How To Talk About Masturbation When Stuck At Home With Your Partner

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Washington Post, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
How To Talk About Masturbation When Quarantining With Your Partner

Image by Matt and Tish / Stocksy

OK, let's get real here for a minute.

Many couples are suddenly finding themselves stuck at home 24/7 with their partners right now due to social distancing measures. A hearty round of applause to all the couples who've thus been having a lot more sex these days because of all the extra time they're spending together. Good for you guys.

But those aren't the people I want to talk about right now. Instead, I would like to take a minute and invite to the table all the coupled-up folks who've been quietly, sheepishly, head-bangingly mourning the loss of their time alone to masturbate.

The conundrum.

For most of us, masturbation is an incredibly private, personal activity. We've been masturbating in private for all our lives. That's how we're used to doing it. Even pre-COVID, moving in with a partner has always introduced that awkward tension of trying to furtively figure out what to do about your dub time: get comfortable doing it in your partner's presence, accept defeat and give it up completely, or figure out how to continue doing it in secret.

If you've fallen into the lattermost camp up until now, quarantining has probably not been treating you kindly.

But here's the thing: You really shouldn't have to put up with forgoing your solo sex practice, especially at a time like this when we need all the self-care we can get. Masturbation provides stress relief, relaxation, and a sense of control over one's own pleasure. And you deserve to have pleasure, now as much as ever.

As much as we love the idea of couples being shackled up together and rekindling their sex life, the reality is that many people's libidos don't respond well to stress and uncertainty. That means we may not be in the mood for partnered sex at all, no matter how much more time we may be spending lounging on the couch together.

But masturbation can often feel like an easier, lower-pressure way to access many of the physical and psychological benefits of orgasms, including a dose of feel-good oxytocin, lower anxiety, and a boost to our immune systems.

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Is it OK to masturbate when your partner is home?

Yes!

"It is absolutely OK to masturbate with a partner around," Lexx Brown-James, Ph.D., LMFT, a therapist and certified sex educator, tells mbg.

Sure, it's a little awkward at first, but it's something most people can get used to easily—just like farting, pooping, picking at your pimples, singing, or any other usually private activity you eventually become comfortable doing in front of your partner. If you feel good about your masturbation practice, what's wrong with the person you love and live with knowing about it?

Of course, there's also the question of how your partner feels about it. Particularly when you're both home, some people can feel upset or rejected by their partner masturbating. I'm right here. Why not just have sex with me? The subtler question here: Am I not enough?

"You can get into trouble with your partner if they misunderstand your relationship to masturbation, don't know you masturbate, are burdened with their own sexual shame about masturbation, or view it as a threatening activity that may somehow reduce your attraction to them or siphon off your sexual energy," couples therapist Alicia Muñoz, LPC, tells mbg. "Now more than ever, couples who are stuck together 24/7 may want to get brave and start having more regular, open conversations about sex in general and masturbation in particular."

Masturbation isn't a replacement for sex.

Many people have had a regular masturbation practice for the majority of their lives, and it doesn't have much to do with whether you have a partner or whether you're happy with your sex life with them. "Masturbation is seldom about another person," Brown-James explains. "Masturbation is a personal self-care tool, where you are not beholden to anyone else's pleasure, just your own. And this can be such a relief."

Masturbation and sex generally serve different purposes. Most masturbation is more about an easily accessible hit of pleasure or an easy way to blow off steam, whereas sex (especially with a partner you love) is usually more about excitement, connection, desire, and art. One is meditative and comforting, whereas the other is creative and thrilling. Both have their place, and neither adequately replaces the other.

Rather than opposing forces, the two often work in tandem. Research tells us that sexual desire is often buildable, with sexual intrigue one day leading to more of it the next. Some studies even suggest that a healthy solo sex practice complements a satisfying partnered sex life, with each fueling the other. That means a little masturbation might help you be more in the mood for sex with your partner, too. Sex begets sex.

"I like to think of masturbation as one of those activities that couples can do independently of one another to keep the 'pilot light' of their desire burning, helping to sustain attraction to one another over time," Muñoz says. "It can create the psychic space needed to keep couples sexually differentiated, just distant enough to help couples continually find sex with one another interesting and worth re-engaging in over and over again as they do their own 'sexual research' through masturbation with their own bodies. As Esther Perel has said of eroticism, 'Fire needs air.' Masturbation can provide some of that 'air' or space."

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How to talk to your partner about masturbation:

1. Approach it with a curious mindset.

Use this as an opportunity to learn about your partner and to allow them to get to know you more intimately.

"Talking about masturbation, like anything in a relationship, can deepen our understanding of our partner—and of their relationship to their body, their sexuality, and pleasurable experiences," Muñoz says. "Why do they masturbate? For release? For pleasure? To cope with anxiety? To detach and decompress? To stoke their inner sexual flame?"

TENGA's 2019 Self-Pleasure Report found 84% of Americans who've discussed masturbation with their partner found it to be an encouraging discussion.

2. Explain why masturbation is important to you.

"Talk about the benefit of masturbation for you, what it does for you, and how you feel before and after," Brown-James recommends. "What does masturbation do for you?"

If your partner understands why you masturbate and all the positives you get from it, Muñoz adds, it'll be easier for them to get on board and feel less threatened by it.

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3. Reinforce that it's not a replacement for sex with them.

This is especially important if your partner wants to have more sex with you. But no matter how much sex you're currently having or not having, Brown-James says it's important to reaffirm that masturbation isn't replacing intimacy with them. "For folks who want to have some solo time while their partner is at home, it is helpful to ensure you and your partner are feeling connected," she adds.

It's of course OK to not want sex in your relationship sometimes. If that's a dynamic at play for you right now, it's important to discuss it with your partner to make sure you know how to support each other.

4. Stay connected.

Be empathetic to any feelings that may come up with your partner. If they feel rejected by your desire to have your own pleasure practice after you've shared all the above with them, it might mean they're generally feeling hungry for more love and attention from you.

A general rule of thumb: When you're feeling connected as a couple, it's much easier to respond positively to a potential stressor. But if you're already feeling disconnected or unhappy, that potential stressor can trigger a massive conflict.

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5. Also, don't forget the joys of mutual masturbation.

Masturbating with your partner—next to each other, watching each other—can be a super fun way to incorporate your own self-pleasure practices into your shared sex life as a couple. It can be an excellent win-win for everyone.

The bottom line.

Masturbation is a healthy, empowering self-care practice that we all deserve to have, whether or not we're in a relationship and stuck at home with our partners. So take the reins on your pleasure and don't be afraid to talk to your partner about spending a more little solo time in the bedroom.

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