Effects of Masturbation on Testosterone


 by Dr. Tina M. St. John

When it comes to masturbation, myths and old wives' tales abound as they have for millennia. A common myth erroneously states that frequent masturbation lowers a man's testosterone level. But that's simply not true!

For both men and women, masturbation does not trigger any significant changes in your sex hormone levels and typically poses no threat to other aspects of your physical and emotional well-being either.

Read on to learn about some of the general effects of abstinence, sex and masturbation on testosterone levels, as well as other factors that can influence the level of this important sex hormone.

Ejaculation, Masturbation and Testosterone

So, does masturbation increase testosterone? Numerous medical researchers have wondered about the possible effects of male ejaculation (solo or with a partner) on testosterone levels, particularly the short-term effects. But this isn't the easiest thing to study for a variety of reasons. For starters, a medical laboratory is a far cry from the circumstances and environment in which men typically masturbate.

Because of this, studies from the late 1970s through the early 2000s showed conflicting results. Some found ejaculation had no short-term effect on testosterone levels while at least one study found sexual activity led to a small, short-lived increase in testosterone levels among both men and women.

More recently, an innovative group of researchers took their work to a more real-world site — a U.S. sex club. They found that testosterone levels increased in 72 percent of men who participated in sexual activity at the club but in only 11 percent of those who just observed, as reported in the October 2011 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Although the effect of ejaculation on testosterone levels remains debatable, research seems to support the notion that there is likely a small, brief increase. This makes sense biologically because testosterone stimulates sperm production, among many other functions. If you've just ejaculated your stored sperm, a brief surge in testosterone would stimulate the production of new sperm.

Read more: 10 Scary Facts About Men's Sperm Count

Short-Term Abstinence

While masturbation doesn't significantly alter your testosterone level, abstaining from ejaculation via masturbation or sex with a partner can affect the level of this hormone in men.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Zhejiang University found that among men abstaining from ejaculation, testosterone levels showed little fluctuation for the first two to five days. However, the testosterone level spiked up to nearly 150 percent of the baseline level on the seventh day of abstinence.

Long-Term Abstinence

While the study mentioned above suggests that short-term abstinence can cause a spike in a man's testosterone level, another study published in the December 2001 issue of the Journal of Andrology found that long-term lack of sexual activity can lead to a lower testosterone level. The researchers found substantially reduced baseline testosterone levels in men with erectile dysfunction (ED) for a year or longer.

However, with successful, non-hormonal ED treatment leading to resumption of sexual activity, the study participants' testosterone levels significantly increased. These findings suggest that regular sexual activity — whether solo or with a partner — helps maintain testosterone levels over time.

Read more: 12 Things That Happen to Your Health When You Stop Having Sex

Masturbation and Sex Drive

When it comes to your sex drive, it's complicated. While testosterone levels affect sex drive (libido) in both men and women, that's not the only factor at play. Your brain exerts great influence on your sex drive via psychological and biological mechanisms.

From a biological perspective, frequent masturbation might temporarily affect your sex drive by reducing the number of receptors for testosterone and related hormones (androgens) in your brain. Hormones exert their effects via receptors on your body's cells. When testosterone binds to receptors in your brain, it stimulates your sex drive.

A 2007 study published in Neuroedocrinology and conducted on rats found that sexual satiety (mating until no longer interested in sex) led to a lack of sexual activity for about 72 hours. The researchers found that the lack of interest in sex correlated with a reduction in androgen receptors in the rats' brains despite no significant change in their testosterone levels.

There are obviously myriad differences between rats and humans, but this study at least suggests that excessive masturbation might result in a temporary decrease in sex drive despite no significant change in your testosterone level.

Read more: 7 Amazing Benefits of Masturbation

Other Considerations

Hormones produced by an area of the brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland at the base of the brain serve as the primary regulators of testosterone production in both men and women. Testosterone levels vary depending on numerous factors including your sex, age, time of day and even the season of the year.

Several conditions can lead to an abnormally high or low testosterone level. Examples include:

  • Reduced pituitary gland function (hypopituitarism)
  • Certain genetic conditions such as Kallman syndrome and Klinefelter syndrome
  • Some types of adrenal tumors
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in women
  • Testosterone deficiency syndrome in men
  • Anabolic steroid abuse

Bottom Line

Most men and women masturbate, either alone or with a partner. If you're concerned that this common sex practice might adversely affect your testosterone level, there's no need to worry. Based on current medical evidence, masturbation does not cause any significant change in your testosterone level.

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