Male masturbation beyond myths

Is it good for you? Bad for you? How much is too much?

ILLUSTRATIONs : Azad Mohan ILLUSTRATIONs : Azad Mohan

“Doctor, I walked in and found my husband masturbating”

Dr Kersi Chawda, Psychiatrist, P.D. Hinduja hospital has seen many an upset wife who was faced this situation. The wife then goes on to speculate, “I wonder what’s wrong with me. Does he still love me? Why should he masturbate when I am around?” 

The doctor is quick to assure her that it does not have anything to do with her and that she is not inadequate or unattractive. 

The issue here is that masturbation is often viewed as an alternative to sex. It is perceived as something to be indulged in when one is in a long distance relationship or while travelling. Basically, when the partner is not around. That is why even if the wife is okay with flying solo, she may have a problem if it happens when she is ready and available to have sex.

However, masturbation is actually complementary to sex. You may want to occasionally pleasure yourself and that is okay. 

In this instance, it is the wife who needs to be educated, but that is not always the case.

Also read: Here's all you need to know about female orgasm

“Masturbation can make you go blind!”

That is just one of the absurd things Varun Pande, a 32-year-old actor from Mumbai, heard while growing up. While this one was easy to brush off because he didn’t turn blind, he did live with the belief that masturbation can affect your performance at any sport or exercise. 

Even after he became an adult, he couldn’t dismiss this notion especially after he learned that even professional soccer players are discouraged from sexual activity before they compete. He was not alone in believing that sexual activity lowers testosterone, which  in turn affects the player’s performance. This myth has existed since the ancient Greek and Romans thought abstinence was needed to boost athletic performance. 

Even today, many sports coaches believe this to be true. A study titled Sexual Activity before Sports Competition: A Systematic Review debunked this myth due to lack of scientific evidence to prove the theory. 

Also read: What women talk about

There are not enough studies on the impact of masturbation on sports performance, specifically, but the idea of abstaining even from self-pleasure before competing is still discussed.

In Varun’s case, only after he experimented with body building did he realise that neither masturbation nor sex affect your ability to perform any exercise. 

It took him a couple of decades to reach there because he was confused by the conflicting information on the subject.

Today, Varun is free of guilt or worry but admits that the childhood experiences are scarring for many.

Do some men still feel guilty?

“Not the middle-aged ones,” says Dr Chawda. He thinks they might have felt so when they were younger but not anymore.

Dr Vijayasarathi Ramanathan, Consultant in Sexual Medicine, Bloom Chennai, feels that it is important for thoughts, feelings and actions to be aligned. “If you think masturbation is wrong, don’t feel the need and don’t perform the act, it is all good. However, the problem begins when one or more of these are not in perfect accord. Say, you think it is wrong, still perform the act and feel guilty after ejaculating.” 

He explains why many Indian men grow up with the belief that masturbation is unhealthy or sinful. “Some religions preach that sperm is only for fathering a child so wasting it is wrong on moral grounds. Then there are some practitioners of Ayurveda or herbal medicine who claim that one drop of semen equals 80 drops of blood or some such equation, which they associate with loss of vitality.”

In both cases, loss of semen is the problem and not the act itself. But, that is the origin of the myth that masturbation is harmful to health.

Also read: Can using condoms lead to erectile problems?

Dr  Chawda adds, “I have interacted with a lot of priests who now agree that it is better to masturbate than to be adulterous.”

Well that’s one way of looking at it. How much is too much?

Dr Chawda has seen patients who haven’t consummated their marriage because they masturbate too much. In one case, a man had not consummated the marriage for four  years but there were other issues there as well like performance anxiety.

He highlights two red flags. One is preferring masturbation over sex because the person is into fantasy and gets less satisfaction from sex. 

The other is watching too much porn while masturbating. “Watching porn occasionally is okay, but if you get hooked to it and cannot do without watching it daily, pushing sex to a once-in-a-while activity, then it can lead to bigger problems,” he clarifies.

Dr Ramanathan explains  on how masturbating to porn can impact one’s sex life, “When a man masturbates while watching porn, he holds his penis the way he likes and knows how much pressure, what kind of touch, when to pinch and how to control the flow. Once he starts having partnered sex, he may try to replicate it and may not be able get the same pressure and feel and so he finds it difficult to ejaculate.”

What about masturbation for those with performance anxiety?

A commonly recommended method to deal with premature ejaculation is the stop-squeeze technique while masturbating where you squeeze the tip of penis (below the head) when you are just about to climax. After being able to delay ejaculation while masturbating, one can even teach one’s partner where to squeeze to prolong the erection. 

Dr Ramanathan suggests mindful masturbation to his patients who struggle to maintain an erection due to anxiety. He suggests that you stop penile stimulation while masturbating to focus on other parts to allow the erection to go down and then resume. 

Also read: Confessions of a serial first dater

According to him, the experience of deliberately losing an erection in a sexually stimulating situation through these exercises allows you to stop being so anxious when loss of erection occurs.

What do the guilt-free think?

If you haven’t discovered the joy of mutual masturbation, then you should take a cue from Ram Iyengar*, 44-year-old entrepreneur from Bengaluru who believes all it takes is better communication with your partner. His idea of a rocking time in bed is not about penetrative sex alone and he believes in exploring his sexuality to the fullest while ensuring mutual pleasure.

Men who enjoy an active sex life also have other uses for masturbation like Tejinder Singh*, a corporate trainer in his 50s  from Mumbai, who doesn’t necessarily look to masturbation for satisfying his sexual desires. He is quick to add, “I do fantasise when I masturbate, but it is not an alternative to sex like it used to be during my teens.” So why does he masturbate? He claims that masturbation helps him sleep. 

It is indeed a wonderful way to relax. Masturbation need not be a lonely activity in a dark room while staring at a screen, and you can actually discover your erogenous zones and more if you don’t just focus on stimulating your penis. It can be as intensely arousing and passionate or as calming as you want it to be, with or without a partner. 

Does masturbation affect your chances of getting pregnant?

“How many sperms do you need to fertilise an egg?” Dr. Ramanathan asked while discussing the notion that many couples have about hoarding up sperms till the woman is ovulating. Bottomline: even if you have sex daily, it is not a crime. However, you may be asked to abstain before certain fertility tests.

Another interesting fact he pointed out is even if you don’t engage in sexual activity — solo or with a partner — what can you do about nocturnal emissions or nightfall or wet dreams as most people refer to it?

His advice to couples who are trying to conceive: “When you are stressed, your brain perceives it as a sign of danger and it is unlikely that you will conceive under duress. So the most important thing is not to get stressed about your fertility or worry too much about ovulation or whether you will succeed.”

Mindful Masturbation Steps

Take deep breaths

Stimulate other parts like thighs and chest

Start penile stimulation

When erect, shift to other areas

Allow for partial erection

Resume penile stimulation

Repeat the cycle 10 times in one session

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