What are the effects of masturbation?
Thank you for asking this question. It seems that many societies have passed down the idea that masturbation is harmful. In reality, study after study has found that there is nothing wrong with masturbation. In fact, from a mental health perspective, it is considered to be a normal part of human sexual development and behavior. Now, just because something in itself is not harmful does not mean that it cannot become harmful when misused.
When can masturbation be harmful
If we are to think about masturbation as just another sexual tool at our disposal, it may be easier to conceptualize that out choice in how we use that tool is really what renders is useful or useless. As an example, a fork is meant to be used as a tool for eating and so really, it's neither good nor bad. However, if you were to use it to stab someone, that would make your misuse of that fork the problem, and not the fork itself. With that in mind, here are a few ways in which masturbation can be harmful, when misused.
If a person is avoiding or neglecting their life responsibilities e.g. work or school so they can have more time to masturbate, that would be turning it into harmful sexual behavior. Part of the human experience is participating in and contributing to our societies; we must go to school, do our chores, run our businesses, pay rent, interact with our neighbors and so much more. Avoiding these aspects of living so you can masturbate is unhealthy in the sense that it brings imbalance into your life.
If a person is unwilling to engage with others because all they want to do is stay back and masturbate, then that would be harmful. This is because human beings thrive when they can connect with other human beings. If you'd rather masturbate than visit with family or friends, then you're denying yourself the chance for growth, connection and development in other aspects of your life, which leads to an imbalanced life.
If a person can only experience sexual pleasure from masturbation and not from their sexual partner, then that person will experience imbalance in their sexual/romantic relationship. The sexual experience cannot be fully satisfied in isolation because, again, human beings do best when connected to others sexually and non-sexually. Cutting off your partner because you want to masturbate is the opposite of that. PS: this does not refer to couples who are open about masturbation, as part of their sex life. This refers to those who keep it secret from their partners; the secrecy of it is a major part of the problem.
If a person feels consumed by thoughts of masturbation, where they engage in it or not, then that can become a problem. An overabundance of thoughts – regardless of the subject of the thoughts – will likely lead to an overabundance of action based on those thoughts. Obsession is also an unhelpful distraction from other things that need our attention.
Uh-oh! I think I have a problem. What do I do now?
1. Don't overthink it. Obsessing about the fact that you think you have a problem will have the opposite effect of what you hope to achieve. Start by saying "I think I have a problem with masturbation. I'm going to do what I can to be/feel better about it."
2. Determine what aspect of masturbation is a problem for you so you can have a clearer idea of what you would like to change, and how you would like to change it. So, for example, are you concerned about how much you masturbate, how much of your time you spend thinking about it, whether or not you actually engage in it, how it's affecting your romantic relationships, how it's affecting your non-romantic relationships? Identify what's truly posing as a problem so you can direct your energies there as well as have a way to track your progress.
3. Identify any triggers. These can vary from watching/reading sexually explicit material, having too much idle time, having access to a conducive space e.g. a private bedroom with a lock, friends who talk about it too much, etc. Figure out what makes it harder for you not to masturbate, and then interrupt it. If you have too much idle time, find activities to stay busy. If you have a space that makes it difficult not to masturbate, find a way to make it less private/more accessible to others to disrupt your own negative patterns. If the company you keep is too sexually charged, limit your time with them or find ways to remove yourself when things go too far.
4. Have a plan in place. If you have a trigger, put a plan in place for what to do when the trigger happens. Even if you don't have a trigger, still have a plan in place for what to do/not do in certain circumstances that may limit your ability to resist. You could, for example, plan to exercise, read something non-sexual, or engaging in other satisfying activities that are both useful and provide sufficient distraction from masturbation.
5. Take it easy. Try to understand that masturbation in and of itself is not wrong. In addition, majority of humans have masturbated and do masturbate; even animals do it! This is not about stopping a wrong thing. This is about stopping the misuse of a sexual tool and redirecting that sexual energy to more useful, less harmful sexual and non-sexual contexts.
As a final note, I would like to say that this has been written for those who feel that masturbation is a problem and distraction for them. In other words, if masturbation does not interfere with your life, sexual or emotional well-being, this piece is not for you. Masturbation – like other pleasurable aspects of the human experience – is about balance. Imbalance in any area will likely lead to distress so seek balance, even in something as sexually satisfying as masturbation.