Just last week, while oscillating back and forth between work emails and my IG feed, my free hand had found its way to my underwear. Without even noticing, my doomscrolling habit had blended into my self-pleasure time, or—as I’ve since coined it—doomsturbating.
Upon realizing that I had passively allowed sex and scrolling to fuse into one, I sought advice from psychotherapist Rachel Wright, LMFT. As it turns out, though, she was hardly surprised by my doomsturbating habit, noting that it’s actually pretty common right now.
What makes us want to doomsturbate, anyway?
The first of three hypotheses experts suggest comes down to the fact that the human brain is a visual creature. Consider how, pre-pandemic, the sight of your bedroom likely conjured sleep and sex, and that's it. That's because the brain had learned that’s what happens there. But now, Wright says, “because we’re working, sleeping, taking work calls, and having solo and partnered sex all in the same place, our brain sees our bedroom and gets confused about what we’re supposed to do.” It’s not so far-fetched, then, that while in bed—or any other place you might be multitasking—that you’d end up doing two (or more) of those things at once, she says. Cue me: reading emails and scrolling IG while masturbating.
Sometimes, though, doomsturbating can happen as a result of technology being part of our masturbation practice, says Wendasha Jenkins Hall, PhD, a sex educator and researcher. That is, porn and erotica platforms exist on the same devices people use for work. So, as we try to find the perfect video, story, or song to masturbate to, it’s almost too easy to mindlessly end up on Slack, instead of Bellesa. It’s also possible that we’re trying to masturbate when our minds are still reeling with work woes and responsibilities, which results in us switching websites midway through, she adds.
And finally, it's possible that we're masturbating as a self-soothing response to the glub and glim news on our devices. “Self-pleasuring can actually be a stress response,” says Wright. “If you have a little kid in your life, you may have noticed that during stressful or uncomfortable moments, they’ll reach a hand in their pants.” Well, adults can do it, too. “In these instances, masturbation isn’t about pleasure—it’s about quelling our body’s stress response,” says Dr. Hall.
The doomsturbating verdict: healthy or hardly ideal?
A negative concern of doomsturbating is that it combines unsavory psychological effects of doomscrolling and applies them to masturbating.
“For some, the constant barrage of bad news of doomscrolling can induce feelings of worry, despair, and panic,” says Dr. Hall. “The abundance and availability of bad news can induce numbness and apathy. We can become so used to the negativity to the point where we become desensitized.” This, she says, can spill over into offline lives also. “We can begin to show disinterest in daily activities and social interactions. We become unmotivated and indifferent to what’s going on around us and to our families, friends, and significant others.” Yeah, not great.
Doomsturbating too frequently can lead us to forget that masturbation is far more than just a self-soothing aid—it’s also a tool for pleasure, self-exploration, and self care.
Now, for the downside to masturbating while doomscrolling? It can cause us to associate masturbation with stress, says Dr. Hall. Doomsturbating too frequently, she says, can lead us to forget that masturbation is far more than just a self-soothing aid—it’s also a tool for pleasure, self-exploration, and self care.
How to reclaim your masturbation practice and quit doomsturbating that doesn't serve you.
1. Schedule masturbation into your calendar
You’ve probably heard of scheduled partnered sex, but scheduled solo sex? That has benefits, too. “To prioritize unplugged self-pleasure time, you need to plan for it,” says Dr. Hall, who recommends intentionally scheduling masturbation sessions on your calendar. Wright adds that “it’s not just about scheduling them, it’s about honoring those dates the same way you would a Zoom call with your boss.”
If watching porn or reading erotica on your phone is part of your masturbation practice, no problem. Just put your phone on "Do Not Disturb" mode and commit to not to switch screens until you've finished the task at, ahem, hand.
2. Take it to the bathtub
There's a good chance that your phone won't survive in the water (unless you have a super-fancy case, of course). So, why not use that reality to your advantage? Dr. Hall recommends ramping up the sensual potential of bath time by lighting candles or incense, and listening to music (on a device that is not your phone in your hand).
As far as accessories you can include, I’m a fan of external waterproof vibrators like the Le Wand Point or the Lelo Ora 2. But if internal stimulation is more your jam, just remember to bring in some lube—water washes away natural lubrication, and can make penetration really...friction-y.
3. Replace doomsturbating with other self-soothing activities
“If you’re using masturbation to self-soothe every once in a while that’s healthy and nothing to feel ashamed of, but if every time you read the news you need to rush to the next room to self-pleasure and self-soothe it’s not healthy,” says Wright.
In this case, Wright suggests seeking the services of a sex-positive therapist who can help you find other healthy coping strategies. These strategies might include: Reading a book, meditating, going on a nature walk, listening to a podcast, cuddling with your partner, or learning a new recipe.
4. Generally cut back—or even better, quit—doomscrolling
“Before you pick up your phone, ask yourself what your intention in logging on is,” suggests Wright. “Is it to get informed? Great, after 20 minutes of reading news, log off.” Is it to respond to messages from your friends? Read, respond, then get off, she says. The key is to stick to your intended desire.
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