To Your Health!

Dear C,

I caught my boyfriend  masturbating when I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. He says he read online that it was good for his health and “keeps him young” if he does it daily. I am not sure how I feel about it. I don’t really want to have sex with him every day, but the thought of him jerking off behind my back makes me feel kind of weird. I can’t help but wonder: Is he dissatisfied with our sex life? Exactly what does he fantasize about when he’s doing it?

Is it really good for his health?

Unclear Claire

Dear Claire,

Look, I know that Catholic schools tried their best to make us believe that masturbation is just for perverts and psychopaths, and historically, there are prohibitions against it in many cultures and religions. That’s probably why it still carries an aura of shame for many. But there is absolutely nothing abnormal about it. People masturbate! Children as young as 1 year old can go through stages where they rub themselves regularly. It freaks parents out, but young kids use masturbation in the same way they might suck their thumbs — for comfort, release of tension, or just because it feels good. But let’s face it: This isn’t the kind of behavior you want to encourage in public, so it’s not surprising that parents try to curb the tendency. Hence, all those dire predictions about the dangers of self abuse, ranging from threats of blindness to “it’ll give you warts!”

In truth, scientific data shows just the opposite: The benefits of masturbation are many. For men, it can improve their immune system functioning and build resistance to prostate gland infection. A regular routine can even help prevent prostate cancer. Australian researchers found that the more frequently a man masturbated between the ages of 20 and 50, the less likely they were to develop prostate cancer. Men who masturbated more than five times a week were one-third less likely to develop prostate cancer. This pretty much backs your boyfriend’s “an O a day” claim.

But it’s not just for men. Women who have regular orgasms can increase resistance to yeast infections and lessen pre-menstrual tension. Orgasms are great for increasing blood flow to the pelvic region, which can reduce menstrual cramps considerably and alleviate backaches as well. But wait, there’s more! Because masturbation is a fabulous form of stress relief, it can boost your mood, alleviate depression and anxiety, and help us sleep better at night. Orgasms seem to improve overall immune function in both men and women. If they could figure out a way to bottle the benefits, snake oil salesmen could make a fortune off the stuff. Orgasms are somewhat of a universal panacea; they can do everything from spiking our DHEA levels to improving brain function and skin appearance. Suffer from migraines? Masturbation may help ease the pain and frequency. It sure doesn’t hurt to try.

But here’s a surprising fact: Not all orgasms are created equal. When it comes to health benefits, sexual intercourse with a partner wins hands down (no pun intended) over solitary self pleasuring. In tests that measured blood pressure and stress response, the subjects who had partnered sex were more relaxed and had lower blood pressure than those who performed solo acts. Even the makeup of ejaculated semen is different if men masturbate rather than having intercourse. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why, but it appears that oxytocin, the so-called “bonding hormone,” is produced in far greater quantities when there’s two to tango. Since oxytocin is the primary catalyst for an elevated sense of well being, it stands to reason that the more your body produces, the bigger the bang for your buck. So to speak.

So, here’s what I suggest: If you want to know what your boyfriend thinks about when he masturbates, ask him! If you approach this as if whacking off is perfectly normal, you might open a dialog that could improve sex in your relationship for both of you. Show him the stats about the even greater benefits of sexual intercourse, and he won’t have to resort to jerking off behind your back. The couple that has orgasms together, stays healthy together.

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