Just because masturbation doesn't interfere with everyday life, why aren't higher rates considered an addiction?

The common theme in most studies/articles about masturbation is that as long as the act does not interfere with everyday life, it's not considered a problem.

However, just because it doesn't interfere with everyday life, why is frequent NOT considered an addiction?

(For example, some people are addicted to marijuana or cocaine but are still functional, however, it is still an addiction.)

This depends on the age, health, and personal needs of a guy. For instance, a survey on a popular masturbation site found that the average 13-year-old masturbates three times a day with over 10 percent masturbating over 6 times!

It sounds pretty clear that there is a strong, overpowering urge (regardless of reason) that has the individual repeating the act, in some cases many times a day.

So just because they can still get to work or turn in assignments at school/college, why is this not an addiction?

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For instance, a survey on a popular masturbation site I'm sure you're aware of the term "selection bias", that's a textbook example of it. –  Chuck Sherrington Jun 21 '13 at 19:10
@ChuckSherrington: for any other topic, except this one, I would agree that is highly important to note. but for this, it is almost impossible to find a study, survey, etc that shows the opposite on this topic. –  Greg McNulty Jun 22 '13 at 5:54
It seems the little word "just" is doing a lot of work here. Not interfering with everyday life is a big difference! Why shouldn't it be a part of every definition of addiction? –  Gala Jun 24 '13 at 11:41

Gary Wilson notes that porn combined with masturbation could be an addiction. Masturbation by itself, however, seems to be completely natural. There seems to be two schools of thought on this topic: (i) masturbation is addiction, (ii) masturbation is not an addiction. People note that porn is an addiction due to the novelty of it.

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The frequency of a behavior is not what makes that behavior an addiction.

For example, take walking. Most people take hundreds, if not thousands of steps each day. Nevertheless walking is not considered an addiction in most cases. Why? It is not something that the organism must do to survive, it is a voluntary behavior, yet no-one would think you addicted to walking because you did not take the elevator or did not drive the 400 yards to the supermarket. On the contrary, it is generally recommended to walk whenever you can, for reasons of health.

The urge for a behavior does not make that behavior an addiction, either.

For example, most people feel a strong urge to eat, drink, sleep, defecate, and none of these behaviors are considered an addiction. Maybe sexuality is a physical need, and in the absence of a partner masturbation is better than "going hungry"?

The problem with masturbation is that even scientists find it difficult to look at it neutrally, because it is hard not to see it through the filter of our cultural norms on sexuality. Walking is not a taboo, it can be done in public and with anyone you want. Eating and sleeping can be done in public, although to a lesser degree, and even defecating is not suppressed with the same vehemence as sexuality: a man urinating against a tree in a park is not something you find overly idyllic, but most people would not call the police, because they know how it hurts to hold in, while a man masturbating in the same spot will find himself arrested rather quickly. Masturbation has been forbidden by religious rules, thought to cause illnesses, and today has the stigma of presumably signifying an inability to find a partner.

Once you strip away the morals and prejudices and look at masturbation with a cold eye, you will realize that many children indulge in it and only take a break while they are dressed. Children stop masturbating (in the presence of witnesses) only if they experience negative reactions to their behavior, i.e. only once they learn the norm that masturbation is something to be ashamed of.

It is this normative view from which a masturbating teenager might appear addicted. For the scientist, masturbation is a normal and healthy behavior, especially in a 13 year old teenager, who has gained a new function and a new level of sensory pleasure. For the scientist, it appears unnatural not to explore this ability.

As for masturbation in adults, as far back as 1948 Kinsey found that masturbation alleviates nervous tension and that men who masturbate lead a more balanced life. Sexuality appears not as voluntary as riding a bike, but rather has strong physiological and psychological effects that make sex appear to be normal and healthy behavior for an adult human being.

And if we have come to consider sleep lengths between four and twelve hours to be perfectly normal for adults of our species, why would we not be equally broadminded regarding sexuality? Maybe because indulging in any kind of pleasure is frowned upon in our performance-oriented society?

Sources:

• Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.
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I see what you are saying but science shows that people CAN be addicted to natural things; like runners and the runners high...nevertheless, perhaps the term addiction is blurred, but if a teenage is doing that any time his clothes are off that doesn't sound like they are in control... –  Greg McNulty Jul 29 '13 at 3:56

This is not my area, but I think the definition of addiction is contentious for many reasons.

Addiction often has normative implications; i.e., that addiction is bad. It can imply an inability to not do the act.

It doesn't seem useful to me to talk about being addicted to the needs necessary for survival, such as breathing, eating, excreting, modulating temperature, and so on. Sexual fulfilment is closely related to species survival, and as such is certainly a natural part of human existence.

It seems natural to ask the question of how often people masturbate. And with any such count, there will be people who do it more or less often. But in the absence of negative effects on others or the individual, why should anyone care how frequently someone masturbates? What would be gained from using the label of "addiction" based on frequency alone?

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It is important because it demonstrates if the body masters the person or the person can master their body. It also demonstrates if there is free will in the matter. I understand your point about it being in the category of necessary for survival but that still doesn't mean it is absent of negative effects. Also, if sex addiction is officially recognized - I am sure there must be some parallels between the acts at a deeper level. –  Greg McNulty Jun 22 '13 at 6:02
I can think of two ways that eating a sex are different than homeostasis, excretion, and breathing: (1) eating and sexual activities are reinforced with glutamate and dopamine in the limbic system whereas the other activities are primarily brainstem functions, and (2) the DSM-V makes room for sex and eating addictions, but obviously not breathing and temp (oddly enough it does have a category for "elimination" disorders, so I'll stop short of including excretion.) –  Emile May 14 at 19:58

1. Stress surfeit
2. Reward deficit
3. Stimulus-response perseveration
4. Self-regulation disorder

(I got this from Dr. George Koob.)

So if masturbation starts losing its appeal, and is just done because it's stressful not to do it, then yes, I'd say that's evidence for the underlying neurological changes of addiction.

As for the comment that an "urge for a behavior does not make that behavior an addiction," I agree but I think urges are tightly coupled with addiction formation. An urge is evidence of a mesocorticolimbic association between a stimuli and response. When this connection is recognized by society as an "addiction" is just a matter of degree.

Perhaps, if you could measure your subjective experience of masturbation over time, you'd have a better idea of when you became addicted: specifically when masturbation only gets you to your former baseline levels of satisfaction. So yes, maybe the urge isn't enough to call it addiction. But it's at least evidence that your brain is busy forming one.

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Just posted this and got a -1, can I get feedback on why? –  Emile May 14 at 19:52
Woops, I downvoted this and must've forgotten to leave feedback, sorry. I don't understand the connection between most of what you're saying here. For example, why do these four markers suggest that masturbation losing its appeal is evidence of neurological changes of addiction? It would seem like that violates at least #3 (perseveration). –  Christian Hummeluhr May 16 at 17:16
I see. For me (2) "losing appeal" is the "reward deficit" aspect, (1) stress surfeit is the dopamine experienced by itself, i.e., tension for release becoming more dominant than the pleasure. (3) Stimulus-response preservation is the compulsion to keep going, despite (2) & (1). And then (4) is the inability to not cut back or go without for a bit. I'm not familiar of any fMRIs on compulsive masturbators, but I can imagine that these subjective markers might indicate a neurobiological change similar to other addictions. –  Emile May 16 at 23:45