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Is Masturbation Bad for You? When It Turns into a Compulsion

mental-health-parity-final-rulesMasturbation is a funny word. It might make you giggle thinking about the first time you got caught by your parents or caught your little brother in the act. It can be a great way to release tension, or a way to stay satisfied when you can’t be with a partner. For most of us, it’s simply a part of life and a component of healthy sexuality.

For others, however, this harmless behavior crosses the line into a compulsive activity that is anything but benign. Some become so dependent on the behavior that they lose hours and hours of their day, unable to leave the house. Others masturbate to the point of injuring themselves.

Choosing masturbation over intimate relationships, the person can become isolated, or end up spending all their time and money on porn to further fuel their compulsive behavior. Still others become addicted to the point where they find themselves unable to control the urge to masturbate in public or otherwise inappropriate places. This is addiction, and it can have just as grave, debilitating consequences as drugs or alcohol.

Often when a child undergoes abuse or trauma (no matter where it may fall on the spectrum of intensity) there are not sufficient outlets for all the rage, despair and grief that results from the betrayal. It is simply too overwhelming. Sometimes there are also explicit or implied rules about keeping silent, leaving the child with no one to turn to for comfort. The child may place the needs of the abuser(s) or dysfunctional family members above his or her own needs, opting not to rock the boat.

These emotions do not go away. Rather, they create an inner turmoil that demands self-medication, and without access to therapy or support, the wounded child may turn to addictive behaviors or substances to control the feelings.

Of course, when you are a child, there is a limit to the ways in which you can self-medicate. Masturbation is one of the most accessible and available forms of numbing out, because you rely only on your own body to produce the intoxicating chemicals that soothe the pain. In that sense, it is a unique kind of high that money can’t buy. For many sex and love addicts, masturbation was their first drug.

In order to recover from compulsive masturbation, working with a trained sex addiction therapist can be indispensable. Learning to identify exactly how and when emotional states get sexualized is an important first step.

Anxiety, fear, jealousy and other primal emotions can immediately trigger the need to pleasure oneself, often so quickly that the addict does have time to make the connection between the stressor and his or her reaction to it. Eventually, however, the person can learn to self-soothe in many different ways, instead of relying on the one overused comfort mechanism. This restores masturbation to its proper place among healthy human behaviors.

Is Masturbation Bad for You? When It Turns into a Compulsion

Alexandra Katehakis, Ph.D., MFT, CST, CSAT

Alexandra Katehakis, PhD, MFT, CST, CSAT is the founder and Clinical Director of Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, where she and her staff successfully treat a full spectrum of sexual disorders, ranging from issues of sexual desire and dysfunction to the treatment of sexual addiction. She is the author of Erotic Intelligence: Igniting Hot, Healthy Sex While in Recovery from Sex Addiction and co-author of Making Advances: A Comprehensive Guide for Treating Female Sex and Love Addicts. Her free Daily Meditations on healthy sex and love are open to the public. Since 2006, Ms. Katehakis has studied affective neuroscience with Allan N. Schore, incorporating regulation theory into her treatment of sexual addiction. Alex is the 2012 recipient of the Carnes Award, a prestigious acknowledgement for her contributions to the field of sex addiction.

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APA Reference
Katehakis, A. (2018). Is Masturbation Bad for You? When It Turns into a Compulsion. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 20 Sep 2018 (Originally: 5 Feb 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 20 Sep 2018
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