Masturbation and Testosterone:
The Relationship Between Them
Written by: Don Watson | Updated: March 1st, 2019
My wife & co-athor of this website, Angela Watson, has been a registered sex therapist for over a decade now. Men often come to her with questions regarding masturbation and it's overall relationship with testosterone and sexual health. Because of competing interest groups (pro vs anti-masturbation), there is so much conflicting information out there and very little of it is based on science or empirical evidence. Although there is still much more research to be done, modern science has provided us with some insight.
Many of us have heard of the no-sex rule for football or similar athletes, as it is thought to reduce the masculine drive needed to excel in physical sports. Is it mental, or is there a physical component at play?
The common viewpoint is that because the gonads produce both testosterone and sperm, ejaculating releases both sperm and some testosterone that would otherwise have stayed in the body. While this can make sense to those who don’t know any better, ejaculating in and of itself actually has a negligible to non-existent effect on serum testosterone levels. Ejaculation however does affect how your body utilizes testosterone, and excessive ejaculation can result in your body not using your serum testosterone to its full potential. It is obvious then that the relationship between ejaculation, masturbation, sex, and testosterone is an extremely complex one.
What Does The Science Say?
Androgens and estrogens are hormones that concern themselves with either masculine traits in the case of androgens or female traits in the case of estrogens. Androgen receptors wait for testosterone to bind to them and create an effect in the human body. The amount of testosterone in blood serum is therefore useful for how much testosterone can be utilized by these receptors. There can either be too much testosterone for the receptors to use, or the receptors may temporarily shut their doors to testosterone, leaving it in the serum and not producing any effects in the body.
A study was completed in Mexico on male rats on the effects of ejaculation on androgen and estrogen receptors in the body. What they found was that after one or two ejaculations in a small time frame increased androgen receptor activity in their bodies, but after three or four rapid ejaculations caused a major drop in androgen receptor activity, lending credence to a “sexual exhaustion” hypothesis. The hypothesis is that after ejaculating many times in rapid succession, the body sees no need to further care for sexual hormones because as far as the brain is concerned something should be pregnant by now and there’s no need to keep the body on high sexual alert. Once sexual exhaustion is reached the rats no longer used testosterone as efficiency as it could be used, as the receptors for testosterone have closed up shop for the time being.
Studies such as this one as well as this one further show that after several orgasms androgen receptor activity declines sharply. The second study shows an increase in estrogen receptor activity, leading to more female hormones being utilized by the male body than male ones.
As far as increasing serum testosterone levels, many men wonder if abstaining from masturbation keeps the testosterone pool full & you ready to jump at any willing female in a five kilometer radius. There is only a small amount of truth to this statement. In the short term, abstaining from masturbation creates a spike in testosterone on the seventh day of abstinence before returning to more normal levels. Does this trend translate to anything more long term? After three weeks of no ejaculation, there is a small but relatively insignificant spike in testosterone levels.
In a study of men with erectile dysfunction, three months of abstinence showed a significant decrease in serum testosterone. This is what I like to call the “use it or lose it” hypothesis.
This still does not address the issue of “Does masturbation lower testosterone levels?” For this issue, I’d prefer to use a monkey study than a rat one, since monkeys are much closer to us in terms of sexuality than rats are. This study shows that testosterone levels are not effectively changed by ejaculation itself in rhesus monkeys.
Now, time for the more interesting findings.
This study concerns itself with 44 men who went to a sex club. Of those who engaged in intercourse, there was a 72% average increase in testosterone levels and a 11% average increase in men who only watched. This means that the source of sexual stimulation does indeed have an effect on testosterone. Ejaculation itself has very little to do with serum testosterone, but how that ejaculation was achieved has much to do with testosterone increases. It is worth noting that the study does not say for how long these increases were sustained, the effect could be very short and perhaps linked more to sexual satisfaction & feeling of sexual conquest than to the act of ejaculation.
Take-Home Facts about Ejaculation and Testosterone
- Masturbation & ejaculation itself does not lower serum testosterone levels
- Excessive masturbation & ejaculation is linked to a lowered ability of the hypothalamus to utilize testosterone effectively
- Short term abstinence can cause a spike in testosterone on the 7th day but long term (3month+) abstinence can result in lower serum testosterone
- Sexual contact with a flesh and blood partner increases testosterone significantly for a short period of time
In short, masturbation does not effect levels of testosterone in the short term. Excessive masturbation however does reduce the body’s ability to make use of this testosterone.
That’s it for now. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to read more of our articles.
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