Taking Control of Compulsive Masturbation with Mindfulness

frustrated man

Do you feel like your sex drive is out of control? Is it difficult to stop masturbating? Does it feel like your are masturbating too much? Is your partner concerned about your masturbation frequency? If so, mindfulness may be one tool that can help. Mindfulness is said to help with many things such as anxiety, depression, overeating, anger or substance use. It can also help with compulsive masturbation. Mindfulness is a tool to help you feel more in control of:

  • How often you masturbate
  • How long you masturbate for
  • Negative emotions produced from masturbating
  • Develop boundaries or rules to create intention to the behavior

We will review these bulleted points as well as provide book recommendations for further reading. Mindfulness is being in the present moment with our thoughts, feelings, and accepting the moment as it is. For many, masturbation becomes an impulse to act upon like a food craving. It helps soothe uncomfortable emotions, creates an escape, supports procrastination, and can provide some extra excitement when feeling bored. Masturbation is generally a healthy behavior, but like food (or any other pleasurable activity) if not done in moderation can be a problem.

When I work with people to feel more in control of behaviors, I often ask them to take a break from it. This break allows them to get some distance from the behavior and create a “reset.” A break can be a few weeks, but a month is often helpful. Some stop for 90 days or longer. The amount of time needed depends on how long it takes to interrupt the “drive” to do it. During this break you can reflect on:

  • Why do you masturbate?
  • What emotions do you experience before, during, after masturbation?
  • What do you get out of doing it?
  • What triggers the decision to masturbate?

We want the choice to become intentional and mindfulness will help you get there. Practicing mindfulness will help you to be more comfortable being in the present moment for longer periods of time. This increases your chance of bringing intention to the next moment. Here are some ideas about nonsexual exercises you can do to feel more comfortable with mindfulness. Most of the clients I see don’t report feeling so sexually aroused that they must masturbate. More often it is to soothe themselves from uncomfortable emotions. The most common emotions associated with compulsive masturbation are:

  • Bored
  • Stressed
  • Overwhelmed
  • Angry
  • Sad
  • Happy/Excited

While these emotions are most common, some say almost any emotion could cause an urge to masturbate. Happy or excited is a surprising one for people to see on the list, but when good things happen, it can create urges to masturbate. Getting a promotion, landing an exciting job, finishing a long time project, or any other cause for celebration creates a heightened level of positive emotion. Urges to “keep the party going” cause many to engage in compulsive masturbatory behaviors.

More consistent with the negative emotions listed above, people try to escape or soothe emotional distress with masturbation. It is great that we have a built-in system for relaxation. An orgasm provides us with relaxation and relieves tension. It is understandable why someone might seek an orgasm when in emotional distress. It should be noted that self-soothing isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it is good when done with intention and moderation.

When lives become monotonous or find a period time with nothing to do (or nothing we want to do), masturbation can be a way to create some excitement and stimulation. To this end, many will involve pornography, web cams, chat to create a sense of excitement. Perhaps, a thrill we chase to find the “perfect” person, situation, story, etc. This allows for a sense of fantasy to take over and create the stimulation that one feels is missing at that time.

Sexual Arousal’s role

Now that we have a sense as to what can lead up to the urge to masturbate, let’s take a look at arousal. If you were to ask yourself, how do you know you are aroused without the physical clues (e.g., erection, vaginal lubrication)? What people describe are physical sensations that are similar to what we experience with emotions such as: heart beat faster, shallow breathing, skin flushed/hot, sweating, or shaking amongst others. For those with compulsive sexual behaviors, they can also feel a point where the arousal seems to take over. Some of my clients have described this as the “dark side” or a sense of succumbing to something more powerful. Much like when we get really angry, the anger can take over and we are more likely to say or do things that we would regret later. The same can happen with sexual arousal causing some to engage in behaviors they feel bad about later. If you believe that your sexual desire controls you in this way, perhaps you may have a sense of when it takes over. If not, be curious with yourself. If you remain in the moment, you will find this point.

The physical side of masturbation is important, but our main sexual organ is not our genitals…it is our MINDS!  Masturbation is often genital focused…but doesn’t have to be…

Touching Oneself for Non Sexual Pleasure

When people think of masturbation there is a focus on genitalia and a specific goal: a race to the orgasm finish line. Perhaps one is looking for an escape, avoidance, or excitement. Staying in the present moment to connect with your body. Many people stay in their mind picturing things, which is normal as well. For those whose masturbation feels like it is a problem, they report struggling to connect with the present and thus their bodies. When they are able to make the connection, all reported better connection with themselves and others as well as a more intense orgasm! Shame, Guilt, and many other negative emotions make being in the present difficult creating a need to escape. When we aren’t in the moment, we lose a connection with ourselves. The process of mindful masturbation helps you reconnect with your body in a way that feels comfortable and authentic.

Your whole body has the capacity to provide pleasure as well as sexual arousal (McMarthy & McCarthy, 1998). You may already be quite clear on what will get you to an orgasm. Have you considered what kinds of touch you like that is not necessarily leading to an orgasm? What kind of touch may be soothing or comforting? This is important to explore. Taking a data collection approach to this process provides a nonjudgmental curiosity that will support your exploration and gain helpful information. A good place to start is to allows yourself to touch several parts of your body using varying degrees of pressure without the goal of sexual arousal. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Be curious. If you notice your thoughts leaving the moment gently invite them back and refocus on the physical sensation of touch. Practice this often until it is comfortable. Try to refrain from the goal of orgasm. It can be hard to focus on the sensations and will take practice, but don’t give up! It may also be a fun exercise with a partner.

Mindful Sexual Touching

Once the nonsexual touch is comfortable and you feel able to stay mostly in the moment, consider including genitalia and other places of sexual stimulation. Using temperature, texture, and pressure in different ways with your body is pleasurable and may produce an erotic effect (Weiner & Avery-Clark, 2017). Examples: use your finger tips to tickle (light pressure) your chest and stomach, notice the material you are rubbing against on non genital areas of your body, use cold hands to stimulate the warmer areas. Notice the ways you touch your nipples, vulva, testicles, clitoris, anus etc… that may be arousing. The goal isn’t necessarily orgasm though if it happens that it OK. Same as above, notice your thoughts and feelings. If your thoughts leave the moment, gently invite them back and refocus on your physical sensations. Notice what feels pleasurable as well as what doesn’t. Try some parts of your body that you may not touch very often. Try touch with varying textures such as different fabric, toys, or other items of interest in addition to your hands. What do you notice? Keep repeating this process and collecting data on the things you notice. Some people find writing this information down to be helpful. Starting a journal is another approach to this process. The data you collect will then turn into boundaries. A book called Better Sex Through Mindfulness by Lori Brotto, Ph.D may be helpful. She also has some mindfulness recordings on her website to help you walk through some of the exercises above to practice mindfulness.

Boundary Development

Boundaries are parameters that you give yourself to determine what feels ok and what doesn’t. If we use food as an example, boundaries are what helps us define what use in moderation entails. We might decide that eating cake often is unhealthy and set a boundary that we want to eat it only on special occasions, take a few bites of a small piece when served, and then increase exercise the next day. Following these boundaries for eating cake helps us feel like we are consuming cake in moderation if we follow them. There are not rules for what is an OK boundary and what isn’t. The hope is that while collecting data and practicing mindful masturbation, you would get a sense of where your boundaries may comfortably fall in these four areas. It is a process, not a one and done. Your initial boundaries can change as you move forward. Boundaries for out of control masturbation tend to fall into the following categories:


How often are you comfortable masturbating each week? There isn’t a number that says what is normal and what isn’t. Through a process of data collection and awareness, most become aware of when a switch seems to go off that turns their mind compulsive. Where a drive for more starts to take over. This varies by the person. Many of my clients are comfortable with once or twice a week for spontaneous masturbation. Others are content with masturbating as part of a sleep routine for relaxation most nights. The goal is less about the number and more about learning when the frequency impacts your drive to do it. Some clients say for them they notice more urges to do it or are objectifying others soon after, which doesn’t feel comfortable. It is up to you to determine the frequency that allows you to feel in control.


Some people have moral incongruities with the content of what they watch or the visual imagery they use to stimulate themselves. Some find that they access content when in a certain mood. For instance, I work with some people who watch porn that empowers or dehumanizes another when feeling angry or helpless. Others find themselves watching content that borders on consent or legality. The more taboo becomes the more arousing. This is especially true when one watches sexual stimulation more often. Content becomes monotonous and boring, so there becomes a need to find more exciting content, which can be viewed as taboo. This can include non or questionable consent, voyeurism, incest, younger people, or animal involvement. Popular fantasies according to a recent study by Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D indicated that multi partner, BDSM varieties focusing on power and control, and various fetishes (e.g, feet, diapers, food, furry) were common. He produced a book based on this study, which may help to explore and potentially validate the normalcy of your own fantasies. When trying to develop boundaries around content, we also want to be mindful of any shame that comes from it. Typically, we receive overt and covert messages about what is deemed OK and what is not. We internalize these messages and it may lead to sexual shame. Besides legality and non-consent, think about what way you are judging the content as “wrong” for you. Be clear about why the boundary is there.  Ethical porn is a part of the pornography industry that ensures those participating are safe, paid a far wage, and want to participate in the video. Some individuals or partners may not support porn use due to concerns about the people in the video’s safety, security, and livelihood. Ethical porn ensures that the video participants are there because they want to and are able to make such a choice freely. A myth to consider is that a fantasy doesn’t equal reality. Just because you fantasize about it doesn’t mean you want to engage in that behavior in person. As you collect data on why you feel what you feel about content, consider the origin of these beliefs.

Time elapsed

People can get lost in pornography and edge (holding yourself to the point just before orgasm) for hours or as some reference “down a rabbit hole.” Others, it may be 20-30 min. Many report that much of the time is spent finding the “perfect” image or having trouble deciding on one. Individuals no longer want to be “wasting” hours or days lost in fantasy. They prefer to be more in reality. For some, it also creates procrastination or issues in other parts of their life. Consider what you might be avoiding or putting off when you become lost in fantasy.

State of mind

One can feel driven or compelled to masturbate and/or watch pornography. This can make it challenging to understand one’s state of mind before engaging in the behavior. Through mindfulness, you can learn how to gain control of your thoughts and slow things down. Once you do, take note of what is happening when you decide to masturbate and be aware of your motivation. None of my clients have said they do it because they are overwhelmed by swollen genitalia. The most common reasons are:

  • Escape emotional discomfort through fantasy
  • Procrastination
  • Avoidance a task that is mundane or stressful

One individual noticed that he had the most urges when angry and referred to it as: “angerbating.” These common reasons are not a list of good or bad. The intention with mindful masturbation is for you to decide your boundaries and what you are comfortable with as it relates to your own goals. Some decide that they want to be the calm and focused frame of mind, while others are OK with the presence of emotional distress if the emotions aren’t too high. They want to feel in control of the decision rather than it being emotionally driven. It takes time, patience, and curiosity to find the emotional line when you start to lose control.

In conclusion, Mindful masturbation is a process of creating intentional boundaries to the behavior. This may or may not include viewing sexual stimuli. Some may choose to use ethical pornography. Boundaries tend to be in the area of content, time elapsed, frequency, and state of mind. Only you can decide with respectful curiosity while in the moment where your boundaries will be. As in any process, these boundaries may change as you collect more data about your experience. This is typical. It may be helpful to seek the assistance of a professional to help you navigate this process.  Our staff are here to help. You can learn more about our services and staff by visiting out website.

Here are some books suggestions if you would like to learn more about this topic.

Book Recommendations

Better Sex Through Mindfulness by Lori Brotto, Ph.D

Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life by John Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D

Wherever You Go: There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Every Day Life by John Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D


McCarthy, B & McCarthy E. (1998). Male Sexual Awareness: Increasing Sexual Satisfaction. Carrol & Graf Publishers Inc: New York, New York.Weiner, L & Avery-Clark, C. (2017). Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy. Routledge: New York, NY.

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