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Does masturbating too often lower testosterone levels?

You might've heard by now, that masturbation is good for you. Not only can it reduce stress and improve sleep, but when you reach the finish line, so to speak, your brain releases dopamine, activating the reward center in your brain and elevating your mood. There are a host of other benefits, too, depending on your biology. Yet, the act of masturbation falls victim to myths, typical of other sexual acts that religious zealots and tightasses have tried to ruin for us. These falsehoods seem to share a common theme: that somehow touching yourself is dangerous. I am here to defend its honor, which is why I decided to investigate a rumor that has been floating around for ages: that frequent masturbation lowers your testosterone levels.

Where did this rumor come from and what's the big deal about having enough testosterone? Well, it’s origin seems to stem from a 2001 study out of Germany that found that men who abstained from masturbation for three weeks experienced a mild increase in testosterone, the hormone that regulates male characteristics, (although both sexes produce it). There's at least one other small study that showed that in the short-term, abstaining for choking your chicken could result in a testosterone spike. But there's no real evidence that abstinence from masturbation or sex will lead to sustained higher levels of testosterone.

Understanding fully what testosterone does in the body can help us clarify its purpose and myths surrounding it. “As adults, testosterone is important for motivation, including of the sexual variety, but also in aggression,” says Nicole Prause, a Sacramento-based sexual psychophysiologist whose job title I want for myself. Prause is currently conducting a study about the link between hormone levels and sexual activity in both men and women.

“A common misconception is that testosterone is related to male sex drive. It’s mostly related to aggression,” Prause says. When it comes to being able to get it up, long as you have enough testosterone, you're golden. “Having testosterone that is 'too low' is a condition of hypogonadism, which is a condition that has symptoms similar to erectile dysfunction, along with muscle weakness, and reduced body hair.” Low levels of testosterone have also been linked to fatigue, decreased bone strength, and in some weird cases, hot flashes.

While low testosterone might cause some issues, Michael Ingber, a urologist and professor of urology at Cornell University tells Mic that high testosterone levels also have negative effects. Excess testosterone in a body can, ironically, lead to estrogen production, breast enlargement, and small testicles in some cases, which most men concerned about their testosterone levels aren’t exactly in the market for.

To address a related question here: If masturbation reduced your testosterone levels, wouldn’t sex do the same? Does your penis know it's near another person?

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“The effects of the orgasm itself are not different from sex, because orgasm is a reflex. Of course, the sexual arousal response differs a bit,” Prause says. I’m intrigued. I'm told that with a partner, C-tactile afferents, which are neurons in your skin, are activated by erotic touch from another person, which does not happen when you touch yourself. “These selectively activate areas of the brain involved in social processes,” Prause says. Consider my mind blown. But even though getting off is a different if it's a solo endeavor, it's unlikely to mess with your testosterone.

So ultimately, low T is something penis-havers might have to worry about, but the idea that too much masturbation draining you of it is highly unlikely. "There has never been a study which shows that masturbation will reduce testosterone levels,” Ingber says. “The level of testosterone is only affected by the brain and pituitary gland, so masturbation does not affect these hormones.”

Prause adds that testosterone can actually increase following orgasm of any type. Basically, having an orgasm, whether alone or with an audience of one or more, is good for you. Like vitamins, but slightly more exciting.

Lastly, it’s really important to note that most of the research in masturbation has been conducted on animals, both experts tell me, adding that there is very little funding to do this research in humans, except as it might pertain to reproduction. This is truly messed up, because Masters of Sex made me think scientists were regularly studying how sex affects our health and happiness but that's clearly not the case.

In conclusion, masturbation is wonderful. If you're doing it too much (as in, it's disrupting your daily life), that's an issue we can explore in another article. But when it comes to testosterone levels, you're fine. Jerk off as you please. It's truly a restorative act, and not only because it feels like what Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus looks like when you climax. Don’t let the rumor mill keep you from enjoying the benefits of a little self love.