For most people with a penis, masturbation is a fun and healthy activity. But for some people, it can be a huge problem.
Have you been noticing that your masturbation habits have become more frequent than usual? Maybe you’ve recently become single, started a new gig working from home, or opted for more nights at home on the couch because you might have social anxiety. Whatever your motivation is for jerking off, know that there’s no reason to be ashamed of masturbating. It’s human nature to seek pleasure!
Unfortunately, masturbation doesn’t exactly have the best rep. Society has ingrained it into our minds that masturbation is only for teenage boys who just discovered porn—not grown men with sexual experience. (The truth: masturbation is for everyone!) So it makes sense that when you find yourself jerking off more often. You might start to worry that you’re masturbating too much.
Am I Masturbating Too Much?
Let’s make one thing clear off the bat: the days of being shamed out of masturbating are over! We’ve moved past the ridiculous notions that too much masturbation can cause memory loss or blindness. Science has found that pleasuring yourself is good for your health. Studies have shown that more frequent ejaculation can have a positive impact on your immune system, heart health, and mood.
There’s also no such thing as “normal” when it comes to how often you jerk off. According to a 2023 survey published in Springer Nature, 35.9% of men reported masturbating at least once a week over the past year. Very few studies have been done on what frequency looks like beyond that. “Some people masturbate more than others,” according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine. “There is no ‘normal’ frequency. Some do it daily, some weekly, and some rarely. Some never do.”
But, just like eating too much fibre can back you up, or spending too much time with a loved one can stir up a fight, excessive masturbation can be an issue—but only if it feels like one (i.e., it’s interfering with your everyday life).
“However often you masturbate, it’s not a problem until it starts affecting your life in negative ways,” says Dan Drake, MFT, LPCC, a certified sex addiction therapist and clinical counsellor.
Signs of Excessive Masturbation
When does a harmless masturbation habit turn into an issue? Here are the physical and psychological signs that you may need to give your boner a bit of a breather.
1) You Hurt Yourself
Some guys masturbate so often that they hurt themselves, says Tobias Köhler, M.D., a urologist at Southern Illinois University. These injuries could be mild (e.g., skin chafing) or a more serious condition like Peyronie’s disease, or scar tissue buildup in the shaft of your penis that can result from using too much pressure while stroking, Köhler explains.
This may sound obvious, but if you’re masturbating so often that you’re hurting yourself, you need to cut back, he warns.
2) Your Job Suffers
If you can’t complete a work task because you can’t stop thinking about masturbating, that’s when it becomes an issue. If you’re consistently watching porn at work or are you’re late to a meeting because you were masturbating in the bathroom, then you likely have a problem.
3) Your Friendships Suffer
Do you cancel on friends because you’d rather stay home and masturbate? Are they getting annoyed by your constant flakiness? Then your masturbation habits could potentially be an issue.
We want to be clear: There’s nothing wrong with reserving a night to get down with yourself. That’s all well and good, and in fact, feel free to mark that in the calendar now! The cause for concern is when your need to jerk off has a clear negative effect on your relationships.
4) Your Sex Life Suffers
Some guys who masturbate a lot use one specific type of stimuli—say, certain categories of porn coupled with specific hand movements. When it comes time for them to have sex, they find that they can’t recreate the same type of excitement, Dr. Köhler explains.
If you watch the same porn or use the same hand motions every time you masturbate. It teaches your brain and body to get off that way and that way alone. If you’re having sex with a real-life partner, this could cause serious problems, both in terms of keeping it up and getting erect in the first place. “If that happens, you have a problem that needs to be addressed,” says Köhler.
5) You Always Think About Masturbation
You wake up wanting to masturbate. At lunch, your mind wanders to your favourite porn scene. Your commute home is almost unbearable because you just want to sit on the couch with a beer and PornHub.
If any of this sounds familiar, and you often find yourself distracted by thoughts of when or how you’re going to yank it next, that’s a strong indication you have a problem, Drake says.
6) You Masturbate at Inappropriate Times, or in Inappropriate Places
When constantly thinking about masturbation turns into doing it in places you shouldn’t, it’s time to evaluate your relationship with self-pleasure. You might be losing control of your habits if you find yourself skipping work to jerk off (or doing it at work), sneaking away at family functions, or doing it in public. This kind of behaviour can interfere with your career and relationships and even get you arrested.
If you realize you have a masturbation problem, what should you do about it?
“There’s nothing unhealthy or problematic with masturbating,” Drake says. “But if it becomes detrimental to your life, then you need to treat it like you would any other harmful habit.” That means doing one of two things: a) cutting yourself off cold turkey, at least for the time being; and b) adopting more of a “harm reduction” approach by setting limits for yourself—for example, making a rule to only masturbate at night.
Considering you probably don’t want to give up solo orgasms for the rest of your life—masturbation is, after all, an integral part of any healthy sex life—you’ll probably want to opt for the latter approach. Set rules for yourself and see if you can adhere to them. If you can’t, and you find yourself slipping back into harmful old habits. Consider seeing a therapist, as there might be a deeper psychological issue at play.
Bottom line? Indulging in a little self-love now and then is fine. It’s only when it gets in the way of your actual life—or your actual sex life—that it becomes a problem. But if it’s not negatively interfering with anything, then go ahead and masturbate to your heart’s content!
Article originally appeared on menshealth.com