You might not give a second thought to your masturbation, that private habit that relieves tension, makes you forget about your worries and hey, is a nice way to pass the afternoon. Since most men will begin to masturbate in their early adolescence and continue to pleasure themselves far into adulthood, thinking about how this type of sexual activity affects your life probably doesn’t get too much of your brains pace.
“Like other animals, mating for humans remains a biological drive like eating and drinking water, sleeping, and protecting ourselves. These days, we no longer need to increase our population but sexuality remains on our list of adult needs because of its other benefits,” explains sex and relationship expert Dee Wagner, LPC, BC-DMT. “Around five years old, we tend to discover that touching our genitals creates a lot of pleasant sensation. The messages we receive about this self-touch influences whether our masturbation shifts into a private activity or a secret, shameful one. If masturbation is normalized and named a private activity — like cleaning our bodies — we are less likely to develop unhealthy shame around this kind of self-touch.”
The good news, as Wagner says, is that taking time to understand your own erogenous zones is a healthy practice that can improve your sex life, make you a more balanced person and allow you to freely explore your fetishes.
The bad news? There can actually be some pretty serious risks to your physical and emotional health when it comes to masturbation, specifically if frequent masturbation may be turning into chronic or compulsive masturbation. The truth is, there are many ways your body responds to this frequent feel-good motion, and not all of the reactions are positive. While you might not be keen to delve deeply into the motivations behind masturbation, it is important to be aware of what you’re risking when you reach into your pants.
From what masturbation is to all of the health risks it proposes, here’s what you need to know about jerking off:
1. What Is Masturbation?
As Angie Gunn, a sex therapy expert at Talkspace explains, “Masturbation is the act of stimulating your own body and brain to create pleasure, usually involving genital touching or other sexual play on your own. Some people engage in masturbation with others watching or doing so as well, this can be a fun form of foreplay while serving the dual purpose of providing a partner with information about how you like to touch yourself. Some people enjoy the use of toys, pornography, erotica or other materials to aid in masturbation.” as well as numerous different masturbation techniques.
To put it in other words: anytime you find yourself stimulated by something you see, hear or touch, or you desire to feel sexual so you find something that turns you on, that’s masturbation. While the majority of self-play is considered and conducted as a solo act, you can also use your partner as part of the process. For some women, it can be attractive to watch their partner pleasure himself, before she jumps in on the action and goes for a ride. There are many masturbation toys on the market, many of which might give your hand a break or assist in getting you to the grand finale faster than you could achieve it on your own.
2. How Common Is Masturbation?
Just like many sex studies, it’s important to note that unless you had a way of following every adult everywhere they went and monitored every move — or ahem, stroke — they made, statistics about masturbation are more of an estimate than proven fact. However, Indiana University’s National Survey Of Sexual Health And Behavior, it’s estimated that more than 50% of men masturbate regularly, ranging from a few times a month up to 4 times a week. “This number is higher with younger men beginning in early adolescence, and does not necessarily vary based on whether the man is in a relationship or not,” Gunn says. “From my own observations, one to two times a week is the norm for men ages 25 to 45.”
Regardless of which side of the spectrum you tend to skew on, sex and relationship therapist, Courtney Geter, LMFT says the amount of time you spend jerking off might vary heavily depending on how you update that taken-or-not status on Facebook. “Frequency of masturbation depends on the each particular male and what he considers masturbating. Some men masturbate daily whereas others masturbate weekly or monthly. Frequency may also depend on relationship status. Although masturbation is acceptable in a relationship, some men may masturbate less when a partner is available,” Geter explains. “Some men may increase masturbation when relationships end or the frequency may not change. Age and refractory period (amount of time to obtain erection after ejaculation) could also impact frequency as well. As men age, the refractory period becomes longer. Though orgasm can occur separate from ejaculation, many times the occur simultaneously. “
3. Recognizing The Signs Of Compulsive Masturbation
It’s a fair question — is too much of a good thing, actually a dangerous thing? The motives behind why people, especially men, decide to sit down in front of their computer or in the dark comfort of their home and let one loose vary greatly, depending on where they are in their life, what they need and what they’re currently thinking about or struggling with. “Individuals choose to masturbate to meet sexual needs, relieve boredom, improve mood, alleviate stress, facilitate sleep, or relaxation. These needs and desires don’t change when someone is in a relationship, solo sex time is still important and valuable for personal self care and fulfillment,” Gunn explains.
It’s Your Choice — And You’ll Know When It’s Too Much
Chocolates, cakes, booze, tequila shots — all things that aren’t exactly good for you, but hey, are OK in moderation. But the amount of sugar intake (or booze) you can handle might not be the same as your brother or your best friend. “There is no definitive amount of masturbation that is too much, on the contrary masturbation itself presents no inherent harm or potential damage. The individual person then must determine what is a good amount for them, the same way they decide how many cookies to eat or how much television to watch,” Gunn says. “It’s a behavioral choice, a choice which has marked health benefits including reducing cortisol (stress hormone) through the release of dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins, improving sleep and body image, reducing pain, bettering your sex life and improving cardiovascular health, and mood.”
It’s Too Much When You Aren’t Participating In Other Parts Of Your Life
You might be able to spend all day in bed, watching porn on repeat, only pausing to order takeout or catch the score of the game, but if masturbating is making you less than social and you’re missing deadlines at work, you might need a breather, stat. “Masturbation is healthy and it is part of sexual health and necessary to maintain hormone levels,” Dawn Michael, Ph.D., relationship expert and author says. “There is only a problem when masturbation becomes a replacement for daily actives that one should be doing in life, such as school, sleep, work, relationships and more.”
4. Compulsive Masturbation Can Mask Anxiety Issues
Though definitely more rare and far less common, there could be some mental issues tied to why you’re stroking one out on the regular, up to multiple times a day. “Some men do have OCD or other mental disorders that masturbation becomes the outlet for and is used as the catalyst for other activities,” Michael explains.
From having so much anxiety about a particular period in your life — losing your job, the passing away of a family member or other difficult events — to becoming obsessive and out of control, here are some dangerous mental side effects to watch out for:
Your Penis Is Raw Because You Stroke So Much And So Hard
At times, chronic masturbation can become too frequent, creating conflict in the relationship or injury, causing a painful erection. In regards to injury, some men can masturbate too often creating rawness on the penis or injury to the soft tissues of the penis,” Geter says. “Typically, this compulsive behavior stems from an increase in anxiety or inability to manage anxiety with other coping skills.”
You Can No Longer ‘finish’ During Normal Intercourse
If you once enjoyed orgasming at the same time with your partner, but now you can’t seem to get there unless you’re doing it on your own, you might have developed a mental block due to masturbation. “Although not detrimental to a man’s health, chronic masturbation can also impact enjoyment or pleasure of other sexual activities with a partner. The brain learns that masturbation feels good. When other equally enjoyable stimulation is introduced after long periods of masturbation, a man can have trouble with orgasm or ejaculation since the stimulation of a vagina, mouth, or partner’s hand is not the same as that of the man’s own hand,” Geter says. “Many men present to my office with this concern. After behavioral modification treatment, they are able to orgasm and ejaculate to different stimuli. One tool I suggest men utilize is a male masturbation sleeve. This sleeve helps stimulate a vagina, mouth, or rectum though they are not replacements for those body parts.”
5. Compulsive Masturbation Can Impact Your Relationships
It’s a tricky road to go down, as Gunn explains, when you have masturbation as part of your sexual routine with your partner. Though perfectly healthy, and not exactly a health risk to your body, it could be troublesome for your heart if you and your partner begin to argue or drift apart, thanks to your masturbation habit. That being said — maintaining a masturbation habit, even once you’re happily married, is OK — as long as you talk about it together.
“One of the common messages related to masturbation shaming is the idea that once you’re partnered, they gain ownership of your sex and your genitals, requiring their involvement or permission in every expression. This is a really harmful approach to relationships and leads to many conflicts, sexual repression and secrecy. Every person, partnered or single, retains private ownership of their genitals and can choose when to share them with others, and how to enter into agreements with others around the use of their sexual self,” Gunn says. “I encourage all my clients to maintain masturbation as a part of any relationship agreements in order to ensure the protection of their sexual identity, control over their ability to have pleasure on their own terms at times, and creating erotic mystery to allow for increased desire in a relationship. If respected and continued on both sides, masturbation provides fantasy material, sexual relief, and reignited desire for partnered sex.”
However, if you’re starting to not want to have sex with your partner, Gunn says talking it out and really, truly getting to the root of the issues is key. “Clients with relationship strain, differences in libido or desire from their partner, or challenges with depression, trauma, anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder may increase masturbation as a coping tool,” she says. “In these cases the potential harm done is not related to the masturbation itself, but to the distress experienced as a result and the other factors driving the behavior.”
6. Compulsive Masturbation Can Negatively Impact Your Orgasms
If you can’t seem to find the same joy — with or without the use of your hand or someone else’s — you might be desensitizing yourself in a dangerous way. “Some men will talk about reduced intensity of orgasms after frequent masturbation. This is a result of extended periods of refractory, the time after you climax when your body is releasing additional inhibitory (feel-good) chemicals in your brain, which basically prevent your body from coming down between periods of arousal. During this extended refractory, any orgasm experienced would be weaker until you give your body the chance to process the chemicals fully,” Gunn explains.
“The refractory period is different for each person and varies by age, body chemistry, diet and genetics, so give yourself some grace. If you’re concerned about changes to your orgasms as a result of masturbation, try reducing your masturbation frequency a bit, adding more time between episodes, or not always climaxing during masturbation. The practice of edging — coming to the point of climax and then backing off — multiple times and over the course of a few days, has been shown to increase intensity of orgasms. Long term, increased orgasms have been linked to increased sexual pleasure on the whole.”