Are Masturbation And Depression Linked?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated February 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression affects some 20 million people every year in the United States, and many people wonder what causes depression. Some people have heard that masturbation is a potential cause of depression.

Psychologists don’t usually consider masturbation to be a cause of depression, anxiety, or any other mental illnesses. However, compulsive masturbation may affect a person’s mood, relationships, or overall life.

Below, we’ll explore this topic in greater detail and discuss how to address concerns related to masturbation and depression. 

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Masturbation is a normal, healthy way to relieve stress

Masturbation is common

Masturbation can be considered a normal and healthy habit. Sometimes people masturbate in order to obtain sexual satisfaction or to relieve stress, and it's generally a normal expression of human sexuality. It has been shown that masturbation can help with stress relief and may even offer several health benefits for both your brain and body. Many people understand this and don't see anything wrong with expressing the fact that they masturbate on occasion. Others are so embarrassed by masturbating that they try to hide it. While masturbation is a personal act, it isn't something that people need to feel ashamed of doing.

Research shows that men tend to masturbate more than women. However, some people are embarrassed to speak about the topic, so the statistics may not be completely accurate and can vary from survey to survey.

Regular masturbation can be a way for people to relieve stress and alleviate sexual frustrations. But can masturbation cause depression on its own? In most cases, no: masturbation is not considered a source of depression in and of itself. When masturbation is followed by depression, it may be caused by loneliness or feelings of guilt. Many cultures and religions teach that masturbation is a sinful and shameful act, which can add to the stigma surrounding the topic and cause friends or family to shame one another. 

The effects of masturbatory guilt were studied in Can Masturbatory Guilt Lead to Severe Psychopathology: a Case Series. The case series found a connection between masturbation prohibition and subsequent guilt with the manifestation of severe psychopathology, though further research may still need to be done. The series also mentioned evidence of masturbatory guilt leading to depression symptoms, but due to the limited scale of the series, more evidence is needed to create concrete conclusions or draw larger parallels to the general population.

Overall, how you feel about masturbation is up to you. In many cases, masturbation is not considered a normal cause of depression. In most adults, masturbation is a completely normal physical action.

What about masturbating when you're married?

Some people feel bad or a little strange about masturbating when they're married or in a relationship. They may think that if someone has a partner that they live with, then masturbating seems almost like an affront to that person. This isn't always the case for many different reasons.

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First, your partner may not always be in the same mood as you. Schedules don't always match up, you may be going through a stressful situation, or you may be struggling to get enough sleep; whatever the reason, having sex just isn't going to be possible every single day of the week. Everyday responsibilities might get in the way of your intimate time. This doesn't mean that people won't have urges. 

Another cause could be that one individual in the relationship may also be dealing with sexual dysfunctions, making it difficult for them to have sex or orgasm. While masturbating isn’t likely to cause sexual dysfunction conditions like erectile dysfunction, it may be a helpful activity when one partner isn’t capable of engaging in sexual activities. 

Masturbating while you're married may be fine as long as it isn't negatively impacting your sex drive and your relationship. However, masturbation could harm your relationship if it becomes excessive. If you're experiencing severe depression that is related to sexual frustration, then it may be due to a lack of intimate time with your partner. Your depressed feelings don’t necessarily have anything to do with the masturbation itself.

Excessive masturbation can have negative impacts

There are some people who develop a habit of compulsive masturbation to the extent that it gets in the way of other important priorities or even causes harm to their physical health.

Excessive masturbation is more common among men than it is among women. This is usually linked to someone having problems with impulse control. These individuals may experience problems with other activities or substances like alcohol. It's possible that someone could have both a higher alcohol intake and be prone to excessive masturbation, which can make it more difficult to deal with each condition separately. 

Masturbating excessively is sometimes caused by some type of sexual addiction. There are people who watch pornography compulsively, and they often masturbate while watching it.

Seeking treatment for compulsive masturbation

If you think that you may be experiencing depression, you can reach out to a physician or mental health professional. The depression that you’re feeling is likely not caused by masturbation. Your depression is likely being caused by something else, and a doctor may be able to help you.

Depression is a condition that is treatable. A doctor can create a treatment plan that may include medication. It might also be beneficial to seek therapy to process and work through concerns that are contributing to your depression. Also, certain sexual frustrations or problems can lead to depressive symptoms or the symptoms of anxiety.

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Masturbation is a normal, healthy way to relieve stress

Therapy may help individuals who have difficulty with excessive masturbation. Therapists can often help people with a lack of impulse control to change their behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be effective in treating people with various types of addiction and substance use disorders. Sex addiction and excessive pornography use are common, so there’s no need to be afraid to get help if you're in need.

If you’re nervous about discussing these topics at a therapist’s office, you might consider online therapy. Online therapy is an effective and convenient way to get support without having to meet in person with a clinician. 

With BetterHelp, you can communicate with your therapist via audio or video chat. If you have questions or concerns in between sessions, you can contact your therapist at any time via in-app messaging, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can. 

You may be wondering if online therapy is effective for compulsive masturbation or sex addiction. In a recent study comparing the effectiveness of in-person versus telehealth treatments for addiction, researchers confirmed that telehealth counseling is an effective alternative to in-person treatments.

Online therapy has widely been proven effective for treating depression, as well. In a study involving nearly 1,500 participants who self-identified as experiencing challenges with depression and/or anxiety, researchers affirmed that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) resulted in 46.7% to 51.1% reliable recovery after a three-month follow-up, with an average therapist time of one to three hours per participant. 

Takeaway

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or concerns about masturbation, you don’t have to face them alone. Masturbation does not have to lead to depression, but if you’re concerned in any way, you can talk to a licensed therapist online. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience treating depression and addressing concerns related to masturbation and other sexual practices. If you want to manage depression symptoms more effectively or discuss topics related to masturbation, take the first step to get help and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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