Sleep, Masturbation, and Relationships (TW: Masturbation Reliance)

Heads up: The upcoming bit contains frank, detailed discussions of masturbation in a manner that may make some uncomfortable.

For a long time – at least a couple of years – I’ve been “addicted” to masturbation (in quotes, as there isn’t a scientific consensus on if masturbation is technically addictive). Basically, every night, before I could fall asleep, I’d masturbate. If I tried sleeping without masturbating, I’d toss and turn in bed – sometimes for hours – before eventually falling asleep. However, I’m not great at masturbating so it takes me quite some time and periodically causes mild semi-unrelated medical issues which leads to more time awake overnight.

The one constant in all this: I’m not getting a good night’s sleep.

Over these years, it’s gotten better and worse in waves, but it’s never been easy. I’ve mostly just gotten used to it and warily embraced the fact that I’ll be stuck masturbating most nights if I want to actually get some sleep. There have been some times I’ve tried going without masturbation for longer lengths of time. I think my best was two weeks (achieved by sleeping in a sleeping bag, instead of my bed – which worked until my parents took away the sleeping bag).

Now, however, I have a different related issue. I go to sleep calling a friend on most nights – we both really like calling at night! Bonus for me: I don’t masturbate on nights when I’m calling them, and I don’t really even feel the need to much of the time. Generally, I feel like I actually can sleep normally when we call.

But this leads me to worry about the calls even more because I realize that I’m essentially sexualizing the friend because I managed to sexualize sleeping. It’s weird and convoluted – and I’ll spare the details – but these sexual feelings cause a lot of concern for me. Frankly, I hate the feeling that I’m sexualizing the friend and just all-around hate having this reliance on masturbation to sleep.

Also, frankly, I often notice that I feel sexual attraction towards this friend (or I think it’s sexual attraction) which makes me generally uncomfortable (and this feeling of attraction is pretty new – I’ve known them for a while).

I’ve talked to the friend about all this and they don’t seem to mind. They’re great about it and I appreciate that they’re just like “It’s just biology. Stinks that it’s hurting you, but it doesn’t matter to me.” But I still don’t feel good about this whole thing.

Side-note: The mentioned friend is active on this forum and gave me permission to post this.

So all this brings me to my questions:

  • Do people think it’s worth trying to change, again, and busting this masturbation reliance? Is that even possible (e.g., if I didn’t masturbate for a long time, would urges really go away? Biologically, I don’t think that would a logical assumption)? Or do I just leave it be and accept that this is what it is? It isn’t nearly as disruptive as it used to be.
  • If you do suggest cutting back on masturbation, where do people think I should draw the line? None at all, try waning off it, or something else? Any tips?
  • If I cut back on masturbation or tried “fighting it”, do you think that would make me feel any better about the stuff with my friend? My hunch is no, in which case it may not be worth trying to change?

If those questions seem too impossible to answer, I’ll always also accept any support instead of advice.

Because I’ve tried decreasing my reliance on masturbation so many times in the past (to little/no long-term avail), I’m not planning to try anything unless I’m really willing to commit to it.

Thank you for reading this long post!

PS: Apologies if this sounds incredibly naive or silly. Perhaps this is just a normal part of growing up, but some part of me has a hunch that this is more than that.


I’ve never taken a scientific poll, but I’m pretty sure that the majority of young people masturbate and young guys do it a lot.

Since talking to your friend seems to decrease the urge, it sounds like masturbation is distracting you from an often unmet desire for emotional connection. I’m glad that your friend is nonjudgmental and being a good sport about it.

I was raised in a pseudo-Catholic family, and masturbation was a horrible terrible evil rotten disgusting sin and for doing it, you could be sent to hell in a hand basket. For my brothers and I, the alternative to masturbation was wet dreams.

The urges do taper off over time, but without alternative means of sexual expression, it can take decades. If you have abstained for two weeks, you have at least as much self-control as the next guy. That you sometimes have difficulties with it suggest to me that at times you do it for reasons of emotional reliance rather than physical need.

For a long time, I thought it was just me, but eventually learned that sexual fantasies at night really can make a guy sleepy. Maybe it’s because the brain wants to explore the experience more deeply without the conscious mind getting in the way. It could explain why you’re able to sleep after a phone conversation that triggers such thoughts. I really think the fantasies can have the same effect even if you don’t have them focused on a particular individual.

I don’t think they would go away, but the urge might become less frequent or intense.

No one should be drawing the line except you. Also, the line is not rightly subject to anyone else’s judgment.

The thing about changing habits is when you “fight” them, they usually fight back with a vengeance. It’s as though the subconscious, when hearing the word “fight,” it decides that the habit has a lot of power which will be difficult or impossible to overcome.

If you wish to cut back, think of it as “turning away” from it, or connect the urge to an alternative activity.

Maybe to start with, commit to remembering to take a minute to calm your thoughts and be aware of your options when you have the urge.

Welcome to Heart Support! I truly admire your willingness to face and share these issues.


First off, welcome to HeartSupport! We’re glad you’re here!

Second off, sharing this was really brave. That might sound patronizing, but I think the majority of people struggle with trying to figure out how to relate to their bodies, but it’s so taboo that no one wants to talk about it. I think this could be a really worthwhile discussion.

Masturbation isn’t just a fun pastime that makes you sleepy. Your brain is lighting up like a Christmas tree with dopamine. While addiction might be a strong word, over time it creates a habit that your brain begins to rely on. Sexual release floods the brain with dopamine, which creates a sense of euphoria and relaxation.

Brains do a lot of stuff behind the scenes without us being aware of it, and then send signals to the conscious parts to take care of those needs. Hunger pains or dry throat? That’s the brain signaling you to eat and drink. Over time, especially when it becomes part of a routine, your brain knows what time it is, and starts bugging you to scratch the itch. Lay down in bed for the night? Time to masturbate. The longer you fight it, the more intense the urges become. “Come on, it’ll feel good, and you know you’ll be able to sleep afterward.” Try this: don’t think about pink elephants. Absolutely do not think about them. How’s that working for you?

Fighting your urges just gives them more power. Instead, the key is to focus on something different. That’s where your friend comes in. When you talk on the phone, you don’t feel like masturbating because your brain is engaged in other pleasurable activity. One time, scientists did an experiment where they added cocaine to the water bottles in mouse cages. In one cage, there were just 2 water bottles: one with cocaine and one without. In another cage, there were the same 2 water bottles, but also wheels and tunnels and climbing forts and all manner of fun stuff. In the first cage, the mice chugged the cocaine water until they died. In the second cage, the mice pretty much left the cocaine water alone because they were engaged in other, better activities. Talking with your friend is a much better way to release neurotransmitters in your brain. Instead of doing something alone in secret that perpetuates an anxiety cycle, you’re engaging the social parts of your brain and doing something that isn’t taboo and that you don’t have to hide.

I think the sexual attraction toward your friend is separate from your masturbation habits. Now if you masturbated while thinking about your friend or had sexual phone calls, you would merge those routines and create a new issue, but having benign phone calls with your friend before bed is not sexualizing them. It’s also not a bad thing that you’re attracted to your friend, and it’s great that you shared it. Keeping secrets like that will wear you down and cause you to act out in weird, unpredictable ways, and the fact that you felt comfortable sharing it and they were okay hearing it shows a great deal of trust! Your friend is right, that attraction is biology at work. Just set boundaries for yourself, with or without input from your friend, and let those things coexist. I have a friend I’m attracted to. Like you, I’ve told her that, and she’s been understanding. I would also never date her because I wouldn’t want to ruin the friendship, and frankly we’d be a disaster as a couple :laughing: So she’s a friend who happens to be an attractive woman. I’ve tried to analyze it beyond that, and just confused and exhausted myself. Sometimes it’s okay to just let things be.

Now to your questions:

  • It is worth breaking your reliance on masturbation, especially since you’re not comfortable with it. The anxiety you feel around it gives it a lot of weight in your life, which makes it a harder habit to break. Also, when you get tired of it not being satisfying, you may eventually supplement it with other things, which gives it a firmer base to grow from.

I’m going through sex addiction recovery right now. I started where you are, “falling” to masturbation when I didn’t necessarily want to, and as time went on I added more things to the ritual until it was so ingrained that I couldn’t even stop after I got married. That’s not to scare you or say “OMG stop you’re becoming a sex addict,” but the longer it goes on and the more you add to the ritual, the more it’ll become another daily routine for you.

You’re correct, the urges wouldn’t go away if you stopped cold turkey, although they would diminish. The fact that it’s not as disruptive as it used to be is great! The hardest part of breaking a habit is breaking the routine, and if the routine isn’t as big a deal to you, you’ve got a head start on breaking it! The tricky part though is it’s also not good to repress your sexual urges. Sex drive is good and healthy, and people who repress it for religious reasons wind up afraid of their sexuality to the point that sex after marriage traumatizes them. It is a very difficult balancing act, which is why the vast majority of people have it out of balance. If you’re okay with religious teaching, go check out They lean into the biblical and spiritual aspects of unbalanced sexuality, but also the neurological and psychological aspects of it. It’s not just something you pray away.

  • Cutting back on masturbation is different for everyone, and I don’t have a good answer for you. If you have a therapist, you can ask them. I know it’s uncomfortable, but I promise they’ve heard it all before, and they’ll be excited that you want to take on that self-improvement challenge. If you don’t have a therapist, peer support is key. Look into the NoFap community on Reddit, a PureDesire Students group, or the Celebrate Recovery teen program The Landing. If you try to do this on your own in secret, it will compound the shame aspect of it and cause you all sorts of problems later. Just trust me on that one.

  • If you’re not masturbating while thinking about your friend, cutting back won’t change how you feel about them, but it’s still worth it. You should be doing it for yourself. Doing this for anyone else makes it an obligation that you will grow to resent and reject. I am not in sex addiction recovery for my wife, I am in it for myself. If I was in it for my wife, eventually I’d resent it, resent her, and just find better ways to hide it. It sounds to me like you want this for yourself, which is how you know you’re ready. It’s okay to be selfish here and make it all about you. When you do something like this for yourself, you’ll have more to give back to the people around you!

This is a normal part of growing up, but you’re not naive or silly for asking. No one instinctively knows how to navigate this stuff, and when they try on their own it’s a matter of chance how they turn out. I know this is uncomfortable to talk about, and I admire you for speaking up. Let us know how it goes. You’ve got this :hrtlegolove:


Thank you both so much, once more, for your incredible responses. They make me feel like this is something that I can sort out, and really help with the feelings of shame and failure that I sometimes experience.

@Wings, thank you for the thoughtful response. I appreciate your input and the point about trying to “turn away” from habits instead of “fighting” them. In particular, I appreciate that you make me feel like I’m not crazy for having these thoughts, and like this is something that is manageable (not necessarily by “completely controlling” the act of masturbating itself, but at least by mitigating the emotional impacts associated with it). Thank you for putting in the effort to respond, and for your thoughtful note.

@SheetMetalHead, thank you for this lovely response. Seriously, this means a great deal to me and I know that I’ll be rereading it in the future when I’m stressing about this habit. In particular, I appreciate the scientific approach you took to responding here, and you got a laugh out of me on the point around pink elephants. More than anything though, your response makes me feel understood – you perfectly expressed both how I feel and how my brain tends to act at night. I also like that you mention that “it’s okay to just let things be” because, while I often give myself a hard time not always “knowing”, some of these things are quite complicated, even while not mattering too much – and I just need to let them be what they are.

You offered some wisdom that I wasn’t quite about to come to on my own (e.g., that sexual attraction toward my friend is likely not related to my masturbation habits), and just generally made me feel much better. There’s more I’d like to say, but I can’t find the words, so I’ll leave it at this: Thank you. Your response truly resonated with me.

Thanks again, to both of you. :hrtlegolove: