Why Do I Feel Intense Shame and Self-Hatred When I Masturbate?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,
Hi. I'm not sure how to say this so I'll just say it. I masturbate at least twice a day. Whenever I finish, I feel a profound sense of shame about it and I feel terrible for like an hour. Sometimes the shame even ruins my day. Everything I've read says masturbation is normal for guys, yet I can't get past these feelings of shame and self-hatred. I feel like I should be able to exercise more willpower and stop myself when I feel the urge, but the truth is I like it and I don't want to stop. And I'm not hurting anybody (except myself, I guess), so why should I? Do I have a problem? Why do I feel so bad about doing something that is supposedly normal? I'm not in a relationship, if that matters at all. —Deeply Ashamed
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Dear Deeply Ashamed,

Thank you for your honest question. If anyone were to tell you that you’re “going straight to hell” for this, believe me, you’d have plenty of company on the way down—and an especially good chunk of the male population ages 15-25. My first thought was “he’s in high school or college,” when hormones have pretty much taken over, especially for men.

But the shame you refer to indicates that this is more of a psychological than physical issue; it’s as if you’re violating some strict “rule” by pleasuring yourself, which (again) is natural. It’s sad when I hear of people who can’t enjoy this; nature clearly intended this, or we wouldn’t be so powerfully stimulated by genital contact. I wonder what “commandment” or prohibition you are “breaking” by self-stimulating? Because of the intensity of the feelings here, you might want to seek out a therapist or counselor to sort out why you feel such strong self-loathing after masturbating. I would bet, in fact, that the intensity of the self-loathing creates a need for relief—and thus the compulsion to do it a second time, which then, of course, only stokes the angry “inner critic.”

I would wonder, if you or someone else were to bring this issue to my office, if the voice of criticism might in fact exist before the act, and thus create a need to feel good in a way that is self-activated. Whose voice is this? A critical parent or caretaker? When did it start? What is the “crime” being committed here? Are you ignoring something else you “should” be doing instead? I would also be curious about the attitudes around sex in your family of origin. Was it seen as something “dirty” or wrong? Or maybe it wasn’t even talked about, creating a kind of unspoken shame around the topic; it could also be you are inheriting shame around sex and pleasure from implicit or explicit family beliefs.

Sometimes such intensely self-hating emotions come when there has been some kind of overt or covert abuse, physical or emotional. I am not suggesting this is the case here, only that sometimes in my clinical work, I find an association of good sexual feelings with shame over an earlier boundary violation, subtle or severe. Of course, any intensive criticism you might have received, about what you are doing in private with your own body, would constitute a boundary violation of its own.

The other thing I’d want to explore is the question of whether masturbation is the only way to bring some kind of embodied, out-of-your-head relief or pleasure to yourself. Sometimes folks with obsessive minds pursue repetitive means of relieving an overburdened or tired mind. If you feel you have no choice but to masturbate, or if it drains you of necessary energy to complete the tasks of living (work, play, socializing), then you might be caught in a compulsive activity which might necessitate a therapeutic intervention. (I could be wrong, but my sense is that yours is not a compulsive or addictive issue, since those with sexual compulsions usually reflect more ambivalence or torn feelings than your letter indicates.)

The danger isn’t so much the “wrongness” of the act itself, in my view; it’s the long-term effects of shame and self-loathing over bringing pleasure to yourself, and possibly sexual activity, which might inhibit intimacy and get in the way of developing satisfying romantic relationships—either concerning sex itself or shame over your habit. (I wonder if shame might also be felt in other areas where you seek personal satisfaction, like career, creativity, etc.) Shame about sex tends to create defenses that can keep others away, with heartbreaking results, when those we care about feel pushed away.

Good for you for having the courage to write in about such a sensitive issue; it’s not only a common pleasurable activity, it’s relatively common to question whether it’s OK to do. You needn’t feel shame about the need to get some guidance on this, especially if balanced, non-shaming guidance was missing in earlier years.

Kindest regards,
Darren

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, MA, MFT, is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
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  • logan

    May 9th, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    I would suspect that this either has something to do with the way you were raised and the messages that you were always given about masturbation when you were younger, or it is because it is taking you away from other things that should be bringing you pleasure in life but are not. I guess that it could be either but I know that there are toms of people who have a hard time dealing with their sexuality and the emotions about it when they have been brought up in a home that tells you that this is something that you should be ashamed of, and not necessarily joyful about. Thise things that you were taught when you were young could be feeding into some of these emotions that you have.

  • flipf

    January 17th, 2017 at 6:59 PM

    It has nothing to do with how you were raised. Feeling physiologically depleted after sex/masturbation has to do with bio-chemistry. There are many species (fish/insects) who die (especially the male) right after copulation. Watch a video of a Salmon who’s swum hundreds of miles, just to fertilize some eggs, immediately after doing so, they float inert and exhausted, and shortly thereafter die, if they feel euphoric, it’s probably nature’s way of anesthetizing them. From an evolutionary perspective you’ve done you’re job, the chain can go on, and you’re basically finished. Now this isn’t precisely true of human beings but the feelings of shame tiredness, depletion, emptiness, have nothing to do with the way you were raised that’s all psychobabble. The effects may be intensified by not having a partner near by when you shoot because you’ve failed to procreate, but even if you do, the cessation of desire, or desire for cessation is still there. You may love your wife or girlfriend, but you will have no desire for her after you ejaculate, for as long as your personal refractory period happens to last—it doesn’t matter who you are or how you were raised—sometimes you feel a slight euphoria, but this is mostly the pressure being let out. You’re dopamine spikes way up to the moment of orgasm, then comes crashing down…shame, revulsion, fatigue, thinking how the hell your going to get out of there, are hardwired into sex. An animal is never quite so vulnerable as when it’s copulating, that’s why the pull to do so needs to be damn near irresistible. If you aren’t going to lay down and die afterwards, it makes sense for your body to hit you with any number of chemical messages telling you basically, ‘run for your life!’ It’s really time people threw out the charlatanism of psychiatry, and looked at physiological/chemical fact. Some behaviors may stem from childhood experience, but this does not condone the wild hypothesizing, and absurd theories that have been perpetuated for the last hundred plus years. It’s time for all Freud-type guess work to be chucked out along with all the other outmoded nineteenth century ideas. What goes up must come down.

  • Paul

    April 20th, 2017 at 9:43 PM

    If you have a religious background like myself it preaches that it wrong to lust over your neighbors wife and to covet what’s not yours as far as married or taken women ..but I too seem to have the same over baring guilt like I did my lover wrong and or God in some way ..

  • Rita p

    May 10th, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    There has always been this prevailing message that this is wrong and so that is kind of how I have always believed too.

  • Darren Haber MFT

    Darren Haber MFT

    May 11th, 2014 at 10:11 PM

    Thank you for your comments.

  • Vikki

    May 12th, 2014 at 4:02 AM

    Men have been made to feel oversexed if they masturbate and women have been made to feel like they are dirty if they do. Why? this is all a part of basic human sexuality and very natural. Now if it is getting in the way of you being able to do your job or interact with others, or you don’t even want to consider a sexual relationship with a partner because of masturbation getting in the way of that then there is a problem that needs to be addressed and dealt with. But otherwise I think that it is wrong for anyone to continue to characterize there being something wrong with you if you choose to masturbate.

  • andrew p

    May 13th, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    I suppose that if it is not holding you back in other areas of your life then it’s ok, but I think that you must know that in some ways that it is or else you would not be writing in here

  • Amy Armstrong

    Amy Armstrong

    May 13th, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    I really appreciate your compassionate and thoughtful response to this, Darren. This was also a very brave question to write in, even anonymously. Without realizing it, I think a lot of us get our sense of goodness tied up with the quirks of the people and community we are raised with, and the more salient being a “good” person is in your values system, the more likely these beliefs are to get to you. Also, this is especially challenging for young people who are still trying to figure out who they are and what is important to them apart from their parents. The issue really isn’t the masturbation, but the intense shame. While this might seem like a silly example of good vs. bad behavior gone awry, some people feel ashamed when they receive public recognition for doing something well, and I think those feelings often stem from the same place. Anyway, obviously, there’s a lot here, and it’s definitely a good idea to address the thoughts and shame.

  • Darren Haber

    Darren Haber

    May 15th, 2014 at 11:03 PM

    Thanks!

  • Pauline

    May 14th, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    I will admit that this is something that is hard for me to accept I guess mainly because I was brought up in a home that I would describe as sexually repressed and thus all of us kind of ended up that way too!
    I am glad that there are so many more freedoms available now then there were when I was growing up, and I like to think that I am more open minded than say my parents would have been about this. I still have to wonder though why you feel the need to do this all the time of you have someone in your life that you care about and who makes you feel good on a physical and emotional level. This isn’t something that you are doing, it is just me trying to understand this and how this can play a healthy part in an actual relationship.

  • cam

    May 28th, 2014 at 5:51 AM

    I found out my own,answer from a doctors blog if you are masterbating more than once a week it is unhealthy. to cut it back to once a month and when,you do,masterbate man or women you loose vital vitamins and minerals from ejaculation like protien, b vitamins and others and when you do it excessively you can,loose muscle mass from the lack of protien to your body and get more angry and irritable from doing it your body naturaly will, clean it self out dead sperm,cells and the body will reobsorb it. I have stopped completely I feel wonderful more energetic happier to do it once a month is healthy by his standards it is up to you how far you want to go with it

  • Bob

    May 22nd, 2015 at 12:50 AM

    I think moderation is the key if one can do it. Some sources claim that long ago God told man not to spill his seed on the ground. I interpreted that as don’t waste ones semen/yang energy.
    So for me the real question is where can real balance be found ? My best guess is in a loving, nurturing, intimate relationship. If one is bi-sexual;My goodness I wouldn”t know where to start. Some may say sexual desire is a gift from the Gods. For me it has been a curse !

  • Jon

    September 2nd, 2016 at 9:57 PM

    Almost everything you just said was wrong now i dont know if your just lying or did you get this information from a website from the 1930s but to anybody even thinking about taking this comment seirously please dont

  • Dr Ham, Sex Educator and OBGYN

    June 23rd, 2014 at 12:37 AM

    A woman who achieves orgasm once a day versus once a month, has a 40% drop in her risk for breast cancer. To that add life-force-giving testosterone and her lifetime breast cancer risk drops to. 1/300 vs 1:8 we see now. Now optimize all by shedding the bra, or no more than 6 hrs a day, and the a woman’s risk for breast cancer now approaches a mans – at 1:800-1000, and…you both feel and look great! Check our website coastalclinic.com, or tweet at #drjohnnieham.

  • Ali

    January 7th, 2015 at 8:58 PM

    When you do it too much and it affects your lifestyle then yes it does become unhealthy and has many health risks; however, it’s actually very healthy and can boost your sex life, decrease women’s risk of breast cancer, relieve stress, etc etc. It doesn’t matter how often you do or don’t do it, what matters is if it fits your lifestyle. Masturbation is completely natural and healthy and no one should ever be made to feel ashamed or guilty of the act.

  • marty

    February 7th, 2015 at 3:26 PM

    I read things online about how masturbation causes anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, emotional problems, sexual dysfunction, low self-esteem, bad eyesight, shriveled testicles, laziness. Now we have Cam (above) saying it will drain me of my vitamins, protien and I will lose muscle…

    It’s no wonder I feel horrible about myself after I masturbate. Is it healthy to feel such shame?!?!?!?!? I am a male how masturbates about 4 times a week.

  • Alex

    May 20th, 2015 at 12:12 AM

    Well…when you masturbate you’re technically replacing happiness for that specific moment and then you feel like crap because that “built-in happiness” went away. So that shame that people feel after masturbating is just an amplified anxiety feeling that you get when you think of something that you should feel ashamed of(in this case masturbation itself). So in general you’d still feel like crap if you’d have a reason to and in your case you create a reason to be ashamed of. Now i’m not saying it’s ok to do it since most people become depressed because of it. People who don’t are just in the phase where they don’t really know that they’re addicted or they deny that their addicted or they just started doing it. Masturbation is too pleasurable not to get addicted to. It’s like eating from McDonalds once and say you’re never going to that place again. It just doesn’t make sense…but after you realise that you don’t really need it and you just want it, all you have to do is..stop doing it when you don’t want to do it :) Peace 8-)

  • Patrick

    August 6th, 2016 at 8:49 AM

    You describe the process very well.

  • Bob

    May 22nd, 2015 at 12:36 AM

    Well, I’m a 50 year old male who hates condoms but not interested in knocking up any women for the sake sexual pleasure.There’s enough unwanted people in the world.IMO
    its taken me a long time to figure out if masturbation with lust of women are a healthy outlet for me. I”ve decided it is not. There are many negitive effects from doing it that I feel don’t get acknowledged. Coping with sexual energy and a healthy attraction towards the opposite sex has always been great trouble for me. If I mastubate I feel alienated from women lack self confidence to build intimacy with them and my shame and sexual guilt magnifies as does my self hatred and inadequacies

  • relieved

    December 4th, 2015 at 1:57 AM

    Wow, thank you for the wisdom. I have made many girls insecure in relationships, because when I had any kind of foreplay or sex, they could obviously tell i felt awful about it after. I love it during, but the tradeoff of guilt never feels worth it. people all around me think i have sex all the time because I’m amazing at approaching and flirting with girls. Basically, I get them to the bedroom and get sexual in some form, we have an amazing time.. and then I make them feel ashamed because my mind suddenly flips to dismal. I fooled around a little with a friend of mine 3 years ago, and then turned her down when she wanted sex. She’s gorgeous and thankfully still my friend. She thinks I turned her down for a less embarrassing reason. I’m 34 now and besides that friend, I haven’t had any sex, foreplay, kissing, or holding hands in my 30’s. i meet a lot of interested girls, but I can’t keep doing this to them or myself. I know my situation is not healthy, because each girl feels inevitably like a lost cause, and life certainly did not intend that. I feel guilty masturbating most of the time. So pretty much, sex and the inspiration of beautiful girls has been reduced to a recipe for feelings of hopelessness. It’s just a neverending staircase. Your article helped a bit. I will continue reading more info on this subject

  • Darren H.

    Darren H.

    December 5th, 2015 at 10:58 PM

    Thanks relieved, you might want to check out books by Patrick Carnes or Pia Mellody. Mellody writes more about love addiction and codependence but as they say in recovery, scratch an alcoholic and addict and you find a “codependent” underneath. It’s not my favorite word but it’s familiar in terms of describing a loss of self-identity, confidence and putting all your emotional eggs in another’s basket.

  • Anon

    April 20th, 2016 at 3:40 AM

    Hi, I feel that way to and have felt that way for a long time…I am 24 and I feel scared of having a boyfriend, and maybe i guess they might be related. Except I am a girl which makes asking for help on this issue way harder i think. Do you have any tips on asking for help and not feeling really ashamed around the person you tell! Thanks

  • Tazer

    June 14th, 2016 at 12:10 AM

    ….

  • Faber made

    June 22nd, 2016 at 4:08 AM

    I use to be like you too Darren.well this problem I think it is because you were told that masurbwte is dirty or is harmful and anything.Anyways to stop being like this you have to keep yourself busy example go and get yourself some job or play with someone and also hang out with your friends too.i hope this work.hope you got the best of luck

  • Patrick

    August 6th, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    Hi, I have the same feelings the past 45 years. But mine is much worse even. If i do it, I feel so ashamed, i am afraid to go out of the house for 2 days. I am very depressed and the shame is very very painful. I hit rock bottom for almost 2 days, then recover. But mine started when i was about 18 yrs. old. In a matter of about 3 days, it was like a tidal wave breaking thru some damn that had built up for years (shame). It never left me really over 45 years. I stopped at that time for 10 yrs. out of total paranoia. Everything had a connotation by association. A door knob, a pan handle, a broom handle. I couldn’t even get keys out of my pocket without paranoia by association that i was touching myself and this association was so vivid that i couldn’t hide the shame. I still have this problem till now. Meds? Nothing has helped.

  • bill

    August 15th, 2016 at 1:38 PM

    we may all need a girlfriend. no joke

  • George

    November 3rd, 2016 at 6:11 AM

    You are not the only one who feels self hate and shame when masturbating. That’s happened to me to and I’m sure other people as well. Many years ago I had a beautiful girlfriend who loved sex. Sex with her raised me up instead of bringing me down. It filled my life with love instead of self hate. I think there are some things that we as people including psychologists don’t understand. As Shakespeare once said “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I don’t understand sex. I don’t understand the link to shame and why it’s there. However, I think shame like pain is a valuable warning to stop doing something. If you injure your knee for example, you may not know what happened inside your knee but you’re probably better off not using your knee for a few days until it’s better. Pain is warning you, stay off that knee. Likewise if you feel shame I would suggest listening to it and avoiding the actions that cause the shame even if they are pleasurable. Shame may be telling you there is something bad about what you are doing. Regarding the people who say masturbation is natural, just because a lot of people do something doesn’t mean it’s right to do it. I’m not saying to stop it altogether but I’m saying I’ll bet you feel better overall if you minimize it. I think the best solution is to find an attractive loving girlfriend who likes sex if you can.

  • Ahmed el-kady

    November 25th, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    I am a man . I am 25 years old and did not have sex but I masturbate and really feels so tired in my body and my mind ,feels ashamed , lazy , has no motivation to do any thing and nervous after masturbation, I do not know what is the feeling after having sex with the girl? Is it the same or not and what is the difference??

  • Pete

    January 4th, 2017 at 9:29 AM

    Hello, I found this post just now when I googled, “Why do I feel guilty about masturbating?” I’m 20 years old in college with a girlfriend, I’ve always been open to sexual tendencies, and have masturbated for a long time. It feels good, so obviously I want to do it, not to mention that I haven’t seen my girlfriend in a couple of weeks and we have been unable to satisfy each other’s sexual needs. I have always been a carefree person, able to rationalize with myself about my vices and habits. I had no problems with procrastination, masturbation, smoking marijuana, and pursuing my hobby interests before focusing in on my education…Until relatively recently, my wonderful girlfriend helped me to quit my long, 6 year run with marijuana, and instilled in me her family value of just “getting sh*t done”, for lack of a more accurate phrase. I just masturbated an hour ago, and I feel a clouding sense of guilt in my mind that doesn’t allow me to fully focus on what I’m currently working on (thus me sitting here writing this instead of doing my work… A little ironic, but this is an important topic), and doesn’t allow me to be fully engaged and in the moment in my studies. I think the guilt is exactly because of that. I had “sh*t to do”, and I thought I could just beat one off real quick and get right back to work, but the truth is that I can’t stop thinking about it until I pee afterwards… We can talk about anything here, right? But anyhow I love orgasms, and I think masturbation is a natural thing to do… My proposed solution (and I’ll get back to you if it works or doesn’t): ONLY do it at the end of the day, right before I go to bed, when ALL of my “sh*t is done”, so that I may have wonderfully sexy dreams and get to work the following morning, feeling relaxed and at peace.

  • dave

    January 8th, 2017 at 10:23 AM

    Darren have you read ‘Many lives many masters’ by Brian Weiss ? It is the story of how a top psychiatrist (department head at major university) started using ‘Earlier life therapy’ …apparently quite by chance …thus curing sexual and other problems in his patient where conventional therapy had not had much effect.I used to get Dianetics (concerns earlier lives) many years ago and found it to be effective where other things were not

  • Pencil

    March 22nd, 2017 at 5:05 PM

    I have rationalized in my mind there is no good reason to feel guilty about masturbating and plenty of wrong reasons. The guilt religion instills is not as based in reality as many claim number 1 and number 2 it is really natural to want to do it and 3 no harm comes just by virtue of it being done. Relieve yourself of the stress by realizing the guilt you are feeling might not even be rational guilt. I cant tell you how many times I tried to “resist temptation” when in reality I was trying to resist having a drink. Its normal to have a drink. It only becomes a problem if you drink in such a way that harm comes of it or you become deeply and obessively addicted. Everyone likes ice cream… but if you eat ice cream 24 7 without a break or without sleep or if you start stealing ice cream cones then you have a problem on your hands. I think as long as you can have ice cream without it resulting in unhealthy or harmful or inconsiderate behavior…. then by all means have and enjoy the ice cream.

  • 2cents

    March 24th, 2017 at 10:59 PM

    I have a hard time believing no one has mentioned pornography, here. If we’re viewing porn to masturbate, I think there are naturally some nagging questions in the back of our mind–why are these naked people recording themselves? Did they have regrets? Were drugs or manipulation a factor? I feel guilt free after sex but shameful after masturbation. I think we ought to legalize therapeutic release for hire (handjobs).

  • Connor

    March 30th, 2017 at 7:20 AM

    I have been feeling this way for about 2 years now, anything I read doesn’t make me feel different, I still feel guilt/self-hatred/anger, you name it.

  • Ismail M

    May 11th, 2017 at 10:06 AM

    Thanks a lot!

  • Akash

    May 11th, 2017 at 10:07 AM

    Thanks

  • roguewolf

    May 31st, 2017 at 8:00 PM

    i know how you feel it happened to me and still does sometimes but everyone does it everyone no matter how badly it is looked on or no matter how many people say it is gross everyone does it it is normal it relieves stress and helps you get through the day now days though anything even having to do with a penis or a vagina is thought to be the worse thing ever and that is what society says which makes you feel like you have just done the worst thing ever

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