Sexual Health

Does Masturbation Decrease Testosterone?

Masturbation was taboo for many years, and only a few studies covered that particular topic. But it is necessary and curious for males to know what happens when they masturbate.

Is something changing in their hormones? Does masturbation decrease testosterone? What about muscle building?

In this article, we will answer all of those questions and more.

What the link between masturbation and testosterone

Testosterone is tagged as the sex hormone. It is actually what drives sexual desire and triggers secondary changes in men. Thus, the link between masturbation and testosterone is clear. Testosterone triggers sexual desire and may contribute to the urge to masturbate in men.

We can say that testosterone is equally related to masturbation than sex itself, to a certain degree. It can be considered sexual behavior, which is triggered by a surge of testosterone.

But what happens after we have sex, or masturbate, for that matter? Are we reducing our testosterone concentration? Is it possible to reduce testosterone levels every time we do it, ending up with testosterone level problems?

What does the research say?

Testosterone concentrations change in the organism, similar to melatonin and cortisol. They increase and constantly decrease according to the hour of the day. During a 24-hour period, testosterone levels usually change, but they are higher in the morning.

Between 8 am and 11 pm, we usually find a higher level of testosterone. This is the male hormone cycle, and it is completely normal. It won’t cause a significant change, as in women during their periods. But should be considered if we’re going to measure our testosterone levels (1).

Besides these normal variations, there are a few others. For example, a man’s testosterone increases when looking at a sexually attractive person. It also increases in competitive games and during sexual intercourse (2,3).

Even exercise can increase our circulating levels of testosterone. But the effect of these variations depends on various things, including the age and other factors (4). If we look at the numbers, the difference is minimal, almost unnoticeable. At least we won’t expect to improve hypogonadism problems with one of these methods.

Studies about masturbation and testosterone levels follow the same pattern. Some of them show minute changes. Others show no significant changes, and when they do, they are minimal. 

We know that before sex and during sex, testosterone levels are slightly higher. They contribute to erection and sexual drive. During sex, they keep on rising slightly. But then, after orgasm, serum testosterone levels drop. For the body, masturbation works the same way as sex itself, and the same is expected to happen. But does it?

According to a study, not masturbating and not engaging in sexual activity affects testosterone. Serum levels go higher and higher over the course of three months. However, consider that this particular study included individuals with erectile dysfunction. Healthy individuals may have a different response during abstinence (5).

That’s why a more recent study in healthy adult men evaluated the same thing. But the investigators used an abstinence period of 3 weeks this time. The increase in serum testosterone was also evident in this study. It was a lower response compared to the other study, though. However, nobody will abstain from sexual behavior to get a slight increase in testosterone levels. Not when we have other supplements and easier ways to do it without cutting back this part of our nature (6).

After this type of research, most people would say that abstinence increases testosterone. Then, you shouldn’t masturbate to keep your testosterone levels higher. But that’s definitely not the case. The truth is that it won’t make a difference in a practical sense. In other words, you won’t likely stop having low testosterone symptoms because you stopped masturbating. And you won’t experience a dramatic testosterone drop after masturbating, either.

What we do suspect is that masturbating very frequently may alter your hormonal signals. According to studies made in male rats, estrogen receptors may increase in number with frequent masturbation (sexual satiety).

Estrogen is the female hormone. So, it means that less testosterone will be available for your cells. However, this is early research from animals, and we don’t know if the same applies to humans (7).

Will masturbation affect my muscle building?

The typical bodybuilder worries a lot about testosterone. They use supplements to increase their natural testosterone levels.

They worry about sleeping enough hours or doing the right exercises to trigger an increase in testosterone. That’s why it is natural to expect that they will also be worried about masturbation.

Compared to testosterone or testosterone replacement therapy, not masturbating will do nothing to your hormone levels. The difference is very slight, and you will likely get a similar effect by using a testosterone booster. But if you want an additional advantage, you may want to try not masturbating for 7 days. Then, performing your workout with a slightly higher level of testosterone.

Consider that masturbation and sex have the same measurable effects on your testosterone. So, if you want this method to work, you shouldn’t engage in any sexual behavior (6).

Still, in the short-term, your testosterone levels won’t suffer a dramatic drop when you masturbate. You won’t lose muscle mass when you do it, and you will keep on gaining muscle mass. Sure, this slight advantage may give you an edge if you’re a professional bodybuilder. But in the most practical way, and for most of us, it won’t make a real difference.

What are the signs of low testosterone?

Once again, we said in the introduction paragraph that men’s health is full of myths. Men of all ages worry about their testosterone at some point in their lives. Sometimes very early on because they don’t see facial hair growing in their puberty. Or later in life because they had an episode of erectile dysfunction

But the signs and symptoms of low testosterone can be displayed by almost anyone. We can live with these symptoms, and it doesn’t meat testosterone levels are low. Together, they make up a significant suspicion, but this suspicion should be tested. That’s why doctors go through your symptoms and then order a few tests.

Still, it is very important to know the signs of low testosterone. That way, you will be able to tell if you’re fine. The more items in this list that you check, the most likely it is you have low T levels.

This is the list of symptoms of low testosterone (8):

  • No penile tumescence: That’s the clinical name for the morning wood or boner. We experience these involuntary penis erections up to 5 times every night. They are spontaneous. Still, you may not wake up with a morning wood but experience penile tumescence at night. So, it is not a definite symptom.

  • Mood problems: Similar to women, men can also become irritable on low testosterone. This is more likely in andropause when men’s hormone levels decline by age.

  • A reduction in semen volume: Semen depends on testosterone. Thus, it is often an independent way to measure testosterone. It also depends on your prostate and other glands. So, it is not a completely accurate symptom.

  • A reduction in sexual drive: Sexual arousal is stimulated by testosterone. This is an important symptom in men, and it causes worry and anxiety. It may kill your confidence and drag down your entire sexual life.

  • Fatigue: Testosterone makes you more active and reduces the sensation of tiredness. But fatigue can be caused by multiple factors, and testosterone is only one of them.

  • Low muscle mass: Having a visible reduction of your muscle mass can be another symptom of low testosterone. This is because T contributes to the production of muscle fibers. That’s why older adults can go through a process of muscle wasting when their testosterone levels drop dramatically.

  • Susceptibility to fractures: When your testosterone levels are low, your bones will suffer, too. Similar to muscle mass, testosterone also contributes to bone mineralization. So, you can even have osteoporosis and increase the risk of fractures.

  • Anemia: Testosterone has an important proliferating effect in many cells. That’s why a man’s hemoglobin level is higher than a woman’s. But a low testosterone concentration may cause anemia, too.

  • Scarce facial hair: This is an early symptom of low testosterone levels. It is usually caught in growing children who do not reach their puberty on time. After adult life, higher testosterone might cause hair loss, and low testosterone may reduce facial and body hair thickness.

  • Obesity and increased body fat: Body fat and testosterone are definitely not friends. They are opposite to each other in every aspect you can imagine. This does not mean that being obese is the same as low testosterone levels. But it might contribute to having testosterone problems.

  • Infertility: This is a major symptom of testosterone deficiency. And still, it is affected by many other factors-for example, genetic problems and varicocele. So, a low sperm count and infertility gives a suspicion, but not a final diagnosis.

  • Erectile dysfunction (low libido): Experiencing sexual problems (erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation) once or twice can have several explanations. A stressful day, not having enough sleep, and performance anxiety. But if you’re having a recurrent problem with erections, don’t be afraid to ask a professional. Testosterone and psychological issues are usually the ones to blame.

As you can see, most of these symptoms are not completely accurate. Having one or two usually does not make you suspicious of low testosterone levels. Of course, things change if you’re an older adult and have very severe symptoms.

In any case, if you suspect you have low testosterone, talk to your doctor, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. But be sure that masturbation won’t make a difference in your testosterone concentration levels.

What are the benefits of masturbation?

Despite the stigma and bad reputation, science has uncovered that masturbation is not necessarily a bad thing. It is actually considered a common and completely normal sexual behavior.

Some professionals consider masturbation as an indicator of sexual health. Masturbation can have several benefits and may even be used in sex therapy to improve individuals and couples’ problems.

These are the benefits, in short (9):

  • It relieves stress and sexual tension

  • It may promote a better sleep

  • It is a pleasurable experience

  • It may improve sexual function for couples

  • It is a normal part of self-discovery in children and adolescents

  • It may be useful to prevent sexually-transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.

  • It may reduce the risk of prostate cancer (frequent ejaculation, that is) (10)

But even with all of these benefits, promoting masturbation is a controversial topic. That’s because there are not all benefits.

What are the risks of masturbation?

In the long-run, there are risks to masturbation as well. We mentioned above that repeated masturbation may cause an imbalance in estrogen receptors as opposed to androgen receptors.

And the problem with masturbation has to do with the frequency and having an addiction to it. Excessive masturbation can become a real problem. Not because of testosterone, though.

Masturbation shouldn’t become the main or the only sexual behavior, and it may affect the way couples experience sex. When masturbating, men may also have a very tight grip and reduce their sexual sensitivity. Then, they may feel insufficient stimulation and lose their erection during sexual intercourse.

Spending too much time on this type of sexual behavior may also create severe problems. So, be careful when masturbation hurts your personal relationships, makes you miss school or work, or makes you feel worried about addiction.

Conclusion

Masturbation is normal sexual behavior. However, it can cause problems when it becomes the main sexual pattern and distorts self-esteem and social relationships. However, lower testosterone levels are not a side effect of masturbation.

Before sexual activity and during abstinence, testosterone levels tend to rise. After orgasm (through sexual activity or masturbation), androgen levels are reduced. However, the variation is minimal and not relevant in clinical practice. 

Thus, masturbation is not a reliable tool to decrease testosterone, and sexual abstinence is not the best way to increase serum levels. You might have an edge in muscle building if you practice abstinence from sexual behavior for one week.

But the advantage is minimal and not relevant for the average population. Moreover, testosterone boosters can produce similar effects without cutting back sex as an essential part of human nature.

Sources

  1. DoEring, C. H., Kraemer, H. C., Brodie, H. K. H., & Hamburg, D. A. (1975). A cycle of plasma testosterone in the human male. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 40(3), 492-500.
  2. Gupta, S. K., Lindemulder, E. A., & Sathyan, G. (2000). Modeling of circadian testosterone in healthy men and hypogonadal men. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 40(7), 731-738.
  3. Pound, N., Penton-Voak, I. S., & Surridge, A. K. (2009). Testosterone responses to competition in men are related to facial masculinity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1654), 153-159.
  4. Baker, J. R., Bemben, M. G., Anderson, M. A., & Bemben, D. A. (2006). Effects of age on testosterone responses to resistance exercise and musculoskeletal variables in men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(4), 874.
  5. Jannini, E. A., Screponi, E., Carosa, E., Pepe, M., Lo Giudice, F., Trimarchi, F., & Benvenga, S. (1999). Lack of sexual activity from erectile dysfunction is associated with a reversible reduction in serum testosterone. International Journal of Andrology, 22(6), 385-392.
  6. Exton, M. S., KruÈger, T. H., Bursch, N., Haake, P., Knapp, W., Schedlowski, M., & Hartmann, U. (2001). Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following a 3-week sexual abstinence. World Journal of Urology, 19(5), 377-382.
  7. Phillips-Farfán, B. V., Lemus, A. E., & Fernández-Guasti, A. (2007). Increased estrogen receptor alpha immunoreactivity in the forebrain of sexually satiated rats. Hormones and behavior, 51(3), 328-334.
  8. Smith, L. B., Mitchell, R. T., & McEwan, I. J. (2013). Testosterone: From basic research to clinical applications. New York: Springer.
  9. Kaestle, C. E., & Allen, K. R. (2011). The role of masturbation in healthy sexual development: Perceptions of young adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(5), 983-994.

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