While female masturbation may not get the lip service that it deserves, that certainly doesn’t mean solo sex isn’t happening behind closed doors. In fact, research published in the Journal of Sex Research finds that most women report masturbating at least once a week.
Not quite hitting that quota yet? You may want to consider devoting more time: Masturbation not only feels, well, orgasmic, but it also has a slew of health benefits. (Not sure where to start? Follow these 5 Masturbation Tips for a Mind-Blowing Solo Session.)
Send Cramps Packing!
In the early stages of arousal, norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter that's secreted in response to stress) is released in your brain, lubricating the pathways of your sympathetic nervous system, says Erin Basler-Francis, content and brand manager at The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, a non-profit sexuality education and advocacy organization in Rhode Island. When sexual activity starts—in this case, masturbation—the body releases a flood of endorphins, which bind to opiate receptors, increasing your pain threshold.
“As the norepinephrine begins to wear off, serotonin and oxytocin levels increase, leading to the muscle contractions that typically indicate getting off,” says Basler-Francis. When these three neurotransmitters work together, they act as the perfect chemical cocktail to ease period pain.
Learn What You Love
“Don’t underestimate the importance of knowing what you like before trying to experience pleasure with someone else,” says Emily Morse, sexologist, and host of the Sex With Emily podcast. Since masturbation makes you more familiar with what makes you tick, this knowledge will come in handy when you’re trying to teach your partner how to bring you to climax, she explains.
Masturbation also counts as a workout for your pelvic floor (PC) muscles, which pays off in between the sheets: “Stronger PC muscles lead to more frequent orgasms not only during masturbation but also during sex," says Morse.
There’s a common cliché that men need to pass out immediately after sex. Interestingly enough, your brain is hardwired to crave those post-sex zzz’s too. Once you reach climax, the hormone prolactin is released in your brain, which leads to the refractory period after orgasm—where you’re so spent you can’t climax again—as well as an increase in drowsiness. (Find out how to Have an Amazing Orgasm: Achieve Multiple Os.)
What’s more, within 60 seconds of orgasm, the feel-good hormone oxytocin surges through your system—ultimately lowering the stress hormone cortisol to promote better sleep, according to Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure.
Stop Infections in Their Tracks
Masturbation itself may not prevent a urinary tract infections (UTIs), but the post-orgasm need-to-pee helps flush bacteria from the urethra (which ultimately keeps UTIs at bay), says Basler-Francis. (Also find out 4 Surprising Causes of Urinary Tract Infections.)
The same idea comes into play with yeast infections—meaning the actual self-love isn’t working wonders, but instead it’s what happening in the body after you get off. During orgasm, the pH of the vagina changes, prompting good bacteria to grow, preventing the undesirable bacteria responsible for vaginitis—which encompasses both yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis—from moving in, explains Basler-Francis.