The Remedy for Some Guys' Chronic Pain? Masturbation.

"It's almost like a release valve for my body.”

a diptych of a man with shoulder pain and a hand holding a banana, representing men using masturbation for pain relief
Getty Images

James McKenna, a 45-year-old accountant in Memphis, TN, developed pain in his neck and shoulders after a car accident. He got lidocaine shots in the affected areas, along with several gentler therapies including physical therapy and chiropractic. But eventually, his health insurance stopped covering these treatments.

Luckily, he’d also stumbled upon a less conventional pain relief method that was completely free: masturbation.

Self-pleasure gets rid of the pain long enough for him to fall asleep, then it usually isn’t back until the morning. “Masturbation takes the focus off those areas and puts it all into one place,” he says. “After orgasm, the exhaustion is usually good enough to let me sleep.”

Gabriel Shippy, a 34-year-old political consultant in Atlanta, GA, stumbled upon it for a similar reason. Shippy experiences headaches and migraines from sinus congestion, which used to render him incapacitated by the time he got home from work, despite loading up on ibuprofen. As with McKenna, his doctor never mentioned masturbation as a treatment, but he discovered on his own that it worked. Now, he no longer needs painkillers and has more time to spend playing guitar, dating, and hanging out with friends.

“The pleasure I'm enjoying while masturbating distracts me from the pain, and then the orgasm itself literally relieves the pain for a period of time,” he says. “It's almost like a release valve for my body.”

Gain exclusive access to the best sex tips, relationship advice, and more with our premium membership program.
Men's Health

While we may not all have been taught to think of masturbation as a wholesome activity, experts say it really can be beneficial for health, particularly when it comes to pain relief. Masturbation is unlikely to cure a chronic illness, but it can be a useful way to manage discomfort in the present moment, says sex researcher Nicole Prause, Ph.D.

Perhaps the most well-known (albeit small-scale) study on the topic was by psychologist Barry R. Komisaruk and sexologist Beverly Whipple, who reported in a 1995 paper in the Annual Review of Sex Research that in two studies of 10 women each, the women were less likely to notice their fingers being squeezed by a machine while they were masturbating, especially during orgasm, due to decreased pain perception. Another study in Cephalalgia from 2013—also small—found that 60 percent of 100 migraine sufferers who had sex during migraine attacks reported relief (though 33 percent reported worsening of migraines). Among 30 people who had sex while experiencing cluster headaches, 37 reported that sex improved their symptoms, though 50 percent said it worsened them.

A number of feel-good neurotransmitters released during masturbation could be involved in pain relief, including dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, prolactin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, says Dan Nguyen, MD, a physician at Texas Health Action's Kind Clinic. These chemicals affect not just the brain but also other parts of the body connected to the nervous system, like the muscles, he explains.

young man in bed watching pornography on laptop
lolostockGetty Images

Sexual arousal also releases opioids—yup, these chemicals exist naturally in your brain, says Prause. “All recreational drugs are basically taking advantage of an existing, ‘natural’ system,” she explains. “Opioid receptors have a number of different ‘natural’ functions, but are perhaps best known for their role in mediating pain and pleasure experiences.” Opioid drugs are often used in the treatment of migraine headaches, so it’s unsurprising that masturbation would help with this, she adds. In addition to eliciting direct changes in the brain, orgasm usually leads to muscle relaxation, so pain from tense muscles could be alleviated this way, Prause says.

Since the process is complex and many different hormones are involved, pain relief from masturbation could last anywhere from 10 minutes to 48 hours, says Nguyen. So, for sustained relief, you’d have to do it regularly.

Andrew, a 27-year-old small business owner in Uptown, Chicago, says masturbation has even helped with pain related to urinary tract infections. When he has one, masturbating relieves burning sensations during urination for up to a few hours, which could be due to a property of seminal fluid.

“In addition to sperm, this fluid contains many things to help the sperm survive, such as sugars, amino acids, and electrolytes,” Nguyen explains. “Thicker fluid can be seen as topical coating placed on inflamed, irritated cells in the tract.”

"Masturbation helps relax my muscles safely, unlike yoga, which would strain my joints."

While some forms of pain relief may be dependent on orgasm, sexual pleasure alone can be helpful, Prause says. Certain feel-good neurotransmitters, like prolactin, are orgasm-specific, but others, like dopamine, are present without orgasm.

Nor does it matter what genital configuration someone has. Edgar, a 23-year-old office worker in Michigan who identifies as a transmasculine nonbinary person, uses his clitoris to relieve symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos Ssyndrome (EDS), a disorder that affects connective tissue, causing sore and clenched muscles. Initially, he tried a number of pain medications, which didn’t do much for him at all. But after he masturbated, his pain would decrease, often enough that it stopped keeping him up at night.

“Masturbation helps relax my muscles safely, unlike yoga, which would strain my joints,” he explains. “The release feeling of an orgasm can be very helpful for muscle tightness and soreness.”

Pain relief also may be psychological rather than directly physical. “If you can stop focusing on the anxiety about the pain itself, you can better cope,” explains mental health counselor and sex therapist Michael Stokes, EdD, LMHC. “You will learn to focus your mind on the things you want to focus on.”

Nick Hamilton, a 37-year-old consultant in Washington, DC, worked with a sex coach to regain sexual functioning after several traumatic brain injuries. He realized that masturbation—particularly masturbation incorporating tantra techniques, like orgasming without ejaculating—not only improved his energy and mood but also diverted his attention away from the chronic pain he was experiencing.

“It wasn’t just the pain but how I related to and focused on it,” he explains. “As I was learning to focus on pleasure instead of pain, masturbation and self-pleasuring became an essential aspect of how to train that. Can I breathe through the pain, and, in the moment, focus on the pleasurable sensations in my body? Can I train myself to focus on those more over time?”

Prause realizes how difficult it can be for people in pain to focus on anything else. “Strategies that could help include using sex toys that help increase stimulation intensity with less effort or viewing pornography to help get yourself in a sexual mindset more easily than through effortful fantasy alone," she suggests. Stokes recommends incorporating mindfulness techniques into your masturbation routine, which will compound pain relief by helping you reduce stress and control your conscious awareness.

“Next time you masturbate, pay attention to the pleasure this is providing your body,” he instructs. “Be in the moment and feel your muscles contracting with tension and then releasing. When you ejaculate, be mindful to feel the release. Feel your entire body relax as you catch your breath again. Pay attention to these feelings and how your body feels afterwards. Being more present within your body and the moment, you will begin to train your brain to stop focusing on the future—this could be future pain—and focus on what is going on now: pleasure.”

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below