Masturbation is a topic linked to many beliefs and rumors. In some societies, it’s still a taboo practice that nobody talks about. Whether for religious or cultural reasons, some people are made to believe the practice is immoral and should be avoided.
The truth is that masturbation is a normal, healthy practice that actually offers many health benefits — both physical and mental.
But what about the belief that masturbation is bad for you? Can it really affect your kidneys? Where do these beliefs come from, and is there any truth to them?
Keep reading to find out more about these common myths and separate fact from fiction.
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The belief that masturbation harms your kidneys is false.
Expelling semen does not cause your body to lose nutrients, as semen contains very few. The amount of protein you would lose when ejaculating is very minimal¹ and would not affect your kidneys.
You might associate pain in your lower back with your kidneys, but a kidney problem would rarely be the culprit. It could be down to kidney stones in some cases, but kidney stones are not linked to masturbation.
A small study² carried out in 2021 had some interesting results. It showed masturbating at least three to four times per week could increase the spontaneous passage of small distal ureteral stones (kidney stones that have gotten stuck) in men. It was found to be as effective as medication.
Kidney and ureteral stones are extremely painful, but masturbating could have a positive impact. However, you should speak to your doctor about any health concerns rather than trying to fix the problem yourself.
The belief that masturbation is bad for the kidneys is thought to stem from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
TCM proponents believe excessive semen loss leads to Shenkui,³ or “kidney deficiency.” This is a culture-bound condition with symptoms like sexual dysfunction, dizziness, and pain in the back and kidney region.
This originates from the belief that the kidneys are the source of male energy and that too much semen loss due to masturbation or sex will damage the kidneys. In reality, semen is made in the testicles and has nothing to do with the kidneys.
From the viewpoint of TCM, men with Shenkui are believed to have poor sexual performance. This is also false.
Despite the myths that would have you believe masturbation is harmful, it actually has many positive effects on your body.
When you masturbate, it releases high levels of the following hormones. These hormones benefit your body and well-being.
Testosterone:⁴ A male sex hormone produced in the testicles. Experts believe it affects your muscles, bone mass, and fat distribution. It is also thought to regulate sex drive.
Cortisol:⁵ Known as the stress hormone, cortisol can benefit your body by boosting your immune system.
Endorphins: Feel-good chemicals that reduce pain and produce a “runner’s high.” Masturbating to orgasm increases endorphin levels, improving your mood.
Prolactin: Helps regulate emotions and thereby improves your ability to manage stress.
Oxytocin:⁶ Sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is linked to many functions in both men and women, including penile erection. It also plays a vital role in social bonding, which is linked to mental well-being.
Dopamine: A hormone associated with the brain’s reward symptom. It’s part of how we feel pleasure. Not having enough dopamine can also contribute to depression.
Hormonal shifts brought on by masturbation can have some beneficial effects on your body and well-being, including:
Masturbation boosts your mood by releasing endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine.
Having low levels of these chemicals in your brain can make you feel depressed and impair decision-making.
Prolactin helps regulate your emotions. Combined with other feel-good chemicals, it can help you calm down from a bad mood and disengage from anger.
Masturbation releases cortisol, which is known to boost your immune response in small amounts.
A study⁷ also found that ejaculation increases the number of germ-fighting leukocytes, a type of white blood cell.
Masturbation can help release tension and reduce stress levels, so it could help you feel less anxious.
The hormonal changes after an orgasm tend to promote relaxation. Masturbating might help if you have trouble falling asleep.
Masturbation is important for sexual health on an individual and societal level.
It’s a safe way to explore your own sexual desires and could make you feel more confident about having sex. Knowing what you enjoy and need could also help you have better sex with a partner.
On a broader scale, masturbation is also thought to reduce unwanted pregnancies and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Are there any downsides to masturbating regularly? Potentially, yes.
Masturbating very often could cause:
Chafing and tender skin
Slight swelling of the penis
Decreased sexual sensitivity
The physical side effects of masturbation are rare and usually go away on their own after a few days. You might want to avoid masturbating shortly before having sex to avoid sensitivity issues.
If these side effects continue or worsen, speak to your doctor.
Masturbating can affect you mentally in these ways:
Feelings of guilt
Some people worry they will become addicted to masturbation.
Masturbating often is not harmful, but it can be when it starts getting in the way of your day-to-day life.
For example, if you masturbate so much that it disrupts your work life, studies, social life, and relationships, you might want to speak to a doctor.
Some people use masturbation to cover for issues in their relationships. It’s perfectly healthy for you and your partner to masturbate together and separately. If it starts affecting the sex you have together, it may indicate issues in your relationship and sex life.
If this is the case, you could both benefit from honest conversations and sessions with a sex and relationship therapist.
Some people feel guilty about masturbating. This might be because they were raised to think sex was shameful or something to save for marriage. The many myths surrounding masturbation, including the belief that it wastes semen and harms the kidneys, can also cause guilt.
Therapy can help you normalize your relationship with sex and masturbation. In rare cases, masturbatory guilt⁸ can lead to severe mental illness.
Perceptions about masturbation can also affect relationships. For example, you might not want your partner to know you masturbate because you don’t want them to feel they do not satisfy you sexually.
Despite this, research⁹ shows that masturbation actually helps romantic relationships and makes for a healthier sex life. Communication is key in relationships. Try talking to your partner and explaining why you masturbate. Find ways to make you both feel more comfortable.
Aside from the myth that masturbation harms the kidneys, some people believe the practice can lead to prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death¹⁰ in men in the US. In fact, about one in 41 men will die from prostate cancer, and one in eight will be diagnosed. Transwomen¹¹ (and non-binary people) who are receiving gender-affirming care have a lower risk.
So, can masturbation increase your risk of developing prostate cancer?
A study¹² updated in 2016 indicated the opposite was true: men who masturbated more frequently were less likely to develop prostate cancer. The study found that ejaculating more than 20 times per month could lower the risk by about 20%.
However, other studies have produced conflicting results,¹³ so more research needs to be done.
Other myths include that masturbation can cause:
These beliefs are all false.
The belief that masturbation will affect your kidneys is a myth. Masturbation has actually been found to help some men pass kidney stones.
Many of the negative things you may have heard about masturbation are false. For example, the belief that masturbation can cause infertility or even blindness is completely untrue.
Masturbation is recommended as part of a healthy sex life. It can offer several benefits, like boosting your mood and helping you sleep and de-stress. It can also benefit your sexual health by giving you the freedom to explore what you like and don’t like. You might find it gives you more confidence in the bedroom and even boosts your sexual satisfaction.
If you are concerned about masturbation or have any questions, be sure to speak to your doctor.
Physiology, cortisol | National Library of Medicine
The impact of masturbation on romantic relationships | Psychology Today
Key statistics for prostate cancer | American Cancer Society
Are there side effects to masturbation? | Medical News Today