Compulsive Masturbation

Understanding Compulsive Masturbation

By Robert Weiss, LCSW, CAS, CSAT & Leslie Fisher, MSW, LISAC, CSAT – U.S.A.

Of all the types of sexual acting out, compulsive masturbation is one of the most secret and isolative. The person engaging in this sexual activity is often the last to seek help, often not seeing or understanding their behavior as problematic. This is often related to familial, societal, or religious shame associated with the act of masturbation. Many clients report that their internalized messages around masturbation are that the act itself is “dirty”, “shameful”, or “sinful.”

While most sex addicts actively seek treatment, pushed by some obvious consequence of a legal, occupational, health or relational type, the solitary nature of the compulsive masturbator’s behavior leaves their actions less subject to the direct consequences of other forms of sexual acting out. The addict engaging in compulsive masturbation seeks therapeutic intervention for help as a last resort, seeking relief from anxiety, obsession, isolation and the inability to seek or maintain healthy intimate relationships. Some compulsive masturbators do experience consequences through the viewing of inappropriate materials i.e. child pornography or through masturbating in inappropriate places i.e. the workplace or an automobile. However, the most frequent consequence of compulsive masturbation is a life devoid of intimacy, removed from feeling and filled with hidden shame.

As to the behavior of compulsive masturbation itself this can take place in differing forms. For example there are men who masturbate daily as a part of their “morning or evening routine.” Jay, in treatment for sex addiction for several years now, has the following to say about his experiences,

Looking back now I can see that before I started working on this I had huge denial about how compulsive and driven an experience masturbation was in my life. Because the behavior itself was so built into my routines and I saw it like washing my hands or brushing my teeth I never thought of it as something that could interfere with my attempts at sexual relationships or self-esteem as a man. My association with masturbation was simple, every morning when I showered I masturbated to fantasy and every night before I went to sleep I masturbated to porn to help me relax. I never questioned it and at 37 years old I had a 22-year history of this behavior before I got into treatment and was asked the question by my therapist, “how often do you masturbate and why do you choose to masturbate when you do”? Choose? I never chose. Masturbation is just what I did.

Interestingly, Jay did not come into treatment seeking help for a problem with masturbation. Jay actually entered treatment to eliminate having multiple sexual affairs and resolve ongoing challenges with romantic commitment. He had long wanted to get married and have a family and was concluding from his experiences that he was unable to create that. It was only during the course of his initial treatment assessment that the questions regarding masturbation were posed to him and he was forced to consider changing this life-long behavior.

While some like Jay compulsively masturbate in a brief, routine fashion, others can act more as binge masturbators. They may find themselves spending hours at a time “lost” in fantasy, porn use and masturbation. Unlike the routine masturbator, the binge masturbator is likely to be acting in relationship to specific stimuli that they are unable to tolerate. Likely responding to some strong internal, intolerable affect combined with an identifiable trigger or stimulus, this type of compulsive masturbator can lose hours or even days to the computer, videos, with or without drug use and masturbation. They can literally lock themselves up at home, or in motel rooms and disappear into their masturbatory escape.

This type of behavior is not unlikely to result in genital injury due to the amount of time and energy devoted to the masturbation. While usually the injury and pain is not sought for pleasure, the binge compulsive masturbator will not use physical damage as a guide toward stopping or self-care. Instead they will likely continue their sexual activity, even hurting themselves further and bringing about more shame.

The person who masturbates to the point of injury presents some specific clinical challenges. The etiology of the compulsive masturbator is complex. As with other clients we see for sexually acting out behaviors, there was often a history of shame, abuse, and neglect in their family of origin. Many clients who engage in compulsive masturbation recall beginning the behavior at a very early age as their only form of respite and escape from an environment filled with fear, secrecy, and trauma.

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