Are You Masturbating All Wrong?
It sounds like a fighting style from a 1970s kung-fu movie, or perhaps something that happens to drivers when they panic behind the wheel: death-grip syndrome.
Death-grip syndrome refers to a condition suffered by men who masturbate with an intensely tight grip or in some other highly specific and unusual manner. If they masturbate this way for an extended period of their life, they can become so accustomed to reaching orgasm using that method that they're unable to orgasm when they have sex with a partner.
Savage death grip
The term death-grip syndrome is usually credited to sex advice columnist Dan Savage, who used it to denote not only a tight grip during masturbation but also the masturbatory habits some men develop, like rubbing against a mattress or pillow.
First, let’s be clear, there is no judgment here. Masturbation is natural and acceptable, and should be an established and recognized part of a fully realized sex life. If it feels good and isn't hurting anyone—aside from the pillow, maybe—then go for it.
But getting into the habit of using only the same extreme or nontraditional technique on yourself can have a very real detrimental effect on your sex life sans pillow—for instance, when you might like to involve another human in the fun.
Studies show that people who get more enjoyment from masturbating than other kinds of sex are likely to continue with those habits, further cementing those acts as their only means of achieving orgasm and further alienating them from pursuing sex with a real-life partner.
Why do men develop death-grip syndrome?
There are a few theories on how men may reach the point of only being able to orgasm with a death-grip-style technique: desensitization, low testosterone, and shame and habit.
As men age, their penis tends to become naturally less sensitive, which may lead some men to increase the tightness of their grip while masturbating. But there are also several medical conditions that can contribute to a less sensitive penis, thus begging for a stronger grip:
- Medications such as antidepressants, antibiotics and drugs for cancer treatment
- High blood pressure
- Nerve damage
- Low testosterone
- Depression and other mental health issues
Gradually decreasing testosterone is a natural side effect of aging for men. But if it drops too sharply, it can have detrimental effects on your sex life, such as lowering your libido and causing your penis to be less responsive to sexual stimulation because of reduced sensitivity.
Shame & habit
For many men, the habits picked up as adolescents entering puberty, like learning to masturbate, can stick with them for life. When teens and preteens aren’t taught that masturbation is natural and necessary, or if they’re made to feel ashamed for doing it, they may learn to masturbate quickly to reduce the chances of getting caught. For many men, this means finding a tried-and-true method, often one that can cause death-grip syndrome.
Solutions to death-grip syndrome
Death-grip syndrome is not a death sentence for your sex life. There are many ways to increase penis sensitivity, if you have the patience and willingness to work at it:
- Get help. If you suspect your desensitization might be due to one of the medical causes above, see your doctor right away, as low testosterone, diabetes, high blood pressure and the like are nothing to mess with as an amateur.
- Take a break. There’s nothing like a little time off now and then to increase your sensitivity.
- Change it up. Use a different lube, a lighter touch, an alternative grip with your dominant hand or simply use your nondominant hand. All you’re trying to do is to get your penis used to the feel of something a little different.
- Take your time. Make sure you have some space to yourself for a while so you can relax, slow down, and enjoy some new and different sensations. Be prepared for it to take longer than usual, and enjoy being patient.
- Get a toy. There are a ton of masturbation toys that simulate the sensation of masturbatory and penetrative sex. Over time, these can help to resensitize your penis to sex with a partner.
First things first: This is a marathon, not a sprint. Try something different tonight, and remember, practice makes perfect.
(Hey, has there ever been a better homework assignment than this?)