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Bothered by being "hot and bothered"

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Jackieson9d8 asks:

I'm 14 and am constantly hot and bothered and have constant erections. I've been like this for as long as I can remember even when I was little. I find I have to masturbate every 4 to 7 days or I will start to ache when I get a erection. I'm a little worried but I can't exactly discuss this with family or friends because it's embarrassing. I want to know if this is something to see a doctor about or if its fine as it is but any way it would really help if you could give me a reply.

Robin Mandell replies:

First of all, you're completely okay and nothing you've described here means there's anything wrong with you. Nearly all people masturbate or have masturbated in their lives, and most masturbate with the kind of frequency you're describing. As well, it's very normal for little children to masturbate: most do, even in infancy.

Just wanted to make that clear, now I'll get into the details and answer your questions.

Basically, it sounds like you've got yourself a good old-fashioned case of puberty. In saying that, I'm not trying to say that it isn't a big deal. It's new to you, strange-feeling, perhaps a little scary, and, from what you're saying here, kind of embarrassing. Puberty can, by its very nature, feel awkward, but I can guarantee you most of us have been through it and that while your experiences are uniquely your own, you're not the one "weird" one among a whole bunch of "normal" ones.

For boys, puberty usually begins between the ages of 11 and 14 years and can, for some people, last until the late teens or early twenties. Puberty isn't necessarily finished when someone has attained the characteristics that we usually associate with boys going through puberty: a deeper voice, descended testicles, growth spurts, and appearance of body and facial hair to name a few. Puberty is filled with big and small changes that really do take a while.

Sexual changes, such as having erections appear seemingly out of nowhere, or feeling sexually aroused or "bothered" a lot of the time are both cornerstones of puberty for most people (and not just for dudes). This increase in sexual interest and response is spurred mainly by the increase in testosterone levels that accompany puberty.

I can tell you with complete certainty that you're not alone in these experiences. Lots of boys, and girls too, feel this same type of out-of-controlness with their sexual feelings and don't know how to describe it, are embarrassed to talk about it, or both. I don't know what your school and community are like, but in a lot of places, young people start talking a lot more about sex, and things that were once everyday become more sexualized. This comes from an increase in intellectual curiosity about sex, and also those strong physical urges, the ones no one is actually talking about outright, but they're expressing them in other ways. It can be pretty hard to deal with sexual feelings and sensations when they're so new, and when your peer group is talking about sex but no one is actually explaining things.

I also think that the secrecy that our schools, friends, families, etc, force us to maintain around our sexualities make it harder to deal with these hormonal changes and new feelings and sensations. It's pretty hard to feel like something is "normal" and "okay" when we're constantly getting messages, both spoken and implied, that we're not supposed to talk about it.

The fact that you've been experiencing these erections and sexual feelings since you were young isn't all that unusual either. Though society doesn't like to admit it, children have a sexuality, and while it's very different than adult or even adolescent sexuality, some children express and experience that sexuality a lot more than others. A lot of little girls and boys are taught to be modest, are scolded for touching their genitals in public, and then their explorations and curiosity about their bodies is basically ignored. That doesn't make the curiosity, or the wish to act on good feelings, go away. Some push those feelings and sensations down so far they don't feel them again for a long time, while others continue to experience those feelings and sensations but just do so in secret.

So, the fact that you've been having sexual feelings for many years doesn't make you weird, wrong, or abnormal in any way.

Masturbation is an absolutely acceptable way for you to deal with the intensity of sexual feelings you're experiencing. Masturbation is an acceptable thing to do, period: it's the safest sex there is, and we know from decades of study that it tends to benefit people. From what you say here, it sounds like you're very aware of and worried about how often you masturbate, and try to make sure you do so as little as possible. I would love to be able to sit down with you and have a conversation about where these thoughts and feelings are coming from, but I can't, and can only guess at your reasons.

Many people have been raised to think that masturbating isn't okay, that it's somehow wrong, or dirty, or immoral. Still other people have gotten more neutral messages, but no real affirmation that masturbation is something a lot of people do; studies say 95% of people masturbate or have masturbated at some point in their lives. There are beliefs floating around out there that masturbating, or masturbating too often (whatever that means), is harmful to our physical and mental well-being.

The real story: Masturbation is not at all harmful to us physically (so long as we're not, say, doing it with knives), and actually has a lot of physical and mental benefits, like increasing circulation and relieving stress.

We here at Scarleteen maintain that masturbation is not immoral or wrong. As I said, it's not harmful to us physically (and actually can be beneficial) and, since it's something we do to ourselves without anyone else involved, it can't harm other people. If you have received those messages that masturbation is wrong, I think you may find it helpful to read this article for some additional perspectives.

Reading what you've written here, it actually sounds like not masturbating, or trying not to masturbate when you want to, is causing you more distress than masturbating is likely to do. It really would be hard for you to masturbate too much, unless you didn't feel good about how much you were masturbating, or you were finding that masturbation was taking your attention away from other things that are important to you or that are important to do. Not being able to get your homework done on a regular basis because you were busy masturbating is a problem. Otherwise, it's a-okay.

There's nothing wrong with how you feel, or what you do, but what about that aching you described? It's very likely that it's caused by something called vasocongestion, and it's something a lot of people experience. If you've ever heard someone talk about having or getting "blue balls", this is what they're talking about. When you have an erection, your penis fills with blood. This causes your penis and testicles, your whole genital area really, to swell. For someone with a vulva, the same thing happens with the vulva and its parts.

If someone is experiencing vasocongestion, reaching orgasm will tend to do the trick to make it go buh-bye, as you've discovered. But if someone can't achieve that, or doesn't want to do that, they also don't have to. Vasocongestion will not stick around forever without orgasm: your body is smart, and knows that blood can't pool in one place for very long, so will move it back around in time. A little bit of time will usually take care of it, too: that feeling will typically go away in just a half-hour or so. Exercise, hot baths, or over-the-counter pain relievers can also be used to manage and alleviate the discomfort if you prefer those to masturbating at any time.

You know,it's okay to feel embarrassed by this. Sexuality, or even what goes on with our bodies, isn't talked about very much, and it sounds like in your family and community, it hasn't been. This can make it harder to know how to talk about it or feel comfortable with it. Sometimes, though, something becomes a lot more significant and hard to manage when we keep silent about it.

So, it's also okay to talk about our sexuality in safe ways with safe people. As I said above, though the way you're experiencing your sexuality is uniquely yours, the experiences and frustrations you're describing are not unusual, and chances are you know people who are currently experiencing similar things, or have experienced them in the past. Do you have any adults in your life you feel comfortable talking to about other things, that it feels natural for you to turn to? Maybe an older sibling, a parent, aunt or uncle? Or maybe someone else you know like someone from any religious community or recreational activity you're involved in? Do you have a friend that you're really good buddies with, who you could talk to one-on-one, just sharing friend-to-friend? Perhaps you'd like to talk to your doctor?

Seeing a doctor is not necessary for your health around this, unless you're finding those erections are truly causing you pain, or that not masturbating when you are feeling excited truly is deeply painful. However, if you feel like it would help you feel calmer and easier about this, you can absolutely make arrangements to see someone. Your doctor knows how the human body works, and can talk to you about the changes you're experiencing. Talking to your doctor can also often feel less personal than talking to someone you see every day.

Doctors in the United states are required to keep their conversations with their adolescent patients confidential, so rest assured that you can have a private consultation with your doctor and they don't have to tell your parents what you talked about and will not do so unless you specify that you would like them to. Or, if you felt like you needed to tell your parents why you wanted to go to the doctor, you could very calmly say that you have some questions about the way your body is changing and that while you know these changes are normal you'd really find the doctor's expertise helpful.

Lastly, I think you would benefit from learning some more about what's going on with your body, and from being able to talk to people who are experiencing, or who have recently experienced similar things.

Here are some books you may find it helpful to read and some Web sites where you can learn more and also talk to your peers.

written 20 Aug 2012 . updated 18 Oct 2012

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