Reviewed by Peter J. Stahl, MD
Written by Our Editorial Team
There are plenty of old wives’ tales out there when it comes to the effects of masturbation — from claims that it can cause hairy palms to a purported link to blindness. We’re happy to report that, after decades of “hands-on” testing, we still have perfect vision and smooth palms.
But does masturbation decrease testosterone? Contrary to what you might have read online or heard from certain social media influencers (or your youth pastor!), masturbating doesn’t appear to lower your body’s production of testosterone.
In fact, scientific research hasn’t established any real link between masturbation and a reduction (or increase) in your levels of testosterone.
Below, we explain these research findings in more detail and cover everything else you need to know about the effects of masturbation on your testosterone levels, sexual performance and general sexual health.
Your body relies on testosterone for numerous important functions. Testosterone helps create sperm and keep you fertile, promotes healthy sexual desire, lets you get and maintain erections, strengthens your bones and produces red blood cells that supply oxygen to your body’s tissue.
Testosterone is also linked to your energy levels and mood, as well as important aspects of your physical body composition like muscle mass and fat distribution.
Low testosterone — which is commonly referred to as “Low-T” or hypogonadism — happens when your body is unable to produce an adequate amount of male sex hormones, or androgens, such as testosterone.
While low testosterone isn’t a life-threatening problem, it can lead to issues that may affect your health and well-being as a man. Common symptoms of low testosterone include:
Weaker bones and more body fat
Changes in facial and body hair growth
Loss of muscle mass and strength
Mental health issues, such as depression
Reduced sperm count and fertility
Cognitive issues, such as difficulty concentrating
Our guide to the symptoms of low testosterone goes into more detail about these issues, as well as how you may notice them affecting you if your testosterone levels are lower than normal.
It’s normal to experience some decline in your production of testosterone as you age, usually as you enter your 30s or forties. In fact, it’s normal for total bioavailable testosterone, or biologically active testosterone, to decrease by up to 50 percent by the time you reach the age of seventy-five.
Other factors may also contribute to reduced natural testosterone production, including:
Reduced thyroid function
Injuries that affect your testicles
Problems with glands involved in controlling testosterone levels
The use of certain medications
Hypogonadism can be treated with testosterone replacement therapy, or TRT. This form of treatment involves using artificial testosterone to bring your testosterone level back to the normal range.
Testosterone replacement therapy is generally considered safe and effective, although there are some potential side effects and safety risks.
Our guide to testosterone replacement therapy discusses how this form of treatment works, the potential side effects linked to testosterone replacement and other things you’ll want to know if you’re considering TRT.
First of all, if you’re having so much sex that you’re beginning to feel worried about your body’s ability to keep up hormonally, well, congratulations.
Currently, there’s no proven link between orgasms — whether they’re accomplished through sex or masturbation — and testosterone levels. In other words, you aren’t “losing” testosterone each time you orgasm and ejaculate.
There’s only a tiny amount of testosterone in sperm, and there’s no evidence that any significant amount of testosterone “exits” your body each time you climax.
Your hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis — a reproductive axis that involves your hypothalamus, pituitary gland and testicles — is constantly regulating your testosterone production. If you ever begin to run low on testosterone, your body produces more of this hormone as needed.
Overall, research on the topic of sex, masturbation and testosterone has been infrequent at best and is limited in quantity, with a lot more questions than answers.
Here’s what’s known right now:
Scientific research on masturbation, testosterone and men’s health is mixed, with findings from most studies somewhat unclear.
Many studies on masturbation and T levels only feature a small number of participants, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions from this type of research.
In 1999, a study published in the International Journal of Andrology revealed conflicting findings about the role of sexual activity in testosterone levels.
The study’s researchers found that men suffering from erectile dysfunction and therefore lacking in sexual activity had lower testosterone levels than their peers.
The lower levels of testosterone were found to be reversible for patients whose ED was successfully treated, but in patients who didn’t respond to treatment, testosterone production appeared to be consistently lower.
This suggests that ejaculating might actually increase testosterone levels, at least for men who are able to treat ED. However, the finding isn’t crystal clear, and it’s possible that other factors could also play a role in both sexual function and testosterone levels.
A different study, which was published in the World Journal of Urology in 2001, found that men who abstained from sexual activity, including masturbation, for three weeks showed increased testosterone concentrations.
However, the same study also found that plasma testosterone levels — the level of testosterone in the men’s blood — were unaltered by masturbation or sexual activity.
This study was also small in size, with only ten adult male participants, meaning it’s challenging to know if its findings are statistically significant and reliable.
More recent research has found that masturbation might actually have a positive effect on your body’s production of testosterone.
For example, one study published in the journal Basic and Clinical Andrology in 2021 found that masturbation and visual sexual stimulus may help to reduce the severity of natural testosterone drops that occur over the course of the day.
However, like other scientific research on masturbation and testosterone, this study was small in size, with just 11 participants.
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Overall, there isn’t any reliable, high-quality scientific evidence to suggest that masturbation has any negative impact on average testosterone levels in men, or that avoiding masturbation leads to any type of testosterone increase.
Likewise, there doesn’t appear to be any reliable link between sexual abstinence and increased testosterone levels.
One thing to keep in mind is that studying masturbation, sexual arousal and testosterone levels is quite a complicated process, meaning it can be difficult for even the most thorough experts to get accurate data because testosterone levels can fluctuate by a significant amount throughout the day.
In one study, for example, researchers discovered that the average testosterone levels of men between the ages of 30 and 40 were as much as 25 percent lower at 4 p.m. compared to 8 a.m. This percentage decreased with age, but it’s a significant amount, regardless.
This daytime decrease in testosterone levels can make getting an understanding of testosterone challenging — an issue that’s often compounded by the difficulty of getting participants in a study to avoid masturbation and sex for several weeks (all while remaining honest).
If you’ve been worried that masturbation might decrease your testosterone production, you can rest easy knowing it’s not a concern, at least not based on the scientific evidence we have right now.
If you’re concerned about frequent masturbation affecting your testosterone levels, make sure to keep the following in mind:
Masturbating is healthy and normal. There's nothing wrong with masturbating when you feel in the mood for sexual activity but can’t or don’t want to have sex.
There’s no clear link between masturbation and testosterone. Normally, when any type of sexual behavior is bad for your health, the effect is easy to detect in a scientific study. Studies on masturbation and testosterone don’t show any clear relationship.
Low testosterone is surprisingly common. While masturbation isn’t a likely cause of low testosterone, low-T can and does affect many men. As such, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any of the symptoms listed above.
If you have worries about your testosterone levels or think you might have erectile dysfunction, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider for assistance and medical advice.
Your provider can check your hormone levels with a quick and simple serum testosterone levels test.
You can access these treatments following an erectile dysfunction consultation with a healthcare provider, who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
You can also learn more about increasing your testosterone production via lifestyle changes and healthy habits in our complete guide to increasing testosterone.