“Addiction” – another word that requires a definition. For the sake of my layman clients, I define addiction as “a behavior (or set of behaviors) that involves a chemical reaction in the brain such that the individual reoccurringly behaves contrary his or her values system”. Some addictions are more obviously chemical, as with nicotine, heroin and meth. Other behaviors, like video gaming, are still under exploration. More research* has been done on pornography as an addiction than research on masturbation. Initially, pornography was thought of as just another form of quality entertainment. Researchers have observed chemical reactions in the brain (especially male brains) that are like unto chemical reactions observed in the brains of drug and alcohol addicts. It seems, with masturbation and other solo-sexual activities, there is a “switch” that can be flipped in the brain changing a “casual user” into an addict, as with alcohol.
Many people point out that they can use drugs, alcohol, pornography and masturbate without becoming addicted to it. There is no reason to debate against this because it is true. It has been observed that the number of drinks it takes for one person to become an alcoholic is different from the number of drinks it takes another person to become an alcoholic. Unfortunately, some people can become addicted to alcohol with their first drink. Even more unfortunate is the time, money and energy it takes to recover from the addiction. Also, there is no way, with current limitations in science, for us to predict how many drinks it will take before the “switch” is flipped and the individual is now an addict. These things are also true with drugs, pornography, and masturbation.
An individual can become a sex addict without being exposed to pornography. There are chemicals and brain waves that react when an individual is having a sexual experience. Although there is some overlap, the chemicals and brain waves associated with the sexual experience when one is with a partner with whom they have an attachment are different than when the sexual experience is auto-erotic. It has been observed that chemical reactions that parallel addiction are more likely to occur when an individual is having an auto-erotic experience than when having an intimate experience with another person. This auto-erotic experience can be masturbation or just using another person to “get off”. There are other, more deviant forms of auto-eroticism that I don’t need to address here.
As with other addictions, behaviors and paradigms start to formulate that support the addiction including lying, sneakiness, manipulating, withdraw from relationships and productive activities, etc. All of which are not something we would want our youth or our spouses to experience. All of which we would not want to live with.
In summary, I am not concerned about a young adolescent going through a stage of self discovery with masturbation. I am not concerned about a youth trying a cigarette, a drink of alcohol, a single hit on some drugs. The more a youth tinkers with cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, the more likely they are to become addicted. This is also true with masturbation (and pornography). I feel the great deal of pain for the time, money, effort, and emotional pain associated with recovering from an addiction
So, my shortest answer is…take as little risk as possible when it comes to addictive behaviors. There are many pleasurable, relaxing, distracting activities that one can engage in that are less addictive in nature. Activities that are less unhealthy.
Hope this answers the questions that have been posed. If you have more questions, please feel free to ask.
Maurice W. Harker, LPC
*You will note that I have made no effort to find exact references for this “scientific data”. With the internet and search engines, the curious explorer can find studies if they wish.