What You Need to Know About Masturbation When You’re in a Relationship
Or maybe you've walked in on said great partner doing the same thing. That can feel awkward at best and like a betrayal at worst. But is it actually cause for concern?
According to experts, yes and no, respectively. While talking about masturbation with your S.O. may be more uncomfortable than that last set of burpees, there's no reason for the topic to be taboo. In fact, relationship pros say solo-time can help make sex with your partner even better.
Common misconceptions about masturbation
Just because you're coupled up doesn't mean your partner suddenly becomes solely responsible for your orgasms (or vice versa). "From a physiological and psychological perspective, moderate masturbation is completely normal and should be viewed as a relational enhancement," explains John Mayer, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand.
"Unfortunately, rather than being seen as the gift that it is, masturbation has been hijacked by individuals and institutions who feel the need to control other human beings," he says. That notion that you're cheating on your boyfriend by using your vibrator? A total myth.
That notion that you're cheating on your boyfriend by using your vibrator? A total myth.
And the benefits of masturbation go beyond sexual satisfaction. "Masturbation improves self-confidence, reduces stress, and helps you sleep better," explains sexologist Emily Morse, creator and host of the podcast Sex With Emily. "These widespread benefits are largely unknown, so we often can’t understand why our partners would need to please themselves without us."
Bottom line: If you or your partner like to experience pleasure on your own from time to time, it's not because of something the other partner is—or isn't—doing. "We often interpret their solo routine to mean that we don’t satisfy them," says Morse. "Which means they must not be attracted to us anymore." Not true.
When does going it solo become an issue?
While masturbation is a positive thing in so many ways, it can be an issue if it starts to come between you and your boo. "If masturbation is replacing connecting physically with your partner, then it could negatively impact the relationship," says psychologist Rachel Needle, PsyD. "In addition, if someone is getting used to an idiosyncratic style of masturbation that is hard to be replicated by a partner, it could impact partnered sexual activities." If this sounds familiar, it's not a bad idea to incorporate a toy that'll be fun for both of you—like a couples vibrator.
It's also important to be mindful of your masturbation frequency. "If you find yourself too dependent on porn or masturbation to get off, it may cause you to be unable to get aroused by your partner," says Morse. "If a person starts to escalate the amount of time or the graphic nature of the content, it can desensitize them to healthy intimacy with their partner."
How to make room for masturbation in your relationship the *healthy* way
At its best, masturbation in a relationship keeps both partners primed for satisfying sex with each other. "Sex is something we need to practice," says Dr. Mayer. "Masturbation shouldn't take the place of sex with your partner—it should be viewed as practice for the big game."
And people who masturbate on the reg actually have "higher levels of sexual satisfaction," Morse adds. "The more you reinforce the benefits of masturbation as a couple and as an [individual], while continuing to communicate about your sex life, the better sex you’ll have."
If your or your partner feels insecure because of the other's masturbation habits—and trust, this happens to the best of us—Morse recommends talking it through. "Reassure them that your masturbation routine has nothing to do with your feelings for your partner, or your sexual satisfaction," she says. "The more that you encourage the talk about your individual self-love practices in an open and honest way without judgment or shame, the better it will be for your relationship."
Originally published on April 12, 2018; updated September 11, 2020.
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