Masturbation or "Master"-bation
Who controls Who?
Posted Dec 03, 2015
"Lust is the ape that gibbers in our loins. Tame him as we will by day, he rages all the wilder in our dreams by night. Just when we think we're safe from him, he raises up his ugly head and smirks, and there's no river in the world flows cold and strong enough to strike him down. Almighty God, why dost thou deck men out with such a loathsome toy?"
—Frederick Buechner, American writer and theologian
In sex addiction circles, clients eventually come face-to-face with the question of how their sex addiction is tied to masturbation. In some cases, it’s more definitive for the addict to stay away from masturbation altogether as he (women are also included for sexual addiction but for brevity, I’m choosing to keep the gender consistently male in my writing) knows it’s not healthy and leads back into the addictive cycle and mindset.
There are men where the masturbation frequency is so compulsive it leads to physical symptoms of bleeding, cuts, or other injuries. The masturbation can occur up to ten or fifteen times throughout the day as a means to relieve stress or ward off uncomfortable feelings of anxiety, depression, hurt, or emotional pain and so it's obvious to them and everyone else around that this is too compulsive.
But in the majority of cases, it’s not as clear-cut if the addict should end the masturbation. Oftentimes, a sex addict will start off with a problem such as going to strip clubs or having sex via one-night stands or prostitutes with no previous masturbation issues. During his “sobriety” period as he tries to avoid physical sex with others, the sexual energy is then transferred to other outlets such as masturbation with or without the use of pornography.
During this phase, he could be “sober” from sex with others but find himself increasing his masturbation from a few times a week to daily masturbation or multiple, daily masturbation episodes.
At this point, it’s critical to challenge the addict to look at his masturbation and question if it hasn’t turned into “master”bation where it literally controls him.
It’s confusing because in sex addiction recovery circles, the permissibility of masturbation is not consistent. In twelve step groups like SA Groups (Sexaholics Anonymous), it’s unequivocally stated that masturbation is off-limits and if you masturbate, it’s considered a breach of your sobriety.
In SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) on the other hand, masturbation can range from a healthy move to a behavior that needs to be monitored, or also an action that must be banned depending on the circumstances and motivations behind it.
In my own work with addicts, I don’t have a no-masturbation policy because it’s too restricting and doesn’t allow me the freedom to delve into the motivations behind it. If a guy is masturbating, is it done in an effort to bond with his spouse (i.e. he’s away on business and finds this a method of connecting with her)? Is it done as an isolating behavior to avoid his wife? Is he fantasizing about others (clearly unhealthy for my clients)? Is it being done for non-sexual reasons (i.e. boredom, fear, anger, loneliness, sadness, etc.) All of this information is useful clinically so in the recovery phase, I make a point to ask and monitor his masturbation.
Masturbation conditions our bodies to respond to self-stimulation, which is self-centered. This damages our ability to relate to another person sexually. Sex is a relational experience, where we give attention to another person's needs at least as much as to our own. If we've been serving our own desires habitually, we may find it difficult to give our partner the attention she desires.
Additionally, the hormones released in the brain during sexual arousal cause a bonding to whatever we are looking at and/or thinking about at the time. This can cause us to be more sexually responsive to masturbation (and its associated fantasies) than to real sex.
Compulsive masturbation with or without pornography and compulsive viewing of porn with or without masturbation both present long-standing problems for many cybersex addicts. Whether it is through cybersex, phone sex lines, videos, porn magazines, or simply through fantasy, sex addicts can lose hours daily to the isolating activities of fantasy and masturbation. Loss of control, continuation despite negative life consequences, and preoccupation or obsession with the activity, are the characteristics of any addiction.
In the end, some choose to stop this behavior knowing their experience has shown them time and time again, it’s too addictive. Others realize for themselves, it can be a healthy way of bonding with their partners.
So that's the clinical perspective, what about from another perspective? Should those in recovery from sex addiction masturbate? For myself as a Christian therapist, I’d like to see masturbation as an action that needs to be repented of if it’s done in the context that doesn’t honor the person’s spouse. I use the word honor because there are times clients may either masturbate or have sex with their spouse while still “acting out”. Times like these include anger or aggression or fantasizing about other women while having sex with their spouse. In these instances, it’s clear to me this is not God’s intention for healthy sexuality.
So what is God’s intention for masturbation? I believe masturbation should be done within the framework of a relationship. This means either with the partner there or when she’s absent; in either case it's done when the intent to draw closer to each other. Masturbation to fantasy of other people or past experiences (known as “euphoric recall”) is simply not God’s example of love for humanity. I’d call it “sin” but the word sometimes is so shaming for Christian addicts in early recovery that I may choose instead to describe it as “unhealthy”.
So for Christian addicts struggling with masturbation it all comes down to one of control and mastery. This is where the addict needs to truly ask himself if masturbation has turned into "master"bation where his behavior is one that he is enslaved to.