Why Men Masturbate

“Masturbation is an attempt to make ritual contact with the penis… to connect with the lost maleness.”  Joseph Nicolosi

“Notice that the struggle with pornography or masturbation is most difficult when you are lonely, beat up, or longing for comfort in some way.  This will become more intense the closer you get to your wounds.”  John Eldredge

Mike could not wait to get off work on Friday.  He thought of only one thing all day: his mountain bike hanging in the garage and the miles of new trail he planned to explore come Saturday morning.  A coworker had told him of an “off the beaten path” single track a short drive into the mountains down an old logging road.  He said it boasted some pretty spectacular views.  Mike was sold.  He really needed some adventure and time alone with God.  And his wife kindly agreed to watch their twin girls to give him a little space.

Saturday he blasted out the door as soon as it seemed convenient.  Highway became county roads became gravel roads – all climbing higher to his destination.  And then he was lost.  Seems this trail truly was a hidden gem and the logging road to it not used all that much.  He hadn’t figured on that.  His excitement took a nose dive.  A half hour later, still searching, he was full tilt angry – at himself mostly, for not looking better at the map, since of course his phone was useless out here.  Nearing utter exasperation, there it was suddenly, the road.  “Yes!” he cried with a fist pump to match.  He cranked his music again and all the excitement came bursting back.

Not two miles later, a big metal gate hung unapologetically across the road, marking it as closed for washouts and bringing his plans to a halt.  His heart sank.  This was an obstacle he could do nothing about.  He sat stunned for a minute and finally turned around in defeat.  Tears welled up in his eyes.  He felt ashamed, alone, and close to a very familiar grief.  He shut all this down with anger.  “&%$# me!”  he screamed.  He drove in silence for awhile, seething with hatred for himself, thinking what an idiot he had been for not checking road conditions.

In the quiet, another familiar feeling came – the urge to masturbate.  Where the hell is this coming from? he thought.  He prayed.  He fought to avoid it.  And as if his shame and contempt needed anymore fuel, he ultimately gave in.

So where did that come from?

Masturbation is never just about a man getting his rocks off because sex is never just about sex.  Never.  Men are not that simple, not that animal.  I know that may be a new thought.  Masturbation is deeply connected to the things going on in a man’s heart.  Boredom, discouragement, loneliness, anger – all of these could be at play and more.   He’s medicating something, masturbating to take away something he doesn’t want to feel.  Especially his feelings about himself as a man, that he’s a failure or weak or just simply doesn’t have it together like he feels he should.  Most men are not aware of this in the moment.  That’s the difficulty.  In the moment, a man just wants comfort, relief from… something.  Some unnamed something.

Its inherent in the symbolism of masturbation.  Let me walk you through what I mean so you get the picture.  I will do this as tastefully as I can.  Literally, in the act of masturbation itself, a man is taking the biological symbol of his masculinity, his penis, into his own hands.  And symbolically affirming himself, as in “giving himself strokes.”  And his “manhood” rises to the occasion.

The picture couldn’t be more clear: Masturbation is self affirmation.  It is a man’s attempt to affirm himself as a man and in so doing take care of his feelings of failure or weakness. A man masturbates to rouse his strength, his confidence, the masculinity within, to feel like a man again.  He wants relief from all the ways he is not enough.  As Joseph Nicolosi says so poetically, he’s making “…ritual connection with his penis… to connect with his lost maleness.”

John Eldredge once pointed out that puberty awakens two things in a young man: his sexuality and his hunger for the blessing of his manhood.  If his father and the men around him don’t  realize this need and affirm his sense of masculinity, then these two desires can become confused and intertwined.  A young man can see his sexuality as the means to feel like a man – to be affirmed or at least to find relief from all the ways he doesn’t feel like a man.  Masturbation becomes the way to medicate all the ways he was never loved well by his father or father substitute.  He is getting relief from his insecurity and lack of confidence.  In holding his penis, he is symbolically holding his broken sense of masculinity and trying to give it CPR.

Making more sense?

And can you feel the sadness of this?  Its never going to work.  Masturbation will never do anything to help.  Its an attempt at self love, at caring for yourself and it won’t make you anymore whole.  No one can affirm themselves.  If anything, it only piles on the shame, the self hate, the feelings that you truly are a failure as a man.  The urge to masturbate must be a sign to you that some deep place inside either is in pain and needs healing or simply needs for more love and affirmation.

Mike pulled back on the road now a complete wreck.  At least the anger had subsided, I guess.  It was hard to feel much other than utterly broken.  And his sadness had only increased.  Aware only that something important was happening in his heart, he wisely decided that now more than ever he needed to be with his heart and God.  He found a familiar trail, closer to home.

There on the trail in his time with God he became aware of how young he felt, like a little boy. He remembered these feelings, knew them all too well.  His father had abandoned him emotionally at a young age, checked out into alcohol.  All of the pain of having had to find his own way as a boy and young man came back.   And there was that sadness again, but this time he welcomed it.  He sat and wept and prayed.  And God said, “You are my son. I love you.”

The desire to masturbate should be a sign that some place is hurting in you.  You need love.  You need comfort. So ask yourself what’s really going on in your heart.  And let the urge lead you to seek love from God and others.

About Sam

I am a counselor and writer who helps people get life back. I offer counseling for individuals and couples in Colorado Springs CO. And I write on men's issues, healthy sexuality, relationships and personal growth.

  • Brian

    Good thoughts, bro. Thank you.

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Thanks, Brian!  Appreciate the feedback. Good to see you here. 

  • http://www.jondale.com Jon Dale

    Great post Sam. You nailed it. Thanks for being willing to dive into the subjects most are afraid to address.

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Thanks Jon.  I did wince a little bit when I hit publish.  Took a little courage.  Glad it spoke.

  • Nick

    There is tremendous ministry in your words, Sam. You inspire, bro.

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Nick, thank you!  So very glad it ministered to you.  Nothing means more than that to me.  

  • Lauren Petters

    Sam, I am so impressed by your courage to bring such honesty and dignity to struggle, specifically a man’s struggle, specifically this struggle. Your explanations are so helpful to bring understanding of a man’s struggle as a woman.

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Thanks Lauren.  Yeah, I had a little bit of a vulnerability hangover for this one.  God, should I really share about masturbation?  Your comments confirm it was the right decision.  

  • Djd47

    Sam, this is an eye opener for me. I never thought about it this way. This truly helps a lot.

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      I had the same reaction when I read some of those quotes above and it all started making sense.  Man, so glad it helps!

  • http://shakenfree.wordpress.com/ Brian Fidler

    Sam – I’ve passed this blog along to two clients already.

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Thanks Brian… Really grateful for your support.  Tell them I’d love to hear there reaction here if they care to share.

  • Nathan Johnson

    Great post Sam! You put it well…I even liked the pun “off the beaten path”…nice

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      HA! That was purely a Freudian slip. Maybe that should have been the blog title. Thanks Nathan for the feedback!

  • Gabe

    Very helpful Sam, both personally and pastorally. 

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Gabe, thank you! Glad it helps.

  • guest

    What about masturbation for women?

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      I thought about this same question when I was writing and wondered if it would come up. Way to be brave and ask! I have read only very little on the subject and so I’ll give you my best thoughts. I think there are lots and lots of parallels, especially that, for a woman, its a way of dealing with heart struggles too – but heart struggles that are unique to a woman. So things like: her loneliness, her ache to be known and desired, her shame about her body or sexuality. And similar to a man, I think its a way to fill in for how she was never praised and blessed or celebrated and honored as a woman by her father. A father’s voice is HUGELY important in a woman’s journey, just like for a man. My advice to any woman would be the same: Pull out your journal and write out what you think personally drives you there. And if you don’t have a clue, guess. Then face those heart struggles more honestly.

  • Steve

    Sam, thanks for posting this. This will be a great help to so many men that we work with. You gave words where there has been so much silence. I’m copying my four sons on this. I appreciate you and love your heart in doing this.

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Steve, those are generous words. Thank you! And thanks for sharing this with others. I appreciate you and what you’re pursuing for the kingdom also.

  • Zach Krych

    I’ve never heard that masturbation can be a symbol of men trying to take their masculinity into their own hands, but it makes sense. Especially when we believe the lie that sex has the power to turn a boy into a man. This shows how there is so much more going on than just a natural biological urge. Thanks for sharing this Sam, good stuff. 

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Thanks, Zach. Glad you liked it! Yes, crazy how much symbolism is really in it. I agree. God made us so interconnected, body and soul.

  • Common Sense

    Wow!… What a crock of shit! So we can’t “affirm” ourselves?… We need outside affirmation of our worth as men for it to be real and meaningful? If you need someone to make you feel good about yourself… THAT is when you are broken. You are certainly entitled to your beliefs… but you make the statement that, “Masturbation is never just about a man getting his rocks off because sex
    is never just about sex. Never. Men are not that simple, not that animal.” Where are you getting that info? I challenge you to find one, licensed and certified psychiatrist (who is not an Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian) who would agree with you. I think you’ll be looking for a long time.

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      I appreciate your honest reaction to my article. Obviously I stirred the pot for you quite a bit. Since you took the time to write, let me speak to your concerns:

      First, attachment theory itself has taught us that no one is born with self love or the ability to affirm themselves. Everyone needs affirmation/love/acceptance or we literally die (failure to thrive). And research on adult attachment has concluded that this need never goes away. We don’t outgrow it. So its not just broken men who need it. All men do.

      Second, current research on the biochemistry of sex concludes that when sex is just sex it leads to sex addiction. Literally, we all have in our bodies a natural opiate (think heroine or morphine) that is released during sex. And we can get addicted to it when we strip away the love and relationship intended in sexual union. Any expert in the field of sex addiction will tell you sex for the sake of just sex can lead to a person becoming addicted to their own brain chemicals. Brain scans of sex addicts mirror brain scans of heroine addicts. I think the science answers your question.

      That’s my two cents. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Dani

    love it Sam..

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Thanks!

  • Kareem

    Thx this was awesome! But does masturbation prevent me from having kids when i am older?

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Glad you enjoyed it, Kareem. No, masturbation will not prevent you from having kids. There is no medical evidence for that at all.

  • Ro

    but how do you deal with it as a wife? What if you feel abandoned, neglected wondering why you don’t look like the pretty girls in the pictures he looks at. What if you feel jealous because you thought you were better than a calloused dry hand. What if you feel suspicious wondering if there is the thought of someone else lingering. I understand that it’s normal but I will never understand it. I want to understand that it is ‘self comfort’ but as a woman all we want to do is comfort our husbands, our children. Why aren’t we ever enough?

    • http://www.SamJolman.com/ Sam Jolman

      Oh, you have every right to be mad, to feel abandoned, neglected, etc. You’re feelings are what I hear from every woman I work with who’s husband looks at porn. Read this post I wrote on it and tell me what you think:
      http://www.samjolman.com/it-is-another-woman/

    • Fed-Up

      AMEN, esp. when we are right beside them in the bed and have never told our husband NO, not even once… but then I find you watching naked women on the TV and getting your rocks off… I will never understand this behavior… its another form of CHEATING!!!!! I could see if you had a woman that was ill or made up excuses, but still then.. it does not make it OKAY!! Why can’t men just have one woman and be happy with just her….. I often wondered, maybe we should sneak down stairs and watch a porn all the damn time and let you catch us… and start saying the words no, then maybe they can understand how it ruins a woman’s self esteem!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • mayesxxv

    I have to say that this article presents a unique view of self-pleasure. Maybe there is a percentage of men who masturbate to satiate some deep-rooted issue, but not all men. Sometimes a man is just horny (for lack of a better term). Sometimes it’s as simple as him saying “I am a single man, I have physical desires, and I need them fulfilled. Until a wife is provided, I’ll do it myself.” What are your thoughts on that?

  • Frustrated

    My husband of 42 years is still masturbating whenever possible,sometimes when he thinks iam asleep next to him. I find the whole act in a man of this age disgusting, especially since he can no longer have an erection or make love with his wife, only with himself. does it end ever?