverse effect – lower happiness, lower senses of love, and lower chances of good health.
This can sound very different from what we’re hearing from the culture at large. There’s this certain idea floating around that our sexual desire is this thing that’s just welling up uncontrollably and needs a release at every turn. But the fact is there is no evidence at all that says not masturbating is unhealthy.
Our sexual desires are good and they definitely exist, but it is the one desire that does not need to be fulfilled in order to survive. Our desire for food or water point us to something that we need to survive. But we actually don’t need to be sexually satisfied in order to lead a healthy life.
Our sexual desires, however, are meant to lead us to another person. It’s a desire that points us to communion with someone. So that one day, in marriage, we can completely give ourselves to that person in love. In the sexual act, one gives themselves to their beloved freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully. What masturbation does is turn that good desire inward. It twists it. Instead of reaching out to another we are only satisfying our own desires and those four things of freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully are not there.
That’s why masturbation is wrong. Because it’s a misuse of our sexuality. It takes this desire that is meant to lead us to communion and instead turns it inward only on ourselves. It isolates us. On top of being unhealthy, masturbation pushes us far away from the intended purposes of sex.
When looking for answers about these issues in our culture, we can’t just take things at face value. Just because there is so much information that comes up at first, that doesn’t mean that it has to be true. As the great Fulton Sheen once said, “Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right.” We have to dig deeper and realize the ways that these things are actually harming our lives.
Most people look up this question because it is something they are struggling with personally. If you struggle with a masturbation addiction I want you to know that there is hope. The solution isn’t citing inconclusive studies and pretending that it’s okay. The solution is looking at the truth, reaching out for help, and making changes to our habits that will actually lead to happy lives. The solution lies in the mercy we can receive when we recognize the truth and turn our lives around. It’s a mercy that waits for you.
We have to realize that we were made for lives of authentic love. The more that we realize this, the more we realize that we were made for lives that are fully alive and, therefore, truly healthy.