We Can Regain Our Full Humanness

I am a white heterosexual U.S. male in my fifties. Early isolation and disconnection, combined with easy access to pornography, caused me to become addicted to pornography and masturbation—in the false hope of feeling connected and not alone.

When I was six years old, I was watching television with a glass of milk and cookies and was touching my penis and feeling some positive sensations. My father yelled, “Stop it!” and I did. This is my earliest memory of masturbation.

My father subscribed to "Playboy".[1] He would leave it on his bedside table. I remember looking forward to being alone in the house so that I could sneak looks at my father’s Playboy magazines and masturbate. I was left alone a lot and, in retrospect, felt very alone.

Soon looking at pornography and masturbating became associated such that I would not do one without the other. I did them when I was feeling isolated, alone, and bored. They produced some positive physical sensations, and there was a thrill in doing something I was not supposed to do and getting away with it.[2]

I have counseled a lot on my addiction to masturbation and pornography, though I still have more to do. I have also led numerous groups on the topic. Here are some of my thoughts:


As boys we are left alone early on, both physically and emotionally. We are not expected to need closeness, reassurance, or attention. This early abandonment leaves a huge void. We feel desperate to get physical and emotional closeness in our lives.

We are also socialized to control ourselves, to not express our feelings openly. We become afraid to be vulnerable, and therefore we fear intimacy (which includes being vulnerable and sharing feelings). Numbing out seems to make it easier to control our feelings, so we become susceptible to addictions.

We feel desperate for closeness, and society focuses our attention on sex as the only avenue for attaining it. Our desperation for closeness, with sex as the narrow means to achieve it, combined with our fears about intimacy and vulnerability, leads us to seek “pseudo-solutions,” such as anonymous sex, one-night stands, paid-for sex, masturbation, and pornography. These are pseudo-solutions because they do not offer real closeness. They are generally devoid of real intimacy with another person. Sexual fantasizing is systematically encouraged and keeps us disconnected from other people and distracted from awareness about men’s oppression. All of this leads to huge profits for the pornography and other sex industries.

Another reason we are pulled to pseudo-solutions is that we have all experienced early hurts related to sex and our bodies. Because we are naturally eager to discharge these hurts, we tend to seek out situations that appear to contradict them but that often simply restimulate them. This explains the wide variety of pornographic images and sexual situations that different men are drawn to.


We are given the following misinformation:

• “Masturbation is based on biological necessity; if we don’t do it, we will have ‘wet dreams.’” Reality: It is not biologically necessary.

• “Men must have sex, and it’s better for them to use pornography and masturbate than to force sex on another person.” Reality: Men do not need to have sex.

• “Pornography should be more widely distributed, as it is an outlet for men’s sexual energy and thereby leads to a decrease in sex crimes.” Reality: Men simply need to discharge on how they have been hurt. Pornography reinforces sexism, male domination, racism, ageism, and violence—all of which can lead to sex crimes.

• “Masturbation and pornography do not hurt anyone.” Reality: We hurt ourselves when we act out an addiction. Also, images showing sexism, male domination, racism, and ageism hurt and confuse us and distort our human interactions. For example, men are led to believe that real-life sexual contact should resemble pornographic images. In addition, pornography is created, at least in part, via sex trafficking and forcing people to have sex under the threat and reality of violence.

• “Pornography is just fantasy and fun.” Reality: It reinforces male domination and sexism and hurts the people who are used to create it.


Here are some counseling tips for eliminating addictions to masturbation and pornography:

• Remember that we men are completely good, completely good, completely good. And that we have been hurt.

• Tell your masturbation and pornography life story. How did pornography get introduced to you? What was going on[3] in your life at the time?

• Talk about how masturbation and pornography have seemed to be useful and then say good-bye to them. Direction: “I have masturbated/used pornography for the last time, and this means . . . .” Discharge on what you would have to face, feel, and discharge if you lived your life without masturbation and pornography.

• Decide, as often as necessary, to stop masturbating and using pornography. Meanwhile, don’t let engaging in them be an excuse for feeling bad about or blaming yourself. You are not bad in any way. You have been hurt and can discharge your hurts.

• Discharge on your earliest memories connected in any way at all with sex.

• Scorn the shame, embarrassment, secrecy, and humiliation associated with masturbation and pornography. For example, say, “I have used pornography, haven’t you?” in a light tone.

• Use “blanks” to tell stories associated with masturbation and pornography. I’ve led a variety of groups for “People Who Are, or Do, Blank.” The participants never talk directly about the content of what they are discharging on. This keeps them from rehearsing the distress and restimulating the people who are listening.

• Listen to women as they talk and discharge about sexism, male domination, and pornography. Hearing about these things from the women we know and care about makes real their devastating impact on women’s lives.

• Organize and lead efforts to eliminate the pornography industry and people’s addictions to masturbation and pornography.

• Stop doing things that lead you to act out the addiction. For example, block “adult” material on your computer, stop subscribing to cable-television movie channels.

• Do not bring pornographic material to Co-Counseling sessions or describe in detail what you have been most “interested” in. We need to discharge the hurts that underlie the addiction, not rehearse them.


Here are some points to remember when counseling on masturbation and pornography:

• These are addictions. Counseling on them is basically the same as counseling on any other addiction or chronic pattern. The key is to decide to stop acting out the behavior. This will bring up the feelings we need to discharge.

• Heavy-handed, oppressive, abusive interventions early in our lives left many of us understandably suspicious of any “authority” telling us to stop masturbating or using pornography. We can discharge on the early incidents, stand up for ourselves “back there,” and then choose rational instead of reactive behavior in the present.

• A support group can greatly facilitate work on these addictions. Discharging any chronic pattern requires repeatedly and in an ongoing way contradicting the underlying distresses (in my case, isolation, boredom, and disconnection). This includes setting up our lives to contradict them (in my case, by finding real closeness and intimacy, pursuing interesting activities, and taking every opportunity to notice my connection with others and our mutual caring).

• Our counselors also need to be discharging their distresses related to pornography and masturbation, in order to have the attention to be effective counselors for us.

• We can remember that distresses from our identities and oppressions—for example, Catholic shame and secrecy, Jewish terror, GLBTQ[4] defensiveness—tie into our addictions.

• When counseling on an addiction, as the underlying distresses are brought to the surface we may temporarily feel an increased pull to act out the addiction. This is the pattern battling for survival. One solution is to counsel on the addiction regularly and repeatedly, rather than intermittently.

• Once again, we men are completely good. The confusions, hurts, and addictions were installed on us when we could not resist them. We do not deserve blame or reproach for having them. We want to, and can, discharge and regain our full humanness.


[1] "Playboy" is a magazine depicting nude and scantily dressed women as sex objects.
[2] “Getting away with it” means not suffering any consequences.
[3] “Going on” means happening.
[4] Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00