May is evidently the global month for masturbation, a very touchy subject. We answer some questions for you:
Can I masturbate?
Yes, you can. That’s the short answer. The long answer is that you can masturbate if you wish, and if it does not interfere with other parts of you or your life e.g. your values or your relationship.
I know that sometimes the word “values” is used as a code for “religion” or “right or wrong”, which are closely associated with guilt.
This is not how I mean it at all. I am saying you literally get to exercise your privilege to decide how and if you want to experience your body sexually.
Can I get addicted?
Yes, you can. Again, that’s the short answer. The long answer is not everyone who enjoys masturbation will get addicted to it, just like not everyone who enjoys chapati or a glass of wine or nyama choma will get addicted to those things.
That said, there are people who can and do get addicted to masturbation. There are ways to tell if you are addicted to it, and there are ways to interrupt the addiction itself.
There are also risk factors associated with this, which can help to guide you into deciding whether this is something that you should be worried about.
What are the risk factors of addiction to masturbation?
Well, there are as many as there are humans on earth but let us look at a few common ones. One risk factor is masturbating as a way to avoid dealing with a painful reality.
Think of it this way; some people (try and fail to) drink their problems away while others choose the incessant pursuit of pleasure; some of that pleasure will be sexual in nature.
Idleness is another common risk factor for addiction. If you find yourself masturbating to kill time, that could become problematic to you. Another is loneliness or social isolation. If you find yourself without friends, avoiding friends or family – or lacking in one or both – and so you masturbate to feel good on your own, this could become a problem to you down the line. This is not an exhaustive list and the configurations of it are varied but I hope it helps you as you think through this.
How will I know that I am addicted?
Think of these two words: impulsive and compulsive. This is a simple way to check your behavior – sexual or not – to see if you could be getting into trouble with it.
So, are you impulsive with your behavior? Do you find yourself masturbating ‘randomly’ or ‘unexpectedly’? Maybe you are at work going about your business when out of the blue you have the impulse to masturbate? Pay attention to that; when and how often the impulse or urge hits you.
How about when you do get the urge e.g. at an inappropriate place or time, are you able to stop yourself or do you feel controlled by the urge? “Controlled” here means doing it over and over and over, even if you wish you could stop, or have even tried to stop without success.
Again, if this is describing your experience with masturbation, pay attention.
How can I stop being addicted?
This is trickier to answer without an actual reason but just like the previous question, I will offer some options – as a place to begin.
One thing to do is to reduce or eliminate isolation. If you don’t have friends, make it a point to make some. Engage with your family; attend weddings, funerals, ruracios and any other family events.
This isn’t even about saying “attend family events to avoid masturbating” so much as it is about “cultivate a real life and participate in it.” Contribute to your life instead of sitting alone in your room with nothing to do and no one to do it with.
If there has been a loss or major event that is causing stress or discomfort, I strongly encourage you to address the issue itself instead of avoiding pain by trying to feel good all the time. Normal life includes pleasure and pain; pursuing pleasure incessantly is only delaying the pain that you must face e.g. did your partner break up with you?
Address the pain of heartbreak instead of pretending that you’re alright and trying to prove to yourself that you don’t need them anymore.
Eliminate or minimise isolation as well since masturbation is usually a solo affair. Go and take a walk, do the dishes, watch movies with others and minimise the literal opportunity to do it.
A point to note: for some reason, people associate ‘sexual pleasure from masturbation’ with automatic addition, so they may say “I’m addicted to masturbation” when what they really mean is that “I masturbate and I like it.”
Pleasure is NOT addiction. Reread this section and assess your actual literal behavior for signs of addiction. Finally, addiction is an actual ‘diagnosis’ so resist the temptation to diagnose yourself.
If you are truly concerned about it, seek the support of a mental and sexual health professional.
Can masturbation make you go blind?
This is an often-repeated myth. Research has shown that a large number of people have or regularly do masturbate. One American study (2011) found 74 per cent of male and 48 per cent of female adolescents masturbate while 63 per cent of adult males and 57 per cent of adult females masturbate.
While we’re talking about myths, masturbation does also not cause blindness, penis shrinkage or hairy palms. Given that the world’s population stands at about 7 billion people -- and that there are no studies that show that masturbation is responsible for any of these problems, I think it’s safe to say that masturbation has no identifiable effects on your body.
Masturbation is one of many possibilities for sexual pleasure; it is neither better nor worse than any of the others so there is no need for guilt, judgment or any of the negative attachments that some people apply to it. All it requires is decision; yours. If you choose to enjoy this act of self-pleasure, go for it! That’s what it’s there for. If you choose to abstain from it, great! Abstinence is a valid choice.
Whatever your choice, I hope you have learned something new today, and I wish you a happy healthy sex life.
Maggie Gitu is a Marriage, Family & Sex Therapist. She can be reached at [email protected]