Esther: How Can Masturbation Impact a Marriage?

The discussion on pornography led me to thinking about another common problem: habitual masturbation.
How can masturbation impact a marriage and what can the spouse do to support someone who is struggling with a masturbation addiction?


Dear Esther,

Thank you for this important question. I will make a bold statement: masturbation is never desired in a marital setting, it always leads to marital dissatisfaction. Here’s why:
When we are sexually excited, a series of bodily chemicals and hormones are released.  When we look at pornography, we stimulate some of those chemicals.  When we masturbate we stimulate even more of those bodily chemicals. In natural occurrence, those chemicals are released during the sex act with our partner and they serve the purpose to help us 'love' our partner. 

So what happens when one partner uses those love chemicals with his or her self?  The short story is that the chemicals are released and perform the same brain function except that the other partner is not present to build love.   Because this is an area of counseling specialization for me, I have come to see this effect on hundreds of men (usually men, but not always) who use porn and masturbation.

My observation, as confirmed by virtually all of those men, is that over a long period of time (from age ~12 to ??) the behaviors lead them to become self-absorbed.  Instead of serving to build love with our spouse, those behaviors cause a sort of self-love, which makes it harder to love our partner.  Let's think about that: the chemicals designed to help us love our spouse are used to help us love the only person present at that time of release which prevents full love with our spouse.  That is the harmful effect porn and masturbation will have on a marriage.  If you are interested, a more complete discussion of the chemical components can be found at

The second part of your question is also very important, "how should a spouse support a partner who uses porn and masturbation?"  The short answer, of course, is that love is appropriate, that is: tough love.  It is entirely appropriate to create a boundary to protect yourself from that partner.  Understanding what boundaries are appropriate is beyond the scope of this response but if the thought of boundaries seems ‘mean’ or ‘cruel’, then consider this:
If your partner is masturbating, they are robbing you from the emotional engagement you should expect from a lifetime partner.  This can be tricky, some partners who rob you of affection in that way will appear on the outside to be very attentive but that will ultimately be exposed as fools gold.  Eventually that ‘gold’ will wear thin and many years later you will come to see those actions as a way which was used to avoid real intimacy.

To be certain, if someone masturbates a ‘couple’ (2-3) times per year, there is probably little harm.  Which means, if someone masturbates very infrequently then it should be easy for them to stop.  If your partner cannot stop once you've explained that it feels unsafe to you and that makes it damaging to the relationship, then it is probably addictive.  The test I use is this: Will the person stop once they realize that it is causing harm to their relationship?  If not, and especially if that person begins to hide the behavior please refer them to me for possible sex/porn addiction testing.

Ron Kaufmann, MA, CO LPC #11336, EMDR Clinician
National Certified Counselor #267299
AASAT Certified Sexual Recovery Therapist
Recovering Hearts Counseling

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