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Tips on How to Stop Masturbating Do More Harm Than Good. Do This Instead.

If masturbating makes you feel bad, you need to make a change. That change shouldn’t be cutting yourself off from masturbation and porn.

Masturbation is natural and healthy, even when you do it to porn. But can masturbation and porn turn into a problem? “Absolutely,” says Nicole Prause, Ph.D, a neuroscientist who researches sexual behavior. When masturbation becomes problematic, however, is entirely subjective. As a general rule, the only masturbation habits that are unhealthy are the ones that make you feel bad — and interfere with the parts of your life that give you meaning. If that sounds like you, you may be looking for an answer to how to stop masturbating. But abstaining from masturbation may do more harm than good, Prause says. This is how you can develop a healthier relationship with masturbation and porn.

Masturbation Myths

Although the phrases “porn addiction” and “masturbation addiction” get bandied around, experts tend to agree that these conditions just don’t exist.

Brain scans back them up. A study conducted at the University of California Los Angeles used EEG testing to visualize the brain activity of 122 people as they viewed porn. Rather than showing spikes in activity typical of people exposed to an addicting stimulus, the participants actually showed lower brain activity.

And some of the “problems” people cite as reasons to quit masturbating may not actually be problems, in and of themselves. For instance, people often report that their porn habits have desensitized them to sex, or they need more and more extreme content to achieve the same level of arousal. “When we try to find evidence of that, we can’t,” Prause says. 

To test the assumption that porn makes people less responsive to sexual stimuli, Croatian researchers tracked the porn-viewing habits of 248 teenage boys over two years. Over that time period, the boys’ consumption of violent or coercive content actually decreased. Contrary to common beliefs, the boys continued to seek out, and presumably remained aroused by, less extreme, more “vanilla” content. And men who seek out porn tend to be more reactive to sexual stimuli than men who don’t seek it out, suggesting that they simply have a higher sex drive, Prause says. 

When Masturbation Becomes Problematic

Masturbation becomes a problem when it starts to interfere with your values in life, Prause says. For example: You value your sexual connection with your partner, but you’re masturbating so much that every time they initiate sex, you can’t achieve an erection. Or perhaps you’re masturbating to avoid difficult emotions or conflict with your partner. 

Other times, people are simply distressed by their masturbation habits. “They think it’s a problem because of what it says about who they are,” Prause says. They believe it makes them immoral, or unfaithful to their partner. Their viewing habits themselves aren’t the problem, Prause says. But she would consider this type of porn consumption problematic because of its negative impact on the mental health of the individual.

Still, abstinence is not the solution to a masturbation problem, Prause cautions. She considers an abstinence model worse than problematic porn consumption itself. That’s because when people relapse, it leaves them feeling even worse, she says.

Here’s What Does Work to Solve Masturbation Problems

Fortunately, there are ways to develop a healthier relationship to porn and masturbation. Prause recommends developing strategies that help you regain valued aspects of your life without cutting down on masturbating or porn use.

One style of therapy, called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), does exactly that. ACT begins by helping people determine their values in life, then asks them to commit to actions that will help them move towards those values. Next, ACT coaches people to accept rather than struggle with their inner emotions or, in the case of problematic porn use, their masturbation habits.

Here’s an example of how ACT might work: Let’s say your porn consumption is making it difficult to achieve an erection during sex. (Which, by the way, is not because porn broke your penis — but you might experience a long refractory period after you masturbate, in which it becomes difficult to become aroused.) Your partner feels neglected because of this. With an ACT model, “I would focus on not reducing masturbation, but helping them communicate,” Prause says. Perhaps your partner might start communicating ahead of time when they might be interested in having sex, and you masturbate less on those days. Or perhaps you wait until later in the day to masturbate, when your partner is more likely to have already come on to you. 

Ironically, research shows that ACT does lead to a reduction in porn viewing. In a 2010 pilot study, six men participated in eight sessions of ACT. By the end, they were spending 85 percent less time watching porn. Studies published since have found similar results. But the key part of ACT is that reducing masturbation isn’t the goal — for some people, it just happens to be a side effect. 

“It’s not that you stop masturbating,” Prause says. “You just find a way to balance it.”