Why Some Women Prefer Masturbation to Partnered Sex

 Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

by Gigi Engle

Since vibrators became mainstream, there’s been so much ego-soothing talk centered around how they won’t replace men. We’re constantly using apologetic language to assure people that sex toys are great, but lovers—ones with penises, specifically—will always be better. We take pains to explain that sex toys and masturbation are not replacements for partnered sexual play; rather, self-love is its own, separate activity. It’s normal and perfectly healthy to masturbate while in relationships.

Yet, amid all of this orgasmic chatter, we forget to acknowledge an important fact: Some women prefer masturbation to partnered sex. And you know what? That’s OK.

A new study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine on female masturbation habits found that 9% of participants reported preferring masturbation to partnered sex (meaning intercourse), and 21% even preferred it to receiving oral.

Partnered sex is great and all, but when you know how to make yourself come, sometimes masturbation is just more appealing. Here are some reasons why some women prefer masturbation to partner play.

Most intercourse does not engage the clitoris

The clitoris is the powerhouse of female orgasm. It has more than 8,000 nerve endings, the majority of which are clustered in the hooded glans clitoris, the nubbin on the top of the vulva. When you’re having intercourse, this sacred piece of female anatomy is all-too-often sidelined. 

“Partnered sex would be great if the people I fucked knew how a clit works,” says Maddie N., 25.

When author Maryann Karinch was doing research for her forthcoming book, Mature Sexual Intimacy, she found that many of the women she spoke to found that their male partners “do not know how to manipulate the clitoris as effectively as they do—whether we are talking about the external part of the clitoris or the internal part.” 

“Sometimes you’re busy living your best life and don’t have time for bullshit people who don’t [know] where your clit is.”

She found this trend to also be true of the G-spot: “Two women, both of whom are in their early 60s, told me they find it easier and more fulfilling to hit the mark inside the body with a good toy than with a penis.”

Many of us don’t know how to communicate what we need

With the state of sex ed being what it is in this country—you rarely hear the word “clit” in a classroom, let alone instructions on how to locate it—we often wind up spending a serious amount of time instructing lovers how to get us off. In many cases, women say nothing at all, leaving us orgasm-less and pissed off. We aren’t given a vocabulary to discuss desire and pleasure so, when it comes to sex, we’re lost.

I know of many women who feel ashamed and embarrassed to speak up in the bedroom and direct their partners, so it makes sense that they prefer masturbation as then they can focus just on themselves,” explains Lucy Rowett, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist in Brighton, England.

Masturbation makes for faster orgasms

Sometimes getting yourself off is just the easier route. “Masturbation can be more appealing because it's low maintenance; partnered sex requires tuning into another person,” says Pam Shaffer, MFT, a licensed marriage family therapist in Los Angeles. “If you are looking to figure out what you like or get to sleep, you don't want to have to worry about tending to another person's needs.” 

“If you are looking to figure out what you like, you don't want to have to worry about tending to another person's needs.”

Between our busy schedules, terrible dating experiences, and greater focus on career trajectory, sometimes we just don’t have the time to give a new partner an anatomy lesson.  “If you want to get a quickie in, you know exactly where your spots are,” says Cristina Vanko, 30, author of Adultish. “Sometimes you don’t want to explain to someone what you want them to do.” 

Melissa L.*, 29, agrees: “Sometimes you’re busy living your best life and don’t have time for bullshit people who don’t [know] where your clit is.”

When you masturbate, you know you’re going to climax (most of the time, anyway). It’s not a guessing game and the energy input is relatively low. 

“I would rather masturbate than have sex with a partner because I know that I’m going to have an orgasm every single time,” says Jennifer F., 29. “If I do stuff with a partner, even one I trust, it’s just not a guarantee.” 

Let’s come out and say it: Masturbation just feels better for some women

“I prefer masturbation with a clitoral vibrator to oral sex because masturbation physically feels better. I've never orgasmed with a partner before, and I don't feel pleasure receiving oral sex from someone,” says Chloe B.*, 26.

The truth is, masturbation and the intense stimulation provided by sex toys is sometimes what feels best. For some women, that’s just the way it is. Sure, partnered play is fun, but when it comes to getting off, some clit-owners just want to do it themselves. We shouldn’t have to apologize for that.

“Intercourse feels nice because of the intimacy, but I have yet to orgasm from it,” Chloe says. “I would like partnered sex more if my partner had the power of a vibrator.”

We need to rethink our thinking

We vulva-owners can have orgasms in many ways, through many different avenues. Women can have orgasms through external clit stimulation, G-spot stimulation, combined clitoral and G-spot stimulation, nipple stimulation, ass-play and so on.

When we find what we like, maybe it’s OK to just … like it?

Sex toys are not the end of partnered sex. They can help you have better partnered experiences because you learn about your pleasure threshold and can then take that into partner play. “First, masturbation (and} sex toy teach me and then I could try to get a similar experience with a partner,” says Adrina Chirinos, 37, owner of Own Pleasures.

But if you prefer masturbation to partnered play, that’s perfectly OK. It doesn’t necessarily mean you only masturbate or only “tolerate” partnered sex. Of course, if you’re neglecting your partner and only masturbating, thus causing relationship tension...then yeah, you might want to reassess. If you simply have a preference for masturbation, invite your partner to join once in a while and mutually masturbate together. 

You do you, literally. Enough of the shame.

Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love and life. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.