While I read in one of Goenka’s question and answer sessions that masturbation, or as he calls it, “self-sex”, isn’t breaking the sexual misconduct precept, I’ve started to wonder how healthy this really is. All of the precepts seem to have a sliding scale of strictness, and for sexual misconduct, that ranges for no rape or adultery to complete celibacy. I’m not exactly sure where I am on the scale.

As I’ve continued my daily meditations, I’ve noticed how indulging in sexual fantasies clouds my mind. Seeing an attractive girl in a miniskirt or flipping through magazines full of scantily clad women seems to divert my mind to a less pure space. But I can’t seem to control this. It happens so quickly. It really does just feel like my biological nature.

So do I feel bad when I find a woman to be attractive? Do I want to live in a Muslim area where women are covered from head to foot? Do I avoid reading magazines so I can avoid the advertisements? Should I never walk in Times Square again?

This is the best example for me of accepting where I am without rolling in thoughts. If I see a woman that’s attractive, acknowledge it, appreciate it, and move one. I shouldn’t allow that appreciation to become a craving by allowing my mind to roll in a passionate fantasy. By focusing on the breath or sensations, I’m able to catch myself when my thoughts are rolling. This is allowing me to maintain the balance of my mind more frequently.

I’m not sure where this leaves me with masturbation. On one hand, masturbation seems like the ultimate indulgence of mental passion. On the other hand, suppressing passion into a craving so it could erupt like a volcano in the future doesn’t seem healthy either. I guess I’ll just keep observing sensations and see what happens. Time to meditate.

15 thoughts on “Masturbation

  1. Tuhin Chattopadhyay

    I have a theory regarding masturbation. It goes like that:
    The creation of sperm in a male body is entirely a biological phenomenon. The accumulation of sperm generates the sexual fantasies and thoughts (and not the other way). So it makes sense to let the sperm go out by masturbation to get rid of sexual fantasies. Else the mind will be haunted by sexual fantasies which in turn disturb the equanimity.

  2. peacepooja

    Hi Ryan

    Nice to read this post, is it possible to share the link to the talk by Goenkaji that you refer here?


  3. Ryan Shelton

    I believe I read it in a Q and A in the “Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal.” I just found something similar at where it says the following:

    Question: Kindly explain again, for the benefit of Western students, how and why do you say that self-sex is breaking of sīla.

    S. N. Goenka: Well, I don’t say that self-sex is breaking of sīla, but it leads you towards breaking of sīla. That means you have become a slave of your passion. And if you don’t get anything else, then you start using self-sex. That will take you further on the wrong path. We try to take people out from this, we try to help them to come out of passion. That is the aim of Vipassana.

  4. Ugyen Tenzin

    Good one….but hard to draw the line. Hope with deeper practice of
    meditation, we can find out the answer…

  5. In the subject of sex I feel I agree with Jiddu krishnamurti…I understand from him that the mind in judgment get obsessed with sex, to pursue it as a pleasure, an abstract idea or to condemn it as something bad, both things disconnect us from reality and true understanding of what is happening.

  6. Lene

    Hey guys, Thank you for commenting on this!
    I am in to health (working as a nutritionist) and in this area it is always important to strive towards balance in all things related. What I notice in myself (as I can only speak from my own experience not someone else´s) is that if I masturbate from a place of wanting pleasure only and not out of self love, it is draining for my body. If I masturbate because my body “ask´s” for it, it comes from a place of abundance and it truly benefits me. I can feel the difference if I try to masturbate a second or a third time in row (I am a woman, its possible 😉 and it is not in alignment with my bodies needs, it drains me.

    Thanks again,

  7. Anonymous

    That’s a really nice way of putting it — “if my body asks for it.” I’m a guy, and I can relate to this discernment between the urge or activity coming from a sort of mental compulsion or from truly a physical drive. For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s a universal answer about masturbation. It’s an individual thing and everyone’s gotta work it out for him or herself through experimentation.

  8. Stanka Uhrinova

    Is the self-sex (masturbation) still TABU?
    There are topics about which we talk either too little or two much and in the latter case there might be too little respect. Sexual energy is the biggest driving force in us, and when we are lacking it in our life, our efforts our enthusiasm becomes dull, diffused, unfocused. During the day we are engulfed with lots of emotions but many of these pass away, become weaker and weaker and we do not need to worry about them, but there is one or two emotions – among them our sexual desires – that come to us repeatedly, stay in our mind, stay in our dreams, they do not go away even during the waking day – and we just cannot push them away or ignore them – if we did we would just create some damage to ourselves – because these emotions are not just our wants – they are much more, there are our true needs and driving forces in our life.

    Thus when we are without a partner for longer time we have to face our emotions as there is a greater need for self-sex. I had to face the same question in me. When I applied for a place in 20-day sitting meditation in the UK I was presented with a set of questions about my practice including one about self-sex. I said, hey – this is a difficult one, what shall I say? My answer was: I need it for now, so I am probably not ready for longer sitting. It is true that our emotions and desires are getting less intense with meditation. We still do have them, but we are able to watch them, to understand them and observe them and over the years they may become less and less necessary but it won’t happen overnight.

    Sometimes we create a mental blocks in our heads – by imposing very severe rules on ourselves– many times we are unnecessary hard with ourselves. I agree with Anonymous expression: …I don’t think there’s a universal answer about masturbation. It’s an individual thing….Yes, it is, but this does not concern masturbation only, this encompasses the restrictions that we create about many other things for ourselves – we create sometimes too many restrictions – it might be good to act more freely and ignore the old programs that we imposed on ourselves in the previous years, or which we accumulated in us for decades… Let’s be free to accept or reject everything in this precise moment- without the need to follow the manuals in us. It just might be that in this very moment I need a release from my sexual fantasies. Maybe I need a little self-play and this will let me release my mind from my fantasies; now I can leave them behind and live again with full consciousness through the next moment that will bring something else.

  9. Alan

    I’ve been sitting Vipassana courses for 30 years. I’m 53 years of age. Currently I sit for 1hr in the morning but in the past have sat more often and done a couple of 30day, a 20day and many other courses. My wife sits courses but not daily, my 17 year old daughter sat her first course recently but doesn’t sit daily.
    I tell you this to try to put some perspective on how difficult sexuality can be to understand and how we all approach it in our own ways.

    I find my own sexuality confusing and I’m trying to be accepting of myself and not ashamed. My wife decided she was uninterested in sex about 16 years ago, so I am celibate but not by my own conscious choice. I masturbate regularly. I sat a course in which I felt deep grief and despair at this celibacy. Yet despite all this, during my most recent 10day courses, I thought about sex only briefly a couple of times. Even with masturbation I’m coming out of attachment to sex all be it very, very slowly.

    Goenka said in one of the discourses that the sexual attachment is the last to leave the mind and body, so it must be very strong and fundamental. Perhaps our strongest motivator and there until the end in one form or another.

    I am starting to have a deeper understanding about how we all suffer emotional/physical pain but that, when this is coupled with wisdom and acceptance, it becomes a process of liberation. Sometimes it’s difficult see it as such when we’re in the middle of it. I find remembering to trust the process is a great help.

    I try to remind myself to see emotions as free floating, looking for a situation or thought to attach themselves to and understanding that if this situation didn’t exist, another one would arise for me to attach this emotion to. We create our own reality.

    My observation over the years is that there is a misinterpretation of guidelines between the western and eastern minds with regards to the degree of implementation. In other words, we take guidelines too seriously, forgetting the middle path and trying to be at a stage beyond where we are.

    I was moved to tears on a course recently when, after the evening discourse, a young lady asked the teacher if she really had to give up sex even though she liked it, or even because she liked it. Her mind was put at rest but it’s easy to fall into the trap of not letting things happen naturally and in their own time, therefore slowing down the process by trying to speed it up.

    Sometimes we just try too hard and miss the point.

    With Metta.

  10. I am young . i suffer from same . im 23 and i still couldnt find any proper way to deal with my sexuality .i didnt ask any dhamma teacher about a way without pain . i hope that meditation will make the problem fade out

  11. Anthony Ross

    I agree with what we all seem to agree with here. It is one’s own volition/discretion that defines what the problem and solution are. In this case, masturbation and sexuality are the subject. What taoletters quoted of Krishnamurti is basically the root of this. We can have any subject be what our sankhara – what we crave or avert, and sex can be an obvious and difficult one.

    It can be very subtle and complicated to make a guideline (for anything) in words. You can almost never make one that gets in all the details and variables of the situation. Living is more subtle than words. People start Vipassana and get attracted to being a monk, or sitting multiple courses, or never sitting one again, etc. Lots of diversity in one’s own experience with a practice that is very immense – contained in all aspects of one’s life. The ‘seeing things as they are,’ or ‘choiceless awareness’ which is the same thing in both Krishnamurti and Goenkaji’s words, is different for everyone. Yet the universal law of Dhamma is the same. How do we distinct the differences? I am not sure, but what I’ve understood is that there are things that require less intellectualizing than is often thought. To get to the sensations and be equanimous with them is really self-love, or a good tool to get there. Anything that you do without that self-love and honesty about how you’re acting is not good for you. So to deny sexual urges and be celibate may be fitting for someone for some time, or a whole life, but it is at one’s own discretion and I think it requires a great deal of sensitivity to be able to discern the difference between reaction and observation with things that aren’t yet easily observable to us.

    We have to get beyond ignorance and that’s a difficult thing to do. It’s not that one specific action is ignorant and the other isn’t, but at times the same label, such as masturbation, might be appropriate and at times it might not. Or just the WAY it’s done may be appropriate in one way and not in another and it may need to be done more than once to notice that. The ‘good’ focused sits and the ‘bad’ distracted sits wouldn’t be observable without each other. I’ve noticed the difference in myself whether I’m being attentive enough, observable-enough to be self-loving in sexual ways, or self-violent – in the subtlest ways of craving and aversion. It’s not an easy answer and not something to fight, but to pay attention to and see the ways in which the way it is seen changes.

    Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.

  12. Ariana

    Ryan thank you for your question! I sat my first course earlier this month more questions surface everyday it seems like. The one about self sex surfaced tonight. It’s reassuring to know that it’s all to a matter of degree and meeting myself where I am at on the path is key.
    Alan thanks for your response! It really helps to read the words of more experienced meditators. For a sec I thought self sex would be regression on the path. It will be interesting to see how this changes over time. For now I am seeing self sex as a form of self love that arises on its own.

  13. Anonymous

    Is gratitude an option? Feelings of gratitude for the opportunity in its present state? Gratitude in and through these experiences? I aim to hold up this gratitude attitude more and more. Gratitude seems like it has a sliding scale, from gratitude of gross experiences to subtle, simple experiences. For me, it also seems to put a bit of distance between the stress of following the precepts perfectly and being here now.

  14. I really love this discussion. I have been practicing Vipassana sporadically for the last 30 years. Went for a 10-day course in India recently and am determined to practice with greater discipline. The two-times a day norm is becoming difficult with my professional schedule and since I also do Yoga regularly; so I am reconciling to one hour a day for the present. The Vipassana position on sex has always intrigued me and I have been unable to reconcile with that aspect of the philosophy, though I understand abstinence during a course. I wonder about natural movement towards celibacy. I think and feel sex is a life force and keeps us alive. I am a 58 year old male with a healthy sexual appetite and routine – and I am loath to give it up or even diminish it in any way. I am not really sure whether sex should be before or after Vipassana practice and what should be the ideal interval and wonder about it. I agree that one should not crave for sex, but I believe that sexual-fulfillment is an integral part of life. Thanks all of you for this exploratory discussion and thanks Ryan for your initiative.

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