A New, Effective Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome: Orgasm

By Patrick Morgan
Apr 2, 2011 8:03 PMOct 9, 2019 7:55 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Spasms. Burning sensations. Sleep deprivation. To those suffering with restless leg syndrome (RLS), these are nightly afflictions. New research suggests that orgasm—by any means possible—may be a good way to alleviate the condition.

RLS is a neurological disorder that afflicts upwards of 10% of people in the U.S. and Europe: As RLS-sufferers try to sleep, their legs experience burning, tickling, aching, and itching sensations; these uncomfortable feelings build up until the leg spasms out of control. This cycle repeats throughout the night, writes news.com.au Technology Editor Peter Farquhar, and “it’s not unusual for people who suffer RLS … to describe it as torturous.”

So why do some people’s legs do this? According to the NIH, “in most cases, the cause of RLS is unknown,” though “it may have a genetic component.” Nevertheless, experts do have some inkling of the cause, as the NIH reports on their website:

Considerable evidence suggests that RLS is related to a dysfunction in the brain’s basal ganglia circuits that use the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is needed to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity and movement. Disruption of these pathways frequently results in involuntary movements.

Capitalizing on this finding, pharmaceutical companies developed drugs affecting the dopamine system, which have grown into the primary treatment for RLS. By flooding the brain with dopamine before you go to bed, muscles relax and the burning-spasm cycle subsides.

Which brings us to orgasm and, more specifically, masturbation. Luis Marin and his team at the Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil, picked up on this dopamine-RLS link, making a logical extension: Masturbation can cause an orgasm and an orgasm releases dopamine and dopamine can calm RLS; therefore, masturbation may also calm RLS. And as he reports in April’s Sleep Medicine, that’s exactly what happened when a 41-year-old man with RLS masturbated.

Granted, Marin only found that the man’s legs calmed down after masturbation: The dopamine-mediated chain of events between masturbation and relief are (educated) speculations. He thinks that nature’s largest blast of dopamine acts in the same way as the dopamine drugs, and he points to a past study to make his case. In the previous study, scientists looked at brain scans of ejaculating men, discovering that the release of dopamine was so intense that orgasms actually have a similar effect on our brains as heroin. Our natural dopamine spurts act much like our most powerful drugs.

As for applications, Marin sees masturbation as a possible natural alternative to dopamine drugs in the treatment of RLS. This presumably makes way for some interesting excuses: “Hey, I’m just taking my medicine…”

Related Content: Not Exactly Rocket Science: Squirrels masturbate to avoid sexually transmitted infections 80beats: Musical Thrills Are Explained as a Rush of Dopamine to the Brain Discoblog: Move Over, Heroin: “Sugar Addiction” May Be a Reality 80beats: How Ritalin Works in the Brain: With a One-Two Dopamine Punch

Image: flickr / Bryan Gosline

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.