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Masturbation and Sexual Recovery

February 11th, 2013 by

Freud wrote “Masturbation is the one great habit that is a primary addiction. The other addictions, for alcohol, morphine, tobacco, etc., only enter into life as substitute and replacement for it.”

Whether one can masturbate in sexual recovery is a complex issue. Although Sexual Recovery Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous clearly indicate masturbation is not a part of sexual sobriety, there’s no black and white rule in the sex addiction field. However, at the 2012 Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) Conference, Ken Adams, one of the leading sex addiction clinicians in the field, pointed to four areas that merit attention when deciding whether masturbation can be a part of one’s sexual health: powerlessness, unmanageability, the capacity to attach, and dissociation.

Powerlessness

Does it lead to powerlessness? In other words, do you have control over it or does it have control over you? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time masturbating or preparing to masturbate? Are you masturbating more frequently than you said you would? Have you sworn that you would never masturbate again only to find yourself doing it a short while later? These are all examples of powerlessness. In general, we see masturbation as the pilot light for sex addiction. It may not seem as dangerous as other form of acting out, but as long as you keep the flame lit, there’s a greater chance for more destructive behavior down the road.

Unmanageability

Does it lead to unmanageability? The Narcotics Anonymous Step Working Guide defines unmanageability as “the outward evidence of our powerlessness.” For instance, has masturbation affected your work performance? Has your school performance declined? Have you sacrificed personal and professional goals? And what about inner or personal unmanageability? Does masturbation lead you to have negative feelings about yourself afterward? Does it contribute to developing unhealthy or untrue belief systems about yourself? Does it reduce your self-centeredness or make it worse? These are vital questions that must be answered when determining if you can masturbate in a healthy way.

The Capacity to Attach

Sex addiction has been described as an intimacy disorder. Ken Adams asks, “Does it interfere with your capacity to attach and bond?” If so, there’s a problem. The only way out of sex addiction is to connect with others. Unfortunately, due to its solitary nature and opportunity for fantasy, masturbation tends to be a method of withdrawal and isolation from others. If masturbation is interfering with your ability to develop meaningful bonds with other humans—your sole hope for recovery, it’s our clinical judgment that you abstain from masturbating.

Dissociation

Finally, does it lead to dissociation? Dissociation is a normal response to life-threatening situations or trauma. It allows the person to step outside of the abject terror and pain of a threatening situation simply in order to survive. Sex addicts, however, have learned to masturbate as a way of dissociating from events that are stressful, but not actually life-threatening. This prevents sex addicts from developing more adaptive ways of coping with life challenges—ways that promote a thoughtful approach to conflict, rather than a dissociated avoidance of it.

Whether to masturbate is a decision that should be reached with the input of your therapist, sponsor, group, and support network. More than anything else, though, much like the rest of recovery from sex addiction, it simply requires a high level of self-honesty. Oftentimes, sex addicts, as their ability to be honest with themselves progresses, realize that masturbation is not a viable option. But once they’ve reached that point, they’ve also realized there’s way more to life than masturbation and that there’s healthier, more enjoyable ways to get their needs met anyway.

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