The Five-Minute Buddhist Books

Recommended Host

A Sensitive Topic

Disclaimer: A Sexual topic follows. Please don’t read further if you are likely to be offended or think the topic is inappropriate. I debated the appropriateness of the topic, and came to the conclusion that others are probably wondering the same thing. So here goes:


I am a male who wishes to kick a long habit of masturbation. My efforts have resulted in cutting down from daily to weekly. Still, the habit continues. I find I am most vulnerable to fall into the act when my I am not fully conscious, i.e. when I am going to sleep or upon waking up.

What would you suggest to prevent my thoughts from becoming lustful and for kicking my undesirable habit altogether.


I am going to start off by asking you why is it undesirable? Believe it or not, Buddhism doesn’t condemn masturbation, unless you’re a monk, which I doubt is the case.

The physical aspect of masturbation is harmless. That being said, that may not be the case where karma is concerned. Desire (more specifically in this case, lust), as the Four Noble Truths tell us, leads to suffering. A Buddhist’s main desire is to eliminate suffering.

This is a very debatable topic, and I hope someone will address it in the comment section below, but in my opinion, the real question is what goes on in your mind while you’re doing it. If you can do it without lust, then my Buddhist answer would be to go ahead with it.

Actually, the way you word your question, I wonder if it might not fall into line with some of the “addiction” treatments out there. Addictions are a very harmful form of attachment, which Buddhists are very much against. Perhaps a look at the 12-Step Buddhist site covered last week would help. There are undoubtedly many sexual addiction websites out there as well.

Couldn't resist just ONE joke

Couldn't resist just ONE joke

As far as breaking the habit is concerned (if you still want to break the habit), I don’t really have any advice that can’t be found elsewhere, and if I tried to make something up, it would just sound silly.

I guess the most important advice I can give is that as long as you can control the lust or try to eliminate it while masturbating, there really isn’t anything terribly wrong with doing it.

I’m not sure if this answer is adequate, so let me know if there is any more I can clarify or add. I absolutely invite comments on this post, as I am sure this is a much-debated topic.

33 comments to A Sensitive Topic

  • Our society has always linked guilt and sin to masturbation. We have always had it drilled into our heads that it was “dirty” and “bad.” I do not see this as the case. If masturbation helps relieve sexual tension and frustrations, and stops the practitioner from going out to the streets and acting out his fantasies, then I am all for it. I do believe, however, if someone is obsessed with the act itself, then perhaps a little counseling would benefit. Many doctors advise older men to masturbate to relieve pressure on the prostate. Is that a sin? I think not…



  • First and foremost, try to relax and accept things as they are. Masturbation is not something bad. It is just a vent for the sexual energies in the absence of a partner. It’s better to stop feeling guilty about it. However, since it is a fact that anything in excess does have its negative effects too, I suggest that the person should try meditating to develop better mind control. He should divert his thoughts towards something else , something positive if he wants to avoid getting sexual thoughts all the time.

  • Good answer, I agree with what you said to the letter! With all unwanted behavior I think one needs to question the cause/condition of the mind during and before the unwanted act or behavior to find the answer to change. I think one most look deeper then the course layer of consciousness to move past the repetitive mind set. Working with analytic meditation should produce results. But please, I am a simple man with simple thoughts the person that wants results must like any other practice do the work.

  • Robert

    I recently had a meeting with my Zen roshi and the subject of sex came up.

    His advise was that no sexual act is bad as long as no other party is injured in any way.

    Masturbation must fall into this catagory, unless the person by masturbating is denying their partner a sexual relationship with them. Then I would say that mediation or councelling may be of help.

  • Angela

    It was put to me this way many years ago: If it is something you feel you have to do; it’s a problem. If you have no control over the urge to do it; it’s a problem. If you want to stop doing it and can’t stop; it’s a problem. Otherwise, it’s not.

  • Susan

    I can only look at this concern from my own personal experience. I long sought information and ideas and found it a topic which was not spoken of much. I am very content now to be chaste and free from the need to please myself. We women have the luck that menopause helps us with this. But freedom from the addiction of the desire or need has been a blessing and a joy. I recognized my need out of self-pity and depression. Overcoming the addiction leads to a fulfilling sense of accomplishment, peace, and contentment. I think your question alone is indicative of negative feelings regarding the act, and perhaps your negative feelings should be your concern. Good luck. Namaste.

  • Micah

    Wow, this question has brought up a lot of comments 🙂

    I agree with many of the other posts. Masturbation is natural and actually has health benefits. Unfortunately, as other poster pointed out, our society likes to condemn the act. It is natural and healthy, please dont feel guilty about it. I think that it is unfair to ask monks, priests, nuns etc. to not masturbate. But, anyway…

    Where it may become harmful is if you are neglecting other areas of your life to masturbate (such as not going to work, or school) so that you can stay home and masturbate, spending too much money on masturbation materials, sexually neglecting a spouse, etc. Otherwise, I say, masturbate all you want 🙂

    To add to the others advice. I would suggest being mindful of the object of your masturbation. If you are a 40 year old man and you are thinking of a 13 year old girl, that is (in my opinion) harmful. Not in the Judeo-Christian “the thought it’s self is sinful” way but just the fact that you are mentally rehearsing an unlawful act which may, if not careful, produce an actual action which would cause suffering to yourself and others.
    The same would go for the image of a married coworker, the thought may produce an action which would lead to suffering.

    If, on the other hand, you imagine an adult centerfold then I think that is probably harmless. The chances of actually meeting the centerfold are practically nil and (dependent upon your beliefs about magazines such as Playboy, etc…do they exploit and cause suffering to women or not) the model is freely taking pictures probably knowing that she will be a lustful image for guys around the world.
    Probably the best image to use would be one’s own spouse. Those thoughts, if one is lucky enough for them to come to fruition, will probably not bring about suffering 🙂
    Obviously, I have thought a little too much about this question 🙂


  • Jami

    I think, at least here, the topic of ‘sex’ needed to be addressed. Again, cultural context seems to have informed the answers: it is doubtful in the Conservative East such questions would be answered in the way they have been here.

    Apart from the Christian repression ‘thesis’, inversely motivating are liberal attitude to this matter, it is clear other traditions are more realistic, even artistic, regarding ‘sex’.

    Hinduism and the Kama Sutra is a famous example but in Islam religious scholars must address questions relating to anal sex, cunnlingus and fellatio, plus the right or wrongs of penis-breast fore-play. But all within the limits of ‘marriage’.

    I’m uncertain if Monks go that far. Or if there are any intersting ‘koans’ on these topics. I would like to know what does Buddhsim say about girlfriends and sex before marriage.

  • Jami,

    ANY kind of sex is prohibited for monks.

    For laypeople, it is generally recommended that sex stay inside marriage, or at least in strong monogamous relationships. Sleeping around and other forms of promiscuity usually causes suffering, which, obviously is bad.

    Sex outside of marriage is not condemned as strongly as it is in Christianity, but it is still generally frowned upon due to the likelihood of causing suffering.

    I could be wrong here, but I know of no restriction of “types” (oral, anal, or whatever) of sex between committed couples.

  • If the questioner’s masturbation habit has been cut from daily to weekly it’s obviously not a particularly strong compulsion – something there’s no control over. He seems quite disciplined, actually! As long as the masturbation isn’t compulsive and as long as there are no violent of exploitative fantasies going on during the act of masturbation doesn’t have much spiritual significance. (Some Tibetans would say that ejaculation discharges energy that can be used spiritually, but that doesn’t bear much relation to the earlier Buddhist teachings and seems to be an importation from non-Buddhist traditions).

    I don’t know of course how old the questioner is, but for a single man aged in his 20s or 30s I would have thought that masturbating several times a week was completely normal. After 40 most men’s sex drive starts to decline and there’s less of a need for the release of tension (although masturbating three times a week has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer). So once a week doesn’t suggest a compulsion.

    So I’d shift the focus of the question to the guilt and anxiety he’s experiencing over the matter. While masturbating isn’t in and of itself much of an ethical problem, I think that the guilt surrounding sex can be highly destructive. Guilt is painful, it leads us to hating ourselves, and that can often lead to generalizing our hatred to other people as well.

    We really need to love ourselves, and I think this extends to our bodies as well. We should appreciate the pleasure that our bodies can give us, whether it’s enjoying the taste of food, or enjoying warmth, or enjoying sexual pleasure. I think this questioner should repeat to himself as he masturbates that it’s good to enjoy pleasure, and that it’s good to enjoy one’s body.

    The appreciation of self-pleasure has to be in a wider context though. There are things as enjoyable as or even much more enjoyable than masturbation, including friendship, love, genuine happiness, good music, and even (on good days) meditation. The enjoyment of the body shouldn’t be glorified as some kind of ultimate goal. It’s not even close. That doesn’t make it bad — just limited. So I’d suggest your questioner learn to let go of his guilt, embrace the joys of enjoying the body, and at the same time make sure that he develops other sources of joy and pleasure.

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t eliminating the habit decrease the sexual drive one has over time? I think less lustful people are more apt to be compassionate.

  • steve

    In response to the question of masturbation may i please offer my opinion on this subject.
    In my opinion masterbation is not of itself bad,as i too struggle with this but my trouble is one of attachment.How many times do i need to masterbate to fullfill this desire?For me i can never fullfill this desire so i must realize this and try to avoid this dead end trap toward liberation.

  • Proton

    Pleasure is not the purpose of life. In fact, I am not very clear what is the purpose of life but I am sure pleasure is not. We must learn to avoid seeking pleasure. We need to release semen and so we must do that. Just like we do urine. We should avoid taking pleasure out of masterbation. Considering the side effects of not ejacuating regularly, I would suggest do it not to please yourself but just for the sack for releasing semen regularly. I my case, masterbation is associated with weakness and need for more sleep. I am trying to reduce the number of times I masterbate. Although, I am not the worst case, I still think I need to reduce my counts. the only problem that I am having in this process is that when I succeed to avoid masterbation, I feel dull. Is there anyone who got the same issue?

  • Jeanie

    Guilt and self-disgust about masturbating is certainly more harmful than masturbation itself.

  • Michael

    Just an additional point on this topic. For men, the prostate can become a source of physical difficulties as we age. Enlargement of this glan can result on difficulty in urination, among other problems. Some suggest that part of this is due to disuse of the organs of ejaculation as men age, either through loss of “sex drive,” inpotence, widowhood, etc. Like all organs of the body regular exercise is best, and regular use of the organs of ejaculation would be no different. Periodic and normal masturbation, with or without an objective “fantasy,” is not only natural, but also therapeutic in a healthy man.

  • Bobby

    I think it is great that such a topic has been raised and there are some great answers. My take on the masterbation question is this. Masterbation is not naughty which then creates negative karma, the reason why we are advised not to is because every single one of us contains a vast amount of energy within us. When a man for instance ejaculates, he has the potential to impregnate every woman in the USA, that’s a lot of energy. By not masterbating you are keeping that energy within you to direct into other areas of your life that are more beneficial, eg meditation, healing, helping others and even long life. If there is no benefit in no masterbation then why do monks and nuns take the vow of no masterbation, is it for no reason what so ever?

  • Mr. F

    Guilt is more powerful than anything.

  • jj

    I have been struggling with this issue myself. Over time I have come to realize its more a problem of lust than masturbation. I was lusting over a couple of people in my life to the point where it was affecting my relationships with them. Separating the pleasure I get from masturbation and being lustful and mind raping people has been difficult yet rewarding. Work in progress.

  • Colin

    I think you guys have the wrong take. Masturbation is terrible dor your health. Semem us what gives rise to chi, which us your electromagnetic energy. When we loose semen we are basically loosing our life force. If buddha were here he would say thar masturbation is horrible, because he said that enjoying pleasures and having attachment is the root of suffering. When you masturbate, you are clinging on to pleasure as a refuge. This is very bad, and very much against buddhist teachings. It is very negative karma to masturbate, and destroys mental and physical health. If you want to have a child that is different. Masturbation is purely self grasping. Buddha taught that pleasure is saltwater, the more we drink the thirstier we get. Where does it go when you die. All you take is your mindstream. Focus on dharma, life could end any moment.
    P.S. There is no such thing as masturbating without lust. If you didn’t have lust you wouldn’t be doing it.

  • I m glad someone brought this topic up, i was struggling with this question myself for so long and never found a satisfactory response. I was recently travelling in Japan and i found the number of Manga kissa’s (porn cafes) in Tokyo were too many compared to any another part of Japan, many men both young and old were walking in and out . So i think its the lifestyle and stress that drives people to such self gratifying states. Despite Japan being a very disciplined nation, time and again we have seen examples how strong willed the Japanese are , yet people have scummed to the stressful situations in their lives and resort to instant and easy gratifications . Although i made a valid justification of this act now , its very hard for me to disassociate the guilt feeling off me as i have a need to masturbate to fall sleep , else it takes me few hours before i can fall asleep,

  • Oscar

    Masturbation isn’t the problem, it’s how you relate to it. If your relationship with masturbation is guilt, fear and anxiety, that’s the problem, and NOT masturbation. There’s “You”, and there’s the “Object” masturbation. What’s in between is the relationship, the real problem that you need to resolve. If you feel guilty about masturbating, you’re not being Compassionate to yourself. I strongly suggest listening to Ajahn Brahm, a Theravada BHUDDIST Monk.

  • Ramd

    Wow, so much disinformation in the comments here! First of all, masterbation is not needed to “relieve” any build up in your prostate. Your body will do this naturally as needed (“wet dreams”). There is research out there that actually shows increased prostate problems with men that masterbate. Secondly, there is growing research that masterbation leads to and is normally accompanied by porn. Research shows that people will escalate their behaviour to more extreme types of porn and eventually act out on these fantasies. How can this not be damaging to your relationships and yourself? Please check out the research at …. In my humble opinion, masterbation just makes you less of a man. Sorry to be blunt, but all I am seeing here are a bunch of excuses to continue to wank.

    • Oscar

      “Less of a man” is what you said. What is “less of a man”(?), a midget. It’s like saying less of a woman, less of a child, less of an elephant, less of a cow. Get the picture….IT DOESN’T EXIST! You need to look at why “YOU”, ARE MAKING SUCH A JUDGEMENT.

  • First of all, I am glad that I finally found the right site to discuss and probably resolve the issue that has been bothering me for years now. I invite comments from all the experts and specialists in Dhamma ( Buddhist knowledge of problems, suffering and resolutions ) and Science as far as my addiction to masturbation and the underlying problem as a whole is concerned.
    I am an Indian ( Buddhabhumi or land of Buddha ) and have been masturbating ever since I am born as long as I can remember and I have always been full of lust, the extent to which I masturbate can be estimated from the fact that from the day one of my life very rarely a day has passed when I have not masturbated, I feel incomplete without it and when I am able to refrain from masturbation at most for a period of 4 days, the urge and the impulse gets so intense that it leads to binge and compulsive masturbation where I end up masturbating for 8 to 9 times a day that is usually followed by a series of self loathing and destructive thoughts. I blame this entire habit on my extreme fear, extreme anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder that I was diagnosed to be suffering from lack of fulfillment, satisfaction, joy and peace, depression (again based on my diagnosis by a team of psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists and other medical practitioners) and no purpose, clarity and boredom in life and inferiority complex, frustratoin. I am currently job less now for almost a year and that probably explains why I resorted to it after so many Vipassana ( BUDDHIST MEDITATION ) courses, I regret the fact that I have led a unsatisfying life, life of an underachiever, I have largely been unsuccessful and people say I am naive with only guilt, regret and jealosy . It has very much become the habit pattern of my mind that I probably can not live without it , whether or not I indulge in it or give in it’s always there in my mind. I know that I can still discipline my mind but how to develop this self control and how to retain it for a larger period or eternally, also I have this tendency to get attached to anything that I do, I find it too difficult to take my mid of anything I too. How do I go about it. I at least know what my purpose of life now is – to lead a life of unconditional bliss, satisfaction, peace and sense of fulfilment. I want to get rid of it completely at any cost. Sometimes I blame this unhealthy and unwholesome habit on the activities or misdeeds from my past life/lives and I have a valid and obvious reason for the same, my palms and sole sweat a lot and there are other things as well but then at the same time I do believe that I can change to a useful, healthy person but I probably need something more than willpower and determination to overcome this and prevent any future relapse and binge and that is where I ask what is that I need to do ??????????

    • Ostan

      Why are you so hard on yourself? Have Compassion for yourself, some loving-kindness and STOP trying to find a “CURE”. Instead of trying to cure yourself, CARE for yourself. Anything done using your Will is doomed from the start. The Will is nothing more than the Self that doesn’t exist. You’re using something that doesn’t exist to eradicate something that also doesn’t exist. I want to tell a story of a monk who built a brick wall at his monastery. He was so proud of this wall, gave his entire being into building it. When it was completed, he noticed 2 bricks at the center were crooked and misaligned and became very, very angry. He screamed and shouted, and was so upset, that he asked the Abbot if he can blow it up and start all over. Of course, the Abbot said no. Whenever he passed the wall, it would tear him up inside until he remembered what his father had told him when he was 6 years old. His father said, “son, no matter what you do, the door to my heart will always be open to you.” When he remembered what his father had told him, he had an awakening, an insight. He was so focus on the two badly, misaligned bricks that he couldn’t see the other 998 other bricks.

      This is what we do all the time. When we only see the part that we hate about ourselves, we become negative, narrow minded and a stranger to other parts of us. Stop focusing on the two bricks, but instead, look at the other 998 other bricks that you put up perfectly. Don’t try and use a knife, or dynamite, or bull dozen, or hammer to remove the 2 bricks. Instead, look at the two bricks as unique characteristics of your beautiful wall. Don’t use hatred to try and change something that you are. Bhuddism isn’t back and white because Life isn’t black and white. You do more harm when you tell yourself how bad you are. STOP IT. There’s nothing wrong with you. Keep your focus on the 998 other bricks. When you do, those two bricks blend in with the others and all you see is a beautifully built brick wall.

  • vivek

    This topic is indeed one of the most discussed among peers and least discussed with parents/teachers.Right since childhood we are taught that sex is evil and it is an irony in itself!Whatever the reason how can we forget we are the civilization who gave the world kamasutra.Coming to masturbation i think we should stop taking it as something evil or sinful and think of it as a natural process just like we piss.
    And as far as fantasies are concerned i think as far as we don’t have any fantasies of criminal nature,it is all right to enjoy masturbation but should not be enjoyed upto the level of being addicted….

  • Not A Monk

    I let go of my genitals hours ago. Why are some of you still holding yours?

  • OK, now THAT made me laugh.

  • FM, A Buddhist

    Monks (and nuns) are clearly forbidden to practise masturbation in the disciplinary conduct laid down by the Buddha. A lot of people may point out the wet-dreams in monks, but according to the disciplines of the Buddha, excretion of semen through one’s effort or others’ is only a guilty act. So, experiencing wet dreams during sleep is not guilty because there is no effort of anyone.
    Although the Buddha did not say anything directly about masturbation of laypeople, he pointed out in a discourse that the pursuit of sensual pleasures is the vulgar and inferior habit of the blind and the fools, i.e., the ordinary human beings. This means the pursuit of sensual pleasures (likes masturbation) is the nature of the people in the secular world, but it is obviously not a noble one.
    A person who strives over and over again for lust from 5 worldly sensual pleasures is said to have no or not much chance to gain enlightenment because this act is one that lies out of the Middle Path.
    Strictly speaking, “masturbation” is a kind of indulging in the pleasure of the fifth sense: physical contact.
    The Buddha said that sensual indulgence is endless hankering after these pleasures therein, until such hankering becomes a habit, so we should strictly avoid such practices in order to overcome suffering.
    Reliance on such sense pleasures becomes so engrained in one’s being that one becomes less able to attain mental purification.
    So, “masturbation” is an act which may be considered natural and not evil from the view of the secular world, but in keeping with the doctrines of the Buddha, it is an unwholesome or ignoble act which is indirectly blamed by the Buddha and all of his enlightened disciples.
    One of the biggest advantages to quitting masturbation is that we no longer become attached to sensual pleasures in some way, because once we experience the pleasures, the cravings and attachments to the pleasures normally arise in our mental process, leading us to suffering, no matter how seriously we think of “Anicca” (impermanence) and indulge in sensual pleasures at the same time. From the medical point of view, there may be claims that masturbation is a physically healthy act, but there is no guarantee that it can help us attain ‘mental purification’ and in our spiritual journey.
    Also, it is normally impossible for one not to feel lust in one’s continuum, while masturbating, because humans naturally possess ignorance, accompanied by cravings, which is the indisputable fact.

  • Ken Tyler

    Very late, but hope this helps.
    Telling someone who is suffering that they are just fine and not really suffering or that they shouldn’t be suffering or that they needn’t be suffering may not be very helpful. None of this is helpful because it does not address the cause of the suffering. Buddhism asks us to address the cause of our suffering.
    This is my suffering, my lack of ease. You have recognised your suffering; this is the crucial first step. Do not let others persuade you that it is not suffering. There is a cause for the suffering, which is a thirsting, a craving and a longing. This cause can be felt deeply and it will transform. It will change; it cannot stay the same unless we keep recreating it. These things come to pass. This is the path to ease, the path to the end of suffering. It is a path of acceptance and compassion and resolves craving by transforming it into clarity and stillness.
    Focusing on the behaviour is focusing on the effect – it won’t make any difference. Thinking about the situation, what is wrong or not wrong, good or bad, this and that won’t help either as it is also focusing on the effect, not the cause.
    Meditate. First go to the body, your felt sense of the body, [breathing in aware of the whole body, breathing out aware of the whole body] and feel the charge of craving, its energy and drive and compulsive qualities. Don’t push these feelings away. Be with them. Let them be a big as they need to be. Give them space. Be with them with peace and compassion as you would be with an unhappy child. They will transform by themselves, they need nothing other than awareness, acceptance and space to unfold their energy. That unfolding is, I feel, at the heart of the healing transformation of Buddhist practice. If you do not recognise this through your own Buddhist practice then I recommend The Presence Process by Michael Brown which will teach you the technique experientially in ten weeks. Or try True Refuge by Tara Brach, as she addresses some of these issues really well in a more familiar Buddhist context. Go well in peace.

  • cfekete

    If you were very late than I…?
    Anyway your comment was really to the point.
    Most comments say just go on. But the Buddha tough to resist such unwholesome thoughts. Unwholesome as it is giving fuel to you lust. And lust should be overcomed and not fueled and enlarged.
    On the other hand the Buddha did not say to just give them (to the unwholesome thoughts) “awareness, acceptance and space”. The Buddha thought (according the Pali canon) that an unwholesome thought shod be “attacked” in several ways.
    – first try: instead of this unwholesome thought he/she should pay attention to a wholesome thought
    – second try: if the first fails: contemplate on the consequences of such thoughts, what suffering comes from them
    – third try: if all the first two fails: he should try to forget those unwholesome thoughts, remove his/her attention from them
    – fourth try: if all the previous ones fail: than he/she should try to still those thoughts
    – and the last resort: if every attempt fails than he/she should beat them down with his teeth clenched

    I think he never said that you should just go for it.

  • holtzermann17

    You may be interested to know that this article is cited at

    However, based on my reading of that section and its other source texts, I personally disagree with the main assertion in the “Answer” portion of the article above. The reason is made clear through another quote from that wiki page, extracted from the Upāsakaśīla sūtra.

    “If sex is practised under the inappropriate times (times not allowed by precepts), [at] inappropriate place[s] (places not allowed by precepts), with non-female[s], with virgin[s], with a married wife, if sex relates to self-body, it is known as sexual misconduct.”

    This sutra is for upāsakas and upāsikās (lay devotees). If we accept that this is the definition of sexual misconduct, then sex “related to the self-body” is sexual misconduct, and therefor against the third of the five (or eight, or ten) precepts. This is as true for lay people as it is for monks. Another nice quote on that page:

    “Generally, the action that is the opposite of the precept brings the opposite negative result, takes us further from enlightenment, and keeps us longer in samsara.”

    Therefor, my own answer would be that masturbation is not “wrong”. These precepts are not “laws” but are meant to help with training. With that in mind, Dōgen’s answer to the query would probably be: “do zazen.”

  • climax

    Masturbation is a form of ‘self’ stimulation of a bodily organ,often through physical and mental arousal.There is surely kamma invovled and most people will agree its only bad or negative kamma like lust,delusion,attachment involved.

    By getting someone else who is willing to masturbate for you,would it lessen a negative karmic outcome?Someone who has no choice but to earn a living in a society they have little or no place in.

    Does it mean that being religious lay person,one have to follow the exact rules for monastics?Eg,Theravadin lay person can eat after 12 but its NOT ok to masturbate?

    It will be interesting to hear from a lay Mahayana Buddhist view point on the matter.