Updated 26 February 2016

Are you doing it right?

Are you masturbating properly? Traumatic masturbatory syndrome might leave you with some unpleasant side-effects.


Are you masturbating properly? It’s not exactly the kind of thing men talk about. Ever. To anyone. Well, perhaps we should, because there’s research that suggests that if you’re regularly doing the deed in a somewhat unconventional fashion you might encounter unpleasant side-effects during sex with a partner.

Traumatic masturbatory syndrome

It might merely be a “proposed” sexual dysfunction not widely recognised by the broader medical profession, but traumatic masturbatory syndrome (TMS) may be all too real for some men. TMS results from the practice of habitually masturbating while lying face-down. Some “practitioners” lie on their stomach and thrust their penis into one or both hands. Others rub their erection into a pillow, mattress, duvet, floor or whatever else is available.

Masturbating like that is not wrong or even particularly uncommon. The ancient Romans called it “trudo”, meaning “I thrust”, and according to Dr Wardell Pomeroy, co-author, with Alfred C. Kinsey, of the seminal book Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male, an estimated 5-10% of men regularly masturbate in a prone position. Since most of us learn how to masturbate on our own, this is simply the way some guys have taught themselves, while others do it standing, sitting or lying on their backs.

So what’s the problem?

While masturbating in a prone position is very unlikely to cause any actual injuries, it can put excessive pressure on your penis, especially on its bottom edge and base. Because this creates a physical sensation that is not experienced during conventional penetrative sex, it can be very difficult for regular face-down masturbators to enjoy sexual pleasure when they have sex with a partner. They’ve basically conditioned themselves and their penises to orgasm under conditions that they won’t encounter during intercourse.

Potential problems with this masturbatory technique have been noted by sexologists at least since the 1970s. In 1998, Dr Lawrence I. Sank coined the term traumatic masturbatory syndrome when he published the results of a small-scale study in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. According to his theory, TMS sufferers frequently experienced difficulties achieving erections and delayed orgasms during intercourse. They were also more likely to suffer from anorgasmia, the inability to reach orgasm during intercourse or to do so only after more than 30 minutes.

Although several researchers have mentioned “atypical” or “idiosyncratic” masturbatory styles in connection with an inability to fully enjoy penetrative sex subsequent to the publication of Sank’s paper, there have been no large-scale follow-up studies to either confirm or invalidate his findings.

The “cure”

The fact that most doctors don’t recognise TMS as a proper medical condition at this stage isn’t much help to you if you feel that you are suffering from it. Is there anything you can do? Can TMS be cured?

What you certainly shouldn’t do is stop masturbating. Instead you should focus on learning how to do it in a different way that’s more conducive to an enjoyable sex life with a partner.

Sank and others, including people who identify themselves as TMS sufferers, suggest that the challenge is to learn to masturbate in a position other than lying face down on your tummy. Practicing masturbation by stroking your penis with your hand in an up-down motion while lying on your back, sitting down or standing up will gradually allow you to restore the sensitivity of your penis, enabling you to eventually enjoy pleasurable penetrative sex. It might take some time, practice and patience, but with a bit of dedication you will be able to re-educate yourself and your penis for a healthy, enjoyable and truly orgasmic sex life.

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