Credit: Bob Al-Greene / Mashable
May is National Masturbation Month, and we’re celebrating with Feeling Yourself, a series exploring the finer points of self-pleasure.
Wherever there is content extolling the benefits of masturbation, so too will you find a whole onslaught of voices condemning it. The topic always comes along with conversations about frequency, namely: Doing it too much. “While anxieties and negative attitudes about sexuality can be found throughout history, masturbation has particularly been a behavior of concern,” says Sarah Melancon(opens in a new tab), Ph.D, a sociologist, clinical sexologist, and resident expert at The Sex Toy Collective.
Libido is built out of our reward system — and so the more positive experiences you have, the more you want. Masturbation and orgasms beget wanting more masturbation, sex, and orgasms. TL;DR: masturbation is amazing. Solo sex is a fantastic (and free!) way to de-stress, unwind, and boost positive neuro-transmitters(opens in a new tab). It can also help boost mood and self-esteem.
At the same time, there is nuance. Zachary Zane(opens in a new tab), author of Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto(opens in a new tab) and sex expert for Momentum Intimacy(opens in a new tab), points out, you can do pretty much anything too much. “Masturbation only becomes an issue if it’s negatively affecting other aspects of your life,” he says. For instance, if your masturbation habits have you skipping work, ditching sex with your partner, or are causing pain or injury, then it may be worth it to reevaluate your masturbation habits. “But if it’s NOT negatively impacting your life in any way, then keep at it! Enjoy it,” Zane says.
In all likeliness, your wanking habits are probably completely normal and fine. In all likeliness, your wanking habits are probably completely normal and fine. And so, for this glorious month that is Masturbation May, we will be doing away with the pervasive idea that if you’re getting off too much, you’re doing something wrong or shameful or might break your dick/clit. Let’s shift the mindset.
The roots of ‘dangerous masturbation’Why are people so obsessed with how often you touch your junk? Melancon says that it’s pretty heavily based in religion. “Many religions condemn sexual activity(opens in a new tab) outside of heterosexual marriage, including masturbation,” she says. “In Judeo-Christian religions, masturbation is considered a sin.” This harks back to the “spilling the seed” story of Onan in the Bible. Onan was having sex with his brother’s wife and instead of climaxing inside her, he pulled out so that she wouldn’t carry his off-spring. You know, a really cute and chill situation. God obviously curses him for spilling his seed because, well, The Bible. Ironically, the story on which this concept is based actually describes Onan pulling out rather than masturbation.
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In the Victorian era(opens in a new tab), masturbation was thought to cause mental illness. These pervasive views on the dangers and evils of masturbation may be more coded in 2023, but the ghosts of the past still seem to follow us.
Can you actually masturbate TOO much?Basically, not really. As long as you’re not rubbing yourself raw or ditching work to pound it out 24-7, Silva Neves(opens in a new tab), an accredited psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist, says that getting yourself off is not an issue you need to be worried about. “There is no evidence to suggest that masturbation is bad, and there is no agreed definition on measuring what is ‘too much,’ because everybody’s limits are subjective and individual,” he says.
What’s more, there is no evidence that frequent masturbation is in any way bad or addictive. The idea that masturbating too much can become a problem is heavily steeped in shame and sex negativity. Neves tells us that using terms like “porn addiction” or “sex addiction” is highly problematic — as it both increases shame around sex and is not endorsed by either the ICD or the DSM-5 as an addiction.
Long story short: You can’t masturbate too much as long as you aren’t hiding away in your room, ignoring your friends, family, and obligations in order to get off constantly. It’s about cultivating healthy habits.
How you feel about masturbation informs how you feel about your behaviors.It’s not usually about whether you’re masturbating too much, it’s about how you FEEL about the behavior. A recent study(opens in a new tab) found four groupings of individuals based on masturbation frequency and sexual satisfaction.
High masturbation frequency + Satisfied
Low/no masturbation frequency + Satisfied
High masturbation frequency + Dissatisfied
Low/no masturbation frequency + Dissatisfied
For those who reported high masturbation frequency and dissatisfaction, Melancon says that this group probably consists of people who view masturbation as being either bad or “less than” partnered sex. “This would likely include individuals using masturbation as a coping mechanism as well as individuals who are lonely and would rather at least some of their masturbation was actually partnered sexual activity instead,” she says. What’s more, studies have shown(opens in a new tab) that people who have higher levels of religious belief are more likely to view their masturbation habits as “addictive,” when the behaviors themselves are by no means clinically compulsive.
If you can shift away from the idea that masturbation = less than, gross, wrong, or addictive and into a mindset of masturbation = happy, healthy, and normal, you’re likely to see a massive improvement in how you perceive your habits. After all, masturbation is a healthy and OK form of sexual activity. Enough with the shame.
Dealing with death grip.Like all good things in life, you might run into problems. Death Grip refers to masturbating in a repeated way, with a very tight grip on the penis. It can also refer to clitorises that are receiving the same, intense form of stimulation (often with a vibrator), leading to temporarily diminished effectiveness of other forms of sexual activity. The term “Death Grip” was originally coined by sex columnist Dan Savage in 2003. Savage was also the first person to coin the term “pegging” (when a cis-man is anally penetrated by someone wearing a strap-on or dildo).
Death Grip is not an official medical diagnosis — it’s a recognized phenomenon that has been seen in many clinical settings. But, the aim should be dealing with it without pathologizing people. Death grip is actually highly treatable and highly subjective. It’s only a problem if you believe it’s a problem and want to do something about it. There’s nothing wrong with preferring or even needing one form of stimulation to receive pleasure, if that’s what you want.
If you’re experiencing Death Grip and feel like you’re losing sensation, change up your masturbation habits. Kenneth Play, an international educator and the bestselling author of Beyond Satisfied: A Sex Hacker’s Guide to Endless Orgasms, Mind-Blowing Connection, and Lasting Confidence(opens in a new tab), refers to “Habit Loops That Rule Our Sex Lives.” He tells us that “The more you masturbate in a particular way, the more deeply ingrained a particular pathway to orgasm becomes, and our sexual identity forms around it. Our habits create a fast track to pleasure, and they can put up roadblocks to other forms of sex.”
“When we masturbate in different ways for a couple of weeks, we start to rewire our habit loops, and we can learn new ways of getting pleasure.” It’s not that you’re damaging your penis/clit or causing permanent desensitization, it’s just that you’ve gotten used to masturbating in a certain way — and so other forms of sex don’t feel as intense. “We can break our habit loops by turning down the volume on them for a while. We can put the vibrator away or relax the death grip on our penises,” Play says. “When we masturbate in different ways for a couple of weeks, we start to rewire our habit loops, and we can learn new ways of getting pleasure.”
Melancon also suggests bringing in a mindfulness practice. “Mindfulness-style practices can help one expand one’s sensory awareness, so over time a lighter grip can become more pleasurable,” she says. Staying connected to our bodies can help to foster stronger connections between our genitals and our minds.
It’s not that you’re masturbating too much, it might just be that you’re masturbating in the same way a bit too much. It might mean that you’re masturbating in a way that isn’t super connected to your body and doesn’t foster a ton of awareness. Masturbation frequency doesn’t need to cause problems if we cultivate a creative and positive mindset around it. Death Grip isn’t permanent and it simply means a change-up might be in order.
All in all, your masturbation habits are probably completely fine and we’d do better to celebrate self-love, rather than demonize it.
Gigi Engle, ACS, is London-based, certified sex educator and author All The F*cking MIstakes. Her work regularly appears in many publications including Cosmo, Glamour, Men’s Health, and Refinery29. Follow her on Instagram(opens in a new tab) and Twitter(opens in a new tab) at @GigiEngle.
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