Masturbation doesn’t take away from partnered sex. A sexologist explains.
By Gigi Engle
As May is masturbation month, it only makes sense that we would pay homage to the holy act of self-love.
Masturbation is often shrouded in shame and deemed a baser, less important sex act than actual intercourse (wrong) or it’s thought that engaging in masturbation is cheating on your partner (wrong, again). While there are countless masturbation myths, one thing we particularly take issue with is the idea that if you’re in a happy, healthy relationship, you shouldn’t “need” or “want” to masturbate ...
… As if your partner were some magical unicorn who could fulfill all your sexual needs on a dime. Again, wrong. Not only is it unreasonable to expect one person to satisfy every single sexual whim, the very notion of this takes away from the beauty of masturbation. “It’s a natural biological craving. A way to love and honor yourself,” says Dr. Cynthia L. Dougherty Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and relationship coach.
Intercourse, hand sex, oral sex, anal sex, masturbation etc. are all independent sex acts. No one is better than any other, despite what the sexual hierarchy tries to tell you. There is no reason why you should give up your self-love sessions just because you’re happily coupled or throupled (or whatever kind of relationship you’re in).
Here is what you need to know.
We’re a society built on shame
Have you ever heard the religious bullshit rumor that if you masturbate you’ll grow hair on your palms? We wish this were a joke, but this is legitimately something kids from conservative Christian backgrounds are told.
“From a young age, many of us are taught not to masturbate. For many, there is a shame associated with it, either from religious upbringing or through scolding from parents. This makes the action feel wrong to many people, or at least something that's not OK to do in front of a partner,” explains Daniel Saynt, founder of The New Society for Wellness (NSFW), a sex-positive members-only club that hosts sexual education workshops.
When we’re taught that masturbation is dirty and wrong, and the only true “good sex” is that between a cis-man and cis-woman in a heterosexual marriage, we’re going to wind up with some pretty whacked out ideas about what is and is not “normal.”
Masturbating in relationships is normal
First of all, nearly half of men and women all masturbate while they’re in relationships. So, this is a very common thing.
Masturbating when you’re in a relationship doesn't mean you don’t enjoy sex with your partner. In fact, studies have shown that people most often think about their partner during masturbation sessions. Sure, we have fantasies outside of our relationships, but for the by and large, people are imagining past encounters with the person they love, or things they want to try with that person.
Studies have shown that not only is masturbation good for your mental and physical health, but it can actually make you want MORE partnered sex, not less. “Any actions in your relationship that increase physical bonds are healthy,” Saynt says. “You want to be connected to your partner. You want to share in experiences that bring you closer.”
Masturbation can bring you more pleasure during partnered sex
“Masturbation is a great way to explore each other and learn what makes you and your partner come,” Saynt explains. Your partner is not a mind reader and neither are you!
Masturbation opens a door to explore each other’s pleasure more fully. If you masturbate together you get an up close and personal chance to see how your partner likes to touch themselves. This is an excellent learning opportunity because who knows how to make you come better than you?
Masturbation (and all sex acts that lead to pleasure and orgasm) allows your brain to release feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine. All of these things help you feel closer to your partner. Masturbation is a beautiful, vulnerable, and raw act. Being able to share that with someone you love builds trust.
“Getting to a point where we're comfortable talking to our partners about sex and satisfaction is important,” Saynt adds. “Don't feel ashamed about your masturbation habits and don't settle for a partner who makes you feel shameful about sex.”
When to take note of negative effects
Like all wonderful, sexually delicious things - sometimes there can be negative side-effects, if you’re enjoying one thing so often that other sex acts take to the wayside.
“You may be loving yourself to a point of negatively affecting a relationship if it limits intimacy between partners,” explains Dougherty. “If you masturbate frequently, you know your pleasure areas, making it difficult for sexual intercourse to measure up. Your partner may not satisfy you equally.”
For male-bodied people, masturbation with a “death grip” can sometimes lead to less sensation during partnered sex. Likewise, for female-bodied people, regularly using a powerful vibrator might make your partner’s tongue or fingers feel less satisfying. The key to these mishaps to self-awareness and communication with your partner. Don’t get freaked out. These are all reversible. If you notice your masturbation habits are impacting your relationship in a negative way, take a break and recalibrate.
There is nothing wrong with masturbating in a relationship, but it is critical that you find balance. Talk to your partner and open a dialogue. When we keep sexual discomforts or confusions to ourselves, we can’t find suitable answers.
“Prioritize intimacy with your partner. If masturbation is taking away from this, consider the reasons why. If you are able to incorporate masturbation into partner play, make sure to still plan some days which are all about you,” Saynt says.
Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, educator, and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.