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What About Masturbation?


In SCA, masturbation, like all other sexual behaviors, is dealt with on the individual level, usually within the context of each person’s more encompassing sexual recovery, and correspondingly, SCA neither endorses nor opposes masturbation. Instead, every individual in defining sexual sobriety for him or herself must come to their own conclusion. To explore the subject in a thorough manner, we need to deal with this issue with support. Since as members of SCA we share our experience, strength and hope to help each other achieve and maintain sexual sobriety, this pamphlet is one of our tools, intended to help each of us understand our experiences of masturbation, and to assist our personal determination of what is best regarding our own recovery. We find that we have many things in common with and many things different from other sexually compulsive people, the knowledge of which aids our individual and group recoveries.


A good starting place for dealing with this issue is to define for yourself what you believe constitutes masturbation. Sometimes this is as easy as adopting a dictionary’s definition; other times such defining might take considerable time and discussion with others recovering from sexually compulsive behaviors, if at some point you choose to reduce or abstain from masturbation, a very precise definition will be a very useful thing.

Webster’s Dictionary defines masturbation as “erotic stimulation involving the genital organs commonly resulting in orgasm and achieved by manual or other bodily contact exclusive of sexual intercourse, by instrumental manipulation, by sexual fantasy, or by various combinations of these agencies.” Considering this definition we understand that, among other things, achieving orgasm may not be necessary for masturbation, that one might consider that erotically stimulating oneself is, at least, masturbatory and possibly masturbation.


Occasionally, assessing masturbation appropriately occurs during the very first days of recovery; more often this assessment appropriately occurs much later when substantial progress with abstinence from bottom line behavior is solidly evidenced. Masturbation issues, often but not always, deal with characteristics and behaviors more subtle than those issues that first brought us to seek recovery. Whenever our assessment takes place we aim for it to feel and be gentle, loving, realistic.


Often we start with a fact finding inventory of our own masturbation history, taking into account that masturbation has physical, emotional and spiritual aspects, and noting the facts corresponding to questions such as these:

  • How often do I masturbate?
  • Is my masturbation habitualized? Do I always masturbate at the same time, in the same manner, are my fantasies always the same? If so, how is this satisfying? and how is this unsatisfying?
  • Do I sometimes or always feel I must masturbate?
  • Can I easily abstain from masturbation?
  • Do I ever abstain?
  • Do I feel shame about the act, the subject?
  • Do I realize that masturbation is having sex?
  • Am I focusing on masturbation to avoid dating and relationships?
  • As a pattern, do I masturbate to avoid feelings?
  • As a pattern, do I masturbate to avoid “worse acting out”?
  • As a pattern, do I masturbate to turn off my sexuality?
  • Do I masturbate when I don’t want to?
  • Do I masturbate before other acting out?
  • Have I masturbated where I didn’t want to?
  • Are accessories important to my masturbation (pornography, sex toys, lubricants, etc.), and if so, in what ways are they important?
  • When I have fantasies during masturbation, how do they relate to my current sex plan? Are these fantasies risky for me, or am I comfortable knowing they are just fantasy?
  • Have I ever injured or pained myself during masturbation?
  • What do I feel before masturbation, and is there a pattern?
  • What do I feel during masturbation, and is there a pattern?
  • What do I feel after masturbation, and is there a pattern?
  • Is my masturbation loving to me?
  • Is my masturbation isolating?
  • Does masturbation make my life in any way(s) unmanageable?
  • What, if any, do I consider the positives of my masturbation?
  • In what ways, if any, is masturbation a tool for me?
  • How does masturbation impact upon my relationships? my dating?
  • How does my masturbation impact upon my spirituality? my self-esteem?
  • Etc. (Make up your own.)

With our responses to questions like these, we look for positive and negative aspects to know what we might want to keep and what we might want to change. We want to understand as thoroughly as possible how we have related, and are relating to ourselves sexually.


During our fact finding we listen for the experiences of other SCA members and share our own experiences in meetings, by telephone, and in person. We always treat such sharing as confidential, protecting the anonymity of every individual and their right to privacy.

When sharing our experiences, while being specific, we are especially careful to use considerate wording, being more “clinical or scientific” than casual, being careful to avoid sexually provocative words, graphic language, or creating any sort of verbal intrigue. We make sure that our listener(s) is/are willing to listen the topic of masturbation and is/are reasonably comfortable with this topic.

When listening to others share such potentially provocative information, we permit ourselves to interrupt sexually arousing wording when necessary to protect our recovery, without judgment of ourselves as listener or whomever is sharing with us. In all cases, we focus on the facts, the point of the sharing, and avoid suspense, intrigue, and “exciting” description. We do not debate anyone’s feelings on graphic or provocative language but speak considerately as is necessary for each person and situation. Occasionally we entirely forego, at least until a more “suitable-for-everyone” opportunity for sharing arises, any details about an experience except the details of our emotions: how we felt or feel. Often an ordinary recovery meeting, unless specifically organized for such a topic, is not a good forum for lengthy, detailed sharing on this potentially provocative topic.


After becoming sufficiently, and hopefully thoroughly, conscious of our personal masturbation experiences and issues, having shared to some degree this information with other SCA members, we deal with masturbation in light of and in support of our whole sexual recovery plan.

Proceeding 5th step style, we share the details of our masturbation history, our personal assessment and what this assessment has revealed with a trusted person, perhaps our sponsor, who understands our aim.

Recalling one’s own current and past masturbation experiences in the presence of another SCA member helps us understand even more how masturbation affects our present recovery. Hearing the experiences of other recovering sexual compulsives helps us become conscious of precisely how our own masturbation affects ourselves, positively and negatively.


Then with the knowledge of our inventory, our recovery, the support of our trusted person, and our Higher Power we write our recovery plan regarding masturbation and begin living it one day at a time.

Please note that the experience of SCA members suggests we do not alter our recovery plan without an honest process of sharing and feedback; no one is bound by feedback though we do find feedback works a reality-check process vital to our individual recoveries.


Since masturbation practices range across styles and boundaries, differing from person to person, from act to act, and from year to year, what you will have discovered of masturbation will likely share some

characteristics and will also have some characteristics unique to you, perhaps unique to this time in your recovery. For some, writing a plan will be simple and general, others will find good reasons for a more

personalized even a more complex plan. For the more personalized and complex plan, boundaries regarding masturbation may be considered by each individual, for example boundaries guiding:

  • Frequency of or abstinence from masturbation,
  • Duration (whatever feels good, may spend up to 30 minutes, must spend more than 15 minutes, may not spend more than 15 minutes, etc.),
  • Place (anywhere, or only certain places like: only at home, only in bed, not in bed, etc.),
  • Fantasy (anything goes, only certain things like: only safe, only loving, only in keeping with my plan, etc.),
  • Instruments (whatever I want, none, etc.) or pornography (whatever I want, none, only safe sex porn, only homosexual porn, only heterosexual porn, only loving imagery, etc.),
  • Kind of touch (gentle, non-abusive, anything I want, etc.),
  • Etc. as needed.


Often, experiencing a plan over a period of time is the only true test we know that tells us if we are on a good track for ourselves, so we give our plan a thorough effort and see what happens when we live it. Working on subtle issues, as masturbation is for some, we might be setting ourselves up for failure by, at an inappropriate time, naming masturbation as a bottom line behavior.

Sometimes a better idea is to simply try living with this update section of our plan as a guide for us without employing the notion of a slip. We ought to have sufficiently compelling reason(s) for naming something as bottom line behavior so that engaging in such behavior would be called a slip.


Masturbation, for some, is a useful self-loving expression, an exploring of one’s safe and sober sexual identity; an opportunity to feel the difference between object sex and personalized loving.

Some make a “date with themselves” to masturbate; some feel spontaneity is better for them. Some find masturbating without any fantasies a very different and self-loving experience. Some learn more about their sexuality and themselves from contemplating the implications of their own fantasies. Some redefine masturbation, changing the focus from orgasm to sensuality and “making love with myself”, sometimes purposefully abstaining from orgasm. Some romance themselves with music, candles, bubble baths or other sensually pleasing external elements.

Some SCA members find masturbation works as a tool to relieve their desire to engage in bottom-line behavior(s). For some, masturbating has such undeniable facets of self-care, self-protection.


Some common and more obvious negative characteristics of masturbation are: masturbating repeatedly in a short time, masturbating for long periods, injuring oneself while masturbating, masturbating to escape feelings, masturbating habitually and/or ritualistically; masturbating and indulging in fantasies of bottom line sexual behavior; masturbating in inappropriate places. Sometimes these kinds of negatives linked with masturbation are the very reasons we came to recovery in the first place.

For some who are in relationships, masturbation can be a means of isolating from one’s partner, of perpetuating walls against one’s partner. For others, masturbation can be a tool of prevention from otherwise acting out outside the relationship.


Over time, we discover exactly how masturbation is and how it is not “acting out,” in the context of our own recovery. Over time, we discover if masturbation is or can be self-loving and increasingly experience the exact nature of loving physical self-relating. We discover that sometimes the difference between acting out with masturbation and really loving ourselves with masturbation is only revealed in the emotions we experience around masturbation; that the externals of the behavior are exactly the same from masturbation experience to masturbation experience – only our heart reveals a difference.


Many have found it helpful that for every boundary, every act or thing we abstain from, we replace the negative with loving, supportive behavior so that our lives are not left with the gaping, empty holes that our dysfunctional behavior seemed to, yet failed to, fill. These replacements can be anything from fun behavior rewards to coping techniques to support networks (meetings, phone calls, dates, time alone, cultural events, exercise, time spent with a hobby, etc.).


SCA members discover at some point clear differences between acting out and loving sexual behavior. Some will be for some time unaware of their own problems with masturbation or will not consider them problems, while others will truly not have problems with masturbation. SCA is a program of self-diagnosis and so it encourages individuals to be guided by their own recovery process and the principles of honesty, openness and willingness.


Some of the boundaries we consider become written into our recovery plans as hard boundaries, bottom lines; other boundaries become flexible boundaries, in our “gray” area. Living with these boundaries helps us to learn about ourselves, what we can live with and what we aim for, though being human we may occasionally fall short of our ideal. Some of these boundaries we will use for short periods, “just for today,” for one night, for one weekend, for one week, or for 30, 60, 90 days as trials to learning about ourselves through experience. Some of these boundaries will become permanent parts of our recovery plan. We keep in mind that our recovery is “one day at a time” and our vision is about progress, not perfection; our recovery progresses over time based upon incorporating into our living the principles of recovery, the twelve traditions and the twelve steps.


Total abstinence is also a useful self-loving expression, an exploring of one’s safe and sober sexual identity; an opportunity to feel the differences between object sex and personalized loving.

Both masturbation and total abstinence may be healthy tools along the process of your recovery; each of us may discover for ourselves, while learning from the experiences of others. Note that finding your answers does not suggest jeopardizing your sexual sobriety as part of the process.

Without any implication of endorsement or opposition, let us turn the focus of discussion to abstinence for a moment. Total abstinence opens a powerful door for some. Some SCA members have found total abstinence is one key to a profound spirituality and a better life. Others of us learn for the first time that we will not die without sex, and that sex is not our most important need.

Sometimes through abstinence long repressed feelings and memories return to us, and these can be powerful, sometimes difficult, painful experiences. Some of us recovering from sexual compulsion have experienced during periods of celibacy: nightmares, disrupted sleep, heightened sensuality, strong cravings, depression, sadness, strong feelings, feeling crazy, etc., even while they may also be experiencing strongly positive effects. Some of us for the first time become conscious that we have experienced childhood sexual trauma or incest. Some of us find total abstinence neither difficult to achieve nor profoundly revealing. Such diversity of experience suggests everyone’s experience is their own and is valid as such.

Some of us, otherwise abstinent, find long-term total abstinence “impossible” though we make repeated attempts; others live long-term total abstinence without experiencing great difficulty; others are happy with periodic total abstinence. Whatever abstinence or non-abstinence or mix we employ and are able to live with does not make us “more recovered” than someone else on their plan and is not a “superior” plan to someone else’s; judging each other in such a way contradicts our right to define sexual sobriety for ourselves.

The point is that as recovering sexual compulsives, our experience has taught us to be aware that total abstinence is merely a tool of recovery, not a prize, not a way of winning a romantic relationship, not a better sobriety than somebody else’s; total abstinence remains a tool that is used for the purpose of enhancing our own life, not a tool for beating ourself or someone else.


As everyone who is in recovery knows, plenty of support is essential to our success. The following are some of the ways we have been responsible for getting the support we needed and we recommend to you:

  • Note your “danger” times
  • Support yourself through conversations with others who care, be with others who care, as much as possible.
  • Write out your feelings, daily or nightly.
  • Give to yourself as you would to someone you admire.
  • Remember feeling sexuality does not require expressing sexuality.
  • Stretch, exercise.
  • Pray.
  • Meditate.
  • Attend meetings daily.
  • Do extra housekeeping.
  • Companionship.
  • Plan fun for yourself.
  • Avoid provocative places and provocative people.
  • Leave provocative situations and people.
  • Let go of the sexual experience to feel love.
  • Think of your recovery plan as how to know oneself better.
  • Think of your recovery plan as the way to let reality in.
  • Give yourself the idea that “for today, just maintaining my plan, if that is all I do, makes me a winner.”
  • Etc. (Make up your own.)


Sometimes total abstinence is a kind of sexual anorexia, a punishing experience, a harsh and grandiose attempt to simply turn off and control sexuality. We often need to be careful of being too hard on ourselves, of denying ourselves good living. You, with the help of others recovering from sexual compulsion and the principles of SCA, will eventually find your answers should you seek them with honesty and thoroughness in your heart. We know that we do not earn sex or relationships by abstinence or any other means – we let relationships happen; we give relationships opportunities to happen; we build relationships; we nurture relationships, realizing they may perish without our attention.

We keep in mind that repression and punishment are contrary to recovery; that we do not gain anything by unhealthy self-denial. We look to our sexual recovery plan for the opportunity to express our sexual feelings and our love, disarming utopianism and perfectionism; understanding the human, imperfect, healthy characteristics of loving and sexual expression.


The well-known motto “Progress, not perfection” tells us to be compassionate with ourselves and our recovery, especially when a slip occurs. Very few of us are able to attain a goal perfectly, from the moment we know our goal. Often we begin by falling short of a goal of long-term sexual sobriety while achieving more short-term sobriety than before. We keep in mind “one day at a time” and enjoy to the best of our ability, every hour, evening, day, and continuing period of the recovery we work for and are graced with. if we slip at some point we stop ourselves and return to our recovery as soon as we possibly can and admit our humanness, share our pain. Shortly thereafter, to forestall another slip, we seek an understanding of why we slipped. We do this as many times as sexual sobriety calls for, for experienced SCA members assure us by their own experience that without doubt, a sexual sobriety that we can happily live with can be ours. We understand that forgiving ourselves after a slip is-essential; but that forgiving a slip is not the same as permitting ourselves another slip as an option. We don’t let feelings of humiliation, that might arise out of a slip, keep us from recovery and this day of sobriety; we understand that “slips” are the primary reason why we have all come to recovery in the first place.


Whatever choices you discover are right for your recovery for today, keep in mind the tools of the program: meetings, sponsorship, telephone, service, literature, slogans, twelve steps and twelve traditions, prayer and meditation, sexual recovery plan, abstention, socializing, dating, and living one day at a time.


Experienced SCA members recommend that you give consideration of “how to address masturbation on your recovery plan” time enough so that you share your plan, your feelings and your discoveries with other SCA members whose recoveries you trust. Your Higher Power will help you to sometimes sooner, sometimes later, discover a livable plan, and lasting serenity on this issue.


  1. Recall your own experiences.
  2. Hear the experiences of other SCA members.
  3. Share your inventory with someone.
  4. Write your plan & “check” it with that same someone.
  5. Live your plan and see how it works for you.
  6. Update when appropriate.


© 1995 International Service Organization, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous.

The preceding text is available in PDF format HERE.