Sex

Masturbation Is Sexual Health

It is high time we stop whispering about masturbation and come out about it.

Posted May 15, 2020

 Carol_Anne
Source: Istock by Getty Credit: Carol_Anne

Here we are again in May, which was dubbed as “Masturbation Month” in the 1990s by a clever purveyor of sex toys. And yet here we are in 2020 and talking about masturbation is still taboo in most of society. And that’s a shame, literally and figuratively, because masturbation is still widely considered shameful, and because for most people it’s a healthy and normal activity. There is actually a term these days for those who prefer masturbation over other forms of sex: solosexual.

Gold standard of sex

Many people have the idea that in order to call something “sex,” it must meet the “gold standard,” that is, penetration that probably ends with an orgasm. We downplay and devalue the idea that having sex with oneself is normal—even though nearly everyone does it—and is somehow shameful. We rarely talk with our children about it, and various preachers, both religious and secular, tell us that touching oneself is either a sin or something to avoid. From my point of view, we’re in need of expanding the definition of sex, not restricting it to the “gold standard.” 

Couples and masturbation

Even after 35 years of being a therapist, I’m still surprised when I ask couples if they have ever talked about masturbation, and they look uncomfortable and tell me “no.” This is particularly true of mixed-sex couples, whereas I more often hear a “yes” from same-sex couples who have negotiated, talked about what is and isn’t okay, and agreed to respect those boundaries. 

In therapy with mixed-sex couples, I sometimes hear, “You shouldn’t have to masturbate, you have me!” However, my sense is that most people in relationships do masturbate, whether or not they share that information with their partner. They shouldn’t assume that because their partner masturbates, it’s taking something away from them. It’s not, necessarily. We are perfectly capable of having sex with our partner and with ourselves. I would say, however, that having a candid conversation about masturbation—how often we do it, what turns us on, what type of porn that turns us on when we masturbate, and so on—is a healthy and liberating thing. I’ve had couples tell me that they had no idea about their partner’s erotic fantasies, and that it really turned them on to talk about them.  

There are definitely times where a partner prefers masturbation over partnered sex. This is normal. Masturbation is quick and easy, whereas partnered sex demands more negotiation and time. If either partner feels that their masturbatory habits do interfere with the relationship, this invites a sexual health conversation with the couple. 

Understanding yourself

When I ask clients about their sex drive, inevitably someone tells me that they have a low sex drive and consequently aren’t having sex, or as much sex, with their partner, and yet are masturbating twice a day. This indicates that they have a higher sex drive than they think they do, but that having partnered sex is desired at a different frequency. This suggests a discussion around the fact that their regular masturbation indicates a higher interest in sex with themselves, or could be related to problems in the relationship. Especially in such a case, dialogue around interest in solosex in a relationship needs to be openly explored. I discourage partners from keeping it secret. That said, both partners can agree that their own masturbatory habits are private. This is an explicit contract that is agreed upon by both.

Orthodox religion has taught unorthodox ways

I’ve had deeply religious clients who were instructed to never touch themselves. But it's difficult to suppress something so deeply a part of being human. So, they’ve resorted to putting their penis between two pillows and getting off. Forbidden to touch themselves, they find a way—like rubbing up against a mattress or the floor. The problem for some of these individuals who have come to my office for help is that having masturbated in this way has made it more difficult for them to be sexual with others. As a sex therapist, I guide these clients through talk therapy on how to move to sex with partners. There is no right or wrong way to masturbate, and one is only limited by their imagination. However, if it limits you in ways you do not want to be limited, then seeking help is the right thing to do. 

Solosex is healthy and okay

If you’re not in a relationship at the moment—or even if you are—don’t let anyone tell you there’s something wrong with pleasuring yourself. In fact, make it an event, a date with yourself! Light candles, pour yourself a glass of wine and crawl into a bubble bath with romantic music playing in the background. Try a new sex toy. Read an erotic story. Spend a couple of hours turning yourself on.

One client said that his spiritual teacher told his students, “If you’re feeling ungrounded or confused, lie down and touch yourself. Your body is as sacred as every other thing in this world.”   

Things to consider:

  •     Masturbation is sex
  •     Masturbation is okay 
  •     Not masturbating is okay
  •     Masturbation with a partner is sex
  •     Self-pleasure is okay
  •     Masturbation without orgasm is okay
  •     Masturbation with orgasm is okay
  •     Masturbation in and of itself doesn’t take away from sex with a partner
  •     Masturbation can be a way to self-soothe
  •     Masturbation can include sexual fantasies
  •     Masturbation can include no sexual fantasies
  •     Masturbation with a Fleshlight, vibrator, or any sex toy is okay
  •     Masturbating while watching porn and reading erotica is okay
  •     Masturbation can be your entire sex life

There’s no right or wrong way to masturbate unless it begins to interfere in other ways you wish to be sexual. For example, getting used to a certain grip for males can interfere with sensation during penetration. Some women get used to a vibrator and are not sensitized to oral or manual touch exciting their clitoris. These are correctable simply by taking breaks from masturbation or using a vibrator, and changing your grip.  

Sex educator, author, and artist Bette Dodson calls masturbation “erotic meditation” and says that you are your safest sex partner. I couldn’t agree more.