Saturday
Apr212012

How much masturbation is too much?

Yes, I said it.  Masturbation.  It’s one of those things most of us rarely talk about publically but most of us have done or continue to do privately.  Exploring our sexuality is a normal part of our development, and masturbation is a typical part of this journey.

If masturbation is so common, why is it so hard to talk about?  If it is a normal part of sexual development, how come we can’t talk about it openly with our friends and family?  There are perhaps as many answers to this question as there are people on earth, but the simple answer is this: Masturbation is typically a solitary behavior.  Many people learn to masturbate when they are at an awkward, insecure phase of development.  Consequently, it becomes a behavior that’s done in secret.  Add to this a family, community, or faith tradition that labels masturbation as bad, and we can come to view masturbation as shameful.  Even our over-sexualized society stigmatizes masturbation.  Ever found yourself laughing uncomfortably when someone brings up the word in conversation?  Are you painfully aware of how many times I’ve written the word “masturbation” so far (9.  But who’s counting)?

Without going into masturbation being good or bad, right or wrong, I wanted to focus on a few warning signs where masturbation might be swinging into unhealthy territory:

  1. You masturbate to the point of self-injury.  There is no magical number of times in a week or amount of time masturbating that is the optimal amount, but if you are masturbating to the point where you are harming yourself, chances are you are doing it compulsively.
  2. You feel the need to masturbate successively.  If you’re simply needing a physiological release, once should suffice.  3, 4, 10 times successively most likely indicates you are using masturbation to medicate emotions or escape.  At the very least, this should be a clue to check in with yourself and see how you’re using masturbation.
  3. It is interfering with your relationships or your work.  Are you single and use masturbation as a way of avoiding intimacy or putting yourself out there romantically?  Are you married or in a committed relationship and find masturbation preferable to engaging your partner for sex?  Have your partners expressed concern about your masturbation habits?  Have your behaviors impacted your ability to function at work?  For some, it can feel far less threatening to turn to masturbation rather than intimacy, connection, coping with work stress, or facing fears of rejection or abandonment.  If used in this way, masturbation can sidetrack relational intimacy.
  4. Masturbation negatively impacts your relationship with yourself.  When you masturbate, are you MORE in touch with your body, your sensations, and your spirituality, or do you feel more numb, lonely, and spiritually disconnected?  If you feel less connected after masturbating, you might want to take a look at what role masturbation is playing for you.
  5. You feel shame about it. Whether the shame is surfacing because of your religious beliefs, societal messages, or family views, shame can be extremely damaging.  Shame frequently leads to even further secrecy and maintaining a double life where you look good on the outside but don’t feel so good on the inside.  It is really important to talk to someone about this shame, since it typically deepens over time.
  6. You have tried to cut down or stop masturbating but you continue anyway. One main criterion that a behavior has become addictive is loss of control over the activity.  If you have made repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop, or if your behaviors have escalated in the amount of time spent, the frequency, or the intensity of the behaviors, it’d be a good idea to talk to a professional who can help.
  7. You have become obsessed or preoccupied with masturbation.  If you have become preoccupied with thoughts about when and how you will be able to masturbate, there’s a good chance it might be a problematic behavior for you.

These 7 signs are by no means exhaustive, but my hope is to provide a few indicators where masturbation might have moved into an unhealthy place for you.  So now what?  If you identified with one or more of these warning signs, I would encourage you to reflect on your use of masturbation and what it means to you.  If you have a safe person who you can trust, talk to them about it.  If you feel like you might be masturbating compulsively, or even addicted, it’s really important to talk to a professional who can help.  Addictive behaviors don’t get better on their own, so talk to someone who has been professionally trained to deal with sex addiction or compulsive sexual behaviors.  I am available to answer any questions and/or to help link you to someone who might be able to help you.

And for any of you who were wondering how many times I used the word “masturbation” in this article?  Wait for it . . . .  34.  And not ashamed of it!

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Reader Comments (27)

Jared, thanks for your post. I'm glad you're able to talk about your masturbation habits with other people - that's great that you don't feel shame around a topic that so many people feel ashamed to talk about openly. As far as getting help, it's important to talk to someone who understands both the natural sex drive you're experiencing as a teenager along with where masturbation can become problematic. This person might be a therapist/counselor who understands sexuality, or if you have them in your life: a trusted adviser, mentor, or clergy member. Some people need to talk to a specialist in the area of sexual compulsion while others are able to heal on their own. I'm not sure what you may be needing, but I've written about some options for getting help in a previous blog: http://www.dandrakemft.com/blog/2013/2/22/so-how-do-i-start-this-recovery-thing.html. Check that out and see if it's helpful. If not, shoot me an email and we can find you help. Thanks again for reaching out.

June 18, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Drake

Thanks for this article, and sorry that this post is so long, but I actually just recently realized I had a problem a few days ago, and this article like a few others, helped me realize that I pretty much exactly fit the criteria and even go beyond them. I have probably masturbated on average more than once a day since I was 12 (and now I'm 20). I didn't think of it as a problem until I first heard of sex addiction and read up on it and realized that people can live without masturbating (like seriously, it is like food or air to me). It really is a drug to me, if I don't get a fix then I am not capable of anything except inventing sexual fantasies that get in the way of anything I try to accomplish. I am a straight A physics student, so at the first signs of intruding thoughts, I am forced to get a "fix" so I can continue to think clearly. I do watch porn sometimes, and like a drug, I needed more over time to get the desired effect, which I accomplished though watching increasingly hardcore porn to the point where I convinced myself that I was insane, but I needed it to get the job done (not that anyone wants to know but it was nothing TOO bad,... It only featured adult humans... No other age groups or species). I was at college last year, and my roommate walked in on me several times (even though we had a code), but even the extreme embarrassment couldn't stop me or even get me to think twice about potential consequences. I've also never had a girlfriend because I would rather just think about them and masturbate than to actually connect with them, which I find extremely depressing (I've even denied girls I actually liked when they liked me too!) I've stopped now for three days upon realizing how big my problem was, but there is no doubt that I am going through withdrawal, even as I write this I am fighting powerful urges which is actually so difficult that I am literally sweating and breathing heavily just to concentrate enough... I never thought I would let myself get addicted to anything, but the problem has been staring me in the face all this time. I will save the details here, but my life has fallen apart in profound ways which I now believe is because of my addiction. I need to get over this addiction to improve my life, and this is the first page I've come to where I felt comfortable enough to say anything... Everyone else thinks I just have an elevated sex drive if they know anything at all, nobody knows how bad it really is.

July 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRay

Ray,

Thanks for your post. You know, most people need a support team around them to help. That's where 12-step meetings can be helpful. I've got a link for 12-step groups: http://www.dandrakemft.com/blog/2012/6/30/12-step-groups-for-those-impacted-by-sex-addiction.html. A couple other sites you might want to look into are: http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/, http://www.nofap.org/, http://www.yourbrainrebalanced.com/, and http://www.projectknow.com/discover/taking-a-whack-at-porn-addiction/#infographic.

Thanks for sharing your journey with us. I hope you're able to get the help you're looking for.

Dan

July 3, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Drake

I've been masturbating since I was 12 and I honestly don't know how I'd survive without it. I enjoyed it immensely before I got married and have been enjoying it since I got married. If my wife would have more sex and be affectionate with me that would be different. But I have a high libido and I manage my masturbation habit properly and I think it has helped keep me sane. For those that have other outlets, then yes, you shouldn't rely on masturbation. But for those of us who do not have those outlets, then it's a healthy release.

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Frank,

You bring up a really good point - what does masturbation look like in a committed relationship where two people have different sexual appetites. It’s almost always the case that two people in marriage or in a committed long-term relationship have differing libidos. To me, the big issue here is communication. If you have discussed sexual desires together and talked openly about the differences, the apparent disconnect, as well as masturbation as a way of filling the gap, then that can be healthy in the relationship. If you are open about your masturbation habits to your partner, then you can deepen your intimacy through communication. Something to be aware of, which happens for many people I talk to is this: Many of us DON’T talk to our partners about our masturbation habits. We assume that our partners are not interested in sex, so rather than risking rejection or the vulnerability of initiation, we choose to masturbate instead. Initiating sexual interest is a very vulnerable activity. I’d be curious to hear more about how this plays out for you, Frank. I hope you don’t read in this article that I’m in any way saying masturbation is unhealthy or “bad.” While different people have differing views on masturbation, I’m simply trying to put a few guideposts out there for when we might need to take a look at if the behaviors are helping us or harming us. Thanks for your comment.

Dan

July 18, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Drake

I lost my first wife, second and now losing third. I can masturbate day and night and lying to my current wife. I live in Colrado, Denver. Where I can get help? I have 3 kids and prefer to masturbate rather than seeing them. I hate myself fot that. I watch porn for 10-12 hours sometimes and telling my wife I am doing "research". I am also addicted to prostitution and often go to San Francisco to have sex, after that I hate myself

October 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames

James, I'm sorry to hear that you're in such a trapped place with your masturbation and sexual habits. It can be really painful and demoralizing. There are some good resources in your area - Someone who does great work in Boulder is Wendy Conquest: http://www.serenityslice.com/. She should have some other resources for you, or you might also consider finding a CSAT therapist on www.sexhelp.com. I hope you're able to bring some healing and stop the cycle that your behaviors have created.

October 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDan Drake

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