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Is Masturbation Ruining Your Life? BroBible Talks to a Psychologist About Masturbation Addiction

By / 03.12.13

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BroBible: How much masturbation a day is considered clinically excessive?

Robert Weiss: There is not really a cut-off point for “excessive” from a clinical perspective. To say that X times per day/week/month is too much (or not enough, or just right, or whatever) is not something any decent therapist can or should even try to do. That said, if you’re damaging your penis it’s probably time to back off a bit. As a clinician, what I look for is how a client feels about what he is doing, how that meshes with his inherent sense of morality, and whether he is experiencing negative consequences as a result. Those negative consequences could be physical, emotional, financial, legal, relational, etc. The point I want to make is that every man is different in terms of how he feels about masturbation, what he gets out of it, why he does it, etc. So every man will have a different version of what is too much. What may feel excessive to one man could be perfectly healthy for another.

What are the signs a masturbation habit is a diagnosable addiction?

Compulsive masturbation is the most common form of sexual addiction. In today’s tech-driven world, compulsive masturbation is nearly always coupled with online pornography. Generally speaking, compulsive masturbators/porn addicts spend a minimum of 11 or 12 hours per week looking at and masturbating to porn. Many individuals spend double or even triple that amount of time.

To qualify as sex/porn/masturbation addicts, individuals must meet the following three criteria:

  • Loss of control over the behavior. In other words, the individual makes promises to himself and/or others to stop looking at porn and to stop masturbating, but he is unsuccessful in his attempts to quit or curtail these activities.
  • Continuation despite significant adverse consequences. Porn and masturbation addicts experience health, relationship, financial, career, and other personal losses directly related to their porn use and compulsive masturbation, but they continue to engage in these behaviors anyway.
  • Preoccupation to the point of obsession. Over time, the driving force of the individual’s life is his “drug of choice,” which happens to be porn and masturbation. Finding porn and masturbating are always on his mind, always a possibility, always something he will drop everything else to experience.

Compulsive masturbators and porn addicts can develop a tolerance to their addictive behavior, meaning that over time they have to either masturbate more often or for longer periods of time to get the same level of pleasure, distraction, and escape. They can also experience emotional cravings and/or physical withdrawal if they are unable to engage in this behavioral distraction. That said, neither tolerance nor withdrawal is an essential componentto the diagnosis ofsex/porn/masturbation addiction.

How have masturbation habits and attitudes towards it changed over the last 50 years?

Unfortunately, the necessary research for me to accurately and definitively answer this question just isn’t available, so anything I say is somewhat speculative. But certainly attitudes have changed. Adolescent boys are (hopefully) no longer being told they’ll go blind or grow hair on their palms if they “do that.” In fact, most boys (and girls) are taught that masturbation is a normal part of growing up and experiencing life. And even if kids are raised in a more sexually repressive atmosphere, they generally have access to the Internet, which can provide them with a wider array of information.

Speaking of the Internet, clinicians who treat sexual disorders are uniformly reporting a significant increase in the number of individuals presenting for treatment seeking help with compulsive sexual activity that is directly tied to their use of digital devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The accessibility, affordability, and anonymity of online pornography and other sexual activity are, without doubt, leading to an increase in sexual addiction—especially porn and masturbation addiction. Whether this means men in general are masturbating more often these days is open for debate.

What are the dangers of excessive masturbation?

Compulsive masturbators and porn addicts use sexual self-stimulation as a means of self-soothing and avoiding uncomfortable feelings. Like most addicts, these individuals usually struggle with underlying emotional or psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, attachment deficit disorders, or unresolved trauma. They use porn and masturbation as a way to cope with stress and mask emotional pain. Eventually, viewing porn and masturbating becomes the individual’s primary coping mechanism—his response to any and every issue, including problems as simple and seemingly benign as boredom.

Usually a compulsive masturbator finds himself living a secret life, hiding his sexual behaviors from his family, friends, and coworkers. Living a double life is extremely stressful. Often he tries to limit his masturbation, without success. His repeated “failure” leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse. As time passes, he masturbates more frequently, or for longer periods or time, or to progressively more intense or bizarre sexual content. Until he seeks help, hisbehavior continues despite negative life consequences such as:

  • Nonexistent or significantly decreased sexual intimacy with others
  • Social isolation, loneliness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Relationship problems
  • Hours, sometimes days, lost to sexual fantasy, porn use, and masturbation
  • Physical harm to genitalia
  • Drug use or drug addiction relapse in conjunction with masturbation
  • Sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction or delayed ejaculation

What kind of problems does masturbation cause in relationships?

Internet porn has no storyline, no emotional connection, and no buildup to the sexual performance. There is no talking, no seducing, no romancing, no tenderness. Often there is no kissing or foreplay. All that’s there is an unending stream of idealized body parts and sexual acts. Because of this, porn addict’s brains are being rewired to demand change, novelty, excitement and constant stimulation. Without this constant stimulation, some men are experiencing sexual dysfunction caused by an over-involvement withpornography and masturbation as a primary sexual outlet.This problem is not simply due to the frequency of masturbation and orgasm outside a primary relationship; it is more related to the fact that men in general are both visually stimulated and turned-on by new stimuli. The man who spends 75% of his sexual life masturbating and fantasizing to porn (endless images of young, exciting, different partners and sexual experiences) is, over time, likely to find his longer-term partner less stimulating than the endless supply of new and exciting material in his head.

According to a 2012 Japan Times article that examined the results of two 1500-person surveys on male-female relationships—one survey conducted in 2008, the other in 2010—this issue is more prevalent than one might expect. The studies found that in 2010, 36.1 percent of males aged 16-19 had no interest in or an outright aversion to sex with another person. This figure was more than double that of the 2008 survey (17.5 percent). For males aged 20-24 the percentage increase was similar, up from 11.8 percent in 2008 to 21.5 percent in 2010. Notice that this rising disinterest coincides directly with the tech-connect porn boom, which took off, so to speak, in 2008. Basically this study confirms what many in the sexual addiction treatment field have known for quite some time—that among the many symptoms and consequences of porn addiction and compulsive masturbation is reduced or even nonexistent interest in sexual, physical, and emotional connections with “real world” sexual partners, be they spouses, significant others, or even casual hookups.

How is masturbation addiction cured?

Sadly, compulsive masturbators are often reluctant to seek help because they don’t view their solo sexual behaviors as an underlying source of their unhappiness. And when they do seek assistance, they often seek help with their compulsion’s related symptoms—depression, loneliness, and social isolation—rather than the masturbation problem itself. Many compulsive masturbators attend psychotherapy for extended periods without ever discussing (or even being asked about) masturbation or pornography. Thus, their core problem remains underground and untreated.

Recovery from compulsive masturbation most often requires extensive counseling with a trained and licensed sexual addiction treatment specialist, coupled with or followed by group therapy and/or a 12-Step recovery program. Getting help for compulsive masturbation can feel shameful, embarrassing, and humiliating, and, as with any compulsion, the pain and consequences of the behavior have to become greater than the fear of seeking assistance before the individual becomes willing to get help. It is important to note that compulsive masturbation is most often a symptom of underlying emotional and relationship concerns that will require longer-term psychotherapy and support to overcome, but this psychotherapy and support can be successful only after the presenting behavioral issue has been eliminated.


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BroBible Staff
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