The Right Masturbation Advice

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No guilt, no problem?

Risks of addictionRecently a young man showed up on my site's forum asking questions about masturbation. The same day, I read that a region of Spain is publicly promoting masturbation to kids with a "Pleasure is in your own hands" campaign. Not long ago, Britain's National Health Service came up with a similar campaign sloganned, "an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away." Although well intentioned, are such efforts sound?

The fact is, orgasmic pleasure isn't in our hands. It's largely in our brains—the result of neurochemical bursts. Without them, orgasm would be no more memorable than burping. This has important implications for arriving at the ideal masturbation advice. In a past post, I related what men have been sharing about how decreasing masturbation frequency can unexpectedly boost confidence, social skills, and even loving feelings. In this post, I'll consider why heavy, shame-free masturbation is potentially as much of a ticking bomb as shame-laden masturbation.

Due to the way it affects our brains, masturbation entails two risks that are easily overlooked.

1. Escalation Pitfall

Although masturbation is natural, it is also natural for the search for orgasm to escalate fairly easily. This is especially true if the stimulation associated with it is very frequent or intense. Examples of uncommon intensity might be masturbation accompanied by threats or the belief that one is "going to hell," or masturbation to today's extreme Internet porn. In contrast, normal intensity would be a child discovering masturbation around puberty without an artificial emotional charge. (This is not to say that masturbation can never become compulsive via innocent self-discovery—but it's unlikely.)

Orgasm can produce not just a drug-like high, but also a neurochemical recovery period as the brain returns to homeostasis. The more powerful the blast of neurochemical excitement during orgasm, the lower the lows as the brain recovers. In some of us recovery may take the form of more intense cravings due to a numbed pleasure response in the brain, (mild or severe) lethargy, depression, anxiety or, in the sexually repressed, remorse (due to projection of distress onto a harsh deity). The result is often a desire to self-medicate with more masturbation. Many don't perceive the escalation tendency until they are free from orgasm for a period and then return to it.

Today, "the more you do it the more you want it" is generally mistaken for healthy libido. Yet it's probably more akin to comfort eating. Labeling it as healthy simply because it's natural averts investigation of its consequences. We warn parents and kids of the risks of compulsive junk food consumption or compulsive video gaming—but we're unwilling to suggest moderation in masturbation, even though the same primitive brain mechanism fuels all compulsions.

It's simpler to tell kids to eat their veggies than explain that masturbation can relieve sexual tension in the immediate term—yet make subsequent sexual frustration worse. Perhaps more family discussions should revolve around the brain's delicate reward circuitry and how it can bleep misleading "yes" signals. Remember those rats that were wired so they could press a lever to stimulate the reward circuitry (much as an orgasm does)? They hit the lever until they dropped.

Freud pupil, Rudolf von Urban (Sex Perfection and Marriage) advises that if kids are made aware the "escalation snag" (and never shamed about sexuality), they will work out the challenge of finding the ideal amount of masturbation for themselves. After all, we humans possess more gears than "fifth" and "neutral" when it comes to sexual activity. Kids can flex their self-discipline muscles to come up with a masturbation interval that doesn't escalate, or let wet dreams run their course, or get more vigorous exercise, or find a sweetheart. (Holding hands, adoring someone, and hanging out together are very soothing for pair-bonder brains like ours, even when intercourse isn't an option.)

However, without information about how sexual frustration can escalate when one tries to exhaust it each time it arises, kids can be thrown onto a treadmill without controls. If they do slip into compulsion, they have no idea why it happened, how to restore balance, or what recovery will be like. In fact, they may not even know their behavior is compulsive, if frantic, frequent masturbation is the norm among their friends. If you are eating Twinkies and chips every meal because your friends are too, you might not think to ask why your cravings for sugar and fat are so intense.

This is not a minor point. Heavy porn users who choose to cut back often experience intensely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. They don't understand that such symptoms are normal. They also don't know that it takes substantial time for the brain to reboot (restore equilibrium).

Surprisingly, even if they were not raised in sexually repressive homes and feel no shame about masturbating, some conclude that withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, emptiness, irritability, brain fog, headaches, intense cravings, and so forth are somehow the wages of sexual repression, rather than a predictable result of its opposite. Ignorance makes cutting back seem like a dangerous course, so escalation seems the only option.

2. Unwanted Learning

An orgasmic blast is a powerful learning experience because our genes want us to remember everything connected with making babies or even practicing.  Today, a kid on the web can vicariously participate in dozens of highly stimulating sex acts in one afternoon without even taxing his own, (previously) more limited, imagination. In contrast, our hunter-gatherer brain evolved when exciting sex with a novel partner was a rare genetic bonanza.

The more dopamine released in connection with stimulation the more value the brain assigns to the event(s), and the more deeply the brain wires the experience. Obviously, watching sex with goats doesn't necessarily merit being recorded as a valuable experience, but try telling your limbic brain that!

Child smokingThis same learning/wiring process can produce repercussions more tragic than goat flashbacks. For example, "forbidden" and "sinful" (that is, risky) sex jolt the brain with both dopamine ("gotta get it!") and adrenaline (fear). This is how sexual repression can infuse otherwise normal sexual activity with a memorable drug-like aura. To gain a sense of just how good "risky" can feel, read Why bathroom sex is hot, in which a man laments being out of the closet because he longs for that altered state.

Today's Internet porn can swiftly rewire the brain. Extreme porn produces a neurochemical wallop, particularly in young, plastic brains. Moreover, it's always novel. Research reveals that novelty-on-demand is exceedingly enticing—and habit forming. (It's also behind the lure of slot machines and all Internet addictions.) The upshot is that computer users around the world, who are masturbating to shocking (to them), ever-novel explicit sexual acts, are now experiencing the kind of neurochemical supranormal stimulation—and bumpy recovery period—that was formerly reserved for folks from sexually repressive households.

Most users are slow to make the connection between the highs and the lows. However, the problem of acute distress after intense sexual stimulation is attracting new attention. Hundreds of men have recorded debilitating symptoms after orgasm, using a detailed online form available at the Post Orgasmic Illness Syndrome (POIS) forum. (YOUTube video about POIS) They are disheartened and angered by dismissive health care professionals, who barely listen to their reports because textbook lore—inspired decades before today's flood of highly erotic stimuli—maintains that orgasm can never cause problems (except due to childhood repression). Since the POIS forum's inception a few years ago, this obscure web discussion has drawn half a million visitors. Its founder also mentioned that a common denominator of most of the sufferers is very frequent masturbation earlier in life. *

Comment from nofap

Throwing in the towel but hear me out (nsfw)

The success stories are true. Last night I had a woman in my bed, and I think it is in no small part due to this subreddit. Everybody should quit watching porn and try to masturbate less. But, and this is a big but, there is NO WAY I could do the ninety days. I know that now, after trying and constantly failing. Ninety days without porn, sure, probably did that already, how about this instead--no porn ever again for the rest of your life, makes more sense. But ninety days without masturbation? OK, if you have ED. If you are a really heavy porn user, wanking off twice a day, seven days a week. Quit cold turkey for ninety days, YES probably a good idea.

But if you're me--I'll tell you what happens after FIVE days.. I go around with a constant erection, feeling excessively tired because I have too little blood pumping in my brain and too much in my penis. I sit on the bus, hear a sexy voice on the seat behind me (just a voice!) and suddenly get so hard I can't go off at my stop, afraid someone would notice. My underpants get full with precum. My balls HURT. I think this is a great subreddit, but there is a problem. The ideal here--quitting for ninety days--is just not for everyone. As I said though, cutting down really improves you as a person. Everybody should quit porn completely and set boundaries for how often they can masturbate. (I think only every fourth day works best for me).

As Thomas Paine once observed,

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.

Masturbation itself is not wrong, but too shallow an understanding of how it can affect the brain may prove to be no small oversight. This error was understandable when we knew very little about how we wire our brains, when we believed shame was the only means of making masturbation a self-defeating obsession, and when supranormal sexual stimulation was not as ubiquitous—and therefore over-stimulation less commonplace (pre-Internet).

Today, however, "Masturbation is normal, so don't feel ashamed" may simply not be adequate information for kids seeking answers. Innocently acquired habits can get in the way of forming healthy relationships. Is it time to set aside our codified assumptions and reopen a discussion about masturbation education with an emphasis on the importance of balance?

_______________

* Quite apart from the issue of excessive stimulation causing debilitating neurochemical dysregulation, institutionalized ignorance causes misdiagnoses. One man's symptoms were exacerbated by a drug called Reglan, which had increased his prolactin levels to ten times normal, thus suppressing dopamine and making recovery after orgasm last for weeks. He had to uncover the problem himself. His very learned, otherwise competent, academic endocrinologist hadn't bothered researching his symptoms (beyond checking for tumors) because his patient's symptoms  "were no doubt just due to earlier sexual repression."


Comments

Hi Gary. First of all thank you so much for what you've been doing. I've fixed a lot of issues in my life since finding that Tedx talk. I intend to write about all that in a couple of months.

After all I've read, I understand that porn is simply useless. There is absolutely no harm in not watching porn and watching it may cause serious problems. It's pretty simple. I do understand that though "there are no definite guidelines regarding masturbation", it seems that there are clearly such things as too much masturbation and too much ejaculation. The thing is, a lot of guys in forums like reedit suggest that no masturbation at all is ideal (assuming porn is already out of the picture for good). I would like to know what your opinion is on this particular subject. I am excluding porn of the picture, so I'm talking about people who have no need to use porn(or even people who never used porn at all. I know the site's called yourbrainonporn.com, but since you have inevitably been learning about the effects of masturbation as well, I was hoping that you could say what you think would be better generally.

Would you just say that for now it's something that each guy much see how it works form them?

Is masturbating once every 15 days pretty much the same as not masturbating at all (except for those couple of hours following the masturbation session)?

Would you say that it is possible that not masturbating at all could be more beneficial than masturbating once in a while even for those that aren't having sex(the members from those tribes in Africa have sex frequently)?

Is it possible that not masturbating at all could have harmful effects?

Is there any safe amount of masturbation that avoids harmful effects of too much masturbation(excluding the obvious not masturbating at all)?

I understand that these questions might be a little irritating as there are probably no definite answers, but I had to ask. I haven't been masturbating during this rebooting process, but I've just been wondering if it's a good idea to aim to exclude masturbation from my life and if other men should to that as well (obviously, not as an unbendable rule that breaking means you're a loser or you're going to hell and all that).

Thank you very much again for what you've been doing.

After thinking about it for a while, I realized I already know the answers to most of those questions(thanks to this website). So I guess what I want to know is: Is there any reason to believe that not masturbating at all could be more beneficial than to masturbate occasionally(without porn), even if we're talking about men who aren't having sex?

As we say in rebooting basics (tab above) - we do not advocate abstinence as a lifestyle. I truly have no idea what the right answer is to "how often?".

Would you just say that for now it's something that each guy much see how it works for them?

yes

Is masturbating once every 15 days pretty much the same as not masturbating at all (except for those couple of hours following the masturbation session)?

no

Would you say that it is possible that not masturbating at all could be more beneficial than masturbating once in a while even for those that aren't having sex (the members from those tribes in Africa have sex frequently)?

I have no idea. We must take into account that the young men in these and other tribes may have married at 18 or so.

Is it possible that not masturbating at all could have harmful effects?

I tend to think no as I have examined most of the research reviews on prostate problems, and results are all over the place - including more ejaculation correlated with prostate dysfunction. But this is something to take into consideration, especially during the twenties.

Is there any safe amount of masturbation that avoids harmful effects of too much masturbation (excluding the obvious not masturbating at all)?

I don't look at this as safe and unsafe. One must experiment and see how they feel- as with everything in life.

I understand that these questions might be a little irritating as there are probably no definite answers, but I had to ask. I haven't been masturbating during this rebooting process, but I've just been wondering if it's a good idea to aim to exclude masturbation from my life and if other men should to that as well (obviously, not as an unbendable rule that breaking means you're a loser or you're going to hell and all that).

I understand that a lot of guys are trying to figure this out as they near the end of the reboot. Everyone will need to experiment and see what works for them

Thank you. In a couple of months I will try to write about my observations during this entire process.