What happens to the female body when you masturbate

what-happens-to-the-body-when-you-masturbate

Sexual arousal is a completely normal response in the body which can be resolved by sex, or masturbation. The latter is simply defined as self-stimulation of the genital organs for pleasure. This can result in the body going through a series of interlinked responses in order to reach orgasm, if that is indeed the end goal.

Masturbation is very common and is thought to encourage increased awareness of the body, and it even has some health benefits. People of all ages masturbate, and for many it is often their first sexual experience.1 One study reported that 91% of women masturbate, and the report stated that it was a positive component in the structuring of female sexuality, although a minority of women had feelings associated with shame and guilt.2 As it is seen as a taboo subject in some cultures and for some people, such feelings can be very logical, and if you never masturbate or never have the urge too, that is entirely normal.

Some people may masturbate using their hand, and others may prefer the aid of sex toys, vibrators, or other objects. If you masturbate, you’ll know what works for you and what doesn’t. But what actually happens to the female body when you masturbate, and why does it cause the sensations that it does?

Changes to heart rate and blood flow when you masturbate

When you start becoming aroused, several physiological and physical responses occur, including an increased heart rate, faster breathing, and increased blood flow through the body, including the skin. Muscles contract, and with the increased blood flow, genital organs such as the clitoris get bigger. On top of this, the vaginal wall becomes more lubricated and the uterus even moves position to create space for penetration.


The prefrontal cortex of the brain appears to be more active during masturbation than sex, which appears to happen when touches are imagined rather than felt.

As stimulation continues, the nerves in that area also become more responsive. The erogenous zones, areas of the body which respond sexually when stimulated, include the genital areas and the nipples, and it is touching in these parts of the body that initiates the physiological responses described above. The clitoris is the most sensitive of the erogenous zones of the body,3 and stimulation of this region, if sustained, usually leads to an orgasm in most people.

Changes in the brain when you masturbate

Within the brain there is an increase in hormones including dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin as your start masturbating. These are ‘feel good’ hormones, which reduce feelings of stress, and increase feelings of bonding between individuals. Sexual desire is, in fact, controlled by the brain systems involved in sexual excitation,4 as well as physical and psychosocial factors.

Interestingly, the brain responds differently when masturbating compared to when a sexual partner is involved: the prefrontal cortex of the brain appears to be more active during masturbation.5 This appears to happen when touches are imagined rather than felt.

Another aspect of the hormonal changes in the brain when you masturbate is the release of pain reducing substances, which thus increase your pain threshold. One study found a 74.6% increase in pain tolerance with masturbation, and pain detection ability increased by 106.7%.6

Changes in your blood system when you masturbate

In the blood system during sexual encounters, an increase in blood cells that help fight infections has been noted, which is an immune system response. In one small study, sexually active women had higher immunoglobulin G (IgG) at ovulation than sexually abstinent women.7 IgG is an antibody response and is the most common antibody expressed in blood. It acts directly on pathogens by either paralysing target cells or by immobilising them and marking them for disposal.8

Other reactions in the body

The increased blood flow to the genitals and increased lubrication during masturbation also assists in the flushing of the vagina with discharge. This flows out of the body and contributes to keeping the vagina clean and at a normal acid base level, thus decreasing the risk of infections, and the increased lubrication can also help women who are experiencing vaginal dryness.


The increased blood flow and muscle contractions experienced during masturbation helps to exercise the pelvic floor effectively, which can help prevent organ prolapse and urine disturbances in the long term.

The increased blood flow and muscle contractions experienced during masturbation helps to exercise the pelvic floor effectively, which can help prevent organ prolapse and urine disturbances in the long term.

In general, the body’s response during masturbation appears to help maintain the function of various organs and systems, while also bringing pleasure.

The end result of this is usually an orgasm, which is defined as the peak physical reaction to sexual stimulation. This reaction includes flushing of the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and changes within the brain, such as activation of areas that processes pain. There also appears to be an association with better physical and psychological health, such as self esteem.9

While masturbating can be very good for you and in most is not likely to cause any ill effects whatsoever, in some people the compulsion to masturbate can occur too regularly, or the amount you wish to masturbate may cause distress. If you think the amount or the ways in which you are masturbating are unhealthy for you, or are experiencing some sort of distress with regards to your desire for sexual activity, then visiting your doctor can help put your mind at rest. Equally, if you never have the urge to masturbate, that’s normal too — what works for one person won’t work for another, and everyone has different sex drives.

References

  1. NHS, ‘Is masturbation normal?’, Common Health Questions, [website], 2016, https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/sexual-health/is-masturbation-normal/, (accessed 15 October 2018).
  2. A. Carvalheira & I. Leal, ‘Masturbation among women: associated factors and sexual response in a Portuguese community sample’, J Sex Marital Ther., Vol. 39, No. 4, 2013, pp. 347-67.
  3. H. E. O’connell et al., ‘Anatomy of the clitoris’, The Journal of Urology, Vol. 174, No. 4, 2005, pp. 1189-95.
  4. J. G. Pfauss, ‘Pathways of sexual desire’, J Sex Med., Vol. 6, No. 6, 2009, pp. 1506-1533.
  5. N. J. Wise et al., ‘Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women: An fMRI Analysis’, J Sex Med., Vol. 14, No. 11, 2017, pp.1380-1391.
  6. B. R. Komisaruk & B. Whipple, ‘The Suppression of Pain by Genital Stimulation in Females’, Annual Review of Sex Research, Vol. 6, 1995, pp. 151-186.
  7. T. K. Lorenze et al., ‘Interaction of menstrual cycle phase and sexual activity predicts mucosal and systemic humoral immunity in healthy women’, Physiol Behav., Vol. 152, Part A, 2015, pp.92-98.
  8. C. R. Wira et al., ‘The role of sex hormones in immune protection of the female reproductive tract’, Nature Reviews Immunology, Vol. 15, No. 4, 2015, pp.217-230.
  9. D. F. Hurlbert & K. E. Whittaker, ‘The role of masturbation in marital and sexual satisfaction: A comparative study of female masturbators and nonmasturbators’, Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, Vol. 17, Iss. 4, 1991, pp.272-282.

Dr. Deyo Famuboni

Dr. Deyo Famuboni is a UK trained GP with over 10 years of medical experience. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, she went on to do further training within a wide range of medical specialities including obstetrics and gynaecology. She has spent time working abroad as well as within the NHS and private sectors in the UK. She is a member and clinical advisor of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a diplomate of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Royal College of Paediatricians and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health. She also has a strong interest in nutrition and health and blogs at https://doctordeyo.com/.

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