Is It a Bad Sign If I Prefer to Masturbate Over Having Sex With My Partner?

Photo: Getty Images/Halfdark

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, stopping the virus remains our top collective priority—and that’s the way it should be. Still, depending on your personal quarantine living situation, it may also be impacting your relationship. In this edition of Good@Sex, Alexandra Fine—sexologist, co-founder and CEO of Dame Products, and Well+Good Changemaker—delves deep into what it may mean if you prefer to masturbate over having sex with your live-in partner right now.


I live with my partner, and we're spending more time together than ever right now. Nothing is wrong, per se—in fact, we're getting along super well. Yet, I'm…not in the mood for sex. Well, partnered sex. You see, I am in the mood for alone time and self-pleasure. Is it normal that I prefer to masturbate over having sex with my partner right now?


First and foremost, let's get one thing out of the way: Yes, you are normal. Or at the very least, you are having a human response to a forced change in circumstances, which is triggering our animalistic instincts. Many of us are essentially captive in our homes and we have limited ability to move freely through the world, our natural habitat. Now consider that many animals struggle to procreate in captivity.

In short, being in quarantine isn’t our normal, and there is no normal response to it. However, I can point to some science and wisdom to explain why you might prefer to masturbate than have partnered sex, especially if you haven't felt this way before.

In fact, relationship therapist Esther Perel wrote a whole book about this, aptly titled Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and Domestic, which is a deep dive into the paradox of love. Perel's thesis is essentially that closeness tends to kill desire. The more we truly “become one” with our partners, the less mystery there is to be curious about.

To paint a picture, apparently it was not easy at all to get rhinos to mate in captivity when they were paired up, one-on-one, in the zoo. In the wild, a male rhino would interact with a number of females as part of their erotic practice. When the male rhino no longer had environmental cues of exploring his options, so to speak, he wouldn’t get excited.

We need to be distinct individuals in order to want each other. Find time to work on your own joys, hobbies, and pleasures, and share those with your partner.

So what’s the solution, as it pertains to our human lives and human experiences? Space. We need to be distinct individuals in order to want each other. Of course, finding space from those with whom we’re quarantining can be difficult, so in the meantime, I recommend finding time to work on your own joys, hobbies, and pleasures, and sharing those with your partner.

Together, you can also reflect on the environmental cues in your pre-COVID life that would put you in the mood and attempt to re-create that environment/situation/smell/conscious state of mind in your home. Create a date night ritual, dance together, set up vacation-like scenarios.

Because, remember, sex itself doesn’t define the strength of your loving, caring, healthy relationship, and you only need to work on activating your erotic desire if you actually want to activate it. If exploring your erotic power in other ways feels best right now (like through masturbating), that’s cool, too.

Furthermore, as we navigate “the new normal” of life right now, it’s important to throw some of our preconceived notions of what normal means out the window. In fact, instead of questioning your normality, perhaps question whether you're feeling connected to yourself and your partner in ways that feel satisfying to you—regardless of whether that includes sexual intimacy.

And if you do decide that more partnered sex is something both you and your partner want and would like to work toward, here's a tip: Masturbate in the same room, and see what happens. It’s a real win-win.

As CEO of Dame Products, Alexandra Fine translates the nuances of our sexualities into human-friendly toys for sex and sexual wellness products. A lifelong student of sexual health, Alexandra earned her master’s in clinical psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University. In founding Dame Products, she intends to start necessary conversations, to listen rather than assume, and to create products that enhance intimacy.

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