The Teen Doctor

Answers to your questions about adolescents

I Don't Know if My Teenage Son's Masturbating Is a Problem

Is my teen son masturbating excessively?

Dear Dr.G.,

Thank goodness that I can write to you anonymously about my teenage son and his masturbation habits. These topics are certainly not easy for me to either talk or write about. I would love to compare notes with my friends who have teenage sons but I am scared to death that this information will leak to their sons and my son will end up getting teased. I would never want that to happen. I treat my relationships with my kids with much respect and care.

So, having said that, here is my issue.I am the mother of a 15-year-old teenager and a 10-year-old boy. The boys have separate bedrooms. Recently,I have become aware that my teenage son has been masturbating several times per week. I am basing this on physical evidence--the status of his bedding, sheets, etc. You get the picture. I don't know what the "normal" frequency is. I'm not sure if I should address this as a problem or not. My husband dismmisses this issue. He says that this behavior is perfectly normal and I quote--that I should "leave a box of tissues in the kid's room and leave him alone." He says that I should be happy that my son is a happy and healthy kid who is interested in his sexuality.

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Dr. G., I don't want to make any mistakes here. My son is a good kid. His grades are fine and he has nice friends. I do not want to give you the impression that he runs to his bed at every possible opportunity. In fact, he doesn't spend much time in his room at all. His after-school time is mostly spent playing sports. He is a very athletic young man.

So, what do you think? Does my son have a problem that requires some type of treatment? I certainly don't want to raise a sex addict. Please help.

A Scared Mom

Dear Scared Mom,

First, I would like to commend you on a number of things. You respect your son's feelings and your relationship with him. That is excellent. You make it clear that your son's behavior in other areas of his life has not changed. That is very helpful information. I also agree that discussing this issue with a friend who may be even the slightest bit careless could certainly be a major misstep. Finally, talking with your husband and getting his input was also an excellent idea.

My advice provides guidelines only. The rules of masturbation and teenage boys have never been clearly established. Here is my attempt at it.

1. If your son is involved in all areas of his life and is not focusing exclusively on porn and masturbation then it is unlikely that he is developing a sex addiction.

2. If he seems comfortable with himself and is not showing signs of avoidance, confusion, and shame then I would guess that he is probably not experiencing these feelings to any problematic extent.

3. My suggestion is NOT to introduce shame to this equation. I believe that there is no need, in your particular case, to address your son's behavior directly.

4. Although, your husband may have seemed dismissive--his idea about leaving a box of tissues in your son's room is actually not a bad idea. It may indirectly send the message that you are aware of your son's behavior and that you are responding to it in a casual and relaxed manner.

5. As a mother, you may have some discomfort with your son's developing sexuality. This is to be expected.

It sounds to me like you are a thoughtful and well-intentioned mother. Keep up the good work.

Dr. G.

Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and their well-intentioned but exhausted parents.

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