Will Masturbation Hurt your Relationship?

(Originally published here: https://www.counseling.org/news/aca-blogs/aca-member-blogs/aca-member-blogs/2019/07/25/will-masturbation-hurt-your-relationship?fbclid=IwAR1KGOnm7r51e4eM6a9DVnPBzt8JyH4vr0Zuy1LgPI9zY3DRyNwjZylvtcU)

Double clicking the mouse, spanking the monkey, wanking, petting the kitty, choking the chicken, flicking the bean… whatever you may call it, there seems to be a level of embarrassment surrounding the topic of masturbation and discussing personal engagement in solo sexual activity. When clients are asked about their engagement in masturbation, there is often a response of discomfort or refusal to discuss the topic, even with clients who had previously been open and forthcoming with their sexual histories and behaviors. This level of discomfort and evasion to discuss masturbatory activity may be present in their romantic relationships as well. According to one study, 38 percent of women and 61 percent of men said they'd masturbated during the past year (Das, 2007). These numbers are likely to be even higher due to the level of secrecy about masturbation. So, why is there so much taboo surrounding the topic of masturbation?

Due to cultural and spiritual beliefs, some clients may believe that masturbation is wrong, or they may feel a great amount of guilt associated with their masturbatory behaviors. Secrecy within relationships about solo sexual activity may stem from a belief that masturbation is a private matter, one to be kept to themselves. In addition, masturbation has most likely been a secret activity for most of our clients’ lives and this secrecy may continue when engaged in a relationship. When one partner in a couple discovers or finds out that the other partner is engaging in solo sexual activity, there may be a feeling of inadequacy, as though they are not meeting the needs of their partner. Some clients may also believe that there is a finite amount of sexual or erotic energy and that masturbation takes away from the energy that could be used for mutual sexual activity.

Some clients may believe masturbation is equal to infidelity. Individuals may feel that their partner should share their sexual desires and behaviors with them and not go at it alone. A belief that solo sexual activity should stop once someone engages in a partnered relationship may be based on the idea that their mutual sexual activity should be satisfying enough not to necessitate it. There could be a feeling of being “left out” when they discover their partner is engaging in sexual activity without them. Clients could fear their partner will enjoy the solo sexual activity more than mutual sexual activity with them. Masturbation could serve as a substitute for intimacy and trust in relationships. Das’ (2007) found that for women, one of the best predictors of masturbation was a relationship that lacked emotional intimacy. Solo sexual activity becomes an issue in a relationship when someone is turning down their partner for sexual activity but engaging in masturbation instead.

However, as long as masturbation is not divisive in the relationship, there is no need to discourage it. For female clients who complain of sexual dysfunction, specifically, it can increase sexual desire and sensitivity. Masturbation can lead to an increase in desire, arousal, overall sexual function, and increased lubrication. Masturbation can also serve as self-discovery to find out what clients like and don’t like sexually and how they need to be stimulated, which can spill over into mutual encounters. Solo sexual activity while in a relationship is healthy and can prompt even more mutual sexual activity. In fact, according to Das’ 2007 study, a sexless relationship curbed masturbation and those who masturbated the most were usually involved in a partnered sexual relationship. Having partnered sex may also pique interest in solo sexual activity, as well.

Finally, masturbation, as with mutual sexual activity, has been shown to help relieve stress, sleep better, boost mood, relax, feel pleasure, relieve cramps, and release sexual tension. Masturbation can also lead to better sex and a better understanding of individual needs and wants. Our clients may refer to it in many different ways, but one thing that doesn’t change is the importance of talking with our clients about it and decreasing the level of shame and embarrassment related to the taco handshake, taking matters into your own hands, playing vagina DJ…..

Das, A. (2007). Masturbation in the United States. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 33, 301.

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