Why does masturbation often create problems between a man and woman? And can anything be done about it?
By Linda Kirkham
[Linda Kirkham is a freelance writer and Internet consultant in western Canada. Her areas of expertise include music, literature, and how the arts reflect society.]
Jake Johnson will never forget the day he was caught in the act. "My wife came home early from work. I had the day off and was masturbating in our bedroom, when she walked right in on me. I was embarrassed and frightened all at once. I think I pulled the covers over my head right after I saw her jaw drop," the 36-year-old professional says.
His wife, Laura, remembers feeling shocked. "I could not believe my eyes. We have been married for 5 years, and in my opinion we have a very satisfying sex life. I could not understand why he would masturbate. He gets to have me every night. I don't mean to sound conceited, but I always assumed that having regular sex with a woman – especially in a steady relationship or marriage, where you know you can have sex pretty much whenever – sort of stopped a guy from wanting to do it himself."
Laura fails to realize that sometimes regular sex can get dull. "I felt like a little kid again," Jake explains. "I kept thinking to myself that I was doing something 'naughty' – and it was great. I love my wife and would never cheat on her, but sometimes I just need to do something that steers away from our regular sex life together."
Laura and Jake were able to work things out by having an open discussion. "I'm glad we were able to talk, because it helped me see things from his perspective," Laura says. "And believe me, I would much rather he masturbate than cheat on me!"
Tony, 26, was not as fortunate in his relationship. He had a steady girlfriend for 3 years and kept masturbating all the time. "I'm a sales rep for a major technology company, so I spend a lot of time on the road. I would masturbate quite a lot when I traveled, and my girlfriend – I assumed – never knew about it." That all changed when Tony's girlfriend gave him a good-natured rib about spending too much time in the bathroom. "I was in the shower one morning a little longer than usual, and when I came out, she gave me this mischievous look and said something like, 'Boy, you must have been having a really good time in there.' I thought I would joke about it and said, 'Well, sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do,' and I winked. She got totally horrified! She threw her pillow at me and said if I would rather have sex with myself, then I did not need her anymore. She got dressed and stormed out. It was the beginning of the end of our relationship. Even though we talked about it, she just did not respond to me sexually in the same way anymore."
that I physically repulsed him or something."
Elaine, age 37
Jackie, the ex-girlfriend in question, agreed to talk to JackinWorld about the incident and was clearly still distressed when recalling it. "I felt like he was cheating on me. That's weird to say, because technically he wasn't, but it made me feel like he had this whole secret life that didn't include me." If he had been upfront about his masturbating, would it have made a difference in their relationship? "I don't think guys bring it up as a topic of discussion. I guess it isn't whether or not he told me – it's the fact he was doing it! It grossed me out, for lack of a better explanation. I don't understand why a man would masturbate when he can have sex anytime he wants."
Not all women seem to mind if their men masturbate. Zack, 31, says his girlfriend thought it was a turn-on. "When Susan caught me masturbating in the shower, she laughed! Not in a bad way – she thought it was cute. Since then we have been using mutual masturbation in our sex life, and I think it's great!" His girlfriend, Carmen, giggles when talking about her man's passion for self-pleasure. "Guys masturbate for all those years before they ever even become sexually active," the 24-year-old hairstylist says. "So why should they stop just because they are in a relationship? There must be something about masturbation that they like – something they can do for themselves that we can't. Otherwise they wouldn't do it in the first place."
Mark, 35, agrees. "I have been in several long-term relationships, and through them all, I always kept masturbating. I can't explain why I do it for sure, but I can say it has nothing at all to do with the women I have been involved with. It was absolutely no reflection on them or our sex lives."
Ian, 32, adds, "Masturbating is a way of holding on to my childhood. It makes me feel the way I felt when I first discovered my sexuality and was learning about what felt good." Although Ian is now married and expecting his first child, masturbation has remained an integral part of his sex life. "This may sound strange, but masturbating has made me appreciate my wife even more. When she and I make love, I think to myself how much better it is that I can share myself with the woman I love rather than by myself only. And now that my wife is pregnant, masturbating is also a satisfying way of relieving my sexual tension when my wife is not in the mood. In fact, sometimes she helps out."
"Women should realize that men sometimes have needs we can't always fill," says Ian's wife, Monnica. "It doesn't mean they don't love us or that we don't turn them on. It's just a fact of life, of marriage. Look at me," she says, pointing to her expanded belly. "Do you think I can always satisfy my husband right now?"
Andie, an attractive woman in her 40s, says that if she caught her partner masturbating, it would not faze her in the least. "We are both busy professionals, and our schedules can be so hectic that sex practically has to be scheduled in. Why should it bother me if he masturbates? He is a red-blooded male and has to work it out of his system somehow."
Indeed, the main reason the women we interviewed tolerate their their partner's habits is that masturbating is better than cheating. "At least I don't have to worry about him bringing home any diseases," said one woman. "I'm glad he has something to do when I am not around, or when he is away on business," said another married woman.
While most of the women spoken to were accepting of their partner's masturbation, in some cases it proved to be a problem when the men took it to an extreme. "It was okay at first, but then I just felt totally shut out," says Norma, 46, of her failed marriage. "Our sex life totally dwindled down to nothing. He wanted his hand more than he wanted me." Elaine, 37, echoes those sentiments. "We wouldn't have sex for weeks, literally. But I knew he was masturbating. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me – that I physically repulsed him or something."
Most likely, it wasn't masturbation that specifically caused a problem in these relationships, but other problems that mounted up and was reflected in the bedroom. After all, when a couple is having problems,their sex life usually suffers. "We were having problems for months," Elaine confirms. "We couldn't talk about anything without fighting – even what to have for dinner. To be quite honest, in the end I did not have much desire for him, either."
For those couples for whom masturbation is not an issue, open communication is key. "I don't bring up my masturbation habits out of the blue, but I don't hide them, either," says Bryan, 29. "My wife and I are always honest with each other, and because of that, we have a deep level of trust."
"I don't know whether or not my husband masturbates, and frankly, I don't care," says Irene, 55. "We are very close and share everything a married couple should – finances, important decisions, and sex. But we also respect our personal boundaries, and we know we have thoughts and activities that we don't always need to talk about. These are things that have no impact whatsoever on our relationship – and I definitely count masturbation as one of those things."
Irene's husband, Barry – they've been married for 35 years – agrees with his wife. "Just because a couple is married or living together, it doesn't mean they have to share every last detail of everything. It's the big things that count. If I thought masturbation was an issue to my wife, I would talk to her about it. And for all I know, she masturbates – I don't care! As long as neither of us has any complaints about our sex life, and everything else is fine with us, we're happy."