Are Masturbation And Depression Linked?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated July 15, 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 discuss how to address concerns related to masturbation and depression. 

Masturbation is a normal, healthy way to relieve stress

Masturbation is common

Masturbation can be considered a normal and healthy habit. Sometimes people masturbate to obtain sexual satisfaction or to relieve stress, and it's a normal expression of human sexuality and sex drive. Masturbation can help with stress relief and may offer several health benefits for the brain and body. Many people understand this and are comfortable with 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, and there are benefits of masturbation.

Medically reviewed 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. But can masturbation cause depression on its own? In most cases, no: masturbation is not considered a source of depression. When masturbation is followed by depression, it may be caused by loneliness or feelings of guilt. Some cultures and religions teach that masturbation is a sinful and shameful act, which can add to the stigma around masturbation 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 be required. 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 regarding the general population related to any connection between masturbation and depression.

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.

Masturbation when married

Some people feel bad or strange about masturbating when they're married or in a relationship. They may think that if they have a partner, then masturbating is like an affront to them. This isn't the case for many different reasons.


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 always possible when you desire it. Everyday responsibilities might get in the way of your intimate time.

Another cause of a mismatch in sexual desires could be mental health or sexual dysfunctions, making it difficult for one 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 or interested in having sex. 

Masturbating while you're married may be fine as long as it isn't negatively impacting your relationship. Masturbation could harm your relationship if it becomes compulsive. Your depression doesn't necessarily have to do with the masturbation itself.

Excessive masturbation

It is possible to develop a habit of compulsive masturbation, which may interrupt daily life or even cause harm to physical health.

Excessive masturbation is more common among men than women. This is usually linked to issues with impulse control. People who experience compulsive masturbation may have problems with other activities or substances, too. 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 sexual addiction. Compulsive pornography use can also be linked to masturbation and depression.

Compulsive masturbation

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

Depression is treatable, and it might be beneficial to seek therapy to process your depression. Sexual frustrations can also lead to depressive symptoms or symptoms of anxiety.

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. Sex addiction and excessive pornography use are common, so there’s no need to be afraid to get help.

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 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 when 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. 

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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