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Is Masturbation a Healthy Outlet?

Candeo Co-Founder, Mark Kastleman

Masturbation can be a very controversial topic–one that is continually debated in psychology circles and religious settings. And a struggle that many of our Candeo Students have in common. First of all, it is not my role to declare specific moral boundaries on this issue. That is something very personal for you to determine. I want to focus on the brain science of masturbation. I will share knowledge and understanding I have gained on this topic over the years, from my own personal experience and research, from many recovering addicts, and from brilliant professionals in the fields of psychology and neuro-science. Now I know there are many of you who are looking for some very specific, iron-clad answers to your questions. Things like:

  • Is masturbation ever OK?
  • How many times a week can I masturbate before it becomes an addiction?
  • What are the risks of masturbating?
  • How do I know if I am addicted to masturbation?
  • Masturbation helps me get to sleep, if I don’t masturbate how do I get to sleep?
  • If I can’t masturbate are you saying I can’t have ANY sort of release.
  • Can masturbating while fantasizing about my partner be a healthy alternative to pornography?

While I will give direct answers to many of these questions, some of them are very personal and can only be answered by you. I’ll give you some insights, ask you to consider the issue from different vantage points, and present some questions you can ponder on. At the end of the day, you’ll have to search inside yourself for what is right for you–what will keep you progressing on the recovery path, and what will set you back or keep you stuck.

To get started, let’s take a look at the science and physiology of masturbation–what effect does it have on the brain and the rest of the nervous system? To answer this question, let’s talk about the “Funnel of Sexual Process.”

We enter this funnel whenever we pursue a desire or intent to engage in sex. You know you are beginning the process of entering the funnel whenever you feel sexually aroused. As you enter the funnel, your brain begins releasing powerful neurochemicals. Each of these chemicals triggers certain responses in the brain and body–attention becomes increasingly focused and narrowed. Feelings of pleasure build. Energy and stamina increase. A bonding effect takes place. Memory capacity is heightened as the brain captures every detail of whatever the individual is narrowly focused on while in the funnel. And the entire funnel process has one final destination as its goal–sexual climax.

When considered within the bounds of a long-term committed relationship, the Funnel of Sexual Process makes perfect sense. But what about the funnel and masturbation? Whenever we engage in masturbation coupled with sexual fantasy, we most definitely enter into the funnel. And from a neurochemical standpoint, your brain doesn’t distinguish between the physical world and the fantasy world. When you fantasize and masturbate, your brain believes you are having a real sexual encounter, and achieving climax in that encounter. The neurochemicals released during sex with a partner, are also released when you masturbate, or we might say, “When you have sex with yourself.” These chemicals have a powerful effect on a relationship. They also have a powerful effect on an individual who has sex alone. The difference is, instead of bonding him or her to a partner, these neurochemicals can bond and addict him or her to this isolated, solitary practice.

Because masturbation narrowly focuses on one singular end result–climax–it has huge potential for addiction. Why? My dear friend and mentor, neuroscientist Dr. Page Bailey, taught me some amazing lessons about this process. He said, “Mark, orgasm is one of the most powerful physiological experiences the human body can have. Be very selective in what you think and do that leads you to this climax, because it will be reinforced in your brain at the highest level imaginable.”

For example, this is why pornography addiction is so challenging to overcome–because it has been used over and over again to achieve orgasm–and the brain and body link porn to that incredibly intense, peak experience–whether that pornography is on the computer screen, magazine page, or in your mind, the brain has learned that “Porn=Climax.” This is why we focus on helping our Students break this association by linking pornography to its real consequences–or what we call, “Playing the movie to the bitter end”–what happens after climax when all of the consequences set in.

So, here’s a quick recap on the brain science–masturbation and fantasy throw you into the funnel and the release all of the neurochemicals experienced in a real sexual encounter. Whatever you are thinking or doing while masturbating will be reinforced in your brain and build powerful habits and eventually, addiction.

So, is masturbation good or bad, right or wrong? Let me ask you a few questions and allow you the opportunity to make your own determination:

  • When you masturbate, does it move you farther along the recovery path, or set you back?
  • Each time you masturbate, do you feel like you’re increasing your ability to take it or leave it, or are you becoming more dependent?
  • Do you feel better about yourself and your life after you masturbate, or worse?
  • Do you feel more connected to people while you masturbate or more alone and isolated?
  • Does masturbating cause you to objectify yourself and others by focusing solely on the body, or does it help you fully and holistically appreciate yourself and others?
  • If you are in a committed relationship, does masturbation bring you closer to your partner, or create a disconnection?

These may seem like obvious questions, but this is a really important process of honest examination and reflection that you need to go through to determine your attitude and desires about masturbation.