Sex

How "Musterbation" May Be Diminishing Your Sexual Pleasure

Sexual self-doubt can stem from false beliefs about how sex "should" be.

Posted Feb 20, 2021

christitzeimaging/shutterstock
Source: christitzeimaging/shutterstock

Key Points:

  • “Musterbation” is a term that describes unrealistic demands people have for how they “must” or "should" behave and feel.
  • This phenomenon often emerges in sex therapy. For example, people believe that sex “should” be spontaneous, or that they “should” orgasm from penetrative sex.
  • Releasing these unrealistic expectations can foster a more healthy and satisfying sex life.

As aptly described in a post by psychologist Stephanie Davidson, "Musterbation” is a term coined by famed psychologist Albert Ellis to describe the phenomenon whereby people live by a set of absolute and unrealistic demands that they place on themselves, others, and the world. For most of us, these rules come out in a series of should statements that we repeat to ourselves over and over again. These “should” and “shouldn’t” statements leave us feeling bad about ourselves because they set up standards that we cannot realistically meet. The key to feeling better, then, is to identify unrealistic "should statements" and replace them with more gentle, realistic self-statements and expectations. In other words, as also cleverly stated by Ellis, the key is to "stop shoulding on oneself."  

Much of the sexual self-doubt and suffering I see as a sex therapist can be traced back to musturbation and shoulding. Indeed, due to a combination of unrealistic sexual images and messages (e.g., in mainstream movies and porn) and our lack of a sex education system (i.e., no place to combat such false messages with realistic, science-based information), many people believe inaccurate information about sex that makes them feel bad about themselves. Stated slightly differently, people are sexually shoulding all over themselves and it's detrimental to sexual satisfaction and pleasure. 

Below is a list of the five most common sexual shoulds I hear in my sex therapy office, and the scientific truth to combat each of them so that you can stop musturbating (and instead more fully enjoy sexual activities).

The Most Common Sexual "Shoulds"

 hafakot/Shutterstock
Source: hafakot/Shutterstock

1. Sex SHOULD be spontaneous. To combat this unrealistic should, imagine yourself getting dressed to go out for a date or to a party you know the attractive person you want to be with is going to attend. You take a shower, put on your best underwear, maybe spray on some cologne or perfume, and then, you put your best flirt on all night long. You make eye contact, touch his or her arm, etc. And, lo and behold: You end up having sex at the end of the night. So, if you think about it, this is actually well-orchestrated sex, not spur-of-the-moment sex.

And, indeed, once you realize this and let go of the unrealistic notion that sex should be spontaneous, it opens the door to helpful talks that occur before a sexual encounter. These talks are useful because, unlike in the movies, in real life, one partner may want to have sex and the other may want to study for an exam, complete a work project, or just go to sleep. The longer a relationship goes on—and the more responsibilities each partner takes on in addition to the relationship—the more important it becomes to be able to actually talk about if it’s a good time to have sex or not. And, once children enter the picture, this type of talking is totally necessary; in fact, sex therapists tell couples that planning sex is the key to not falling into the sadly all-too-common sexless marriages that plague many couples after children are born. In short, while the movies don’t portray it as romantic, it’s really helpful to plan sex and to thus talk about both if and what you want to do before doing so.

2. I SHOULD feel hornier. To combat this unrealistic should, two essential pieces of scientific knowledge about sexual desire are necessary. First, there are actually two types of sexual desire: spontaneous desire, or the feeling of being horny, and receptive desire, or the cognitive or emotional receptivity to sex. An example of the latter is knowing that you will feel more connected to your partner after sex and thus seek out sex for this reason rather than due to physical desire.

The second essential piece of scientific information about sexual desire is that it is perfectly normal for physical feelings of desire to diminish over the course of a relationship and when under stress. However, many people don't know this and so they criticize themselves for no longer feeling as horny as they used to be and in fact, many people stop having sex because they stop feeling horny. However, if they knew the two aforementioned facts about sexual desire, they could reverse the equation: They could have sex to get horny rather than waiting to be horny to have sex. 

3. I SHOULD orgasm from penetration. This is a "should" that generally afflicts women who engage in heterosexual sex. In fact, this should is behind countless women telling me that they think their vaginas must be broken. Indeed, this is such a pervasive and harmful, yet enduring, myth that I wrote a book to help combat it and gave a TEDx talk on the same topic.

To combat this myth, we need to know the actual statistics about how many women orgasm from penetration alone. Often, when magazines address this issue, they throw around the statistic that only 25 or 30 percent of women can reach orgasm during intercourse. But, as pointed out by a scholar who analyzed the studies that came up with this statistic, there’s a big problem: Most of these studies don’t differentiate between women who can orgasm from just a thrusting penis and women who orgasm during intercourse by making sure their clitoris is also being stimulated (e.g., by touching it themselves or by having intercourse in a position the enables them to rub their clitoris against their partner's penis or pubic bone).

Interestingly, though, when this differentiation was made in two different recent surveys, both found that only about 15 percent of women have orgasms from thrusting alone. And, the numbers decrease even further when I specifically ask my students about their most reliable way to orgasm. Averaging across multiple years of anonymous polls in my own class, only 4 percent of women say penetration alone is their most reliable route to orgasm. The rest need clitoral stimulation, either alone or coupled with penetration. Indeed, in a survey by Cosmopolitan magazine, 73 percent of women said their difficulty in orgasming in partnered heterosexual sex was not enough, or not the right type of, clitoral stimulation.

In short, letting go of the should regarding orgasming from penetration can help countless women feel better about themselves and lead them to get the clitoral stimulation they need to actually orgasm.

4. I SHOULD last long and thrust hard. This is a parallel "should" to the one above, which generally afflicts men who engage in heterosexual penetrative sex. Behind this particular should are countless porn images and popular songs that portray men lasting long and thrusting hard as the key to women's orgasm. Due to this particular should, countless men have told me that they think they have premature ejaculation when, in fact, the amount of time they take from inserting their penis into a vagina and orgasm/ejaculation is well-within average limits. According to a multinational study, the average time between the start of vaginal penetration to male ejaculation is 5.4 minutes. If more men knew this and stopped shoulding on themselves about lasting longer, fewer men would suffer from painful performance anxiety around sex.

fizkes/Shutterstock
Source: fizkes/Shutterstock

5. My partner and I SHOULD orgasm at the same time. This should is a direct outgrowth of the two myths above. Indeed, many movie scenes depicting simultaneous orgasm involve a man and a woman having intercourse where they not only orgasm at the exact same moment, but where both do so from penile thrusting alone.

While this is false because most women don't orgasm from penetration alone, it's also false due to the attention simultaneous orgasms would entail. Specifically, to accomplish this mythical goal, both partners would need to be more tuned into each other’s impending orgasm than their own. Yet, precisely the opposite is needed for orgasm—that is, using mindfulness to stay totally tuned into your own pleasurable sensations. The author of the Guide to Getting It On debunks the simultaneous orgasm myth further—telling readers that it’s not desirable for both partners to come at the same time, since it’s awesome to feel or watch your partner have an orgasm. In short, letting go of this should can enable couples to take turns giving one another pleasure, a technique often recommended by sex therapists.

These are just five "shoulds" that may be harming your sex life. There are countless others, including the notion that masturbation is harmful and/or only for single people when we know, scientifically, that it's physically, sexually, and emotionally healthy, and that people who masturbate have more, not less, sex with partners. Masturbation is a healthy form of sexuality; musterbation is not.