Photo via Wikimedia Commons user David Shankbone.
There's this idea floating around the internet that if you're having a hard time ejaculating during sex, you might have something called "Death Grip Syndrome" (DGS). The phenomenon has its own Urban Dictionary page and everything. A user named The Jizz Wiz wrote it.
"Death Grip Syndrome
A condition in which frequent masturbation by hand desensitizes the nerves in the cock, thus lessening the pleasure of jerking off.
The best cure for Death Grip Syndrome is a Fleshlight!"
It also has its own website. Curedeathgrip.com offers helpful tips, including the "Anti-Death Grip Plan," and its slightly more brand-friendly cousin "The Fleshlight Plan." The idea with both of Curedeathgrip.com's plans is to deny your penis some of the hard sensations it's grown used to. Taking a softer, more moderate approach to self-gratification, the plans imply, will eventually bring sensation back to your numb and battered penis.
But there's a caveat to all this internet help: None if it is based on science. "'Death Grip Syndrome' is not a recognized medical condition and the ideas presented here are not meant to be and do not constitute medical advice," reads a disclaimer at Curedeathgrip.com. "It is only based on personal experience. Results may vary. Problems enjoying sexual pleasure may have many causes," it goes on.
Indeed, the term "Death Grip Syndrome" wasn't coined in medical literature. Like almost every 21st Century sex term in the English language, this one comes from noted sex advice columnist, podcaster, journalist, and activist Dan Savage. Most likely the first instance of "death grip" as a bad masturbatory habit was a Savage Love column from way back in 2003.
It's come up again and again since. "I get this question from at least one man a week, and sometimes from the panicked girlfriend," Savage told VICE.
But 2003 was far from the first time Savage used the term. That, he claimed, was about 35 years ago. "One of my first boyfriends could not come unless he pulled it out and masturbated in this insanely violent way that sometimes left him bloodied," he said.
So, long before he had a column, he dispensed some of his first sex advice: He instructed his boyfriend to quit masturbating like that, or risk never being able to come with another person around. After several months, Savage said, his partner "started coming in a different way—the same intensity, the same pleasure, but not the same style."
Does Savage think he's dispensing scientifically accurate information? Not so much. "It's anecdote, personal experience, and folk wisdom. Because that seems to work for some people," he said.
Dr. Richard Santucci, Chief of Urology at Detroit Receiving's Center for Urologic Reconstruction told VICE the death grip diagnosis misses too many potential causes. "The idea of too strong masturbation rewiring you to expect really strong feelings during sex? I just don't believe it's that common."
Santucci pointed out that he has certainly encountered patients with ejaculation problems, but while the death grip theory "may be true for the individual person," it nonetheless "wouldn't be in the first ten things I'd worry about." Instead, the patient should "look into diabetes, medications, low testosterone, anxiety, all that other stuff."
The Mayo Clinic provides a list of possible causes for the medical condition known as delayed ejaculation. There are the obvious ones Santucci mentioned, along with alcoholism and drug use, birth defects, pelvic injuries, and nerve damage caused by diabetes.
And while the potential causes vary wildly, the reported symptoms of Death Grip Syndrome aren't consistent either. Some last forever in bed, always chasing the elusive nut, while others claim their inability to achieve or maintain an erection is thanks to DGS. The latter is highly curable with the help of pharmaceuticals, according to Santucci.
"There's a certain point where it doesn't really matter why people have erectile dysfunction because the treatment's all the same," he said, referring to Viagra and Cialis. Regular doses of Cialis, which isn't meant to be taken on a per-boner basis like viagra, is particularly useful in cases like these, he said. "The dose might be five milligrams, but if somebody has a really minor problem, we might just give them 2.5 milligrams a day." That does the trick, he said. "If you pretty much get good erections, you'll get even better—or even more normal—erections."
Lo and behold, the inside of an ass or twat does not feel like a pillow covered with four years of jizz.
But there are also sufferers of delayed ejaculation who don't lose their boners, and that's part of the problem. "They'll get sore. They'll get tired. They just sorta know they're not gonna come that way," New York sex therapist Michael A. Perelman told VICE. Perelman is a clinical professor of psychology in psychiatry at Cornell University, and co-director of the Human Sexuality Program at The New York Presbyterian Hospital. Perelman has encountered delayed ejaculation in many, many incarnations, including the endless thrusting anecdotally associated with a "death grip."
Santucci has encountered the problem as well. "If you meet those people, I'd say 80 percent of them are on SSRIs," he said, referring to the family of antidepressants called "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors"—common drugs like Prozac and Zoloft.
This came as a surprise to Dan Savage. "It never occurred to me to ask if people were on SSRIs," he said. He knew the more familiar indictment of such drugs: "They crater your libido." The idea that the situation could be helped with a change in medication, he said, "is going to be such welcome news to people who write me about this problem."
But when the cause of the problem isn't "organic" as Santucci put it, it's often psychological. And these are the cases where even professionals like Santucci and Perelman have, from time to time, encountered the dreaded too-tight grip. (Perelman, for the record, finds the term "death grip syndrome" inadequate, and "ridiculously provocative.")
In a "five year retrospective chart review," (meaning gathering data from his patients' charts) Perelman told us he looked at 80 men with delayed ejaculation, and 37 percent of them had a history of masturbating in a way that stimulated a "specific spot," or "with an idiosyncratic style." He estimates that in total, 40 percent of men who make it to his office after complaining about delayed ejaculation are "idiosyncratic" masturbators. But too tight of a masturbatory grip is just one variation in the wonderful world of idiosyncratic masturbation.
"There are a lot of variations on this," he said. In addition to a tight grip, "you've got speed—super rapid simulation. You've got a particular place, and if that place isn't touched, it doesn't work." Then there are the really idiosyncratic ones. "Someone else might always use the same sock," Perelman said.
The idea is to be able to be responsive to more than one kind of stimulation, so that you can enjoy a range of responses.
—Michael A. Perelman, PhD.
Savage hears about the same variety of problems all the time. "I've heard from so many people over the years who grew up humping a crusty, dirty pillow they hid in their closet, and then lo and behold the inside of an ass or twat does not feel like a pillow covered with four years of jizz."
With the jizzy-pillow variation, along with all the other kinds of weird masturbation Perelman calls "problematic," the problem isn't so much the grip, location, speed, nor the texture of the crusty sock. It's the specificity. "The idea is to be able to be responsive to more than one kind of stimulation, so that you can enjoy a range of responses," Perelman said.
As for the number of men whose idiosyncratic masturbation was grip-based, "It's not more than 50 percent," Perelman said. In short, the phenomenon is real, but the term "Death Grip" seems to be leading masturbators astray. It should really be called "monotonous masturbation syndrome."
Redditors are all over the place in terms of what they think their Death Grips are doing to them. Some of their theories are pretty much in line with what Perelman has documented. Others think a guy with a tight grip "develops callouses on his penis," and that "the penis callouses begin to numb the penis head and causes the penis to become less sensitive to touch via genitals, mouth or hand." That would certainly be a problem, but if you're really forming calluses on your penis, you'll know.
As for what to do about it, Savage was remarkably on point when he changed his boyfriend's habits. Perelman does something similar: "I'll have them suspend masturbation temporarily until they're able to ejaculate with whatever their preferred form of sexual activity is with their partner."
But what if you're diabetes-free with no birth defects, not on antidepressants, don't drink, and you quit masturbating? In that case medical science can't do much for your problem; only a sex columnist can. Savage told us exactly what he tells his callers and readers: "If your dick doesn't adapt after making a good faith, multi-month effort, maybe that's just the way your dick works," he said.
You'll just have to do what women do when they don't come during sex with a partner: unabashedly combine masturbation with intercourse. Or in Savage's turn of phrase: "Fuck and fuck and fuck, and then jack it, and then shove it back in when you reach that point of no return."
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