A few things are certain when it comes to masturbation: it’s fun, it’s stress-relieving and it can make you feel pretty damn good.
What’s not so certain, though, are some of the potential risks. Is it true that masturbation can lead to hair loss? Can too much of it cause premature ejaculation? And, something we’re sure many of you has wondered at some point, does masturbation reduce testosterone levels?
We’re here to look at that last one and hopefully, put your mind (and self-pleasure sessions) at ease.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is a type of hormone. More precisely, it’s the main male sex hormone.
Testosterone is produced in the testes and plays a fundamental role in keeping your body running smoothly. It helps regulate a bunch of things including bone density, muscle mass, body hair, sperm and red blood cell production, and the distribution of fat on the body. It’s also responsible for supporting the male sex drive.
Women produce testosterone too, but it’s made in the ovaries. They also have much lower testosterone levels than men.
What is low testosterone?
Sometimes, a man's testosterone levels are lower than they should be. Low testosterone — also known by its medical name, male hypogonadism — happens when the testicles don’t make enough of the hormone.
There are lots of reasons why low testosterone occurs (which we’ll dive into shortly), but it mostly affects older men. This is because testosterone levels naturally decrease over time. Production of the hormone peaks during puberty and starts declining at age 30 and continues to drop about one per cent every year. Nearly 40 per cent of men aged over 45 have low testosterone levels.
The risks of low testosterone
Testosterone is a crucial hormone for overall health. It’s involved in so many bodily functions that a lack of it can cause pretty significant effects that impact your body and mind.
If your body isn’t producing enough testosterone, it can lead to:
- Decreased sperm count and possibly infertility
- Low libido (sex drive)
- Changes to sexual function, like erectile dysfunction
- Shrunken testicles
- Loss of muscle mass and strength
- Thinning of the bones (also known as osteoporosis)
- More body fat
- Development of breasts
- Hair loss, particularly on the body
- Hot flashes
- Cognitive problems like poor memory and concentration
- Low energy levels
- Insomnia or other sleep issues
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- Low mood
How is low testosterone diagnosed?
Low testosterone can be a little tricky to diagnose. This is because normal testosterone levels are hard to measure, given they fluctuate throughout the day and there’s a broad range of what’s considered normal.
They’re also heavily impacted by an individual’s age, health status, weight, diet and lifestyle. As a result, there’s not really a clear consensus on what constitutes low testosterone. That being said, if the symptoms we mentioned earlier are present, doctors will usually perform a serum testosterone test (basically a blood test) to check testosterone levels.
And, because testosterone levels fluctuate across the day, they may take several tests to get an overall picture. They’ll then use your blood test results combined with any symptoms you’re experiencing to form a diagnosis.
Why do low testosterone levels occur?
So, what causes the issue? A range of factors can lead to low testosterone, but these are some of the most common:
- Age (as we know, testosterone levels naturally drop as you get older)
- Injury, infection or low blood supply to the testicles
- Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney failure, liver damage or pituitary gland disease
- High blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol levels
- Hormonal disorders like excessive estrogen or prolactin (the hormone that produces milk), or hypothyroidism
- Genetic problems such as Kallman syndrome and Klinefelter syndrome, plus birth defects
- Certain medications and treatments, including opioids, steroids, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other cancer treatments
- Autoimmune disease
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Does masturbation decrease testosterone?
In short, it doesn’t seem so. There’s no known link between masturbation and long-term decreases in testosterone. In fact, the findings around sexual activity, such as masturbation, and testosterone are somewhat murky and a bit inconsistent.
For example, a study from 1972 looked at the link between sexual activity, including masturbation, and testosterone levels. Interestingly, when the researchers measured testosterone levels after orgasm, they found that penetrative sex actually caused an increase in testosterone. Masturbation, on the other hand, basically had no effect.
However, a 1976 study effectively contradicted these findings. Instead, the researchers found that testosterone levels increased after masturbating.
And more recently, a 2001 German study examined the endocrine response (in other words, how hormone levels changed) to masturbation. Researchers discovered that refraining from masturbation (and other types of sexual activity) over a three-week period increased testosterone levels.
On top of these three studies, there have been several more looking at sexual activity, masturbation and testosterone with varying results.
All of this is to say that the research doesn’t really paint a clear picture. Evidence that masturbation decreases testosterone is quite limited, and any fluctuations in testosterone levels after orgasm seem to be temporary.
While each of these studies looked at testosterone levels directly after the subjects masturbated, they didn’t assess the long-term impacts of self-pleasure and other forms of sexual activity.
The benefits of masturbation
Far from being a driver of low levels of testosterone, masturbation actually has a number of benefits for both your mind and body.
Here’s what it can do:
- It’s a great stress release. This is because orgasming — including masturbation-induced orgasm — produces feel-good, stress-regulating hormones like endorphins, oxytocin and prolactin
- It can give you a better night’s rest. Masturbation-induced orgasm also boosts the production of hormones like vasopressin and serotonin, which support good sleep
- It’s a fantastic confidence booster, especially inside the bedroom. Masturbation helps you figure out your sex drive, your ideas around sexual desire, and what you do and don’t like when it comes to sexual activity. In turn, this can improve confidence and communication with sexual partners
- It’s a lot of fun. Enough said!
Risks associated with masturbation
For the most part, masturbation doesn’t really come with any side effects. It’s a perfectly safe way to enjoy yourself that won’t cause long-term health problems.
However, some men experience the following:
- Feelings of guilt or shame — usually due to personal, cultural, religious or spiritual beliefs around masturbation, sexual activity and sexual desire
- Addiction or excessive masturbation, which can interfere with their daily life and makes them miss out on activities, work or study, and can cause relationship problems
- Delayed ejaculation or trouble orgasming if other types of sexual activity, like penetrative sex, can’t live up to a man’s masturbation style
- Minor (and temporary) skin irritation such as chafing or swelling.
Ways to treat low testosterone
By now, you’re probably curious about how you can address the issue and increase testosterone levels. Treatment often comes down to how low your levels are. Lifestyle changes, for example, are usually helpful if your testosterone levels are only slightly low.
If the deficiency is more significant and you’re also experiencing the signs of low testosterone, you may not see a difference just by upping your exercise routine. Instead, your doctor may advise something more extreme like testosterone replacement therapy.
Your first step is to seek professional medical advice about your situation. Your doctor will then make a recommendation based on your symptoms (if any) and serum testosterone test results.
Possible treatments they may suggest include:
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is one of the best things you can do to keep hormone levels in check.
This means exercising regularly (exercise may actually help increase testosterone levels), sticking to a healthy diet, managing stress levels, losing weight (because weight issues are often linked to low testosterone) and cutting back on alcohol (ditto with excessive drinking).
Addressing underlying causes
Low testosterone levels are sometimes caused by things you can control, such as being overweight, being on a particular medication, or lifestyle factors like chronic stress and drinking too much. If this is the case, your doctor might simply address the underlying issue behind your low levels.
Alternatively, they may look at your symptoms and treat them instead. For example, if you’re suffering from insomnia, your doctor might suggest a sleep aid. Or, if your sexual function has been impacted and erectile dysfunction is the resulting issue, they could prescribe erectile dysfunction medication.
Pilot offers a clinically proven erectile dysfunction treatment that is prescribed by Australian doctors and delivered discreetly to your door. Medication is the first line of therapy for tackling ED, and meds like those offered by Pilot doctors have helped improve the sex lives of 94 per cent of patients.
Testosterone replacement therapy
Testosterone replacement therapy, or TRT, works by replacing lost testosterone. It’s generally only used if a blood test reveals a low serum testosterone level and you’re experiencing the symptoms we mentioned earlier. Not every man with low testosterone will see symptoms, and because TRT has a few side effects, it may not be necessary.
TRT can be delivered in multiple ways, including topical gels, skin patches, capsules or tablets, slow-release implants and intramuscular injections. Generally, the treatment is considered safe, but it can lead to things like oily skin or acne, fluid retention, a decrease in testicle size and skin irritation.
The bottom line? If your testosterone is low, know that you don’t need to slow down or stop masturbating. If anything, you may just find that doing the deed solo is a great way to maintain healthy stress levels and, in turn, healthy hormone levels, too.
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