Out of the 30 days every month, we menstruators spend up to 10 days being in pain and discomfort, and feeling icky and lousy in general – no thanks to periods. Those few days may not sound like a lot, but to put things into perspective, that’s easily one-third of our sexually-reproductive (and supposedly the prime of our) lives down the drain.
Short of staying in bed with a hot pack on your tummy and/or popping painkillers when the cramps hit, there’s one more thing you can do to alleviate the suffering: masturbate. Or to use this newish term, menstrubate.
Before you go “ick” at the thought of menstrual blood on your hands, know that there are plenty of well-documented health benefits of masturbation, plus specific reasons for masturbating while on your period. That’s why some people swear by it. While we’ve long talked about the pain-relieving effects of masturbation, there’s new research to back that now.
A recent study by sex tech company Womanizer found that masturbation helps to reduce the intensity and frequency of pain during menstruation considerably.
But first, why do period cramps even occur?
Sexual wellness educator Andrea Tan explains: “During the period, the uterus contracts spasmodically to expel the mucous membrane that was formed for a possible pregnancy. This alone can cause pain. The contractions of the uterus are also controlled by the hormone prostaglandins. This hormone is a pain messenger and is also involved in inflammation, for example. The higher the prostaglandin level in a person’s body, the stronger the period pain can be.”
The menstrubation study
From June to November 2020, Womanizer recruited 486 women around the world – including the US, UK, Germany, Australia, South Korea and Singapore – and gave them each a vibrator for the purpose of this study. For three consecutive months, participants were asked to masturbate during their period instead of using their usual pain relief methods. For the fourth month, they were asked to revert to their usual pain relief methods.
After a month of menstrubation (masturbation during period), participants reported a reduction in pain intensity from an average of 6.7 points to 5.9. After the third month, the pain intensity score was down to 5.4 points. Pain frequency decreased as well, from an average of 7.4 points to 4.6 after three months of menstrubation.
At the end of the study, 90 per cent of participants said they would recommend masturbation as a form of pain relief, and 85 per cent planned to maintain their newfound menstrubation routine.
So, how does masturbation help with period pain?
Andrea says: “We know that masturbation can have positive effects on health and general well-being. Looking at the physical aspect alone – after climax, the hormone dopamine is released, which activates an inner bliss. In this way, other physical processes tend to take a back seat, which in turn is similar to pain relief. At the same time, the metabolism and blood circulation are stimulated. Both counteract pain. Ultimately, when the muscles contract and release during masturbation, this creates a relaxing effect.”
And yes, masturbation can take many forms. Even though the participants each received a sex toy for the purpose of the study, they were free to use other modes of masturbation – anything that brought them pleasure.
In this case, are orgasms necessary?
While we are all familiar with the anxiety-relieving, endorphin-producing effect of orgasms, achieving orgasms is not the goal when it comes to experiencing the benefits of masturbation. Andrea notes that “the different stages during masturbation, not necessarily the orgasm, all contribute to pleasure and pain relief. The small peaks count too.” So just in case you are wondering: there’s no need to add “orgasm” to your checklist.
If you’ve been struggling with period pain and are tired of relying on painkillers/other remedies and feeling sorry for yourself in general, now’s the best time to get started with menstrubation.
You don’t have to come into direct contact with your vajayjay or menstrual blood if you don’t want to – a vibrator will come in really handy. Also good to know: Nearly 40 per cent of women rely on clitoral stimulation to climax, so you could avoid penetration and still have a ton of pleasure menstrubating.
As with all healthy habits, they’ll benefit you as long as you keep practising them. So feel free to add menstrubation to your monthly self-care calendar (there’s no such thing as too much self-care anyway) and experience the magic for yourself.
As clinical psychologist and sex therapist Dr Christopher Ryan Jones, also the head researcher of this study, puts it: “My assumption that masturbation also has a long-term, positive effect on well-being was confirmed. Even after the participants returned to their usual methods of pain relief, the values for intensity and frequency remained lower than at the beginning. It is likely that both parameters would have improved even further with an even longer test phase.”