Children and adults that have experienced sexual abuse may compulsively masturbate.
When a young child is prematurely exposed to sexual material (such as pornography or witnessing adults engage in sexual acts) or is used as sexual gratification for others, he/she may develop a relationship with genitalia earlier than is healthy and normal.
In addition to the psychological and emotional confusion around her body, she will physically experience sexual pain and/or pleasure earlier than her young brain can organize.
So, while the abuser is teaching her (the victim/child) how to behave to please him (the perpetrator/abuser), her body is also learning - in fact, being trained- about sensual arousal and physiological sexual responses.
In essence, sexual abuse begins to rewire the brain and the body. As the body learns about touch, pain, comfort, desire, affection, pressure, depending on frequency and the unspoken messages that accompany the sexual abuse, one may seek out the very thing that brings it all back; imagine a type of, yet, much more complex, synaptic muscle memory recall.
While masturbation and self-pleasure is normal and healthy (for adults as well as children), compulsive masturbation is about extreme thoughts and behaviors that make one feel out of control and ashamed.
In fact, compulsive masturbation may lead to physical injury of one's genitalia, and often a compulsive masturbator will go beyond the point of pleasure, inviting pain to numb the genitalia.
- Sarah, 7, compulsively masturbates against objects with hard surfaces (doorknobs, bed frames), recently breaking her princess bed frame. Her exposure to sexual material began early, via mother's boyfriend. She "holds it together" while at school, then bursts into the house to masturbate and release her anxious tension.
As the sexual experience becomes "so important," other things become less important, like, the nuances of a meaningful relationship that should accompany physical pleasure. In fact, the relationship component becomes too much work.
Again, it's the problematic mental preoccupation that surrounds the self-touch, a person may say, "I don't want to masturbate but I have to." Or, "I need to re-live it, to make it real, or not real," adding to more self-shame that is the underpinning/belief of people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When a couple seeks counseling for a partner's pornography "addiction," often, the real problem is compulsive masturbation. One partner has elevated the need, the importance, of physical release. It is difficult for the other partner to see that this sexual release is not about sexual fantasy, or cheating outside the relationship - it is about managing anxiety.