Gary Wilson has mentioned that porn and masturbation is an addiction that negatively affect mental performance. Moreover, there is some "pseudo-science" claiming that abstaining from masturbation increases testosterone. I believe it increases serum testosterone levels after 7 day. I think that pornography negatively affects working memory.

Does abstaining from masturbation in men significantly change cognitive processes?

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    $\begingroup$ (a) are you interested in the effect of sexual arousal during masturbation, immediately post orgasm, or in general on days with and without masturbation? (b) Are you only interested in cognitive performance or are you also interested in mood, personality, and so on? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JeromyAnglim: I am interested in all. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ Okay. I agree. They are all interesting questions. I guess questions on this site are most interesting to me when they have the right scope. My sense is that the mood versus cognitive questions and time frame would influence the answer you get to this question quite a bit. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 0:52

2 Answers 2


There's one condition that is linked to negative cognitive effects after masturbation in a small subset of population, it is called Post Orgasmic Illness Syndrome (POIS):

The sufferer experiences mental symptoms, physical symptoms, or both. Common mental symptoms include cognitive dysfunction, intense discomfort, irritability, anxiety, craving for relief, susceptibility to nervous system stresses (e.g. cold), depressed mood, and difficulty communicating, remembering words, reading and retaining information, concentrating, and socialising.14 Physical symptoms include severe fatigue, mild to severe headache, and flu-like and allergy-like symptoms, such as sneezing, itchy eyes, nasal irritation, and muscle pain.3 Affected individuals may also experience intense warmth

So to answer your question - masturbation/orgasm does negatively affect cognition in people affected with POIS. There's another condition that may be similar : Post-coital tristesse

This may/may not be related, but prolactin, a hormone with multiple functions is elevated for multiple days in males after experiencing orgasm. From wikipedia:

The hormone[prolactin] counteracts the effect of dopamine, which is responsible for sexual arousal

I can't find a reliable source, but I read that the increase in prolactin lasts for up to 15 days following orgasm.

Looking at these dopamine and prolactin hormones on wikipedia, I saw that prolactin and dopamine suppress each other. From Dopamine article:

Dopamine is the primary neuroendocrine inhibitor of the secretion of prolactin from the anterior pituitary gland

If abstaining from masturbation does change hormone levels, then Prolactin and Dopamine (within specific parts of the brain) would be most likely targets.


Masturbation in men or women does not negatively affect cognitive processes

As I pointed out in another question in Health.SE, masturbation was a diagnosable psychological condition until DSM II in 1968 (Ley, 2014), and the American Medical Association consensually declared masturbation as normal in 1972 (Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 2003).

Historically, masturbation was discouraged for a variety of reasons including the thought that it lead to mental health problems. However, that was disproved. A lot of the history is talked about in the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's White paper (2002).

The abstract of Coleman, E. (2003) states

Research on masturbation has indicated that, contrary to traditional beliefs, masturbation has been found to be a common sexual behavior and linked to indicators of sexual health. While there are no general indicators of ill health associated with masturbation, it can be powerfully negative or positive for many individuals. As an example, it is widely used in sex therapy as a means of improving the sexual health of the individual and/or relationship. Promoting masturbation as a means of a public health strategy for sexual health is highly controversial; however, there are arguments and evidence that suggest that this may be an important part of any public health approach to improving sexual health.

Whilst POIS and PCT/PCD mentioned by @AlexStone exists, these problems are not actually a result of masturbation. Whilst the causes of POIS and PCT/PCD are unknown, some doctors hypothesise that POIS is caused by an auto-immune reaction, such as an allergy to the males' own semen (Farley, 2011; Waldinger MD, 2016; Reuters Health, 2002) Other doctors suspect a hormone imbalance as the cause. While other causes have been proposed as well, none of the proposed causes seem to fully explain the problem.

With PCT/PCD, the wikipedia article states that some doctors prescribe serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine, to treat PCT. After two weeks, people reported that, "while sex was less intensely pleasurable, no emotional crash followed."


Coleman, E. (2003). Masturbation as a Means of Achieving Sexual Health. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 14(2-3): pp 5-16
DOI: 10.1300/J056v14n02_02

Farley SJ (2011). Sexual dysfunction: Postorgasmic illness syndrome. Nature Reviews Urology. 8(3): 121.
DOI: 10.1038/nrurol.2011.17. PMID: 21513019.

Ley, D. J. (2014). The Myth of Sex Addiction. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 12.
ISBN: 978-1-4422-1305-0.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America (2002). White Paper: Masturbation — From Stigma to Sexual Health [Free PDF]
Available at: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/uploads/filer_public/8e/f5/8ef53e54-2fcb-4f92-933e-59fa0a09285b/masturbation_11-02.pdf

Planned Parenthood Federation of America (2003). "Masturbation: From myth to sexual health". Contemporary Sexuality. Mount Vernon, IA: American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. 37 (3): v. ISSN 1094-5725. OCLC 37229308. "Finally, the American medical community pronounced masturbation as normal in 1972 American Medical Association publication, Human Sexuality (Rowan, 2000)".

Reuters Health (2002). Dutch Doctor Identifies Post-Orgasmic Syndrome. [Online]
Available at: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/665820/posts

Waldinger MD (2016). Post-Orgasmic Illness Syndrome. In: Levine S, Risen CB, Althof SE. Handbook of Clinical Sexuality for Mental Health Professionals (3rd ed.). Routledge. p. 380.
ISBN: 978-1-3175-0745-1.


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