Masturbation has many physical, mental, and emotional health benefits, from flushing out toxins in your body to lowering your stress levels. Additionally, experts say that learning how to get yourself off can help build self-confidence, both in the bedroom when you’re having sex with a partner(s) and when you’re rolling solo and having sex with yourself. When it comes to masturbation, the upsides can seem countless. But for some people with vaginas, the experience of a toe-curling orgasm while masturbating can also lead to cramps that make them want to curl up into a ball.
“Most of the time when people are concerned with pain due to masturbation, it’s associated with orgasm because most people find it easier to orgasm with masturbation,” Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, professor of OB/GYN at Columbia University Medical Center, tells Bustle. While masturbation can be a great way to explore your body and learn to control your own orgasm, cramps can indicate that something is wrong with your routine. I spoke to some experts in sexual health and wellness and found out a few reasons why you may be experiencing some pain after pleasuring yourself.
Your Pelvic Floor Is Too Tight
While countless articles praise the use of Kegels to tighten your pelvic floor, for some people, there might be too much tension in that area. “When you have involuntary muscle contractions, for the average person, your muscles will relax afterward. If you have tight pelvic floor muscles, those muscles can stay tightened,” Dr. Samantha DuFlo, or Dr. Sam, a pelvic floor therapist who specializes in addressing pelvic pain, tells Bustle. It’s basically like a vaginal charlie horse: If your vagina doesn’t relax after the contractions you experience when you orgasm, it will start to cramp up.
Dr. Sam recommends popping into a position that can help stretch out those muscles, like a deep squat or the happy baby pose. But if this is something that you often experience after you masturbate, you may need to see a pelvic floor therapist to address the root causes. A pelvic floor therapist like Dr. Sam will be able to come up with a treatment plan and work with you one-on-one to eventually relax those muscles.
You Have Endometriosis Or Fibroids
If you’re experiencing pain after you masturbate or after you orgasm, a physiological issue like endometriosis or fibroids may be to blame. Both endometriosis and fibroids involve abnormal growth around the uterus — for endometriosis, those growths are outside of the uterus, while a fibroid is a collection of tissue that grows inside your uterine cavity. The severity of both varies from person to person, but endometriosis and fibroids can cause an issue while you’re masturbating — especially after you’ve climaxed.
“When you orgasm, you experience contractions of the vagina, uterus, and pelvic floor," says Dr. Hutchinson. "That throbbing can cause tension. So, for example, If you have fibroids in the wall of the uterus, and the area is inflamed and tender, your uterus throbbing can cause pain."
Endometriosis and fibroids are shockingly common — an estimated 200 million people worldwide are affected by endometriosis. And the numbers are even higher for fibroids — nearly 70 to 80% of people with vaginas will expereince a fibroid at some point in their lives.
Black people with vaginas, in particular, are at risk for serious fibroid problems, according to a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. They are more likely to develop fibroids earlier in life, in larger numbers, causing more severe symptoms — a disparity that doctors still can’t concretely explain due to a lack of data. To make matters even more complicated, it’s also harder for Black people to be diagnosed with disorders like endometriosis because of biases within the healthcare field. This can make it much harder for Black patients to seek treatment for these issues.
But if you believe that your cramps after masturbation are related to an issue like fibroids or endometriosis, it’s important that you do seek treatment. Dr. Hutchinson says that your provider should make you feel as comfortable talking about difficulties with your sex life as easily as talking about an ear infection or a broken foot. “If you don’t feel that way, you should find another provider,” Dr. Hutchinson says. If you believe that your doctor isn’t listening to you or minimizing your experiences, don’t be afraid to trust your gut and push back, or even file a formal complaint.
Your Problem Is Psychological
There could also be a mental block leading to the experience of cramps after masturbating or orgasming. “Sometimes, women have a lot of guilt around masturbation, and sometimes, that can cause some lingering pain,” Dr. Hutchinson says. The psychological effects of guilt after you masturbate can sometimes cause your muscles to tighten, and when muscles are too tight, cramps will often follow.
But it is possible to tackle your internalized stigma around sex. You can break the cycle of negative thoughts around sex and masturbation, even if the environment you’re in is hostile to it. And you don’t have to do it alone. You can try connecting with a sex-positive community, which you can find in forums and communities like Scarlteen or TalkTabu. You can even research local chapters of sex-positive organizations near you to get involved in. And if the resources are available to you, it could be helpful to work with a sex therapist to address the root cause of your cramps. They can help you unpack any past trauma or guilty feelings that you have with masturbating and sex.
Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, professor of OB/GYN at Columbia University Medical Center
Dr. Samantha DuFlo, or Dr. Sam, a pelvic floor therapist