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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Masturbation: nature’s stress release since time immemorial.
For some people, though, that stress release comes along with added anxiety. Does masturbation affect testosterone levels? If you’re concerned about low T, you may be worried about doing anything that could lower your testosterone levels further.
Keep reading to see if you need to worry about masturbation having a negative impact on your testosterone levels, or if you can stress release in peace.
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What is testosterone?
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone (androgen). Women also produce testosterone, but at much lower levels. Testosterone affects muscle mass, fat distribution, body hair, sexual arousal, and red blood cell formation, among many other things (Nassar, 2022).
Some have even theorized that testosterone may play a role in athletic performance, which is why you hear stories of Olympic coaches banning athletes from sexual activity before they compete in events (Dent, 2012). But even if this uncertain theory is true and those poor athletes, well, need a release, would masturbating affect their testosterone levels?
The answer is we’re not entirely sure. Research into this topic has produced a wide range of results. One early study from the 1970s found that orgasms increased testosterone, at least in the short term (Purvis, 1976). A more recent study of men unable to orgasm due to erectile dysfunction found they had significantly lower total and free testosterone (Jannini, 2001).
Another found that blood plasma levels of testosterone did not change at all after ejaculation, though levels were elevated in those who abstained from ejaculating for three weeks (Exton, 2001). More research found that serum testosterone levels suddenly spiked after seven days of abstinence (Jiang, 2002).
How could these studies have such radically different results? All of them involved a small number of participants, so there’s more room for differences between the participants to throw things off. Age differences, diet, fitness level, and other factors could have all played a role.
Hormone levels of both testosterone and estrogen jump around constantly and are affected by various factors. Given all the things tugging your testosterone this way or that, masturbation alone isn’t likely to affect your baseline. Most studies that did show differences found them relatively small and temporary.
Testosterone: what is it, what does it do, levels, treatment
Testosterone levels can change throughout the day
Testosterone levels are pushed and pulled by a multitude of things. In one study, simply catching a whiff of an ovulating woman’s scent can increase testosterone in heterosexual men, especially if it came from certain parts of the body (Cerda-Molina, 2013). Studies have shown that merely talking to a woman can increase testosterone levels in heterosexual men (Roney, 2007).
But the trigger doesn’t even need to be sex-centric. For example, skipping dinner has been shown to temporarily lower testosterone levels (Trumble, 2010).
Despite the many factors that might impact hormone levels from one moment to the next, none of them should impact them long or strong enough to have a significant impact on your sex life. It’s important to note that much of the research on this topic has been performed in heterosexual men and we hope to see more inclusive research in the future.
Causes of low testosterone
When we talk about clinically low testosterone, we’re not talking about the daily ups and downs––or even the ups and downs of life.
What healthcare providers call low T (or hypogonadism) is a specific condition that impedes a man from producing the proper amount of testosterone (Sizar, 2021). Some researchers estimate that almost 40% of men over age 45 have low T (Mulligan, 2006).
There are many possible causes of low T. It might be the symptom of another condition or the side effect of a medication. Some of the most commonly identified causes are aging and obesity (Sizar, 2021).
Free testosterone and why it matters for your health
Signs and symptoms of low testosterone
Symptoms of low T include (Sizar, 2021):
- Lower sex drive (libido)
- Fewer spontaneous erections
- Hair loss in the armpits or pubic region
- Hot flashes
- Shrinking volume in the testicles
Depression, loss of concentration, fat gain, and muscle loss may also be symptoms. These changes may also be the result of another health condition. That’s why it’s important to seek medical advice if you’re having symptoms that indicate low T.
Ways to raise testosterone levels
Read enough articles about health, and it may start to sound like “healthy diet and exercise” are the only solutions to well-being. While these strategies may not always solve everything, they’re almost always a good idea. In the case of low testosterone, they’re great first steps.
Get regular exercise
Exercise promotes balanced testosterone levels. Studies show that the effect of exercise on testosterone is likely due to a combination of factors like age, obesity, and the type and intensity of exercise.
Some research suggests that endurance or cardiovascular exercises (like running or stationary biking) may support testosterone health, especially when performed at moderate to high intensity levels. Proper hydration during exercise may also play a role (Riachy, 2020).
Other data indicates that resistance exercises (like weight lifting) are beneficial for testosterone. But with the one your routine matters. For example, one study found no notable change in testosterone in men who only worked their biceps, though hormone levels did rise in those who included leg presses and knee extensions.
Researchers hypothesize that working larger muscles may lead to more testosterone changes—but more research is needed (Riachy 2020). Just one more reason not to skip leg day!
In most of these studies, the testosterone increases were temporary lasting roughly 20–90 minutes. However, regular physical activity promotes better baseline T levels compared to a sedentary lifestyle (Vaamonde, 2012). Most experts agree that obesity correlates with low testosterone levels in men (Mah, 2010).
Healthy men have higher levels of testosterone. Along with exercise, the best path to health is through your diet. You might hear in the locker room or read online about how some food will supercharge your body’s T production.
But whether any individual food has any significant impact on testosterone in humans has yet to be determined. The best approach to overall health is to eat a diverse diet packed with plenty of plants, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole-food carbohydrates.
Does masturbation cause ED?
The verdict on masturbation and testosterone?
Masturbation doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on testosterone levels––at least not long term.
Low testosterone, however, is a real issue that many men do experience. If you find that you’re experiencing symptoms that may be due to low T, speak with a healthcare provider who can help find a solution best for you.
- Cerda-Molina, A. L., Hernández-López, L., de la O, C. E., Chavira-Ramírez, R., & Mondragón-Ceballos, R. (2013). Changes in men’s salivary testosterone and cortisol levels, and in sexual desire after smelling female axillary and vulvar scents. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 4, 159. doi:10.3389/fendo.2013.00159. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24194730/
- Dent, J. R., Fletcher, D. K., & McGuigan, M. R. (2012). Evidence for a non-genomic action of testosterone in skeletal muscle which may improve athletic performance: implications for the female athlete. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 11(3), 363–370. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737931/
- Exton, M. S., Krüger, T. H., Bursch, N., Haake, P., Knapp, W., Schedlowski, M., et al. (2001). Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following a 3-week sexual abstinence. World Journal of Urology, 19(5), 377–382. doi:10.1007/s003450100222. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11760788/
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