What is the difference between normal, healthy masturbation practices and an addiction to it? Part II

What is the difference between normal, healthy masturbation practices and an addiction to it? Part II
Now let’s discuss the word, “healthy”. By definition, “healthy” could be defined as, “behaviors that improve the condition of one’s body, emotions, cognitions, life, and/or overall psychological sense of well being”. Researchers have yet to find conclusive evidence that those who masturbate are more “healthy” than those who do not. I do not think that a young man or young woman who, early in their experience of puberty go through a stage of self discovery, are experiencing something that is unhealthy. It becomes unhealthy only when it starts to intrude upon healthy life development and/or becomes addictive. The idea that masturbation can becoming an addiction will be discussed in Part III. Healthy life development will be discussed here next.

An important and healthy part of adolescent/life development is the acquisition of what some call “self-efficacy”. This is the sensation of, “I have some control over what happens in my life.” An important part of self confidence in adult life is the sense that one has the ability to accomplish things that matter. It has been observed that those who feel a sense of control over their own mind and body go on to having a stronger sense of control/influence over situations in their environment. In contrast, those who feel out of control, or feel controlled by external factors (external locus of control), are less likely to have confidence that they can accomplish things that matter in the adult world.

Much of the developmental experience involves this acquisition of “ability to control/influence things”. In sports, controlling one’s body so it will execute complex movements to accomplish specific goals. Musicians working to control their fingers and wind. Scientific types who work with chemicals and elements. Students controlling their time and their study skills. Skateboarders working to get the board to do what they want. Adjusting appearance and interaction skills in order to experience drawing the attention of potential mates. Almost the entire developmental experience is about self-mastery. And those with greater self mastery tend to go on to have greater confidence to make change in the adult world. And those who are successfully making meaningful changes in the adult world tend to feel more life satisfaction and less depression. If an individual does not learn how to master/control their own sexuality, then it will eventually increase their depression and decrease the confidence they otherwise would have had in their ability to make a difference in the world. This could be seen by most people as unhealthy.

Psycho-social healthy: Whether you are Mormon or not, whether you are religious or not, it has been reported by those who are willing to tell the truth, that commonly, the feelings one gets after a solo-sexual experience are quite empty. They say something like, “That would have been a whole lot better if it was with someone I cared about.” The loneliness that follows often accentuates any depression that might have initiated the masturbation experience in the first place. So, if you mix loneliness with the depression described above, you have an individual who is even less healthy.

Sociology: If you want to get Darwinian about this topic, imagine a world where both men and women lost the cravings to engage in sexual activities with the opposite sex because they “get their needs met” by themselves. It would take less than 100 years for the human species to die off if people became comfortable and satisfied with self-sexualization. This could be classified as unhealthy.

Marital strain: I have worked with married couples both in and out of the Mormon Church. For example, I worked with one, not Mormon couple who, while dating, the wife had no problem with her future husband viewing pornography and masturbating. They were guiltlessly sexually active before they married. Although the wife tried to maintain an “open mind”, over time, after the wedding, the time her husband put into pornography and masturbation started to cause her to feel neglected and inadequate. She felt that he was having an experience that was meant to be done together alone. This caused a strain in the marriage. It strained the marriage even more when his cravings started to cause him to behave similar to a drug addict or alcoholic.  Such behaviors include deceitfulness, lying, hiding expenditures, withdrawing emotionally.

In a culture where close marriages are promoted from childhood, anything that causes one to participate in activities that were intended to be done together, strains the marriage. Those who plan to stop masturbating once they are married and can have the “real thing” are often surprised that the activity continues. I have interviewed young brides who were hoping to “be everything” for their new husbands, only to find him masturbating by himself without her. The man is shocked to discover that he cannot be satisfied by his wife because he has become an addict. I am confident that this is not healthy for either the husband or the wife.

In closing, I do not promote the guilt based discouragement of excessive masturbation because it is classified as “bad” by any specific religion or culture (including my own).  I think that youth should be taught that sexual behaviors can become addictive just as much as alcohol and drugs can become addictive.  They should be taught that you never know which drink, drug, or sexual experience will turn you into an addict. (In my next post, I will discuss how solo-sexual experiences are much more likely to create an addiction than sexual experiences with a commited partner.)

Also, I do not feel that youth should be taught that sexuality is “bad”.  Having an accurate understanding of sexuality and the role it plays in a complete life experience is healthy.  I teach the younger youth (10-14 year olds) that sex energy (drive) is like fire.  Is fire good or bad?  The usual answer is, “Depends”.  If the fire is in a motor or a fireplace, it does good things for us. If it is burning down a house, or burning a person, it is not good.  This is true also of sexuality and sex energy. Sexual behavior and sex energy can be very powerful toward good, if controlled, but if out of control, it can cause many problems including but not limited to sexually transmitted diseases, marital distrust, etc.

So, is drinking an occassional glass of alcohol healthy?  Is an occassional experience with masturbation healthy?  How much alcohol do you want your under 20 year old to drink?

Feel free to ask questions or make comments.


About Maurice W. Harker, LPC

Director of Life Changing Services, Director of Sons of Helaman, Facilitator of the WORTH group, Consultant for the Daughters of Light program.