My mind was roiling, beginning the familiar spin into a place where I questioned myself and my life, unable to move, function, or do anything productive, with a familiar itch just under my skin. Anxiety was rearing its ugly and annoying head right when I needed to be calm and focused. Normally, I’d wallow in a bit of despair, eat comfort food, and let my mind fall down a rabbit hole of fears, both named and nameless. Instead I remembered advice a friend had given me. “When I get anxious, I masturbate. I always feel better.”
What Happens to Your Brain When You Orgasm
While there are no recent studies looking at a link between masturbation and anxiety, that doesn’t mean science can’t tell us whether masturbation can help. Scientists have studied our brains when we orgasm. While there’s a lot going on, the important part, for the sake of the question, is what happens the moment of orgasm.
During orgasm, the part of our brain that takes care of self-control, fear, and anxiety completely shuts down.This is the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. Dopamine and oxytocin are released, and we feel pleasure. While male and female brains react the same way during an orgasm, the length of time everything happens is different. On average, the orgasms of penis-owners last three to 10 seconds, while a person with a vagina may have an orgasm that lasts 20 seconds or longer. However long it lasts, our brains are just as busy as our bodies.
It’s a Temporary Fix - but a Fun One
In my experience, for low grade anxiety - the kind that makes my head feel tight and my skin tingle, 15 or 20 minutes by myself with a vibrator can work wonders. I’m naked (or nearly so). For a few minutes I’m focusing on my pleasure, my body, and the way my clit swells when I move the toy just so. When I’m done, I feel exhilarated, more relaxed and able to see my anxiety with clearer eyes.
When the anxiety is worse and I feel like I’m choking (we all have different signals, and that one is mine), if I can make myself stop long enough to masturbate, it does help, but only temporarily. If I’m fortunate enough to get a nice juicy climax, at least I get a few minutes to refocus and feel like I can breathe again.
Masturbation Doesn’t Always Work
If masturbation was a consistent anxiety aid, it would be nice to think all we need is a quiet corner, a few minutes, and an orgasm to feel better. When masturbation works, it works well. You’re more relaxed, able to focus, and less inclined to mentally “chew” on the worry your brain has latched onto. But it doesn’t always work that way.
One big orgasm isn’t always enough. Humans are much too complex for that. Sometimes our brains can’t shut down while we masturbate long enough to get swept away in the moment. Sometimes our anxiety is too much for the power of an orgasm. Sometimes, when under stress, we don’t even have the ability to orgasm. That's OK too. And there's no harm in trying if you feel like it and think it might help.
Masturbation is No Replacement for Professional Help
Masturbation isn’t a cure, and it won’t work for everyone. For some people, getting hit with anxiety is like being run over with a truck. You’re flattened, unable to move or function. Your mind won’t let you do anything but run through the scenarios, imagine the worst, or (the one I hate the most) flit from one thought to another, unable to focus on anything. The idea of a quick wank is laughable. Finding the strength, energy, or drive to touch yourself isn’t possible.
Don’t let your anxiety-filled mind convince you not to get help. We don’t all have the same options when it comes to healthcare, and we can’t all afford the best therapist, but do your best to find a doctor or therapist who can help you. Controlling your anxiety through medication isn't a failure. Talking to your therapist once a week doesn’t make you “needy” - no matter what lies your anxious brain tells you. Masturbation is a nice aid some of the time for some people. When things get really bad, seek professional help and do what’s best for your mental health.
That said, my new go-to aid for light anxiety, when I can feel it popping and sizzling under the surface, is to rub out a few orgasms. When the noise in my head is much too loud, it’s time to talk to my therapist.