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How Masturbation and Testosterone Are Connected

January 07, 2021
4 mins

There's a growing body of men online trumpeting the benefits of abstinence and avoiding masturbation.

"Increases testosterone," they say. "Improves performance, better sex, feel more manly, more assertive, more masculine, more attractive to women..." the list goes on these "nofap" aficionados suggest.

But what does the research say? Does masturbation lower testosterone levels? Can abstinence improve sexual function?

The short answer is no: the evidence indicates masturbation is unlikely to reduce testosterone in the long-term, and it can even increase testosterone in the short-term.

Let's take a closer look at the research.

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What Does Testosterone Do?

Let's start with the basics.

Testosterone (often abbreviated T) is one of the sex hormones present in both men and women. That's right, women have testosterone too (and guys have estrogen!). But in men, testosterone levels are about 8 times higher than in women. Testosterone is the prevailing sex hormone for males, and it's what drives those traditionally manly traits: more body hair, deeper voice, larger muscles, etc.

Testosterone production in men ramps up substantially during puberty and usually peaks in our 30s or 40s before it declines as we age. That's one driving factor behind the increased occurrence of erectile dysfunction (ED) in older guys.

Testosterone is also clearly linked to libido and sex drive for men and women, though it has a more pronounced effect in men. Higher testosterone levels in men are associated with increased sexual motivation. But higher T is also predictive of infidelity, and worse relationship outcomes!

Do the no-fap fans have it right? Can quitting masturbation improve your sex drive? Does frequent masturbation decrease testosterone?

Does Masturbating Reduce Testosterone?

This is the basis of the no-fap movement – that abstaining from masturbation boosts your testosterone, leading to an improved sex drive among other myriad benefits. Guys who subscribe to this school of thought claim that more testosterone as a result of not masturbating helps them in their sexual conquests: improved confidence, etc. Others claim that abstaining from ejaculation in the lead-up to sporting events can improve athletic performance due to sexual frustration. 

Masturbation is a safe and fun way to experience sexual pleasure, and perhaps eliminating masturbation for some guys does motivate them to be more confident in the dating or business world.

But the claims about testosterone don't play out in the research.

Besides personal anecdotes, the no-masturbation-more-testosterone claim largely stems from a 2001 study of men who abstained from masturbation or sex for 3 weeks. Their testosterone levels were monitored consistently, and sure enough the researchers found that T levels were higher after the abstinence period! They also found, however, that masturbation itself had no effect on T levels. Another 2003 study found that guys abstaining from ejaculation had normal T levels for the first 6 days, but that their testosterone rose on the 7th day. 

But that's not the end of the story.

Other studies have found the opposite: that ejaculation actually increases testosterone levels in the short-term. A 2006 review paper outlined the body of evidence on testosterone and sex or ejaculation:

  • Guys who had multiple partners or unfamiliar partners had increased T after these encounters

  • Penis-to-vagina intercourse increases T in men, according to 2 studies in the review paper

  • Just watching sexually explicit movies raised T in 4 out of 5 studies

Another study that included over 600 guys found that men's levels of T were higher with higher levels of masturbation, but also that higher T did not necessarily lead to more masturbation. Put another way, masturbation may increase T, but increased T may not lead to more masturbation.

It's not clear precisely which is causal.

The link between abstinence and a resulting increase in testosterone is murky, and there's more evidence pointing to higher testosterone as a result of masturbation or sex than otherwise. It's possible that a weeklong abstinence period may temporarily increase testosterone levels, but masturbation may very well achieve the same thing.

What about athletics? Muhammad Ali famously abstained from sex for 6 weeks before a big boxing match, claiming that it helped him to be more aggressive. There's little evidence to back up the claim that athletes should abstain because they can improve performance through higher T or by taking out their sexual frustration on the court. In fact, researchers have debunked this myth, and there's good evidence that sex or ejaculation leads to higher T, possibly improving aggression

How Low Testosterone Affects Guys

Before you write off testosterone entirely, low testosterone IS a medical condition that affects many men, and prevalence increases with age. In some cases, it's treated with prescription-grade products including gels, patches, and even injections to replace waining testosterone in the body. 

A low testosterone level can be associated with:

  • a lower sex drive and limited sexual desire

  • hair loss or male pattern baldness

  • a feeling of tiredness

  • losing bone and muscle mass

  • less sperm and lower sperm count

  • having trouble with sexual arousal, getting, or keeping an erection

  • increased body fat or weight gain

Many common health conditions also affect testosterone levels, including:

  • metabolic conditions

  • high blood pressure

  • thyroid conditions

  • and diabetes

While low T is a real thing, it's not necessarily the driving factor behind "performance" for most guys, and quitting masturbation will likely fall well short of proper treatment. 

How Is Measure Serum Testosterone Measured?

Measuring testosterone happens through a simple blood draw, and T in the blood is measured in nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). The American Urological Association defines low T as anything less than 300 ng/dL total testosterone.

Can Sexual Abstinence Increase Testosterone?

What do you do with this information? Have a healthy sex life! Whether that's solo or with a partner, regular intimacy has been traced to far more health benefits than negatives. Regular sexual intimacy can boost your libido, improve your relationship, lower blood pressure, boost mental health, help you sleep better, and more.

Our advice: don't overthink it. Regular sexual activity is great.

Is it helpful for guys to quit masturbating? Less masturbation does not clearly lead to more testosterone, which definitely doesn't clearly lead to better "outcomes" for guys. T isn't the only factor. Psychological and psychosocial factors play a role during intentional abstinence, and higher T is likely to damage relationship quality, according to some published research, and it can lead to more infidelity.

If you're struggling with feelings of guilt due to excessive masturbation or pornography consumption (and porn-induced ED), that's a different story, and may be worth exploring at more length with a physician or mental health professional.

Has sexual dysfunction happened to you? Get help from a licensed physician at RexMD.com, with treatment shipped right to your door. It's affordable, easy, and fast.

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