Can You Masturbate Too Much in Quarantine?

The greatest risk isn’t that you’ll break your dick, but that you’ll get bored with one of the last anxiety-soothing techniques you have left

At the moment, we’re all feeling a little like Madame Bovary, an icon of being trapped and bored in a situation we can’t escape. Day-in and day-out, our fantasies rule. To bastardize a quote from the book, we don’t want to die, but we also just want to go to the local coffee place and aimlessly sip a good cappuccino. While Emma Bovary would definitely be carrying on her affairs despite stay-at-home orders, getting raw dogged on a provincial hiking trail while her husband thinks she’s out getting essentials, most of us are in our home alone, making sourdough starter, binge-watching shows we don’t even like and making ourselves cum as much as humanly possible

Idle hands are the devil’s playground, and the only thing stopping those hands right now is work and family Zoom meetings. (At least I hope that’s stopping you.) Indulging in pleasure-seeking activities is no longer a vice, it’s a way of life. Pour whiskey in your morning coffee and then cum all over the pajamas you’ve been wearing for days — who fucking cares? We’re feral now. There is no time, only “the fourth time I’ve jerked off today” o’ clock. 

Regarding all that jerking off, Joe, a 42-year-old in L.A., has always been a prolific masturbator, but even he’s noticed an increase. “I’m usually at least about twice a day and sometimes extra when I have the time on weekends, like a lazy Sunday,” he says. “Currently, though, every day is a lazy Sunday.” 

“Yesterday, I did it for countless hours,” adds Brewster, a 48-year-old in Brooklyn. “It wasn’t even hard for the last three hours; it was like pulling on a limp piece of spaghetti. The difference between before and now is that I’m zoning out while I do it. I’m not doing it to achieve orgasm. I’m doing it so I don’t have to think about mass graves and the possibility of ending up in one.”

Sex therapists generally agree that masturbation is healthy even when you’re doing it a lot, and that it’s only unhealthy when it interferes with your work, school or relationships. But when we’re in a situation where most of us have more free time and less social obligations than ever, how do you gauge what’s “too much”?

According to Eric Marlowe Garrison, a sex counselor and author, you might be the best judge of that. “I’d say that if they believe it’s a problem, then it’s a problem,” he explains. “If it’s making you miss parts of your life, then yes, it’s a problem. If you don’t hop on a Zoom meeting because you’re stroking, that’s an issue.”

Paul Nelson, a sex therapist specializing in men’s reproductive and sexual health, is seeing an increase in masturbation among 20 percent of his patients, and believes the release it offers is especially appealing during these unprecedented times. “Most of them say they’re masturbating out of boredom,” he tells me. “Others say it might be anxiety — I’m always asked about masturbation as a self-soothing technique for anxiety.”

Beyond psychological health, there can be very real physical side effects to masturbating too much. A friend of mine who works as an EMT cites a few examples of being called to homes for jerk-off related emergencies. One involving a straw made me too faint to ever repeat again — I’m sure you can figure it out; another involved a guy who had worn a groove into his dick and called 911 because it wouldn’t stop bleeding. 

A majority of masturbation injuries, per Nelson, are due to a lack of lube. “Most men in America are pretty much masturbating the same way they did when they discovered it at 14. The vast majority don’t use lubricant. For these guys, there’s a very significant risk of chafing and damaging the delicate skin of the penis,” he explains. 

For his part, Marlowe informs me that physical side effects can really go to the next level: “It can be done so frequently, that you can get blood in your semen (this isn’t permanent). We call that hematospermia. I’ve had phone clients all over the U.S. who have experienced hematospermia.” (Blood in your semen isn’t only horrifying, but it sounds like the title of a love poem I would have written as an edgelord goth teen.)

I don’t have to tell you the last thing any of us needs to be doing right now is taking up a health-care worker’s extremely valuable time because we can’t stop getting ourselves off. But if you can’t do this for others, do it for yourself. Even under the best of circumstances you don’t want to tell an overworked ER doctor about the makeshift butt plug that’s now stuck in your rectum — a story that they’ll share at parties for years to come.

Thankfully, Joe did the responsible thing after he tried to elevate a recent jerk sesh. As he describes it, he has one butt plug that’s too small and another that’s too big; unlike Goldilocks, however, he doesn’t have one that’s juuuuusssst right. So when he decided to go with the small starter plug, his ass got scarily ravenous. “I began getting worried that maybe my ass could take a lot more than the small plug, and I began thinking about having to go to the ER with a butt plug stuck up my ass. It freaked me out. I still came, but I haven’t used the butt plug since.” 

Although normally pro-experimentation, Nelson agrees that now might not be the best time for it. “I’ve had patients who lost sex toys up their rectum, and men who have experimented with mind-altering substances and sex. This can definitely lead to trouble. I especially caution patients that are using penile injections to maintain an erection to be careful with their dosage. This isn’t the time in history when they need to go to the emergency room for a priapism!” (I looked up priapism and that’s an unwanted boner — no wonder I never heard of it!)

Any way you jerk it, though, the bigger issue is that beating off has become as boring as everything else in quarantine. “I have days where I’m still jerking off a lot, but it’s almost like going to the fridge constantly and eating all your snacks — just doing it to do it with no pleasure,” Brewster says. “Which I know sounds kind of sad.”

He’s tried to keep things fresh by getting porn recommendations from friends, and letting everyone’s newfound horniness inspire him, which gives him a small rush. But then things quickly go back to him being in a nut rut. “One guy on a cam site who is straight and who I have been chatting with for months finally broke down this week and said, ‘Listen, I don’t normally do this, but do you want to connect on Skype and beat off?’ I was thrilled — if only I could get hard.”

So while masturbating a lot is fine, if it’s getting to be rote, perhaps we should take heed in a lesson from Madame Bovary, who drained “every pleasure by wishing it to be too intense” before succumbing to a “universal numbness.”

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