In his ground-breaking research in the fifties, Kinsey found the most common answer to the question, “How do you masturbate?” was “The usual way.” It still holds true today. Though we each develop individual styles of packing our suitcases or organizing our closets, we assume that everyone masturbates just like we do. Not so.
Generally it doesn’t make much difference how we pleasure ourselves so long as we enjoy ourselves and get the job done. However, for a surprising number of males, there is a style that becomes problematic. It bears the unwieldy title of traumatic masturbatory syndrome.
When men engage in TMS, they lie on their stomachs, often with a pillow under their hips, and tighten their thigh and buttocks muscles rhythmically until they ejaculate. They may or may not rock their hips. They do not touch their genitals with their hands, which are often held tightly at their sides or pulled up against their chests.
You may wonder why your position during masturbation would have any effect on you at all, and you’d be correct in asking. Ordinarily it doesn’t. If you lie on your side, or on your back, or even sit while jerking off, your face and body are exposed to your surroundings. Your hands are likely encircling your penis and stroking your thighs, chest and testicles.
In TMS, none of this is true. Boys who learn this masturbatory technique tend to become isolated with their fantasies during arousal and ejaculation. They close their eyes and go inside–these are not porn watchers. Since they are not touching themselves, they do not learn to associate touch with the pleasure of sex. Also, their rigid body form certainly does not mimic the fluid lovemaking they will be enjoying in later years.
It is the transference of erotic patterning from solo to partnered sex that prompted sexologists to dub this “traumatic” masturbatory syndrome, for these fellows experience great difficulty relating erotically to another person. Everything about partnered sex feels wrong to them. The touch of another’s skin, so much a turn-on for a man who has learned to associate stroking with pleasure, is a distraction and/or an annoyance for one who lies silently, internally focused, clenching and releasing his muscles, hands balled into fists. Eye contact is difficult, as are relaxing and changing positions during lovemaking. Murmuring sweet nothings? Not likely. In fact, sharing the journey from erotic stirrings to orgasm is next to impossible for a man who has learned to masturbate on his stomach without touching his genitals. He becomes sexually crippled in terms of partnered sex.
It requires some intensive therapy to undo the damaging effects of this masturbatory pattern. Not only does the man’s masturbatory behaviour need to change, but also his perspective from inward to outward. If TMS is well-established, many men may find it difficult to relate to sexual partners physically. By the time they come in for treatment, they are often socially withdrawn and sexually anxious.
Treatment requires motivation and dedication. It begins with a thorough sex history and homework exercises that progress over a series of sessions, changing not only the man’s physical position while masturbating but also his relationship with his body, sex, and his relationship with his sexually appealing partners. This transition can require a fair number of sessions, but the resulting change brings relief and interpersonal connection!
TMS is far more easily prevented than cured. When speaking to your boys about sexuality, mention that masturbation is self-pleasuring they’ll do on their backs. If you suspect your child is already masturbating, encourage his creative fantasizing by suggesting he get a magazine with pictures that arouse him (he can’t look at pictures with his face buried in a pillow). Your sex positive attitude will also decrease his anxiety about his changing body and his new-found favourite pastime and lead to his leisurely exploration of his sexual arousal pattern. Though this may be tough for you to do, you will be giving him the chance for great sex throughout his lifetime. He and his lovers will thank you (perhaps tacitly) for it, I assure you.
Regardless of your masturbatory style, try doing it new ways occasionally. It will keep you ever ready to try new and different sexual positions and experiences, knowing that your body can respond to varied stimulations. You’ll be glad you did.