Can you quit masturbating?
That’s what one of my readers challenged himself to do. He knew it was hurting his marriage. He knew it was hurting his sex life. And he knew it had to stop.
I have some great men who read this blog, too, because they’re looking for help with healthy sexuality. And one of them sent me this story, which I’d like to post. He wants to remain anonymous, but I thought his story was so important it had to be shared!
I’ve written before about how masturbation in marriage can be so dangerous, but I love his points about what he learned after quitting masturbating–and how he managed to do it.
When I think of the word “masturbation,” the first image that comes to my mind is my shy, lonely and anxious pre-teen self, trying to fall asleep, thinking about all the times I felt embarrassed at school and at home earlier that day. The second image is my grown-up and married self, seemingly confident and well socialized, but actually remaining the same insecure pre-teen inside. So much is wrong with that second image.
First of all, it is a very bad strategy to carry one’s childhood insecurities into adulthood by exploiting a biological mechanism to get endorphin on demand and never truly grow up, never face and resolve them. Secondly, in that image there is often a screen with pornographic pictures on it. And there is also my wife that I’ve lied to for years, whose trust I’ve betrayed, who feels that there is something wrong, but doesn’t know what just yet.
Porn and masturbation habits typically go hand in hand, but for me masturbation was the older, stronger and more insidious addiction. I used to believe that masturbation is a natural need and cannot be quit, and that it does not affect sex in any way. I used to believe that women who expect their husbands not to masturbate do so simply because they are not familiar with male physiology. I used to believe that porn can be quit without quitting masturbation, and that that’s the right thing for me to do.
Today, almost 8 years since I quit masturbation, I know that none of that is true. Sex is a very powerful bonding agent, and getting sexual relief on the side strongly decreases its bonding power. Quitting porn without quitting masturbation typically just leads to replacing one type of stimulus with another, without any actual change happening. A woman whose husband masturbates feels that she is not enough for him, that he doesn’t feel a special connection to her, and that hurts a lot.
Here are some of the steps that I took that helped me quit:
1. Realizing that quitting is actually possible was a very difficult first step
But then I remembered the different times in my life when for weeks I was too happy and busy to even think about masturbation. Helping at my grandfather’s farm, summer camps, holidays at the beach, etc. If during those times for weeks I would not even THINK about masturbation, then it cannot be a physiological need!
2. Those periods of not craving masturbation were characterized by four things:
Being happy, not being alone, a lot of physical activity, being very busy. The first two of those four cannot be guaranteed: we cannot avoid being alone and unhappy every now and again. But the third and the forth are things over which we do have control. So I started working out regularly, as well as taking more work to keep busy and challenged.
3. It is important to develop a strategy for the times when one is unhappy and lonely
I found a lot of good suggestions online: journaling, cold shower, ten push-ups, etc. I use a combination of physical exercise and journaling that works well for me.
4. The first month or two, some physiological adaptations occur, and that period is very difficult.
The prostate needs to adapt to the new frequency of release. The important thing to know about this period is that it is not that long and most of the discomforts are temporary. And that working out helps a lot.
5. Once I focused on quitting masturbation, that made quitting porn very easy for me.
When you are quitting masturbation, you are trying hard to avoid all stimuli, and to not even think about them. With time, I built a reflex to quickly push away inappropriate thoughts before they could affect me. This, in turn, makes quitting masturbation easier as well.
6. I read about “semen retention” and the successful sportsmen and musicians who practiced it.
It was undeniable that I could also feel many benefits: stronger immune system, more energy, more desire to work out, etc.
7. After some time of struggles, relapses and physiological adaptation, I was starting to think that quitting masturbation is not that impossible and that it might indeed be beneficial in many ways.
Then I decided to challenge myself for one year, and to see at the end of the year if the benefits were really there, and if it got easier with time. Committing to a limited duration is much easier than committing to quitting for good, even when the latter is the long-term goal.
8. It is common for men to think: I can quit masturbation by replacing it with more sex.
In practice, that’s not such a great idea. Sex should be about love and unity, and not about feeding an addiction and getting stress relief. My wife was absolutely not thrilled about the idea of serving as masturbation replacement: on the contrary, she was righteously not interested in intimacy with somebody impure who hurt her so much. It is very important to accept that rebuilding trust and intimacy will take a long time.
9. By the end of the one year challenge, I had gotten rid of many bad habits and had built some new good ones.
And I had one new tool: the powerful thought of “I could do this for 1 year, so why stop now!” Continuing after that point was much easier. For me personally it never became completely easy, and I had to learn to manage my expectations in that aspect: even now, after almost 8 years of sobriety, some days are difficult and require focus. But the big advantage is that even though that struggle remain difficult at times, it makes the struggle with porn and lust easy.
Have you or your spouse had to deal with quitting masturbation in your marriage? What are some things you found helpful? Let us know in the comments below and help some couples going through it now!