Haven’t heard of “death grip?” That’s OK. Not many people have, despite it being a widespread masturbation practice amongst penis-having people, far and wide. And not only widespread, but dangerous. Not in the life-threatening sense, but in the can-mess-with-your-life-and-be-super-annoying sense.
The term “death grip,” as it pertains to masturbation, was originally coined by the pioneering sex columnist Dan Savage. “It refers to men that masturbate with an overly tight grip on their penises—or in any fashion that applies a LOT of pressure, like humping a mattress—who later go on to have difficulty orgasming during partner sex,” explains Sarah Martin, MA, a certified sex coach. It can also lead to an inability to orgasm and issues maintaining erections.
This means you might be gripping your penis with your hand so tightly, that having sex with a partner (intercourse, oral, etc.) can feel unexciting or under-stimulating for you. Let’s be real, a vagina or mouth is never going to be as tight as a hand. This is just science.
When your penis isn’t feeling sensation (or very little), it can be a pretty terrifying thing—especially if you have no idea what’s going on. One day you’re getting off to your favourite hardcore porn, and the next day, when faced with an opportunity to have human-on-human contact, your penis isn’t doing “what it’s supposed to.”
Here is everything you need to know about death grip, why we do it during masturbation, and some solutions to ensure it doesn’t interfere with your sex life.
The Death Grip and Masturbation
First, let’s state what the obvious: There is nothing wrong with masturbation. It is a healthy expression of human sexuality. Inviting a discussion of death grip into the cultural zeitgeist does not mean we’re suddenly anti-masturbation.
Whether you’re single, in a long-term relationship, dating around, open, or polyamorous, masturbation is a wonderful way to release tension and get in touch with your body.
But, like anything in life, sometimes too much of a “good” thing can can have unpleasant consequences. While masturbation is awesome, it can just so happen that your masturbation techniques may have the potential to disrupt other areas of your sex life.
“Humans are creatures of habit, and the same goes for our genitals,” Martin says. “If someone gets accustomed to experiencing orgasm from a lot of pressure, changing to a context with less pressure and more subtle sensations can make it difficult to experience orgasm.”
(There may be a link to masturbation with death grip and penile nerve damage, but there currently isn’t enough scientific data to support this conclusion.)
Why Do People Use the Death Grip?
There are many reasons why someone might use death grip. The most obvious being: It feels good. You may start masturbating this way as a preteen or teenager, increasing force over time as your penis starts needing more and more pressure.
The reason people use the death grip may have something to do with sex shame. “Limited access to sex education and religious restrictions on masturbation lead to many [male-bodied people] not being taught the proper way to pleasure themselves,” says Daniel Saynt the founder of The New Society for Wellness (NSFW), a sex-positive members-only club that hosts sexual education workshops. “Television and film representation of masturbation also doesn’t help.”
When you see highly amped-up versions of sex in porn and have no other form of education, you start to rely more heavily on hyper-stimulating images to reach orgasm.
Additionally, Martin says that young men are often so afraid of getting caught masturbating, that they develop death grip to get it “over with” as quickly as possible.
How to Overcome Death Grip
If you want to get around the adverse effects of death grip, you have to change the way you masturbate. Of course, this is a simple answer to a not-so-simple problem.
Martin says, “Practice solo! When masturbating, use a light touch and use lube. Focus on what feels good.” This might leave you frustrated at first, but try to remember this isn’t an easy fix. Teaching you body to enjoy new and less intense stimulation will take time and patience.
As for what lube to try, we love Cocolube. It’s all-natural, long-lasting, and helps increase sensitivity. You could also experiment with Foria—CBD lubricants that are usually used to increase blood flow to the clitoris. It can do the same for penises!
“Changing your masturbation habits is the best way to manage desensitisation on your own, but it’s also important to talk to your partner. Let them know ahead of time that you take a longer time to reach orgasm,” Saynt explains. “Focus on other pleasurable activities so that all the pressure isn’t on your orgasm. Agree to let go of the idea that you need to come in order for the experience to be enjoyable for you.”
And no, you don’t have to stop watching porn to overcome death grip. If you choose to take a break from it, that’s totally up to you. It can be beneficial for some men to step entirely away from erotic materials when conquering other sexual concerns.
If you don’t want to give up porn, Martin suggests an alternative that can keep porn in the rotation, and help you redefine your relationship with this kind of material:
“Don’t touch yourself while you watch porn. Soak up the images, savour it, get crazy turned on,” she says. “Then, turn off the laptop, go to another room, and replay the images in your mind while you masturbate. This allows you to tune more into the sensations in your penis, without distraction from all the input to your eyes.”
If you slip up, forgive yourself.
With the inevitable frustrations that will likely occur when finding new masturbation ground, it can be overwhelming. You might find that you get so fed up, you go back to your old death grip ways.
That is OK! Forgive yourself and start anew. Old habits die hard. There is a reason for this saying, even if you can’t forgive the pun.
“The temptation to just take yourself to pound town and get it over with can be immense,” Martin says. “And, if you do go back to your old habit after trying for a while, don’t be hard on yourself. Just resolve to go longer next time, and eventually you will get there.”
This article originally appeared on Men’s Health