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Masturbation is healthy and normal. Playing with yourself is one of the most fun and popular alone time activities for people of all genders and ages.

But you can get too much of a good thing, so it helps to know what compulsive masturbation looks like, and what you can do to cut back or stop if you’re giving your built-in sex toys a little too much attention.

So how do you know when your masturbation is getting out of hand?

Warning signs include:

  • an inability to control your urge to masturbate
  • masturbating when you feel anxious, upset, frightened, or nervous
  • having “lots of sex with no partners” — difficulty forming intimate relationships with other people
  • skipping work, school, or social functions so you can masturbate
  • planning your day around when you can masturbate

Compulsive sexual behaviors also are strongly correlated with mental health issues such as:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • personality disorders
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

“While compulsive masturbation tends to feel embarrassing to the person, it is important to understand that they are doing their best to help care for themselves,” says Sarah Melancon, PhD, a sociologist, clinical sexologist, and sexuality and relationships expert for SexToyCollective.com.

As with any compulsive or addictive behavior, changing masturbation habits starts with recognizing the problem, determining to make healthy changes, and seeking help.

1. Find a therapist

Masturbation remains a taboo subject for many, and is a source of shame for others. So you’ll want to talk about your concerns with excessive masturbation with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist who specializes in sexual health who doesn’t bring judgment or disapproval into the discussion.

The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) can help you find a qualified sex therapist in your community.

A sex therapist can also help you determine whether your masturbation habits are truly problematic.

“Compulsive masturbation is a part of several known disorders that must be ruled out first,” says Nicole Prause, PhD, a neuroscientist who researches human sexual behavior, addiction, and the physiology of sexual response.

“People are exceptionally poor judges of their own sexual behaviors due to the social shame surrounding these behaviors, especially in the U.S., so they really do require some external validation/assessment. Overwhelmingly, those who believe they are masturbating ‘too much’ actually are not masturbating at very unusual rates for their age and gender.”

Overwhelmingly, those who believe they are masturbating ‘too much’ actually are not masturbating at very unusual rates for their age and gender.

2. Acknowledge feelings of guilt or shame

For every doctor or therapist who tells you that masturbation is normal and healthy there’s probably some religious, cultural, or spiritual influence that has framed self-pleasure as sinful, immoral, or even dangerous (“you’ll go blind!”) at some point in your life.

If you’re going to get to the root cause of compulsive masturbation, you need to talk about how you feel about doing it, and why. This will take time, so a one-shot visit to a therapist probably won’t be enough.

Establish and commit to a long-term relationship with a therapist you trust, and be patient with yourself as you go through the process of changing your behavior.

“Many people try to just stop masturbating, but without addressing the underlying patterns in one’s emotions and autonomic nervous system that lead to the behavior, they will undoubtedly “relapse,” which can lead to even greater feelings of shame,” says Melancon.

3. Keep busy with other activities

You can’t masturbate if you have a tennis racquet or baking pan in your hands. In other words, filling your time with other fun and fulfilling activities is a good way to cut down on the time you’re devoting to masturbation, as well as battling feelings of depression and loneliness that can lead to obsessive behavior.

Find activities that you find self-soothing, engaging, and exciting, such as exercise, mindfulness, yoga, discovering a new hobby, making dates with friends for dinner, or exploring new museums or exhibits.

4. Limit the time you spend alone

To counter boredom and lack of social connection, think about activities you typically do alone that can instead be done with others. If you like to watch sports, try catching a game at the stadium or in a sports bar rather than from your living room.

Bingeing a new show? Host a watch party and invite people over.

5. Take care of your body

A healthy diet and regular exercise are essential self-care practices that can support your efforts to stop compulsively masturbating. Diet and exercise can help you focus on behavioral change by renewing your energy and improving self-image.

“There are many somatic (body-based) tools that can help with addressing emotions and nervous system reactions, such as the trauma healing methodology called Somatic Experiencing,” adds Melancon.

6. Develop strategies to break unhealthy behavioral patterns

“Some people masturbate compulsively as part of their daily routine… on a regular schedule like clockwork, when they wake up, before bed, and when they’re in a specific place and some ‘thing’ happens, or when they experience an uncomfortable feeling,” says Fran Walfish, a relationship and family psychologist.

A doctor or sex therapist can help you identify triggers for compulsive masturbation and steps you can take to break bad habits.

7. Find a support group

Accountability can help you modify behavior that feels out of control, including compulsive masturbation. Ask your therapist if there’s a support group in your area.

For example, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA) is a support group based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Online support groups like those offered by SCA can also help when in-person meetings are unavailable.

8. Stop watching porn

It’s hard enough controlling a behavior like compulsive masturbation without the unconscious sexual responses stimulated by watching pornography.

If porn is one of your triggers for masturbation, fight the urge by installing porn-blocking software and moving your computer to a public room where you can’t be alone surfing porn sites. Throw out any movies or magazines you have in the house, too.

9. Wear extra clothes

Going to bed naked or even wearing a single layer of clothing around the house, like underwear or lounge pants, can make it all too easy to mindlessly touch yourself and begin masturbating.

Adding more layers can help resist temptation and reduce the sensation if you do accidentally touch yourself.

10. Be patient with yourself

You didn’t start compulsively masturbating all at once, so the solution won’t come immediately, either. Be patient with the process of behavioral change, and don’t add to any unnecessary guilt or shame about your masturbation habits by beating yourself up if you hit stumbling blocks along the way.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with masturbating. You’re not trying to give it up forever, but rather to change masturbation from a compulsion to a healthy, normal behavior that can enhance, rather than taking the place of, sexuality involving others.

“Masturbation can be one of the ultimate forms of self-love,” says Rose. “It can be a way to get to know yourself better from a physical, emotional and psychological perspective. You can learn what you like best so that you can show your current or future partners the best way to satisfy you. It’s also very empowering to know that the source of your pleasure is in your own hands and that you aren’t dependent on someone else to provide pleasure for you.”

Almost everyone masturbates: a survey by the sex toy company Tenga found that 84 percent of Americans say they masturbate, including 91 percent of men and 78 percent of women. That includes 88 percent of Millennials, who are more likely to masturbate than older Gen Xers or younger Generation Z Americans.

A total of 60 percent of Americans masturbate at least once a week, according to the survey, usually to satisfy sexual urges, achieve sexual pleasure, or just to relax. Masturbation is common whether you’re in a relationship or not, or having sex or not.

Engaging in other compulsive behaviors may also be a warning sign that your masturbation has crossed the line from pleasurable to problematic, according to Melancon.

“Masturbation is a normal and healthy practice, but can become a problem when it causes distress, is compulsive, and feels difficult or impossible to change the behavior,” says Melancon. “Often, the behavior is very repetitive and the individual will experience little satisfaction or pleasure from the act. They may have intrusive sexual thoughts that enter the mind repeatedly, even when they do not want to think about sex or masturbation.”

Masturbation is a normal and healthy practice, but can become a problem when it causes distress, is compulsive, and feels difficult or impossible to change the behavior

Chronic masturbation is different from conscious masturbation, adds Sarrah Rose, who runs runs Tantric Activation, an online tantric sexuality coaching platform for men.

“Many people masturbate in a very disassociated way and use it as a means to escape rather than to better their current reality,” she says.

“Masturbation is important for our health, but the way that we masturbate impacts the benefits that we get from it. For most people, there is a sense of shame or guilt associated with masturbation. It’s often something that’s done in secret, and while there is a rush of good feelings there is also an emotional residue that doesn’t feel very good — and so people will try to disassociate and numb out during masturbation in order to not feel that. The more that a person masturbates in that way, the deeper those patterns will be set.”

Masturbation is healthy and normal, but for some the behavior can negatively impact daily life. If work, relationships, and school are affected by your masturbation habits, consider trying the tips mentioned above.

Don’t be discouraged if stopping is difficult. Stay focused and reach out for help from a professional who is trained in human sexuality.