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Archive for August 25th, 2008

Today I am going to talk about a very difficult topic that affects many survivors of severe child abuse, particularly those who experienced severe sexual abuse and/or ritual abuse. The topic is using masturbation as a form of self-injury.

People who self-injure with masturbation tend to be women who use objects that cut, burn, or otherwise harm their genitals while they masturbate. I know women who have used anything from knives to hot curling irons to self-injure through masturbation. The only way these women seem to be able to climax is by experiencing pain, and the self-inflicted pain can be severe.

Why would a woman choose to masturbate with a knife, curling iron, or other dangerous object? The reason is that the child abuse survivor’s first sexual experiences intermixed orgasms with pain. Many child abuse survivors experienced orgasms during sexual abuse, which caused the child’s body to feel both “pleasure” and pain at the same time. Even though the child’s body reacted by having an orgasm, the child did not want the rape or sexual abuse, and the experiences of terror, pain, and orgasm got all jumbled up in the child’s head.

Now, as an adult, the child abuse survivor has a desire for sexual pleasure (just like any other adult human being), but the only way to achieve an orgasm is to combine it with pain and, in some cases, even bloodshed. Numerous child abuse survivors also need to fantasize about reliving the abuse in order to have an orgasm, whether through masturbation or consensual sex. In some cases, masturbating with dangerous objects is a reenactment of sexual abuse that the person suffered as a child.

The women I have spoken with who struggle with using masturbation as a form of self-injury feel deep shame about what they are doing, and each one fears that she is the only person on the planet who does such a thing. They also tell me that masturbating as self-injury is a compulsion: They want to stop, but they feel powerless to do so. This is true of all forms of self-injury, which is why self-injury is a compulsion, not a recreational hobby.

If you struggle with masturbating as a form of self-injury, you are not alone. You are also not “crazy.” Just like anyone else who struggles with other forms of self-injury, you can learn how to stop self-injuring through masturbation. It won’t happen overnight, but you can move toward weaning yourself off your compulsion.

The key to healing from any form of self-injury is learning how to talk about your feelings and express your emotions instead of shoving them back down inside. A good start is finding a qualified therapist with experience in counseling child abuse survivors. The self-injury is a symptom, not the cause. If you had never been sexually abused, then you would not feel a compulsion to self-injure through masturbating. Healing your emotional wounds from the underlying pain will help you stop feeling the need to self-injure through masturbation.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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