We asked a doctor on your behalf. You can thank us, but please don’t shake our hand.
Dr. Elizabeth Waterman, an Addiction Psychologist at the Morningside Recovery Center in Newport Beach, CA, deals with people addicted to sex and masturbation on a regular basis. We asked her a few questions on the subject. Just, like, y’know…for a friend.
What are the warning signs that you’re addicted to masturbation?
The biggest signs are if it’s interfering with your relationships, with work, or even with school. If your partner is complaining that they feel neglected or rejected or lonely because you’re spending a lot of time taking care of yourself, then that can be a sign that there’s a problem. Or, if you’re always running late to work, say. Some people have such a huge addiction to it that they will do it at work.
Wait – that’s a no-no?
Yes, don’t do it! People will leave their desk and go to the bathroom. I know some females have reported doing it in the car, while driving.
That doesn’t sound very safe.
Right. So it can be a problem when it starts to interfere with your daily functioning.
Is there an answer to the age-old question, “How often is too often”?
No, there’s no answer. It really depends on the person’s lifestyle, and how much they can handle psychically. Also, it depends on what the partners both agree too: Some women and men are ok with each other taking care of it multiple times a day. Although I don’t know many that have the time to do that.
Who’s more likely to be addicted to masturbation, men or women?
I don’t know. I’m not going to say one way or the other, but I do see more men coming in and saying, “I just have this constant urge to masturbate”, or, “I have really strong sexual thoughts and really strong urges about it that interfere with my ability to focus on other things”. So I do see men coming in and saying that more often then women. But that does not mean that, that’s an accurate interpretation of the population.
Has anyone tried to do it in your office?
Well, not outwardly so. But there are cases - and I’m not the only one - where younger men or adolescents will start touching themselves inappropriately.
Really? During a therapy session?
Well, they won’t unzip their pants or anything, but they will put their hand in their pocket and start fiddling around.
How do you deal with that?
You can basically say, look, it’s a very normal thing to want to do and I’m not judging it at all, but in this office it is not appropriate, so keep your hands on your lap or knees or where I can see them.
Maybe they just misread the traditional act of being handed a box of tissues before the session starts.
Right! There have been some reports of clients who live with other individuals, who really don’t care about their partners and pleasure themselves on the couch, and other things like that. Discretion is not really an interest to people with this type of addiction.
So there are times when it goes beyond an addiction and becomes a disorder?
Yes, it can cross over into a paraphilia. That’s a sexual type of disorder where it’s an impulse control thing. So there’s exhibitionism and fetishism.
And that can lead to someone just going at it on the subway, say?
Yeah, that’s an extreme case.
How do you go about treating that?
You do a lot of assessment in the beginning to find out where the problems are, what the person sees as their difficulty, identifying how it has caused issues in their life and determining what their goals are. Most people don’t come in and say, “I want to cut it out completely”, so we have to teach them how to moderate the behavior. It’s kind of like with an eating disorder - you can’t take away food completely. But it’s treatable – very treatable.
Is there a physical cure?
Not unless you want to do some serious surgery!
So you don’t have a CPR dummy in the shape of Michael Douglas?
Do you think the term “sex addiction” has been abused by certain people who just can’t keep it in their pants?
Yes. I also think there is a real problem, though. It wasn’t added into the DSM5, which is the diagnostic statistical manual of mental disorders we use to diagnose any mental illness. However, we do treat it as a problem and it’s usually combined with other problems. It can be a real issue for some people, but I’ve also seen a lot of people use it as an excuse. “Well, I have a sex addiction.” Ok, well, go get treatment. That would not fly with me.
Would it be possible to wean a sex addict on to being a masturbation addict, and take it from there?
I have not tried that! But the problem is the rush of somebody else, you don’t get that alone – it’s that need for attention and connection. A lot of times, these individuals have sought out sex as a way to meet those needs. Masturbation addiction is more likely a way to reduce anxiety, seek comfort and be a way to cope with feelings of loneliness and sadness, too. We look at them basically as coping mechanisms that are less effective than other coping mechanisms – they’re less effective because they have greater negative consequences in the long run.
So what’s the first piece of advice you have for guys who think they may have a problem?
If they’re in a relationship, talk to your partner and check in. If your partner is ok with it and your partner isn’t complaining, then you might not have an issue, but if you start to feel really guilty about it, then try to talk to a mental health professional.
But keep your hands in plain sight, right?