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Death Grip Syndrome: What It Is & How to Treat It

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM

Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 12/27/2020

Updated 01/31/2024

Masturbating can be a safe and fun solo sexual experience. Unfortunately, if you’re holding on a little too tight, your discrete solo session can have some unintended negative consequences. Namely, death grip syndrome.

Death grip syndrome is a nonscientific name to describe the consequences of masturbating with too tight of a grip on yourself.

Guys who squeeze too hard or masturbate with a tight grip might wonder what kind of damage they’re doing. Are they at risk of injuring themselves, desensitizing their penises or even causing nerve damage? It’s not outside the realm of possibility.

The good news is that it’s a fairly common issue men experience, and it’s also very treatable with as little as a couple technique changes.

Below, we’ve described how death grip syndrome happens, the possible causes and what you might do to reverse death grip syndrome.

“Death grip” describes a relatively common problem for men — being able to reach orgasm during masturbation, but not during partnered sex or penetrative sex. 

It’s unclear where the term originated — some credit it to sex columnist Dan Savage in the 2000s. But Googling “death grip meaning” or “death grip Urban Dictionary” may not tell you what you really want to know. “Death grip syndrome” is a slang term without a formal medical meaning. 

The science behind death grip masturbation doesn’t really exist — at least, not anywhere we’d trust. But the basic concept is that an overly firm grip may cause penile desensitization, which could make it more difficult to reach orgasm during sex without doing the same move as they do during masturbation. 

A man affected by death grip syndrome might find it fast and easy to reach orgasm when they masturbate, yet find it slow or impossible when having sex. To reach orgasm during sex, they might need to masturbate to climax even with a partner present.

The best approximation of death grip syndrome in medical literature dates to a 2015 article on a condition called anorgasmia (the inability to orgasm) and delayed orgasm. The authors noted that men can sometimes suffer from both problems due to their masturbation habits — that masturbation may be a more enjoyable sensation than intercourse with a partner, causing some intimacy issues.

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It’s hard to pin down diagnostic criteria here. The severity of death grip syndrome can vary from one man to another, and we don’t have an official guidebook for the symptoms of so-called “DGS.” 

Anorgasmia due to masturbation habits can produce numerous sexual health issues beyond making climax difficult to achieve.

They include:

Some men find that the death grip and similar orgasm-related problems can lead to relationship issues, reduced feelings of intimacy or a preference for masturbation over sex. 

It’s also hard to identify many details about what techniques or grip styles lead to DGS.

There are a few points we want to bring to your attention that may add some context, though. 

First, studies of cyclists have found that the repetitive, continual pressure of cycling is linked to penile numbness and erectile dysfunction, which — although we definitely can’t say for sure — could mean that other types of repetitive pressure are linked to these conditions, as well. 

A 2004 review of 62 articles found that while the most commonly reported genital symptom due to cycling was genital numbness, which 50 to 91 percent of cyclists reported (depending on the study), the second-most common symptom was erectile dysfunction, reported by 13 to 24 percent of cyclists, possibly as a result of their exercise habits.

Another study found that men who find masturbation more pleasurable than sex may continue to maintain unusual masturbation techniques, including those that apply extra pressure to the penis and reduce its sensitivity level.

But let’s assume for a moment that death grip syndrome is a secondary condition — what if you’re gripping too hard for a reason?

If we were to assume you are indeed squeezing too hard or masturbating in a way that is substantially more pleasurable or intense than sexual intercourse, you might have begun to do so for a number of reasons. 

Medications 

Some medications that cause ED, like antidepressants (particularly SSRIs), can reduce penile sensitivity and make it harder to reach orgasm. 

Other types of medications may affect the peripheral nerves and reduce sensitivity throughout your body. 

We’ve got some info on managing antidepressant sexual side effects if you want to know more.

Medical Conditions 

Several medical conditions, such as Peyronie’s disease and thyroid issues, may contribute to sexual dysfunction, while hormonal health issues like low testosterone may also cause a reduced level of interest and certain sexual performance issues. 

In addition, diabetic neuropathy and other issues that cause nerve damage may reduce nerve function or sensitivity in your penis — a condition called neurological ED.

Porn

Although watching porn won’t make your penis less sensitive, there is such a thing as porn-induced ED

Excessive use of porn is sometimes linked to changes in your sexual habits, performance and the main factors that make you feel sexually aroused. 

For example, a study from 2014 found that men who watch porn frequently were more likely to think about porn while having sex in order to stay aroused — a factor that might be linked to difficulty reaching orgasm. 

We’ve talked about the effects of porn on your sexual performance more in our guide to porn-induced erectile dysfunction. Some strongly believe porn addiction is damaging, which led to the creation of the NoFap Reddit community.

Sexual Performance Anxiety 

Feeling anxious before sex is a common issue, and research shows that sexual performance anxiety causes or contributes to many common forms of sexual dysfunction. 

Many things can trigger sexual performance anxiety, including concerns about satisfying your partner or making your partner pregnant or because of a previous traumatic sexual experience.   

Sometimes, several of these factors may contribute to difficulties reaching orgasm when you have sex with a partner. 

Choose your chew

Want to know how to get rid of death grip syndrome? Milder cases have a straightforward treatment: a lighter grip and fewer masturbation sessions per day or week. 

If you’re going too hard or too often, give your penis some time to recover. Over time, there’s a chance giving it a rest will bring back some sensitivity.

Once that recovery period has passed, you can try again later with some new tips in mind to physically and psychologically recondition yourself: 

When you do masturbate, ease yourself in slowly. 

Without a partner there, you may want to hurry to the finish line, so to speak, but give your penis some time to get warmed up. When you’re in the mood, try to let yourself get an erection without any manual stimulation, or let your partner help you instead of doing it yourself. 

Try a lighter masturbation technique. 

Use a light grip and stroke your penis gently and slowly instead of firmly and fast. And use a lubricant to reduce friction and increase the comfort of hand-based sexual stimulation.

Try to limit your porn consumption. 

While porn isn’t necessarily bad for you, there’s some evidence that porn might have negative effects on your sexual performance. So, it’s possible that giving up porn may improve certain forms of sexual dysfunction.

Try to either reduce your consumption or avoid porn altogether, at least for a few weeks. If you notice improvements in your ability to enjoy sex and reach orgasm with your partner, consider cutting down your porn consumption for the long-term. 

Check for underlying medical issues. 

A case of temporary ED isn’t a big deal, but if your DGS is because you’re squeezing to make up for poor blood flow, you’re perpetrating a vicious cycle. 

Talk to a healthcare provider. They may offer medical advice for treating ED, which could further reduce your need to squeeze for sexual pleasure.

Discuss side effects of medications with a healthcare provider. 

If you’re prescribed a type of medication that’s linked to sexual performance issues, such as an SSRI antidepressant, your healthcare provider may suggest switching to a different medication that’s less likely to affect your sex life.

Be open and honest with your partner. 

If you think DGS is affecting your sex life and your relationship, it can be embarrassing. But perpetuating the cycle of not facing your issue, masturbating because your sex life is bad and then not facing the issue again isn’t going to fix anything. Working to communicate with your partner can often make it easier to relax during sex and enjoy yourself. 

It can also be an excuse to spice things up. For example, you may benefit from taking part in mutual masturbation with your partner before switching over to penetrative sex before you reach orgasm. You may also want to invest in lube or sex toys for everyone’s benefit.

Get help for anxiety. 

If this cycle is more than you and your partner can handle, there’s help available. If you need to talk to a professional about problems, sex therapy is always an option.

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There’s nothing wrong with masturbating. It’s a natural thing that, when performed the right way, won’t have any negative effects on your sexual desire or performance. 

Worried you’re choking off your sex life with your death grip? Here’s what you need to know:

  • If you find it difficult or time-consuming to reach orgasm during sex but easy to do so when you masturbate, you may be affected by something called death grip syndrome, or DGS.

  • DGS reduces penis sensitivity, and is alleged to be one of the potential causes of ED by some guys.

  • Although death grip syndrome isn’t a recognized medical condition among health professionals, the idea that masturbating with an overly tight grip might affect your ability to enjoy sex isn’t totally devoid of merit. 

  • Death grip syndrome can cause intimacy issues and affect more than just your sensitivity — it could lead to injury, anxiety or depression.

  • Changes to your porn and masturbation habits could help you recover, as could communicating with your partner and seeking professional help from a sex therapist.

  • If changing your habits doesn’t seem to work, talk to a healthcare provider. They’ll be able to help through different methods of therapy, medications and other treatment options. 

Have more questions? Want help? Hims’ erectile dysfunction blog is a great place to learn about why liftoff keeps getting scrapped, and what you may be doing or not doing to keep your penis doing what it’s supposed to.

We also offer erectile dysfunction treatments like Viagra, Cialis, Stendra, sildenafil and tadalafil. We even offer some of them in hard mint form — check our chewable ED meds for more.

Don’t put the squeeze on intimacy. Avoid DGS, and if you need help, reach out.

5 Sources

  1. Higgins, A., Nash, M., & Lynch, A. M. (2010). Antidepressant-associated sexual dysfunction: impact, effects, and treatment. Drug, healthcare and patient safety, 2, 141–150. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108697/
  2. Sun, Chyng & Bridges, Ana & Johnson, Jennifer & Ezzell, Matt. (2014). Pornography and the Male Sexual Script: An Analysis of Consumption and Sexual Relations. Archives of sexual behavior. 45. 10.1007/s10508-014-0391 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269173515_Pornography_and_the_Male_Sexual_Script_An_Analysis_of_Consumption_and_Sexual_Relations.
  3. Jenkins, L. C., & Mulhall, J. P. (2015). Delayed orgasm and anorgasmia. Fertility and sterility, 104(5), 1082–1088. https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(15)01957-3/fulltext.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-f). Penile curvature (Peyronie’s disease) - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/penile-curvature-peyronies-disease.
  5. Leibovitch, I. and Mor, Y. (2004). The vicious cycling: Bicycle related urogenital disorders. European Urology 47. Retrieved from https://ismseat.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/theviciouscycling.pdf
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Mike Bohl, MD

Dr. Mike Bohl is a licensed physician, a Medical Advisor at Hims & Hers, and the Director of Scientific & Medical Content at a stealth biotech startup, where he is involved in pharmaceutical drug development. Prior to joining Hims & Hers, Dr. Bohl spent several years working in digital health, focusing on patient education. He has also worked in medical journalism for The Dr. Oz Show (receiving recognition for contributions from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences when the show won Outstanding Informative Talk Show at the 2016–2017 Daytime Emmy® Awards) and at Sharecare. He is a Medical Expert Board Member at Eat This, Not That! and a Board Member at International Veterinary Outreach.

Dr. Bohl obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine from Brown University, his Master of Public Health from Columbia University, and his Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies—Journalism from Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership at Cornell University. Dr. Bohl trained in internal medicine with a focus on community health at NYU Langone Health.

Dr. Bohl is Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, Medical Writer Certified by the American Medical Writers Association, a certified Editor in the Life Sciences by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist by the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs. He has graduate certificates in Digital Storytelling and Marketing Management & Digital Strategy from Harvard Extension School and certificates in Business Law and Corporate Governance from Cornell Law School.

In addition to his written work, Dr. Bohl has experience creating medical segments for radio and producing patient education videos. He has also spent time conducting orthopedic and biomaterial research at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland and practicing clinically as a general practitioner on international medical aid projects with Medical Ministry International.

Dr. Bohl lives in Manhattan and enjoys biking, resistance training, sailing, scuba diving, skiing, tennis, and traveling. You can find Dr. Bohl on LinkedIn for more information.

Publications

  • Younesi, M., Knapik, D. M., Cumsky, J., Donmez, B. O., He, P., Islam, A., Learn, G., McClellan, P., Bohl, M., Gillespie, R. J., & Akkus, O. (2017). Effects of PDGF-BB delivery from heparinized collagen sutures on the healing of lacerated chicken flexor tendon in vivo. Acta biomaterialia, 63, 200–209. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1742706117305652?via%3Dihub

  • Gebhart, J. J., Weinberg, D. S., Bohl, M. S., & Liu, R. W. (2016). Relationship between pelvic incidence and osteoarthritis of the hip. Bone & joint research, 5(2), 66–72. https://boneandjoint.org.uk/Article/10.1302/2046-3758.52.2000552

  • Gebhart, J. J., Bohl, M. S., Weinberg, D. S., Cooperman, D. R., & Liu, R. W. (2015). Pelvic Incidence and Acetabular Version in Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis. Journal of pediatric orthopedics, 35(6), 565–570. https://journals.lww.com/pedorthopaedics/abstract/2015/09000/pelvic_incidence_and_acetabular_version_in_slipped.5.aspx

  • Islam, A., Bohl, M. S., Tsai, A. G., Younesi, M., Gillespie, R., & Akkus, O. (2015). Biomechanical evaluation of a novel suturing scheme for grafting load-bearing collagen scaffolds for rotator cuff repair. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 30(7), 669–675. https://www.clinbiomech.com/article/S0268-0033(15)00143-6/fulltext

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