Health

Masturbation Myth: How to Overcome Addiction to Solo-Sex

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Once a harmless pleasure, now a risky indulgence--masturbation seems to be all the rage.  It used to be that titillating fantasies (like romance novels and playboy magazine) got us going, but now we use hardcore porn and power tools. I hear people talk about masturbation like it is their savior, the end-all-be-all.  

However, in my experience as a healthcare practitioner I have found that socially, culturally and physically it can be a debilitating, brain-altering act.  When I hear the word ‘masturbate’ I think of how it can take a person away from another human being’s touch and affection, what we truly want as pair-bonding beings, and how it has the tendency to throw us into a neurochemical spiral without the benefits of human touch, cuddling and kissing.

When I refer to masturbation, I’m not talking about taking time to explore your skin, experience self-love, and appreciate your body. I’m referring to touching yourself as an act of solo-sex, for the purpose of climaxing and getting ‘high.’  This can create a dependency on self-touch, and turn into an addictive obsession.  I probably don’t even have to mention porn here, an industry where they count on you to throw away a real mate, and become addicted to the illusion you see on your screen. I would know - I spent three years of my life working in the adult entertainment industry.  Masturbation can creates a driven mindset, which can backfire in daily life and especially in romantic situations.

As pair bonders, we were meant to form a union with a partner and are naturally at peace when we are bonding with someone we love.  Selfless acts of love, both in and out of bed are always ideal, but we may not always have access to this kind of healthy connection.  When we turn to masturbation as a substitute for lack of connection, we create a whole slew of new problems.  After the initial aaaaah of orgasm, a new wave of aggression can arise. This wave of aggression may scream to future/potential partners: “See?!?  I don’t need you!”  Such an energy may not only cause us to close in on ourselves reminding us that we do not have an active partner, but may scare potential mates away, too.  As a healthy woman would naturally be repulsed by an overly-aggressive man, a healthy man is naturally repulsed by a woman who seems to scream independence bordering on desire for isolation. 

For women, excessive masturbation can cause an unusual amount of vaginal dryness during penetration and disinterest during actual partner sex. Vibrators, which were originally marketed to sexually empower women, are actually more effective in desensitizing their precious female parts.  Vibrators desensitize those parts because they work too well.  Too much supernormal stimulation can easily become a problem because it decreases brain sensitivity (and thus satisfaction).  Would you be able to date a superhero and then go back to dating a mortal man (or woman)?

Women (or people dating men) need to realize that men are not necessarily supposed to be rock hard and ready for action whenever your partner is similarly ready.  Even if a man is trained as a sexual boy scout, he won't be prepared at all moments.  A man is not a dildo; treat him as a person and sex as part of the relationship, rather than the way you treat dildos – ready for use at all moments.  By depending on power tools for your pleasure, you may be causing men and romantic relationships to compete with an inanimate object.  If a guy walks into a situation where he cannot compete, do you think he will want to stick around for very long?

And what about male masturbation? Most guys end up masturbating with vigorous movements and soon their brains demand more and more stimulation to climax.  A "death grip" bears little resemblance to the feel of a vagina, so when they actually get to have sex - oral or genital- they often "can't feel anything" and quickly lose their erections (and their condoms).  Soon, men can find they need more (or different) stimulation to stay interested in a partner. In short, porn and sex toy users are training for the wrong sport.

Typically, the purpose of masturbating is to get off.  Orgasm can be such an absorbing goal that some people turn to it for everything.  Bored?  Masturbate.  Lonely? Masturbate. Happy? Excited?  Trouble sleeping? Procrastinating or don't want to study? The list goes on and on for why someone might want to masturbate.  For some people, masturbation is treated as though it were an instant solution to almost any feeling.  And few people seem to remember how to do it without today's brain-numbing porn.  Like the vibrator, porn's constant novelty over-releases dopamine, gradually numbing the brain to subtler pleasures.  Today’s stimuli also spare users the bother of developing interpersonal skills and mood-regulating skills because they are such powerful instant diversions from reality.  

Moods are variable; having an addictive relationship with masturbation is like using the chemical release of orgasm as a drug to regulate one’s mood.  Having such an addiction, can get in the way of learning how to accept variations in moods or learning how to regulate moods in more healthful ways.  Many, especially the younger generation of masturbators, are just not used to the fact that moods come and go. Almost all of us need to learn techniques that counter these natural mood swings in healthier ways. Regular meditation, exercise, socializing, and Karezza (making love without the goal of orgasm) are among some of the techniques that work quite well for this purpose (though consistency is advised for best results).  Even if your body turns into a sex machine after kicking your addictive habit, you would still be wise to develop some of these other mood-regulating skills.

As a health care practitioner, I can almost always tell when a patient or a new friend masturbates too frequently.  These individuals seem shut off to social cues; their moods tell the tale that they are disinterested in anything other than going home to masturbate; they can have a shortened temper or their personality can seem to flat line along with their social skills.  Of course, they think masturbation is doing their bodies a favor, and that it’s everyone else that is growing gray and boring.   As their addiction escalates, they sometimes think they are special because their sex drive is so high.  But it is only high because every time they masturbate, their dopamine receptors (the reward center of pleasure) shut down, and they need more stimulation (orgasms) to get the same high.  They are literally training their bodies to need increasing stimulation to get former happier results.  They are now no different than the cocaine addict who keeps using more of his drug to get back to that same “first high” he experienced long ago.

When someone has masturbated long term, they have weakened adrenal functioning (in Chinese medicine we call it Kidney Yang deficiency), and possibly an insatiable sex drive or erectile dysfunction (ED).   It is not unusual for me to suggest to a patient to stop masturbating, even if this is not why s/he came to see me.  Men always seem to be shocked when I say this, and ask me how I know they have been masturbating frequently. The way I know is that I can see it in their eyes; there is certain lifelessness in them.

Orgasms can't replace sex. We need sex for social bonds to soothe our brains. The doctors who claim, “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away” provide no scientific evidence for these claims.  In actuality, it is the human touch and intimacy that causes us to live longer, healthier, more satisfying lives.  In other words, it is sex that is beneficial, rather than the orgasm itself. 

Reaching for the porn and/or sex toys can be an expression of feeling isolated. Instead of these tools, try using your imagination with realistic fantasy: Take a bath and touch yourself everywhere just as a partner would (don’t just touch your genitals as one does when masturbating). Imagine that you are actually touching someone.  This will release soothing oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) into your brain.  If the end goal of masturbation for you is to climax, then avoid that escalation.

By going cold turkey from solo-sex for several months you will, in effect, ‘reboot’ your brain by allowing it to return to its normal sexual responsiveness.  As far as I know, this is the only way to tear away from the cycle.  Depending on how addicted you are, and the length of your use, you might feel better after only two-weeks. However, many highly addicted do-it-yourself addicts may need months to feel better, especially if sex with another human being is rare. Watch out for certain symptoms that may arise such as: intense “need” for an orgasm, less responsiveness to sex, powerful attraction to new partners, fantasizing about extreme stimulation, cravings for rougher/kinkier sex, irritability, snapping at others over nothing or feeling uncharacteristically deprived, anxiety, dissatisfaction and/or feeling unfairly treated.

So what to do in the absence of a partner?  Go and get one!  My first recommendation is to be proactive in finding a live, consenting partner.  Tell your friends you are single and ready to mingle; try online dating; or if you have just gotten out of a relationship, and are interested in staying single (but not interested in celibacy), work with a friend to get your needs met.  Find a cuddle buddy (or two), flirt with people and connect deeply with people you trust.  I have a few friends that I don’t have intercourse with, but we do get naked and have fun.  We will shower together, wrestle, sometimes play with each other’s genitals, massage each other, and lie about watching a movie and then fall asleep together.

Masturbation every now and again isn’t a problem. The problem is the addiction that starts a downward spiral of making you crave more stimulation even though you receive less satisfaction.  As most of us are go, go, go in our daily lives, having one more thing that is goal-driven (sex for the purpose of climaxing) adds yet another stress to our daily lives (even though we may think it is the thing that relieves the stress).

You might find these simple guidelines will result in a more relaxing/enjoyable experience.  Be patient with yourself. But above all – reach out and touch someone else!  You cannot have a deep, nurturing relationship all by yourself.  Nothing will ever take the place of the feel of a real live human being.

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