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The teenage years are a time when most people grow taller. The teenage years are also a time when most people masturbate. The two events are related, but not in the way many teenagers fear.

Both the growth spurt and the urge to masturbate have hormonal origins. Both boys and girls experience a surge in testosterone levels at puberty. Boys' bodies make a lot more testosterone, but girls' bodies make testosterone, too. Testosterone is the reason teenagers become preoccupied with sex. Because modern society does not provide sanctioned opportunities for sexual intercourse, most teenagers release their sexual energies through masturbation.

Testosterone is also one of the drivers of a teenager's growth spurt. In girls, the rapid elongation of bones that enables growing taller occurs after increases in production in estrogen, growth hormone, and a hormone related to testosterone called androstenedione. In boys, the rapid elongation of bones that enables growing taller occurs after increases in estrogen and growth hormone, but is more dependent on testosterone than on androstenedione.

It is true that testosterone levels in males are higher when they don't masturbate for several weeks at a time. The longest any study has persuaded teens and young men not to masturbate is three weeks, so we don't really know the effects of longer-term abstinence. In one of the few legally compliant studies of the subject, teenaged males who watched porn were not found to have higher levels of the stress hormones that interfere with the growth spurt, but since watching porn tends to go hand in hand with masturbation, the net result is probably a very temporary loss of testosterone that has no significant effect on body growth. Watching porn does increase stress hormone levels in girls, and if it were a regular activity, might influence body growth in very small, temporary ways that can be offset by exercise, diet, and genetics. None of these findings should be interpreted as advice to watch porn, however.

So how does masturbation really affect a teenager's growth spurt? In terms of direct relationship, it doesn't. (Again, this is not advice to masturbate or not to masturbate, it is only a statement that masturbation itself does not have anything substantial to do with body growth in the teenage years.) How a teen feels about masturbation, and how often a teen masturbates, however, do have a connection to how much they grow physically:

  • One of the hormones that powers an adolescent's growth spurt is growth hormone. The brain makes growth hormone during sleep. If you are masturbating so much that you don't get enough sleep (three, four, five, six or more times per night), then the frequency of your masturbation, rather than the act itself, could interfere with growth.
  • Masturbation (or, more precisely, achieving an orgasm through masturbation) is not known to have any effect on growth hormone levels by itself. Likewise, there is no evidence that sexual intercourse boosts or drains growth hormone levels, in and of itself. If you get enough sleep, have a healthy diet, avoid stimulants and street drugs, and so on, your body will make more growth hormone and you as a result of that can have a more active sex life (if a sex life is available to you), but the growth hormone comes first and the sexual activity comes later.
  • It's important not to let Internet use take over your life. Problems with porn, marijuana, alcohol, and forming intimate relationships tend to follow from Internet addiction. These problems in turn can have a real effect on how tall you grow, how muscular you become, and how well you develop your athletic and sexual abilities. Internet addiction can be indirectly responsible for your failure to thrive as you grow into adulthood.

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