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Should Recovering Sex Addicts Masturbate? Here’s the Formula

Sex addicts can be addicted to one or more of a wide variety of “acting out” addictive sexual behaviors, and there is no one behavior that is addictive for all sex addicts.

Recovering sex addicts decide what behaviors are addictive for them (their “inner circle” or “bottom line” behaviors).  As recovery proceeds, addicts sometimes change their definition of addictive behaviors.

So when is masturbation a bad idea for a recovering sex addict?

  • In the beginning of the recovery/treatment process.  Most sex addiction counselors and 12-step sex addiction programs suggest total abstinence from all sexual activity during the initial period (6 months to a year depending).  Later on, the addict will consider what behaviors can be seen as harmless or unrelated to their addiction.
  • When masturbation is compulsive.  If masturbation is excessive, done many times a day and used as a drug to self soothe, then it is itself an addiction that can have harmful consequences.
  • When masturbation is done simultaneously with another sexual acting out behavior.  For example, when a voyeur masturbates while peeking in windows, or when a pornography addict masturbates while watching internet porn.
  • When masturbation is done to fantasies of another acting out sexual behavior.  For example when the recollection, sometimes called “euphoric recall,” of another behavior such as exposing oneself in public or having anonymous sex, is used later as a masturbation fantasy.
  • When masturbation stands in the way of a desired sexual relationship with another person.  Meaning the recovering addict prefers fantasy to reality and uses the sexual release of masturbation as part of their avoidance of relationship.

You will notice an underlying theme here: Masturbation is problematic when it is part of the sex addiction picture, but especially when it is integral to the addictive fantasy scenario, the “arousal template,” and when it is used as a drug to avoid pain or fear surrounding intimacy.

Judgmental attitudes about masturbation

Some people believe that sexual acts are only healthy when done in a “relational context,” i.e. with another person with whom you are intimately connected.  So for them, masturbation is by definition unhealthy.

These arguments, some of them religious, may rely on ideas about the “purpose” of sex and so on.  But masturbation can be seen as “relational” in that it can be in the context of a relationship with yourself that could be either beneficial or problematic.

Some would argue that sex done without a “purpose” is just for pleasure and leads to all kinds of bad consequences.  But right or wrong, having sex or masturbating purely for pleasure is not what causes people to become addicted too sex.  Sex addicts tend to avoid relationship and compartmentalize their sexual life.  But this is a symptom of their addiction, and not a result of their indulging in meaningless sex.

Is masturbation sometimes a good idea for sex addicts?

There are situations in which sex addiction counselors and sex therapists suggest masturbation as a tool for recovery.  In this case, masturbation can be seen as a way for the addict to explore feelings around sex, to overcome avoidance of sex in certain contexts, and potentially to deliberately change the masturbation fantasies that the addict uses.

In the latter instance, the addict would be using new masturbation fantasies to deliberately push his or her “arousal template” in the direction of arousal to healthier images.

These ways of using masturbation should be approached carefully.  Masturbation for a sex addict will gradually lose its power in recovery, but for some addicts it may trigger addictive fantasies which can pave the way for a relapse into other behaviors.

Masturbation is often the first addictive behavior of sex addicts, beginning in childhood as a self-soothing mechanism.  For children growing up without adequate nurturing or in stressful situations, masturbation is the only drug available to them.  In this sense it serves them well and allows them to survive.  But later this pattern of using sex as a drug can become an addiction and therefore a “survival skill that no longer serves.”

Should Recovering Sex Addicts Masturbate? Here’s the Formula

Linda Hatch, PhD

Linda Hatch is a psychologist and certified sex addiction therapist specializing in the treatment of sex addicts and the partners and families of sex addicts. Linda also blogs on her own website at Sexaddictionscounseling.com


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APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2012). Should Recovering Sex Addicts Masturbate? Here’s the Formula. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-addiction/2012/10/should-recovering-sex-addicts-masturbate-heres-the-formula/

 

Last updated: 1 Oct 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Oct 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.