Masturbation comes with a lot of benefits. Besides the obvious, research has shown that self-pleasuring can reduce stress, improve sleep, and potentially decrease prostate cancer risk. But many men harbor a fear when it comes to masturbation — hormonal balance. Can masturbating reduce testosterone? Studies suggest not, although measuring testosterone level changes due to external factors is a difficult thing to do.
The concern regarding masturbation and testosterone is that self-pleasuring could lower levels of the hormone, which could in turn lead to issues as far-ranging as fatigue and increased body fat to low sex drive and erectile dysfunction. But this isn’t a fear worth harboring.
“People have said that men who are going to compete in a boxing match or football game should refrain from ejaculation, so as to keep their testosterone higher,” Jillene Grover Seiver, Ph.D., a psychologist and human sexuality researcher at Eastern Washington University. “That is probably untrue.” However, any type of sexual activity likely still affects a man’s testosterone levels, at least in the short-term.
Masturbation and Testosterone
Men who self-pleasure don’t have to worry about long-term changes to their testosterone levels. Based on the medical research, Seiver says sexual activity that results in ejaculation, including masturbation, “has minimal effect on testosterone levels in men.”
Scientists have been investigating the effect of masturbation on testosterone since as early as 1972, when a small study found that ejaculation doesn’t cause testosterone levels to drop. They researchers measured testosterone levels in samples from seven participants taken during and immediately after sex and masturbation. There was no significant difference in testosterone levels before and after.
Studies since then, however, have complicated this narrative. In 2020, another small study, also with seven participants, found that testosterone levels do naturally increase when a man masturbates (or has sex) by a little over 100 ng/dL. (The American Urological Association considers normal testosterone in cisgender men to be 300 ng/dL and above, up to about 1,000 ng/dL.) However, these levels drop back down to normal within 10 minutes after an orgasm. Testosterone also temporarily increases with erections, with or without ejaculation. But none of the findings in the study were statistically significant, so it’s unclear whether sexual activity has a real temporary effect on testosterone or not.
Other experiments have found conflicting results. A study from 2001 with 10 participants found that masturbating did not affect testosterone levels during the act or following orgasm. However, it did find that staying abstinent for three weeks caused a slight increase in testosterone levels. The researchers think this may be because the men were anticipating watching porn and getting to masturbate for the experiment and not because of the lack of sexual activity itself. And the researchers only examined a three-week period, which makes it impossible to know whether changes persisted beyond that point. Major benefits from testosterone treatment, for example, which can include changes in fat mass and muscle strength, take a minimum of 12 to 16 weeks to appear. Other benefits of testosterone treatment, such as effects on depressive mood, become detectable after 3 to 6 weeks.
Still other research has ended up with different conclusions. A study from 2002 with 28 participants found that testosterone levels peaked by 146% when the men got to orgasm after seven days of abstinence, before returning to baseline in less than a day. The results indicate that the rise in testosterone levels was caused by ejaculation, since there were no changes in testosterone levels for men who didn’t ejaculate.
Because researchers have only conducted a few studies on the link between masturbation and testosterone and those studies have been small and found conflicting results, it’s unclear exactly how sexual activity, or lack thereof, affects a man’s hormones. However, based on the information available, it seems that testosterone either has no effect or only a temporary effect on testosterone levels. It’s certainly not a reason to avoid orgasm.
Masturbation Can Help You Get Pregnant
Just as masturbation doesn’t affect testosterone, it also doesn’t have a lasting impact on sperm count or quality. However, it may still help if you’re trying to get pregnant. “Men who wish to father a child may want to ejaculate regularly in the weeks leading to attempting to conceive,” Seiver says. “That can help to ensure that the sperm that are next in line for ejaculation are the freshest, most mobile, and healthiest.”
Seiver advises self-pleasuring no more than once daily if you’re trying to conceive. Masturbating more frequently than that can cause a low sperm count in the next ejaculation, reducing the chances of fertilizing the egg. However, like changes in testosterone levels during sexual activity, the sperm count changes are only temporary and return to normal levels within 24 to 36 hours following orgasm.
Masturbation and testosterone have a complex relationship, as do masturbation and sperm. At the end of the day, though, the key word to remember is “temporary” — masturbation causes no known permanent changes to either, positive or negative.