“I Tried Masturbating To Cure My Hangover — This Is What Happened”

Sexual healing is in your hands... Wink


Gemma Askham |

It can relieve pain, aid sleep and even elevate your mood, yet we’re still tight-lipped about self-love. WH explores whether we are all sitting on an untapped health resource. Are you coming?

Should I ever have to PR my own health routine, I shall totally be going with that most ubiquitous of annoying marketing phrases: ‘three-sixty’. Because, to be fair, it is pretty ‘multiplatform’ (urgh, another one). There’s yoga (for the mind), 10 minutes of post-sleep stretching (for the spine), weekly spinning (legs), Pilates (core), a little dedicated supplement taking and juicing in more colours than Nike does Air Max (skin and insides sorted). But now, not solely for the purposes of this feature, I’m adding another well-being activity into the mix. And I don’t even have to get out of bed to do it.

Masturbation as medication

As an ever-increasing field of scientific research proposes to propel masturbation from pleasurable pastime to bona fide health habit, I’ve committed to making self-pleasure a priority. You know, for the sake of my health and all. Now, before we all write this off as the most dubious health claim since we declared a postwork pinot the elixir for a long life – let’s look at masturbation’s health credentials.

“We know that orgasms – typically from masturbation, as these studies are done in labs where it’s hard to bring in partners – can improve pain tolerance and lower physiological markers of stress and anxiety,” explains Dr Tierney Lorenz, a visiting research scientist at The Kinsey Institute. She specialises in unraveling sex’s impact on immune response and has noticed a correlation between regular masturbation, living longer, better cardiovascular health and lower levels of inflammation.

A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine had a group of women watch a series of documentaries as well as an erotic film, during which the women were required to pleasure themselves until orgasm. The results showed a significant decline in the women’s cortisol levels – a marker of inflammation. (Interestingly, the difference in physiological response between solo orgasms and partnered ones is currently only an emerging field in sex research and, as such, there isn’t really any data or a prevailing school of thought. The general agreement, though, is that orgasms from masturbation are more consistent and subjects tend to climax faster and easier.) Which means Lorenz goes as far to “recommend thinking of masturbation as a health behaviour, just like getting to sleep on time and avoiding smoking”.

While I can imagine that orgasming your way through life may well result in it being longer and healthier, I do wonder how a little alone time will fare as an on-demand health fix. For all its calming, pain-relieving credentials, is it really going to compare to popping a paracetamol or using my meditation app?

The first opportunity to find out presents itself when I wake up early one Saturday morning, musty-mouthed and grappling for relief in the midst of an acute hangover. Instead of scrambling to the bathroom for water and painkillers, I stay under the duvet – and begin to venture south.

Read More: 25 Sex Facts You Legitimately Need In Your Life

“Handling” my hangover…

Initially, masturbating to order feels like streaming on-demand TV: blissful moments of content, interrupted by the wrong kind of shuddering – buffering in a TV sense or arm ache in a masturbatory one.

Given that my body already feels like it’s hanging together by threads, I’m tempted to call it quits – until, five minutes before climax, I notice that the ache in my arm has vanished and my head pain has dulled. By the time I hit orgasm, everything feels blissfully, miraculously numbed.

Interested in whether my orgasm-induced relief was merely a placebo effect of my elation at having achieved something that day, I Rutgers University professor Dr Barry Komisaruk, coauthor of The Science of Orgasm. He’s devoted his career to studying MRI scans of women’s brain responses to sexual stimulation, so is well placed to confirm what’s at play here neurologically.

“Vaginal self-stimulation does reduce pain,” he confirms. “The pain-reducing effect (analgesic) starts immediately upon pressure stimulation, increases in intensity if self-stimulation feels pleasurable and is strongest at orgasm.” In one study, where women self-stimulated while a machine gradually compressed their fingers, Komisaruk found vaginal pressure alone increased pain tolerance by 50 percent – rising to 100 percent at orgasm.

Read More: Exactly How To Have A G-Spot Orgasm

Is your vagina the new paracetamol?

Thought to facilitate childbirth, the vagina’s paracetamol-like function occurs because it blocks the release of the pain neurotransmitter (substance P) into the spinal cord. How? Say you stub your toe. “The nerve from the foot releases substance P into the spinal cord, which stimulates the relay pathway up to the brain, thereby producing a pain response,” explains Komisaruk. Stub your toe while pleasuring yourself, however, and “vaginal stimulation deactivates the nerve where it enters the spinal cord and prevents it from releasing substance P.” It’s such a powerful pain-blocker that Komisaruk is working towards developing “a novel pain-relieving drug”.

There’s a variable time frame as to how long this orgasmic relief lasts – “minutes to hours, depending on the type of pain and individual pain sensitivity,” he says. This is not a mere hangover tool. Research by psychologist Dr Carol Rinkleib Ellison found that almost one in 10 women who reported masturbating in the previous three months did so to relieve menstrual cramps, while a German study on female migraine sufferers discovered that 70 percent achieved moderate or complete relief when they engaged in sexual activity during an attack.

From a personal perspective, I can get on board with self-pleasure as a period-pain alleviator. As for aiding the migraines that leave me bedridden every few months, despite accounts that orgasm’s analgesic effect kicks in faster than medication, masturbating mid-attack is about as appealing as attending a laser light show and standing next to a subwoofer. Luckily, I didn’t suffer from one during the course of this experiment in order to compare.

Read More: Why Are Some Periods Way Worse Than Others?

Your orgasm as stress-relief…

One area I am interested in exploring first-hand is orgasm as stress relief. In 2014, Dr Breanne Fahs, associate professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, released a study on female masturbation that overrode popular stigmas by revealing that some women self-pleasured daily – and purely as a release tool. “Masturbation was routine, normal, relaxing, a stress reliever,” she says.

Lab-based evidence is harder to come by, simply because it hasn’t been studied in depth. While some suggest stress plummets because of oxytocin (and high levels of oxytocin correlate with lower instances of anxiety), Komisaruk says there’s only lab evidence to show that oxytocin is released at orgasm into the circulatory system (where it stimulates uterine contractions), not in the brain. While it is also “probably released into the brain, we don’t know what perceptual effects it may have on the human brain,” he says. “Nor is there research evidence as to the mechanisms by which orgasm results in relaxation or sleepiness.” In other words, we know the end result, we just don’t know how we get there.

But anecdotal evidence, like that of Fahs, definitely points to the effect’s existence; 39 percent of Ellison’s research panel also masturbated specifically to relax. And so, one day, aggravated by workmen digging up the road, I slip into my bedroom for a solo afternoon delight. I’m worried the noise will distract me, but once down there, everything drifts away, lulling me into a calm so tranquil I can’t even recall when the drilling stopped. During yin yoga later that evening, usually my main source of meditative calm, I feel frustrated that I’m wasting 90 minutes on it when I scored my orgasmic calm in about 19.

Read More: Your Orgasm Might Have This Crazy Effect On Your Partner

Can you feel it?

“Well, it’s not the craziest idea I’ve ever heard,” says Dr Cynthia Graham, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sex Research and professor of sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton, when I propose the idea of daily scheduled masturbation as a health tool.

But, above all, she sees benefits for women’s emotional health – given the stark differences in why men and women masturbate. Men are hormone driven: they start at puberty and masturbate more when sexual activity decreases – using it as a substitute. Women are the opposite: we masturbate more when we also engage in lots of other open-minded sexual activity – suggesting it’s tied to confidence. A Journal of Sex Education and Therapy study confirmed the link, finding married female masturbators had significantly greater self-esteem and relationship satisfaction than married non-masturbators. It’s also why the first thing addressed in sex therapy is to encourage masturbation. And, as someone who has upped her masturbation game to almost schedule-interfering levels, what I’ve discovered is a new level of comfort, interest and excitement in my body.

It’s true that masturbation science isn’t yet all-encompassing. “It’s a chicken and egg situation,” admits Lorenz. “No one will fund the research to see what the health benefits of masturbation might be, so healthcare providers don’t think of it as a health behaviour, which means funders are reluctant to invest in research.”

I also appreciate Fahs’ concern when she explains that promoting masturbation as a must-do health behaviour “could (paradoxically) result in women feeling pressured to masturbate to feel ‘normal’”.

Which makes me think that the best principle for good health – ‘everything in moderation’ – is the perfect principle for healthy masturbation. You might not want to do it every day, but when you do, your body – and your mind – will probably thank you. In fact, even your hand won’t grumble for long.

Read More: How Your Vagina Changes In Your 20s, 30s, 40s And 50s

Double the pleasure

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Your pleasure-receiving preferences revealed!

This is how most women get it on:

81.7% Rhythm: A regular pattern of the same motion (stroking or tapping), like musical rhythm.
78.1% Orbiting: Continuous circular motions around the clitoris (circles, ovals, figures of eight).
77.2% Staging: Various types of touch: warm-up, build-up, orgasm, recovery and rebuild.
66.8% Consistency: Keeping the motion constant to build up pleasure and intensify orgasm.
66.5% Layering: Indirect stimulation of the clitoris by touching and moving the layers of skin around it.

Here are five times when masturbation will solve everything! Plus: 12 things to know about your clitoris.

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