Sarah Martin, MA, CSC
Mar 21 · 7 min read

Here’s what to do if death grip is a problem for you

A clentched fist in greyscale. Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

I was recently asked for resources on fixing death grip.

If you’ve not heard of it before, it refers to men that masturbate with a tight grip (or using any sensation involving intense pressure, like humping a mattress) and then struggle to orgasm in partner sex.

It’s a common experience for men, so I figured a quick search would turn up many quality online articles.

I was wrong.

Almost every search result was for a resource that was sex negative: shaming masturbation or shaming porn. The least awful resource I could find was from Dan Savage, who some suggest is the person that first coined the term “death grip.” Even that article seemed to be scolding readers.

So, what’s a sex coach to do in a situation like this?

Write her own article, of course.

So, I’ve got a problem with death grip…

The first thing to know is that you are not alone. It is a common concern among men.

Why is it common?

In many cases, it has to do with how you learned to masturbate as a boy. Often, boys grow up understanding that masturbation is shameful. This can be via direct messages from parents, pastors, and peers, or indirect messages, like perceiving an awkward silence around the topic.

When boys first start masturbating, they learn that this AMAZING FEELING can be produced through nothing more than touch. It seems revolutionary.

Can you remember — was there someone in your class who “discovered” masturbation and wanted to tell everyone about it?

Or, was there a boy in your class who began openly masturbating during lunch?

If you had someone like that at school, what happened to them? These masturbatory Marco Polos are often harsly punished, and generally do not understand why.

If you were that kid, I am so sorry that this happened to you. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t your fault.

Directly or indirectly, boys learn that masturbation is “bad.” They also decide that it feels great, so they’re not going to stop doing it.

This leads to a sense of secrecy and urgency around masturbation. It’s done in quiet, in a rush, trying to get it over with as quickly as possible. Especially if you grew up in a situation where you were afforded little privacy — where your parents, caregivers, or siblings would walk into your room unannounced, or where you shared a room with many people.

That creates a habit of trying to give yourself as much stimulation as possible, in order to orgasm as quickly as possible, before you get caught, followed by a sense of shame after orgasm takes place.

If any of this resonates with you — it sucks that this was the situation you grew up in. It’s common, but that does not make it ok.

OK, but what’s actually happening when we say “death grip”?

Fast forward to the present day, when a boy has become an adult man who finds himself cruising the internet for advice on death grip.

What’s actually going on?

Most of the time, death grip doesn’t come up as a problem until a man begins to have partner sex. Until then, it’s a habit that’s mostly unconscious.

In those first partner sex experiences, there’s a lot of anxiety. Men are faced with massive performance pressure around sex.

During sex, something doesn’t seem right. Penetration doesn’t feel like much, or their partner is being too gentle with their hands. This creates a mixture of both frustration and embarassment — frustration that pleasure isn’t being felt and embarassment because they’re not performing the way they think they should in front of their partner.

For some men, it can go a further — they might feel like their penis is numb, and that’s scary.

Here’s what’s happening: because there’s been a long habit of applying a lot of pressure stimulation during masturbation, that’s become the internal ‘normal’. .

In partner sex, your partner’s mouth, vagina, anus, or hand is unable to apply the same degree of pressure. Something feels “off” and sometimes orgasm isn’t possible without taking matters (and your cock) into your own hands.

And what can I do about death grip?

One important thing to note is that mouths, vaginas, anuses, and other people’s hands DO all provide stimulation. The kinds of sensations they create are different.

The way to help your body, specifically your penis, to experience these different sensations is to practice on your own when you masturbate.

Here’s what you can do in order to increase your ability to feel different types of sensations:

Step 1: Set the mood when you masturbate

Start having sex with yourself the way that you want to have sex with your partners. Make sure there’s enough time available and that you won’t be interrupted. Clean up your room. Create a nice space for yourself. Get physically comfortable before you start. Treat yourself the way you would treat a partner in sex.

Step 2: From now, start using lube

Many men do not use lube when they masturbate. Some use spit, though that dries out quickly in the open air. Get a good quality water-based lubricant and start using it every time you masturbate. Use a quarter sized dollop and reapply if it feels like it is getting tacky on your skin. Lube helps to increase sensitivity to touch.

Step 3: Use a light touch

Start masturbating with a light touch. You can vary this, or ease yourself into it — if you normally masturbate with your cock squeezed tightly in your fist, begin by loosening your grip. If you normally masturbate by squeezing your cock tightly between two fingers, use the same two fingers but don’t apply any more pressure than necessary to keep your penis between them.

A special note here for men that currently masturbate by humping a mattress — if this has been your pattern, first know that this is also really common. It presents you with particular challenges because the amount of pressure you create with your body weight is greater than any you could create with your hand alone. Your first step will be switching to using your hands only, and only after that trying the actions in the paragraph above.

Step 4: Focus on what you feel

Turn your attention toward the physical sensations in your penis. Pay attention to what feels good, what feels meh, and what feels bad. You’re looking for what feels good (and, to a certain extent, also note what feels meh to come back to as your sensitivity increases).

Step 5: Patience

The first couple of times you do this, expect to feel frustrated. Masturbating this way will probably take much longer than normal. Feelings of shame are likely to come up. It’s normal if this happens — remember, you’ve spent a lifetime racing to the finish and you learned to do that because you got the message that masturbating is shameful.

Be gentle with yourself — it’s ok if this change is difficult. It’s ok if you can’t orgasm without switching back. If you fall into your old pattern, dust yourself off and try again the next time, going a little bit further than before. Consistency will help make progress.

Step 6: Remember your frenulum

This is the little triangle of skin on the bottom of your penis where the head meets the shaft. In most men, this spot is densely packed with nerves and able to produce a lot of sensation with minimal pressure stimulation. Try a very light touch in this area with good lubrication.

What about porn? Do I have to give that up?

No, you don’t.

I am only going to encourage you to make one change to how you use it, if death grip is a problem for you.

Porn isn’t morally bad, provided that all performers are of age, all scenes are consensual, and all performers are compensated for their labour. There’s no shame in using it. Ideally, look to reputable producers and pay for the porn that you consume.

What you need to keep in mind is that porn is the visual equivalent of what you are doing when you apply a tonne of pressure to your penis — it is really intense stimulation.

What that can do, if you are masturbating while watching porn, is disconnect you from the sensations in your penis. When we are watching something intensely stimulating, our eyes take up more sensory bandwidth, leaving less attention available for other types of sensation.

If you are moving away from death grip, here’s how you can do that without swearing off porn cold turkey:

Watch porn without touching yourself. Store up the images in your mind, especially the ones that get you really worked up.

Then, close your laptop, go to another room, and masturbate while replaying the scenes you really liked inside of your mind.

This helps you to be more present in your body and more able to feel subtler sensations.

Another way to approach this is to mix up the types of fantasy fuel that you use. If you normally get aroused watching video porn, try looking at still images, listening to audio erotica, reading or writing sexy stories, or exploring other erotic media outside of your norm.

Any parting words?

Remember this — there is nothing bad or wrong about masturbation. It’s normal, it is natural, and it is a critical outlet for sexual expression. Masturbation is available to you throughout your life.

You can masturbate when you are single and when you have a partner. You can masturbate when you are old, when you are young, when you are sick, and when you are healthy. You were most likely doing it in the womb and most likely will be able to it right up until you die.

That means, for your whole life, you have the ability to give yourself pleasure. Orgasms are good. Pleasure is good. Exploring your body is good, and learning how to do that in different ways, through different types of sensation, will help you be a better lover.

Sarah Martin, MA, CSC

Written by

Sociologist & Certified Sex Coach. I write about sex & money.

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