Pain affects us in different ways throughout our lives. Whether you are contending with monthly bouts of dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain), live with the unpredictable ebb and flow of chronic pain or suffer with intense migraines, finding ways to manage that pain can be a lifelong journey. You may be recommended painkillers, lifestyle changes or different forms of therapy. But one method of pain relief that your GP is less likely to put forward is masturbation.
Scientists have been researching the impact that orgasm can have on pain receptors for years. In 1985 Dr Beverly Whipple and Professor Barry Komisaruk found in their study that when self-stimulating the clitoris, women’s pain tolerance increased by 40%. When that stimulation resulted in orgasm, the tolerance increased to 74%.
This has led to evidence that the brain areas activated by pain (the insula and anterior cingulate cortex) are the same areas activated by orgasm – though Komisaruk suspects that the activity shown in scans may in fact be inhibitory and the neurons are firing in those areas as part of a network that blocks pain instead of transmitting it. As Komisaruk explains to O School, there is a system in which the brain stem can send serotonin and norepinephrine into the spinal cord to block pain signals. It is this system that is activated during orgasm.
In 2020 Womanizer and Lunette launched a global study looking at 'menstrubation' (menstruation and masturbation) in collaboration with Dr Christopher Ryan Jones, a clinical psychologist, sex therapist and head researcher, who reviewed and validated the results of the study.
Dr Jones tells R29: "Masturbation was shown to not only decrease the intensity of menstrual pain but it also decreased the frequency of menstrual pain over a three-month period." As to why, he doesn’t focus on the neurology but rather on the hormones that are released during masturbation. These include dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin, the so-called 'happy hormones'. "Endorphins, for example, are a natural pain reliever, so this obviously has benefits to counteract the pain of menstruation. And dopamine not only makes you feel better but also improves blood circulation, which is beneficial to reducing pain."
There are even some who have found that masturbation helped their chronic pain more broadly. Angie Ebba previously wrote for O School: "While it is only one of many pain management tools I use, I discovered in that moment that orgasm is one of the most fast-acting things I can do for temporary relief of my pain, and as such, began using it a few times a week for a quick reduction in symptoms."
While this is not a one-size-fits-all solution – there are some people for whom sexual activity, particularly orgasm, induces headache pain, for example – the immediate and proven pain relief of masturbation makes a bit of self-love a genuine option for pain management, no prescription required.