Given that we were once a country so desperate to stop masturbation that we invented Corn Flakes in the early 1900s, it’s safe to say we’ve felt conflicted about the act for quite some time, as fun and healthy as it might ultimately be.

Much of our fear of self-love can be attributed to enduring cultural and religious taboos surrounding sexuality and promiscuity, especially for women. But that fear has a physical component too. There’s the old-timey myth that it can cause blindness in teenage boys, for example, and the only slightly more credible idea that it will make us infertile — we’ve long worried that masturbation can cause irreparable damage to both our souls and bodies.

Outdated and silly as these urban legends may be, we might be tempted to think that there’s at least a grain of truth to them. That’s why Medical Daily enlisted a few sex experts to help explore a simple question: Can you really masturbate too much?

Erection Junction, What’s Your Function?

As with most questions, there’s a short answer and a long one.

“There’s really no such thing as overdoing it when it comes to masturbation,” Claire Cavanah, co-founder of the sex toy boutique Babeland and co-author of Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex, told Medical Daily. “As long you can still perform the major functions of your life, you’re fine.”

Dr. Ian Kerner, a psychotherapist and nationally prominent sex counsellor, largely agrees, though he does notice patterns among his male clients who report feeling physically unable to ejajacuate or have chafed equipment down under due to their masturbation schedule. “I will look at how often they masturbate, and it tends to be in the five to 10 times a day range, depending on age.” he said.

But when it comes to these select cases, Kerner adds that masturbation is more a symptom of other mental health issues like depression or anxiety than a problem in itself. “A lot of men are going through rough times on the employment scene and not going to work, or they’re single and either want to be in a relationship or not,” he said. “Sometimes men are using it as a distraction mechanism or a way of regulating anxiety or emotion.”

Excessive masturbation might even serve as a means of avoiding, albeit poorly, what Kerner calls erotic conflict. He offers the scenario of a male patient in a heterosexual marriage who is struggling with admitting his attraction to men. “The more he doesn’t deal with that attraction in different ways, the more it expresses itself through masturbation, which then leads to shame and guilt,” he said.

Kerner's hypothetical also emphasizes the important point brought up by Cavanah — it’s not really the number of times we might masturbate a day that’s potentially a problem, but the level of distress it causes when we do.  

“I think it’s misguided and useless to put a specific number on it,” New York University professor of human sexuality Dr. Zhana Vrangalova told Medical Daily. “It’s much more reasonable to think of masturbating too much in terms of it getting in the way of doing the things you want to do.”

The Right Stuff

As with the aforementioned myths, the fear of too much solo funtime is more often influenced by the beliefs we hold onto than any physical signs of overuse. “I get questions from people across the world asking ‘I masturbate once a week or once a day, is that a lot?’” Vrangalova said. “So there’s a lot of people who think that a very common amount of masturbation is harmful because of their beliefs.”

Figuring out the golden balance between your cultural or religious ideals and your sexual desires can definitely be tough, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Just like there’s no precise figure of overmasturbation, there’s no perfect right amount either. Especially since any number of personal and outside factors, such as ovulation or pregnancy in women, can muck with that frequency or our desire.

But for those who are legitimately worried about their self-love habit — whether because of feelings of shame, lost hours of the day, or some other reason — and want to explore that issue further, both Kerner and Vrangalova recommend finding a nonjudgmental therapist to talk openly with.

“Even if you think you’re masturbating too much, don’t jump to the conclusion that you’re a sex addict or a porn addict. You may have a behavior that’s out of control that you need to bring into control. But it’s much better to look at the underlying causes than to jump to the conclusion ‘Okay, I’m an addict! I need to go cold turkey or I need to go to some 12-step program,’” Kerner said. “These interventions may be down the line, but I would really do that under professional help and with a therapist who normalizes sexuality and who is sex-positive.”

And though women tend to masturbate less often than men, they do have their own unique version of the question, according to Cavanah: Can using a vibrator all the time to masturbate and orgasm ruin every other form of sexy fun?

“Sexual pleasure is fraught with anxiety in our mainstream culture,” she said. “We assure our customer: If they put their vibrator down for a while and masturbate without it, they will in all likelihood enjoy sex in other ways.”