When Masturbation Ruins Your Sex Life

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

Last week, I published 8 Ways Masturbating Improves Your Sex Life. In that post, I talked about how single and partnered folks alike use solo sex to connect with themselves and enjoy the physiological and psychological benefits of getting off.

For the vast majority of people, masturbation is a good thing; it’s a totally normal part of human sexuality.

Masturbation allows us to meet our sexual needs regardless of whether partners are available or desired. It’s also been proven to reduce stressimprove sleep, and relieve various sexual dysfunctions such as anorgasmia and premature ejaculation.

However, for some people, masturbation can become a worrying behavior. When self-stimulation starts to drastically affect your day-to-day life and relationships in negative ways, it’s helpful to know when it’s time to seek help.

Do you or someone you know have a masturbation problem? Let’s go over some common questions I get on the topic to figure that out.

How much is too much masturbation?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

I get this question a lot. In truth, however, there’s no universal frequency that counts as masturbating ‘too often’. Every person is unique, and their personal needs and other life factors have to be taken into account.

I like to think of our need for sexual release as being a lot like our need for sleep. Some of us need more of it, and some of us need less of it. Some of us sacrifice sleep for special events or occasions. Conversely, we often need more sleep when life is more stressful, busy, or tiring.

Much like sleep, every person has a unique level of need for the sexual release masturbation brings.

Someone may need more or less sexual release than other people they know. They may be willing to forgo it under certain circumstances. Alternately, they might amp up their masturbation habits if conditions call for it.

All of this is totally normal, and we really can’t quantify how much is ‘too much’ for any given person.

That said, there are some signs that someone’s masturbation habits may be interfering with their ability to live a happy, sexually fulfilled life. For many who ask about this, porn inevitably enters the conversation.

Am I addicted to porn?

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV

Understandably, lots of literature on sex addiction and porn addiction exist around the topic of compulsive masturbation.

Thousands, if not millions of people have wondered whether their porn-watching habits qualify as unhealthy, feeding a robust sex and porn addiction self-help industry.

It’s important to keep in mind that while it is possible to develop masturbation or porn-watching habits that cause concern, cases where this is a problem worthy of an addiction specialist are very rare.

In fact, sex addiction and porn addiction do not even appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This is the manual used by psychiatrists and psychologists to determine whether a patient’s condition warrants a mental disorder diagnosis.

So why do I FEEL addicted to porn?

Sex and porn do release exciting chemicals in the brain, and we can certainly fall into behavior patterns that look like addiction while seeking the rush those chemicals bring.

However, we aren’t dependent on those chemicals in the way that those suffering from addiction are dependent on the drugs they introduce into their bodies.

The desire to seek those sensations is strong. But because sexual release is a totally natural part of human sexuality, it’s normal to seek them.

You’re not abnormal if you want to watch porn and/or masturbate. In fact, wanting those things makes you a totally typical human being.

If you’re worried that your desires are crossing important boundaries, it can help to look at some of the common issues experts see in people suffering from compulsive masturbation.

Possible signs of a masturbation compulsion:

Photo by cottonbro

Many people who identify as compulsive masturbators describe obsessive masturbation habits that interfere with their relationships and life.

Without any hard, evidence-backed research to support the existence of sex addiction or porn addiction, they’ve banded together to create their own resources.

If you think masturbation is interfering with your ability to live a happy, sexually fulfilled life, here are some signs of compulsive masturbation shared on multiple sites to compare your situation with:

  • You’re late to meetings, cancel events, or leave social appointments early to masturbate
  • You masturbate in public or in uncomfortable places because you can’t wait to get home
  • You masturbate even when you don’t feel aroused, sexual, or “horny”
  • When you feel negative emotions — such as anger, anxiety, stress, or sadness — your go-to response is to masturbate for comfort
  • You find it difficult to stop thinking about masturbation

A caveat about this list:

Full disclosure: I’ve removed some items from this list for being too vague (i.e. ‘Masturbating takes up a lot of your time and energy.’ — What is ‘a lot’?).

I also removed ones that even people with perfectly normal masturbation habits experience (‘You feel guilty, distressed, or upset after masturbating.’ — In our sex-negative society, lots of people feel these things after sexual release because we’ve been taught to).

Feel free to check out the original source of the list here, but keep in mind that the source is a health-branded media company that does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Items I would add:

In my work as a sex coach, I’ve talked with clients who are concerned about their masturbation and porn-watching habits.

Some of the reasons they come to me include that they’re:

  • unable to reach orgasm with a partner, even though they do so just fine while masturbating.
  • watching porn while having sex because it’s the only way they can orgasm.
  • having trouble getting or maintaining an erection, and a doctor has ruled out medical issues.
  • escalating the intensity of the porn they watch, and worry they’re becoming sexually desensitized.
  • desiring public masturbation that forces others to see what they’re doing without consent.
  • going into debt paying for pornography, virtual interactions with sex workers, or in-person interactions with sex workers.

Help! This sounds like me!

If you’re experiencing some of the things on these lists, don’t panic. Most people who decide they want to make a change in their masturbation habits are able to do so with a little goal-setting and habit tracking.

Talk to someone you trust about your plans to change your masturbation habits and have them hold you accountable. Set reasonable goals that don’t entirely take masturbation off the table.

If you prefer to work with someone you don’t know, or feel that will lead to better accountability, consider hiring a sex coach.

Much like trying to set a new sleep pattern when your work or home schedule changes, you can set a new masturbation pattern that allows you to live stress-free and have the sex you want.

The science behind sex addiction

Photo by ThisIsEngineering

Though many sex addiction and porn addiction support groups and recovery programs exist, there simply isn’t any actual scientific support for them. In fact, the evidence suggests they’re mostly just organizations founded by people carrying a lot of sexual shame.

A 2020 research paper on abstinence from masturbation and hypersexuality found that:

…motivation for abstinence was mostly associated with attitudinal correlates, specifically the perception of masturbation as unhealthy. While there were associations with hypersexuality, no significant correlation with behavioral markers such as maximum number of orgasms was found. Higher abstinence motivation was related to a higher perceived impact of masturbation, conservatism, and religiosity and to lower trust in science.

In summary: People who want to cut back on masturbation are typically just people who have conservative views on sex. They’re not even ‘more sexual’ than anyone else — they just think masturbation is bad.

And they don’t trust science.

So if you’ve got masturbation concerns and you trust science, breathe easy. You can change your habits if they are getting in the way of the sex life you want. If you need a little help, people like me are here for you.


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Published by Shannon Burton

Sex educator and writer by day, poet and flash fiction author by night, I occasionally manage to get out of the house to enjoy New Orleans as it's meant to be.

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