Is there a place in relationships for masturbation? The easy answer is "yes!" It's your body, you should be able to do whatever the hell you want with it. But like anything else in life, masturbation has some complexities that can affect your relationship. Here's how to have a healthy relationship with your partner and your hand.
The Benefits of Masturbation in a Relationship
To start, let's get the obvious out of the way: masturbation is generally awesome, and can actually have a positive impact on you, your sex life, and your relationship. For example:
- It Builds Body Confidence. Most people feel ashamed of or embarrassed by their bodies, especially their genitals. A lot of these feelings stem from unfamiliarity. Many of my female clients go to great lengths to avoid touching or looking at their genitals, which only worsens their feelings about their bodies. Masturbation physically requires you to have contact with your body. It helps you experience pleasure in an area of your body that may have only ever evoked shame. Touching yourself isn't going to solve all of your self-esteem issues, but it will help you recognise that genitals are awesome.
- It Helps You Learn what You Like. When you're with someone new, there's always going to be a learning curve of getting to know each other's bodies and figuring out how to pleasure each other. Still, it's really useful to have a frame of reference for what you like. Many people will find it difficult to reach orgasm with a partner until they have had an orgasm on their own. Through masturbation, you can learn invaluable lessons like, "my clitoris should never be touched directly" or "a little tug on my balls is enough to launch me into outer space."
- You Can Learn How to Last Longer. This one is mostly applicable for the men out there, but masturbation is a great way to help build your endurance. We covered lots of specific tips a few months ago, but the Cliff's Notes are to practice the stop-start method, where you get yourself to the edge of orgasm, then stop, then start up again after the feeling of urgency has passed. You should also aim to masturbate for approximately as long as you'd like to last during sex with a partner. The Tenga Flip Hole is also a great toy for helping build stamina since it's easier to slow yourself down before the point-of-no-return.
- It Can Increase Your Sex Drive. You may notice that regular masturbation revs up your sex drive. Masturbation naturally makes you think about sex more often, and can remind you of how good it feels to experience pleasure and have orgasms.
- It Makes Managing Mismatched Sex Drives Easier. In any relationship, there are going to be plenty of times when one person wants sex, but the other doesn't. Masturbation is a simple way to ensure that you experience some satisfaction even when your partner isn't in the mood.
The Problems Masturbation Can Cause
It's probably obvious that I'm a cheerleader for self-love, but that doesn't mean masturbation is always a positive part of a relationship. Here are some signs that it might be time to reconsider your masturbation habits:
- If It's Creating Distance. Everyone needs a little alone time, especially in relationships, and masturbation can be a nice way to enjoy quality time with yourself. Sometimes, though, it can create too much distance between partners. People and relationships are messy and complicated, whereas your hand is delightfully free of emotions. This is a huge reason why masturbation can seem more enticing than trying to be intimate with your partner. But if you're holed up masturbating in the den at the expense of connecting with your partner, your relationship is going to suffer.
- If it's the Only Way You Can Be Satisfied. Although there are plenty of ways that masturbation can make sex better, it can make partnered intimacy more difficult. Some people masturbate in very specific ways that can't be replicated by another person. That's fine in and of itself, but it can cause problems if it's the only way you can get aroused or get off. For example, if you're a man who always uses the "death grip", or a woman who always uses the "power sander" setting on her Magic Wand, you may find being with a partner less satisfying. Some couples may feel perfectly content with working these specific masturbation patterns into their time together, but others may find them more invasive.
- If It Replaces Your Desire for Your Partner. Ready to get into an extremely complicated grey area? In certain situations, masturbating on your own might mean that you don't desire sex with your partner, or aren't able to have sex with your partner. For example, some people may feel that masturbating decreases their sex drives, making them less likely to want to be intimate with their partners. Men with relatively long refractory periods may notice that masturbating prevents them from getting erect for their partners. You may end up in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between masturbation and having sex with your partner. This can be particularly challenging if you're also the partner with the lower sex drive in your relationship. If your partner wants sex more frequently than you do, they may get frustrated by you essentially "taking away" the opportunity for the two of you to be intimate. Boof.
How to Maintain a Healthy Balance
We've gone over the pros and cons of masturbation in a relationship, so now let's talk about how to get further on the "pro" side of the spectrum.
Be Honest About Your Habits
For most people, the extent of their masturbatory thought process is, "hmm, I've got a few minutes alone. Pants off!" Part of the joy of masturbation is its simplicity. Still, it's worth trying to be a bit more thoughtful about your masturbatory tendencies. Ask yourself questions like, "are my masturbation habits causing any problems in my relationships with myself or with my partner?" and "is masturbation preventing me from having the type of partnered intimacy that I want?" This doesn't have to be a major ordeal. Sometimes something as simple as taking a brief porn hiatus can resolve any issues that may have come up.
Masturbate with Your Partner
Masturbation is all about your personal relationship with your body, but you can occasionally bring in your partner, too. Try masturbating together. It can be a fun way to shake up your usual bedroom routine and ensure that you both get your rocks off. If you're not in the mood, try watching your partner masturbate. Seeing your partner pleasure himself or herself is damn sexy, and you can always offer to help out by talking dirty or giving a little peep show.
Support Healthy Masturbation
Masturbation is going to play a different role in different relationships, but the key is to communicate. Not many people talk about masturbation openly, but honest discussions can make all the difference in the world. The more we support the healthy aspects of masturbation, the more we can decrease the negative effects. Have a conversation about the pros and cons of masturbation in your relationship. If you're with a woman who is grappling with masturbatory shame, tell her you support her getting to know her body better. If you live with your partner, give them some alone time in the apartment and a knowing wink on your way out the door.
At the end of the day, you don't need to ask permission to masturbate, but you want to make sure you're on the same page about the role it plays in your relationship.