Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

Are you sitting at your computer with one hand down your pants, listening to your smoke alarm go off and wondering if you can get another quick wank in before the house burns down around you? Yeah, you’re probably wanking too much. If you’re reading one of the many articles that have been published recently with a title along the lines of ‘could you be masturbating too much?’ and picking over your masturbation habits in detail to try and ascertain whether you might have a problem, then congratulations: you probably don’t.

I don’t know why these articles have started springing up recently. Perhaps it’s because this month is ‘No Nut November‘, a ridiculous challenge to try and not nut (i.e. orgasm) for the month of November. Or perhaps it’s got nothing to do with ‘No Nut November’, and it’s just that the title – deliciously clickworthy with it’s open question that inspires fear and a worry that you may not be ‘normal’ – makes excellent fodder for a sex article. So let’s tackle it, shall we? Let’s see if you’re masturbating too much.

Masturbation: avoiding stigma

Before we dive into the question. I’m going to lay some important information out on the table: masturbation, as a general rule, is good for you. I don’t just mean ‘neutral’ like ‘it won’t do you any harm’, I mean actually good for you. That doesn’t mean you have to do it if you don’t want to, just that in an average human being, with an average sex drive, masturbation can bring benefits to your mood, levels of stress, mental health and potentially your physical health too. Even at the most basic level, masturbation can help you learn more about your body and what brings you pleasure.

Masturbation has also, historically, been massively stigmatised. Whether because of religion (“God is watching!”) or social stigma (“Only losers need to wank – get a girlfriend!“) or even just plain old control (“I don’t want my partner to wank because it means they don’t love ME as much!”), there is plenty of bullshit that has contributed to the idea that masturbation is somehow shameful or wrong.

These two things combined mean that we have to be careful when talking about masturbation: we don’t want to fall into the trap of stigmatising something anyway, but we need to be doubly careful of piling more stigma onto something that can have actual, tangible benefits. I might take the piss out of a friend for being obsessed with their new juicer and mentioning it twenty times in a single conversation, but I don’t want to take it so far that I end up shaming them for getting their 5-a-day.

How much masturbation is ‘normal’?

Often when I’m asked questions about sex, they revolve around the idea of what is and isn’t ‘normal.’ How much should I be shagging? How much should I be wanking? How many sex toys does the average person have? Am I normal? Am I normal? AM I NORMAL?

If you’re concerned with this question, then congratulations: you are as normal as any of us get. Most humans are often obsessed by the idea of fitting in with those around us, and when it comes to sex even though our desires and experiences can vary hugely, most of us are usually keen to find at least one other person who’s into the stuff we are. It’s perfectly normal to think about where you fit within the rest of the world, and to assess and judge your own behaviour by holding up a benchmark that says ‘NORMAL PERSON’ and hoping you fall within a certain bracket.

But it’s not helpful to take this emotional desire and try to find a numerical answer. To say ‘well I’m wanking 3 times a day, and if that’s vastly more than these other people then there may be something wrong with me.’ Are you masturbating too much? The answer’s going to be different depending on who ‘you’ are. Do you work from home, like I do, and take less time to wank than it takes to boil a kettle? Three wanks a day probably isn’t going to eat much into your social time. Do you have a full and busy life, but you find yourself having to sneak off at weird times to masturbate? If you find yourself desperately hunting for a quiet nook in which to crack one off ten minutes before a job interview, then maybe you want to think about why that is. Some people will go through their lives happily wanking ten times a day and have no problem. Others will do the same and feel like they’re missing important stuff. Some people will be able to wank like a bonobo at a birthday party and still have all the sex that they desire, while others might find that wanking more decreases their libido, and they’d prefer to expend their sexual energy on partnered activities. Others could take or leave the actual fucking, and would prefer to be left alone for the bonobo/birthday scenario.

So if you think you may be masturbating too much, first I’d recommend you define what ‘too much’ might be. For you. Not for anyone else: for you. In an ideal world, where you have the perfect balance of pleasure over time, how much time would you like to spend masturbating? You might want to do it for half an hour each day, or you might decide that half an hour a week is enough for you, and you’ll spend that extra time learning French or playing Red Dead Redemption. This gives you a baseline by which you can judge what’s ‘normal for you’, but bear in mind that you aren’t always living in a perfect world where things work out how you expect: sometimes life gets stressful and you want to spend more time on your own. Other times it’s exciting and you’re fucking someone new who is so hot you can’t help but wank yourself to sleep each night, then wake up at 3am for another.

Pick your normal, be flexible with it, and be kind to yourself. Within this context, now ask yourself: do you still feel like you’re masturbating too much?

How much am I allowed/expected to masturbate?

This question is an important one, and it came up in one of the articles that prompted this post, entitled “Is your partner masturbating too much?” When we move on from thinking about ourselves, and onto thinking about other people in our sex lives, a few more ugly ideas behind masturbation stigma are exposed.

In the Refinery29 piece, sex therapist Kristen Lilla dealt with this question pretty well:

Sometimes, people perceive their partner masturbating as a threat, personal rejection, or betrayal, Lilla says. “A person may feel entitled to this information, or may even assume their partner does masturbate,” she says. “But upon finding out how frequently, they may react negatively and try to find a way to control the other person’s behavior.”

This rings a bell. I’ve written before (albeit back in the day when I was a much snarkier writer) about the fact that some people see watching porn as ‘cheating’, but it surprises me to bump up against the idea that masturbation could be seen as cheating too. When you consider the benefits of it, preventing your partner from masturbating seems as mean as hiding all the fruit in your house so they can only have chips for dinner. Why do people think they can (or should) control how often their partner masturbates? Well, it’s partly thanks to the stigma mentioned above: a combination of the idea that masturbation is ‘only’ a poor substitute for partnered sex, that we ‘owe’ our partners a certain amount of sex, and that one more wank equals one less fuck in the future. None of these are necessarily true.

Firstly, masturbation isn’t just a poor shadow of sex itself – it’s an entirely different activity. There are plenty of reasons to masturbate, only one of which might be ‘I was horny and my lover wasn’t up for it.’ We wank because we’re bored, hungry, tired, excited, have ten minutes to kill before Doctor Who on a Sunday night… all manner of reasons. The second point, that we ‘owe’ our partners a certain amount of sex, I’ve dealt with a little before.

But the third point’s worth getting detailed on: does masturbating a lot mean you’ll be less keen on sex with a partner? While many of these articles point out that masturbation can be an excellent way to deal with an imbalance in libidos, usually they only see the benefit of this from one side: one partner (usually, in a cisheteronormative article, the dude) wants to have sex a lot, and the other partner doesn’t, so wanking is proposed as a solution for the partner who wants to get off. Which is grand if that works for you, but it does tend to rely on the assumption that masturbation is a substitute for partnered sex, rather than something which can be beneficial in its own right. It also assumes that most people have libidos a bit like my boyfriend’s: where the more recently he’s orgasmed, the less likely he is to want to fuck. Everyone’s different, of course, but my libido works the exact opposite way round.

For me, wanking keeps my sex drive high. The more often I orgasm, the more often I fancy having an orgasm – whether with a partner, on my own, or accompanied by one of my many massive dildos. Masturbation keeps my brain in a reasonably sexy zone, and pins shagging to the top of my internal Twitter feed. If I don’t wank for a few days, I slowly start to lose the urge to do it, and I find it much harder to see the sexy things in the world around me that would usually turn me on. I have the sexual attention span of a goldfish.

Am I masturbating too much? Or not enough?

One of my biggest bugbears with questions like this – which prompt the reader to diagnose themselves with one sexual problem or another – is that often there genuinely are good questions to ask about your own sex life. How much pleasure am I getting from this? Are my partner and I communicating our needs? Are both of our needs being met, or do we want to tweak the ways we’re doing things? What’s my ideal scenario, and how does that change depending on my mood, desires, partner’s desires, etc?

And there are also sometimes genuine reasons to question your masturbation routine as well: issues with erectile dysfunction or ejaculation problems are often cited in pieces about men masturbating ‘too much’, but they can also be a sign of underlying health concerns, not just an indication that someone’s been jacking off too much. Orgasm issues – like struggling to come while you’re shagging – are also often cited as a sign that you’re wanking too much (or that you’re doing so with a ‘death grip’ or using a particular sex toy too much). But again, this is just one of many reasons: anorgasmia can also be a side-effect of certain medication, or it can indicate stress or anxiety. Combine this with the fact that masturbation’s still quite stigmatised, means I’m deeply suspicious of ‘you’re masturbating too much’ when it gets wheeled out as a blanket reason why people might be having trouble.

The fact is that everyone’s different: each person will have different needs in terms of physical pleasure, and will meet those needs in different ways. Asking ‘am I masturbating too much?’ makes as much sense as asking ‘am I masturbating enough?’ – no one can give a blanket answer for either of those questions, and the only way to really know is to lay all the stigma and shame to one side, and seriously consider what’s actually right for you.

If you’re worried about it, try and dial it back. But the vast majority of you, can feel free to relax: if it didn’t seem a problem before you read an article, it probably isn’t a problem for you at all.

If you’re still worried you may be masturbating too much, check out this excellent piece (aimed at young people, but good for adults too) by one of my fave sex educators, Bish: how much masturbation is too much?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *