Depression has pretty much forever had a place my life, and while there have certainly been times where even the thought of trying to make myself feel better seemed like a faraway pipe dream, I like to think that lately I’ve been doing well: I’ve been attending therapy, exercising here and there and I even took up meditation — all the things that are supposed to make a depressed person feel at least somewhat better.
One other, perhaps less conventional depression-fighting method that I also occasionally (shut up) indulge in is, ahem, masturbation. It might sound odd, but they say that cumming releases mood-boosting endorphins, so cranking one out should theoretically make you feel better — and hey, I’m pretty desperate here. In fact, studies abound on the stress-and-sadness-reducing effects of getting yourself off.
I’m not the only one with this idea, either: This redditor, for example, agrees that masturbating helps take the edge off their chronic sadness. “I’ve just been hit with a really solid wall of depression this week due to a confluence of stressful circumstances,” they write. “Today I masturbated for the first time in over a week, and man, I actually feel like I can concentrate on something.”
In another more recent thread, the creator simply states, “Pornhub comments are civil because everyone has had their hit of dopamine.” Sure, the idea sounds silly, but these internet-goers might actually be onto something.
“Masturbation can make people happy by releasing endorphins,” confirms clinical sexologist and certified sex coach Sunny Rodgers, adding that they can trigger a positive feeling in the body similar to morphine. “Endorphins are neurotransmitters associated with joyful feelings that can improve your overall mood, and yes, they can help fight off depression.”
“Masturbating to orgasm can also produce a chemical called oxytocin, which works as a natural pain reliever and can help reduce headaches and muscle aches,” Rodgers continues. “Plus, masturbation and orgasms, for many, are a way of releasing pent-up energy and can help people relax while giving them a calm, content feeling. So long story short, masturbation can absolutely help with depression.”
Rodgers even has a few clients who actively use masturbation as a coping method to keep their unpleasant emotions in check. “I have male clients who masturbate for stress relief and to calm themselves down in situations that give them anxiety,” she tells me. “I think if they couldn’t masturbate in those situations, it might lead to depression.”
Certified sex therapist Sari Cooper, director of the Center for Love and Sex, generally seconds this notion that masturbation can help with depression, except she adds that there can be a few complications. “It’s most accurate to say that masturbation is associated with pleasurable feelings (I want to add this caveat, since masturbation for some people actually triggers feelings of guilt, anxiety and sadness due to their personal histories with sex in general and masturbation in particular) and can cause dopamine to be released in the brain,” she explains (extra dopamine can certainly help reduce depressive symptoms). “However, like other experiences that give us pleasure — dancing, eating your favorite food or hanging out with your special someone — while [masturbation] may help lift you out of the blues, it may not be a complete enough treatment plan to address clinical depression.”
“When I work with someone who’s suffering from depression, I assess whether they could be helped by medication, an exercise regimen that releases endorphins, daily mindfulness meditation and some regularly scheduled get-togethers with friends, family or a group of some sort, since depression commonly causes folks to isolate themselves,” Cooper continues. “Being sexual with a partner or oneself is another connection to pleasure, and at times, a deep vital connection with life itself.”
In other words then, masturbation alone might not be enough to fight depression, but the plan I mentioned up top — exercise, meditation, therapy and masturbation — might actually do the trick. “While the rush of pleasure of an orgasm may relieve sad feelings in the moment, I wouldn’t call it a treatment in and of itself to the usually complex layers of clinical depression,” Cooper confirms.
Speaking of complex layers, masturbating as a coping method does have the potential to turn sour. One redditor, for instance, says they’re worried about their boyfriend, who’s been jerking off to soothe his depression, since he might eventually form a bad relationship with sex in general as a result [sic throughout]:
“He says there are no bad consequences from it. but I don’t really think you should use something like sex as a way to cope, cos I feel like it kinda takes away the intimacy and meaning from it. So he’s always using it to cope and I always have to constantly try to help, and me being not really a sexual person and kind of depressed by sex, it really stresses me out. I try to tell myself it’s for the better and in the end, if he feels happy then it’s okay and worth it right? But to me that’s the same thing as saying, if you’re happy after you self-harm, then it’s all okay, right? But obviously, self-harm is worse.”
Cooper says she sees people form these harmful relationships with masturbation (and sex in general) when they completely rely on these techniques to feel good, using them so often that they can no longer have a normal day-to-day life. “I’ve seen clients who may develop an out-of-control pattern of masturbation that interferes with their daily functioning as a symptom of depressive disorder or bipolar disorder,” she says. “Like binge-eating or compulsive gaming, a person can disassociate from their life, anxiety and self-loathing through an activity that lifts their spirits for short spurts of time, but their mood comes down after the rush of winning or binging — they feel worse about themselves and the cycle of trying to numb out their self-loathing begins again.”
“The downside to viewing masturbation as the sole treatment for depressive disorder is that a person might effectively ignore the evidence-based techniques that have been proven to effectively treat major depressive disorders,” Cooper continues.
So there you have it: If you have depression, and you’re building a routine to help yourself feel better, consider fitting some masturbation into your schedule (maybe don’t put it on your shared calendar, though). Just remember that you can indeed have too much of a good thing, and yes, that applies to self-induced orgasms.
Whoops, looks like it’s 12 o’clock, which means I have… therapy. Yeah. Therapy. Please go now.