Masturbation has tons of health benefits—is a strong immune system one of them?

By Claire Gillespie
March 12, 2020
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Now that coronavirus COVID-19 has been officially confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, even those who were insisting “it’s no worse that the flu” are starting to fill up the vegetable drawer with fresh greens and stockpile hand sanitizer. 

So what else can boost your immune system? Is the rumor that masturbation helps to ward off infection simply too good to be true? 

If you’re hoping that all you need to do to keep the new coronavirus at bay is get handsy under the sheets, you’ll be interested in a study carried out by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen, Germany, which was published in the journal Neuroimmunomodulation in 2004. 

Using a group of 11 male participants, the study looked at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on while blood cell count and immune system. Each participant’s white blood cell count was recorded five minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching solo orgasm, and the post-orgasm count was higher. 

Does this small study mean that people should start indulging in solo pleasure to stay healthy? Not so fast.

“There have been a couple of very small studies suggesting that chemicals related to the body’s immune system are impacted by sexual stimulation,” Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, tells Health. However, she points out that the studies are very small and haven’t been replicated. “To my knowledge, no study says specifically that masturbation boosts the immune system in a way that prevents or helps fight off infection,” says Dr. Saltz. 

But that doesn’t mean masturbation doesn’t come with a whole host of mental and physical health benefits. Although few studies focus specifically on the perks of solo sex, orgasms in general are believed to reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, increase self-esteem, and relieve pain

While there aren’t scientifically solid major studies that show a clear link between masturbation and the release of endorphins (stress and pain-relieving chemicals) in the brain, it’s understood that physical activity in general helps to increase those feel-good chemicals. According to the Mayo Clinic, virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress-buster. And masturbation counts as physical activity, right?

Beyond health benefits, masturbation might even help your relationship. One study, published in the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, found that women who masturbated had happier marriages compared to those who didn’t give themselves sexual pleasure. 

Will masturbating stop you from getting sick? In a word, no. To boost your immune system, you need to start with diet and exercise. “The most important way to keep your immune system functioning normally is the old-fashioned way that nobody likes to talk about: diet and exercise,” Timothy Mainardi, MD, an allergist and immunologist based in New York City, previously told Health

Other immunity-boosting tips from Mainardi include getting plenty of sleep, washing your hands with soap and water, and using hand sanitizer when you’re out in public. Masturbating may not be on the list, but we can think of worse things to be doing if you end up self-isolating. 

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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