Masturbation helps to alleviate psychological distress in women, study suggests

A recent study published in the International Journal of Sexual Health provides insight into the relationship between masturbation and psychological distress in women. Research has found that women who experience higher levels of psychological distress are more likely to engage in masturbation, particularly clitoral stimulation, as a form of stress relief. This challenges the long-standing stigma surrounding female masturbation and highlights its potential benefits for mental wellbeing.

Masturbation is a common sexual behavior among women in Western societies. Despite their prevalence, societal and religious stigmas have historically discouraged women from exploring their sexuality, often labeling masturbation as harmful.

Previous studies have shown that sexual arousal and orgasm can improve mood and regulate stress, suggesting that masturbation may be a beneficial mechanism for coping with psychological distress. However, the specific roles of clitoral and vaginal stimulation in this context had not been studied extensively, prompting researchers to explore this issue further.

“We became interested in this topic because the idea of ​​masturbation as a coping strategy has gained traction in research and in public discourse,” said study author Fabienne SV Wehrli, a doctoral student at the University of Zurich. “This is particularly the case for women, who have always faced discouragement, stigmatization, or even a ban on masturbation. We were intrigued to learn more about the association between masturbation, psychological distress, and coping in women.

For their study, the researchers used a simultaneous mixed method, integrating quantitative and qualitative data to explore the relationship between masturbation and psychological distress in women. The study sample consisted of 370 women aged 18 to 56 who had masturbated in the past three months. These participants were recruited via social networks and Swiss university mailing lists.

To begin, participants were asked to complete an anonymous online survey. The survey included detailed sociodemographic questions, measures of psychological distress, and questions about their masturbation habits. Psychological distress was assessed using the Symptom-Checklist-27 (SCL-27), a well-validated tool that measures various symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other emotional states. The survey also included a graphic image of the female reproductive organs to ensure that all participants had a common understanding of the anatomical terms used in the questions.

Participants were asked to indicate the stimulation mode they primarily used during masturbation over the past three months, choosing between clitoral stimulation, vaginal stimulation, combined clitoral and vaginal stimulation, anal stimulation, or other forms of stimulation. They then reported the frequency of masturbation for the chosen stimulation mode. Additionally, the survey posed an open-ended question asking participants to describe their feelings toward masturbation, which provided qualitative data to complement the quantitative findings.

Researchers found a significant relationship between psychological distress and frequency of masturbation, particularly clitoral masturbation. Women experiencing higher levels of psychological distress, particularly those with symptoms related to dysthymia (chronic depression) and suspiciousness, reported masturbating more frequently. This suggests that masturbation, and particularly clitoral stimulation, constitutes a self-soothing behavior during times of stress.

“It was surprising that increased psychological distress was not associated with combined clitoral and vaginal stimulation,” Wehrli said. “Further studies should examine these associations in more detail.”

Qualitative data supported these findings. Many women have reported positive feelings associated with masturbation, such as happiness, relaxation, and contentment. Some participants explicitly mentioned using masturbation as a coping strategy to deal with stress, sleep difficulties, and even physical pain. These women viewed masturbation as a form of “me time” and self-care, helping them relax and feel better.

Negative feelings toward masturbation were reported by a minority of participants. These negative emotions were often linked to societal stigma or personal discomfort with the practice. Some women have expressed feelings of shame, frustration, or loneliness associated with masturbation. Despite these negative feelings, the overall trend indicated that masturbation was primarily viewed in a positive light and used as a beneficial coping mechanism.

“Results revealed that increased psychological distress correlated with higher frequency of clitoral masturbation, likely because masturbation might function as a coping mechanism, elicit positive emotional states, and serve as a form of self-care,” Wehrli told PsyPost. “The main takeaway is that masturbation as a form of self-care could be beneficial for health literacy, especially among women who experience a lot of distress. We believe this knowledge can allow women to explore the potential of the clitoris for their mental health.

But the study, like all research, has limitations. The cross-sectional design cannot establish causality, meaning it is unclear whether masturbation directly reduces psychological distress or whether distressed women are more likely to masturbate.

“It is important to note that our results are strictly correlational,” Wehrli said. “Future research should use analysis of daily diaries, which could offer deeper insights into how masturbation affects pain, sleep quality, and overall psychological well-being in the short and long term.”

The study entitled “Exploring the role of masturbation as a coping strategy in women” was authored by Fabienne SV Wehrli, Guy J. Bodenmann, Joëlle Clemen and Katharina Weitkamp.

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Gn Health

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