Expert Q&A: Is Frequent Masturbation Bad for a Tight Pelvic Floor?
Solo-sex, aka masturbation, is undeniably a healthy and fun part of normal sexual activity. It has been shown to reduce stress, improve sleep hygiene, and even ease pain. Some studies show that more frequent masturbation may increase sexual function in some people born with vaginal anatomy, and there is even a case to be made for prescribing masturbation to those who are in menopause and aren’t able to have consistent, penetrative-partnered sex. So is there a downside? If you have a tight pelvic floor, there may be a few things to consider.
What happens to your pelvic floor when you masturbate?
During arousal and orgasm, the pelvic floor muscles are hard at work. Healthy pelvic floor muscles are able to release and lengthen to allow for pain free touch, and vaginal or anal penetration, and easily, and strongly contract to enhance arousal and orgasm. Research shows that during sexual activity and orgasm the pelvic floor muscles rapidly contract enhancing blood flow, promoting tissue engorgement, and stimulating the pelvic nerves, all in support of normal and healthy sexual function.
Is this a problem if my pelvic floor muscles are tight?
If you have hypertonic pelvic floor muscles, it is possible and even likely that masturbation, or sexual activity of any kind, will contribute to developing or exacerbating symptoms of overactive pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. This is because arousal and orgasm encourages further muscle contraction and possible spasm of the muscle. Physically speaking, if you have tight and overactive pelvic floor muscles, masturbating (at any frequency) may cause further muscle shortening, pain and even limit orgasm function. Your muscles may also have difficulties releasing after orgasm which can cause orgasm pain.
If your muscles are not able to fully relax after masturbation, or if you aren’t giving your muscles enough time to recover between sessions, then continued masturbation may contribute to increased pelvic floor muscle resting tone and muscle dysfunction.
For those with Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD), a condition associated with pelvic floor muscle tightness, and characterized by excruciating and intrusive instances of genital arousal, it’s particularly important to understand the impact of frequent masturbation. It is common to use frequent masturbation as a means to relieve painful genital arousal, however since the symptoms related to PGAD are not pleasure based, masturbation and/or orgasm does not relieve symptoms. This misfiring of the body and brain can add further distress to this already distressing conditioning, contributing both physically and emotionally to further pelvic floor tightness.
What is the psychosocial impact of masturbation?
Sex is not just physical so it is important to consider the psychosocial impact that masturbation can have on pelvic floor muscles that are already tight. While masturbation is a normal, healthy part of one’s sexual health, not all cultures and religions see it this way. Thanks to purity culture, slut-shaming, and long held beliefs that masturbation is morally wrong, masturbation has been shown to cause tremendous guilt and depression for some, which of course is correlated with pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.
If the act of masturbation is causing more feelings of guilt and depression that it is pleasure and calm, then it is possible that it could physically exacerbate tight pelvic floor muscle dysfunction as well.
What can I do if I have tight pelvic floor muscles?
For overactive pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, pelvic physical therapy is one of the best ways to help treat your symptoms. (If you're not sure if you have a tight pelvic floor, check out a list of symptoms here). A physical therapist can help you understand if you need to be screened for any medical causes of pelvic floor muscle tightness, and treat muscle overactivity with evidence-based treatment techniques.
In the meantime, you don't have to give up sex! But it can help to focus on tuning into your pelvic floor after masturbation and intentionally allowing it to relax.
Try these three ways to ease muscle tension:
1. Slow, diaphragmatic breathing
Take some time to breathe in and out slowly for several minutes. Focus on relaxing and filling your belly with air with each inhale, and imagine the air moves all of the way down into the base of your pelvis. Diaphragmatic breathing not only helps to slow your heart rate and relax fully, it can gently encourage tight muscles to release after orgasm.
2. Pelvic floor yoga
As you breathe, try a few stretches that release your inner thighs, buttocks, and abdominals. Thanks to fascia, when you stretch the muscles around your pelvic floor, you can encourage them to relax as well, plus they just feel really great! A few of our favorites:
With the soles of your feet together, let your knees fall away from each other out to the sides until you feel a stretch in your inner thighs. Be mindful that your back isn't lifting off the ground.
With your hands directly under your shoulders, palms on the floor, and elbows tucked in, press the tops of your feet into the floor as you lift your upper body off of the ground. Push through your palms to straighten your elbows. Hold this position as you breathe deeply.
Double Knees to Chest Stretch
Lie on your back with knees bent, then use your arms to hug both knees to your chest. (Knee pain? Hold onto the backs of your thighs.) Hold the stretch before lowering your legs back down to the ground.
3. Intentional grounding:
Grounding exercises may seem completely unrelated to your pelvic floor or masturbation, but they help you shift your focus away from your stressors or pain, and allow your central nervous system to calm. This, in turn, helps to prevent the unconscious pelvic floor clenching that comes with stress. Grounding techniques like alternate-nostril-breathing may be particularly helpful if you feel pain at any point during masturbation — as pain eases, so can your muscle tension.