Is It Healthy to Masturbate to Thoughts of People I Know?


Some people masturbate to thoughts of faceless figures. Some people masturbate to porn. Some people have fantasies about characters from fan fiction.

Me? I tend to masturbate to thoughts of people I actually know, ranging from friends to coworkers to professors to the guy next door to my boss’ husband and everyone in between. Is that healthy? I mean, in most cases I would never actually have sex with these people (it would usually be taboo or inappropriate), so I wonder if it’s healthy to even imagine it or if I should be trying to redirect my fantasies elsewhere.

I personally would be flattered to know that a friend or coworker or whoever was masturbating with me in mind, but I feel a little guilty about it sometimes, like I’m using someone’s image for my sexual gratification without their knowledge or consent. When I’m around these people I don’t act any different; I don’t get weird or creepy or anything. So is there any harm in what I’m doing? Is this normal and healthy? Am I some sort of deviant? —Thinking of You

Submit Your Own Question to a Therapist

Dear Thinking,

Thanks for your question. First, a quick remark regarding your question of whether this is “normal.” I gently discourage people from using this word in therapy, though I understand why they do. Perhaps because I tend to work within an existential-humanistic viewpoint, I have discovered there is no normal. I mean this within the context of understanding a specific person’s psychological and emotional life. So many behaviors or emotions are confusing from a distance, but then make sense as you understand them empathically.

Often the word “normal” often gets conflated with “rational,” or within the bounds of acceptable socio-cultural definition. Thus, it is defined by social norms, which change over time.

But consider that it is not necessarily “rational” to watch a pretend series of moving images on a screen, with actors dressed in costume and special effects generated by computer, in such a way that emotionally involves us with the characters and story we’re seeing (even when that story is called Star Wars or Wonder Woman). It is not rational to be engrossed or frightened by an obviously “fake” science-fiction novel or TV series. All of this is, however, quite human in our need for narratives and fantasies that serve a variety of emotional and psychological purposes. Certainly, sexual fantasies can go beyond the bounds of “rational”—and wouldn’t life be boring if they didn’t?

It seems to me fantasies, even dreams themselves, are often closer to the emotional or psychological truth of our existence than logic or rationality. Rationality is necessary, but too much of it becomes constricting; it’s the non-rational, creative, or unbounded energy that brings color and, frankly, gets the party started (so to speak). It’s hard to imagine a line of people lining up to see a movie about lives which remain rational or “normal” throughout.

Were you in the therapy room with me, I would be curious to hear more about these fantasies of yours, as a window into what might be happening on an unconscious or soulful level.

On the face of it, your fantasies and masturbation, even wondering about the social ethics therein, don’t strike me as unusual or alarming. Having said that, you don’t mention the frequency or intensity of said behaviors. It’s hard to tell whether they happen enough to warrant being considered compulsive. When a compulsion is present, a person often feels they ought to “get a handle” on things, and may feel guilty the behavior (or set of feelings driving the behavior) is hard to manage.

Hard to say, in other words, whether this behavior is relatively harmless (to yourself or others), a way of blowing off some sexual steam, or if it is somehow getting in the way of real-life relationships.

We all sometimes wonder about our own private habits, of course, and may secretly want validation we are not “beyond the bounds” of normalcy (whatever that is), or wonder, “Is this a problem or isn’t it?” Your question does intimate danger or risk in such self-pleasuring, since these fantasy scenarios are possibly “taboo or inappropriate.” This makes me especially curious.

What is the taboo you might be breaking? You don’t mention the specific content of your fantasies, which I am guessing are compelling or captivating in some way. In many cases, the intensity of sexual scenarios relates to some emotional intensity—pain, desire, fear—in our psyche that has not been fully explored or understood, or relationally shared, but which can create turbulence, even shame, until better understood. (That’s not a bad description of the purpose of psychotherapy, incidentally.)

You may know the content of sexual fantasies and desires so often symbolizes or “disguises” a person’s deepest wishes, hopes, and fears. Sexual fantasies are dream-like, and can be interpreted as such, much as Sigmund Freud hinted (though he stubbornly insisted on only one valid interpretation). These fantasy and dream images become a kind of “map” of yearnings or deeper desires not easily expressed consciously, for all manner of reasons.

Sometimes such needs become “eroticized” or take sexual form. The person who feels they are never noticed or truly seen may have exhibitionist-type fantasies in which they are finally “noticed” by others; the “nudity” in this scenario may correspond to a desire to feel unbounded, spontaneous—as young children are often unabashed about their own nudity.

I would suggest paying attention to the emotional hopes or wishes suggested by your imagined scenarios. The only true “taboo” I can imagine is stifling further exploration toward listening to or observing more closely the needs, wants, or hopes your psyche may be trying to communicate.

Within such scenarios, we may see or be “seen” in the most unencumbered and exciting ways. Urges or impulses that are usually kept in “storage” are free to roam. Pushing and playing with boundaries is part of the excitement, in whatever form that takes. This holds true, of course, for both masturbatory and shared sexual activity.

As another example, S&M scenarios are commonly enjoyed by those who (for instance) struggle with feeling overly compliant during their “real” life, but are then empowered to dominate in the bedroom. Meanwhile, those who enjoy being tied up or submissive might struggle with a sense of over-responsibility in “real” life.

Is it possible your fantasies are a way of asserting yourself and your needs in a way that feels elusive in your actual relationships? Are there needs or emotions that are hard to share or communicate in your interactions with others?

Clearly there is an aftermath here of guilt or self-doubt. Again, in what way is this activity “taboo” or possibly “deviant” (a strong word)? Is it that you are somehow “exploiting” these folks without their awareness? In what way might it be wrong to do so? Have you ever felt exploited in any parallel way? Are you concerned such fantasizing might somehow lead to taking action (if there is anything “edgy” or dangerous about your fantasies)? Is there something shameful about the desires symbolized by the fantasies themselves?

I can’t escape the feeling that, at the bottom of all of this, there is something emotional and very human hoping to be more deeply understood.

There is a rather significant detail left out of your note: you don’t mention if you are single. If you are, does it mean your partner would be hurt or offended?

I’m imagining for a moment you are single. Is the “taboo” an offense against yourself, in not seeking an actual sex partner and depriving yourself of an intimacy that may be overwhelming or anxiety-provoking? Or in “permitting” some (possibly sexualized) desires or needs to take shape and find expression, even if privately?

Or, if you are partnered, is there a sense of guilt or “forbidden-ness” around attraction toward others? People are often surprised to learn one can be married or monogamous and still be attracted to others. How far to take such an attraction does subjectively and culturally vary, of course. (There are cultures or traditions, for instance, which allow bigamy, and there has been quite a bit of discussion lately in social and mainstream media about open relationships.)

In short, your question is a provocative one and is worthy of further exploration in therapy. I would suggest paying attention to the emotional hopes or wishes suggested by your imagined scenarios. The only true “taboo” I can imagine is stifling further exploration toward listening to or observing more closely the needs, wants, or hopes your psyche may be trying to communicate.

Kind regards,

Darren Haber, MFT, PsyD

Darren Haber, PsyD, 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.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Terrell

    July 21st, 2017 at 9:57 AM

    Gee it must be kinda weird to run into people later after you have thought about them in this intimate way?

  • Sandra

    July 24th, 2017 at 10:40 AM

    I don’t think that it is necessarily wrong that you would imagine yourself with another person that you know. I guess to me this only becomes a problem when it begins to interfere in some way with other parts of your life.
    Does it keep you from interacting or does it cause you to neglect other more important responsibilities in your life?

  • anonymous

    July 26th, 2017 at 10:13 AM

    I don’t know, I think that part of the fun of masturbation is to have it be a little separate from our normal everyday life. I just don’t want the same old same old to be a part of sexual fantasy.
    That does not work for me
    I would rather you know dream big? Dream about the person who seems to be a little more unattainable rather than my next door neighbor
    But hey, to each his or her own.

  • AnonymousHuman946

    November 23rd, 2018 at 3:51 PM

    I dunno. I have a thing about masturbating to someone I may have met in real life. To me, it just feels wrong somehow. Disrespectful. I mean, I watch porn and whatnot, but the women on those screens take that job with the intent of becoming the subject of someone else’s fantasies. They make a living of expecting people to do that. It’s literally the point of them being actresses in the mature entertainment industry, and in fact, is necessary for them to make a living. But someone you just meet out in the real world while you’re working, or at the library? I can’t imagine they like the idea of some stranger they just met going home and masturbating to the thought of some fantasy they have about them. Most people don’t even want to think about the possibility that numerous men they meet might universally be doing that, unless it’s someone they are actually attracted to, and might be interested in. I could never masturbate while thinking about some woman I just met. I have to approach people I meet in the real world with what i consider to be a healthy measure of dignity, for their sake, and keep things platonic. At least to that extent. It’s like a personal, moral imperative.

  • Sam

    January 1st, 2021 at 12:29 AM

    I personally dont, since I consider that the person may easily have chosen not to have been around me if they prefered I didnt do that. Even regardless, I dont like the idea of doing anything to anyone mentally or not who wouldnt want me to, and consent from an instagram thirst trap or magazine cover doesnt last past the taking in my mind, and they cant just delete that immediately any second of the day, or could be incapacitated.

  • kay

    April 11th, 2021 at 9:12 AM

    i masturbate to everyone i know, everyone ive met, heck even my aunties and some of my cousins, its not that im attracted to them, its just during the time of climaxing, forbidden taboo helps climax faster, the moment i blow my load, all the weird fantasies fade away instantly, like it never even happened

  • Prosper

    May 15th, 2021 at 10:31 AM

    I do masturbate to the people I know mostly. But in real life I’m not attracted to them. I know its weird to most people.

  • jordan

    June 5th, 2021 at 10:28 PM

    @ AnonymousHuman946 Thats ur opinion but the beauty of the mind is it’s just fantasy. I am good at separating fantasy from reality. for example as someone who’s played video games like gtra where u kill people ive imagined myself in real life grta scenarios with real life people i disliked getting run over by a vehicle. But does this mean I will make it reality? No. And plus when I do fantasize about women I like or have a crush on I imagine consensual scenarios. Either way fantasy is fantasy not reality and thinking of someone in any way is in no way disrespectful to them because they are not harmed in any way by any fantasies. for me I never feel awkward about any fantasies I have had when interacting with women. I literally just talk to them and resepct them like I would my mother or my sister when I’m in the real world. My fantasy mind is way different than who I am and how I interact. I respect women and fantasizing over women using my sex drive and harming no one in the process does not make me “disrespectful.”

  • Yopu

    June 27th, 2021 at 12:59 PM

    Wow. I love EVERYONE’S input on this page! It just… exudes… honesty~* (Minus all our aliases! ^. ^;;) Thank you, Darren, for such a nurturing and wholesome, non-judgemental answer to Thinking of You’s question! I was actually looking for information about the possible psychic or nonlocal repercussions, if there is energy or consciousness transmitted during such intensely arousing moments, if they’ll receive any of it; but I super appreciate the psychotherapeutic perspective guiding self-awareness, enabling me to re-ground my understanding and focus~*! I admire these levels of respect, morality, and discernment shared here, even if I’m wondering why the people who DON’T fantasize about people they know are commenting here and how they arrived at this topic…

    That unbounded, creative, spontaneous energy that challenges, evolves, and shifts traditions, paradigms, and normalcy, is what helped me to be comfortable with and finally discover my true sexuality 33 years into my life. Accepting instead of resisting this energy has also helped me to cope with imperfections in others and myself, recognizing that the flaws and differences can be beautiful and endearing, too. Currently I’m struggling with disconnecting from my fantasies and it’s interfering with my relationships. I do suspect compulsion, something I’m prone to. :/ Hence being here… But now I can ask myself reflective, cognitive questions about what I’m feeling and why I’m expressing or visualizing it in this way; which is something my partner does help me do; when I’m brave enough to share with them, when I’m not afraid of their judgement or disapproval, when I feel safe enough to have that discussion.

    Thank you again, Master Darren, for reminding me to interpret my dreams and fantasies rather than just blindly, lustfully becoming immersed within the mind; helping me to be more present and mindful~*! Being able to recognize our desires, hopes, and wishes first, also makes the fantasies and dreams more pleasurable because understanding and acceptance replace confusion, guilt, and insecurity.

    All is GOOD so long as we remain open in our hearts to ourselves and others… I mean… I’m SOOO glad my thoughts remain in my head! But, “Our Intention IS Everything~*”

  • Jolie

    April 10th, 2022 at 8:26 PM

    I love all of these comments and I especially love how no one commented on the ill placed porn fantasy in that former comment.
    I think that fantasizing about people ABSOLUTELY effects you, your life, the world around you, the people around you, your family, your relationships. The energy that you carry around with you, inside of you, and in your subconscious is what makes up who you are. The way that you relate to people in your mind, in your beliefs, in your fantasies, is real. There are real life consequences for fantasizing about everyone. But it is not always a bad thing. It can be used for good, and still intensely sexy reasons. But it can also be a very negative, harmful practice. What you do intentionally with your thoughts, third eye, dreams, fantasies, writing, art, photography, and visions is absolutely real and causing an effect on the world around you- PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE. Karma is a natural law of the universe, and you will always feel the negative effects of ill intended actions. Maybe not in this lifetime, but in a future life. Enlightenment is realizing that humanity is our collective divine creation, it is the dream made real, and just like in your sleeping dreamscape- those characters feel and their experience is real, and you are ALL OF THE CHARACTERS. So choose wisely!
    As for using this sexual fantasy imagination power for good, here are a few examples:
    If you are in a monogomous partnership, where being attracted to others is something that you and your partner are ok with and accept, but do not wish to pursue real polyamorous relationships in real life- then encourage fantasies with real life connections that feel like mutual crushes. If you are attracted to someone that you know, ideally they should also be attracted to you. This is something that you can feel, and you know. It is mutual. This is the importance of recognizing the energy of sexual tension, it is powerful and if its real, its mutual, not one sided.
    When you feel attraction like this, magnetic sexual power, you are connecting to the sexual power and truth of the other person. You are connecting to yourself, the core of yourself in unity consiousness, because you are able to see the self/other duality in the love attraction. That kind of love and attraction- real true magnetic connection is the kind of sexual attractions that you can allow in your relationship. Look at their picture, think about them, talk to them out loud when you are alone, fantasize how they would come to you, or you to them. Enjoy pleasure together in your mind.
    These kinds of fantasies should always be respectful of your partners humanness. Even degrading behavior for example, can be healthy if your magnetic-connection lover seems to like the play of degradation in fantasy play.

    You will know if your fantasy partner likes the subconsious benefits of your play because your happiness, productivity, relaxedness, excitedness, and feeling at peace-ness will dramatically increase, including when you are around them, your partner, or others. You will notice something is wrong if your relationship with them diminishes, or goes too far – like beyond the realm of boundaries and expectations you have set for yourself or with a monogomous partner. If you find flirting and mastubating to someone’s photo brings you too close to breaking boundaries with your partner, tell them, and negotiate new boundaries, or stop feeding into the connection, and back off the fantasies as well.
    There are psychic areas that are not good territory. It is objectively not healthy for you to fantasize about children or family members.
    Even though this can feel like a taboo so its exciting, it is dangerous. Family members already have a more tight knit sense of consciousness. You are already interconnected psychically. Family karmic contracts are not sexual, they are a deeper more important type of consiousness connection. It is sacred and should not be broken. Breaking this sacred aspect of being human is harmful to you, your future selves, and everyone that you are connected to, but it can be reversed and the harm reduced or even removed over time. Creating a sexual dynamic on any level in family relationships is harmful to the relationship and the soul contracts. It is a type of violence that will come back to you in another form if you choose to continue it. So, if you do find yourself falling into this realm of fantasy, simply move away from it slowly over time, replacing your fantasies with something else, like the other subjects encountered on this list.
    Children again, are sensitive psychic creatures. You will deeply harm them and their psychology if you masturbate or fantasize about them sexually. If you are doing this, start moving away from this practice as quickly as you can, towards other fantasies. Imagine consentual adults dressing and playing the same roles as children as you formerly thought of children in.
    Another sexy way to engage with fantasy is to imagine yourself in different scenarios with your partner. If your partner is consenting to this kind of fantasy play, imagine how you could include other people, imagine the scenes you would create. Imagine them in the room with you. Transform yourself into other characters, think of your body identity, and gender as different. Think of your partner differently. Explore personas. Write letters to other lovers, write stories. Take photos for each other and your other fantasy partners.
    Imagine someone that you feel would love to be with you, but cannot because they are in a relationship, or you are monogomous, and imagine that your partner is them, and energetically, speak to them through you partner.
    All of this again, should be consentual, as close partners can deeply feel the unconsious aspects of someone they are very close to.
    Lying or withholding information in a partnership also causes energetic tension, sexual tension, and breeds a harmful and toxic stress within the person that is being lied to. A person always knows on a sprit level if they are being lied to. Some can feel it in their bodies more than others.
    A clear and open line of consent and communication between you and your partner or partners is the best way to discuss who is ok to fantasize about.
    If you are single, it is best to stick to relationships that would most likely be consensual if brought to the surface in a sexually free, liberated world. This means- stick to fantasizing about the people you are magnetically attracted to, no matter who they are or what they look like, as long as they are of consenting age, and non-familial. If the taboo of age and family is sexy to you, imagine someone you know who is of age, or related to replace that character and play a “family” sexual fantasy in your mind.
    So for example, if you want to fantasize about your little sister, find someone in your life, who reminds you of your little sister, who you feel attracted to, and fantasize about them, as your little sister, playing the role to your liking, in a way that you imagine they would like and consent to.
    Last, if you are more non-monogomous and in partnerships with multiple people, a swinger, or dating around for example- be very careful! Energetic, psychic, and physical sex with multiple people is a lot for your psychic energy and consiousness. It is a much much lighter load to use fantasy play or slowly build up using fantasy play, to actually including multiple others in your sex life.
    This is because the swap of fluids can be very risky and it is important to be considerate of the energy and physical wellbeing of a sexual partner. Drugs, alcohol, and any other kinds of impulsive or compulsive behaviors combined with sex should be very careful. Consent is best when gotten without or before drugs or alcohol are consumed. If there is impulsive or compulsive behaviors that should be examined.
    Otherwise, if you have healthy fantasies, and connections that are sexual, with people who are well, mature, and consenting- it is possible to have open relationships where you fantasies begin to come to life.
    This can be good or bad for you depending on how you relate to others, and the choices of people you surround yourself with. Ideally, multiple person relationships should involve all consenting people who know about one another, even in dating, as to be open about the levels of connections that happens if fluids are exchanged. Also the psychic connection will be there, and so consent is essential.
    Again, we are all one unity consiousness, and so the psychic nature of everything should be considered, as well as emotional physical, and mental, so that all participants are consenting, attraction feels mutual, and sexual exploration can remain safe and imaginary, or branch out into real life encounters, depending on the needs and wants of the people participating.

  • Annom1234

    May 26th, 2023 at 9:37 PM

    I’ve done this to. I’ve fantasized and masturbated to women I know and met from work and etc. It’s even more intense and fun when you’re high (stoned). I don’t know if it’s wrong or healthy.. Thinking and fantasizing about that person (that gal) from work or local grocery store or whatever wherever whomever.. I don’t know. You should try fantasizing & masturbating to someone after you smoked some (Mary jane)..

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