Is Your Partner Masturbating Too Much?

photographed by Meg O'Donnell.
When you're in a relationship, you might find yourself telling little white lies every now and then to make your partner happy, like: I really did love the way you made the salmon, or I absolutely love that you knit me this scarf for Christmas. But there are some things that you should not lie about for the sake of your partner's ego, like how often you masturbate.
First of all, you're not doomed if your partner masturbates more than you do, and you're not a monster if you are the one masturbating more. People often assume that when their partner masturbates frequently, it's a sign that they don't want to have sex with them — but sex and masturbation are two different activities, says Shannon Chavez, PsyD, a certified clinical sexologist. "One is not a replacement for the other," she says. That said, if someone isn't interested in partnered sex and only wants to masturbate, then that could be a sign that there are bigger issues in the relationship, she says.
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There are many reasons why people masturbate, one of which is to enhance partnered sex. "[Masturbation] gets you in touch with your body and your sexuality," Dr. Chavez says. During partnered sex, you might be more self-aware or experience more of a physical response to stimulation if you also masturbate, she says. Masturbation is also an opportunity to bring new techniques into sex, or safely learn about your partner's preferences and fantasies.
Some people just masturbate because it's an act of self-care, Dr. Chavez says. "It is as important [and] as healthy eating and exercise," she says. "It's a genital workout that also helps with mood and is a sleep aid." Others masturbate to alleviate stress, or do it out of habit or boredom, says Kristen Lilla, an AASECT certified sex therapist in Nebraska. And some turn to self-pleasure because they have a higher libido than their partner, and don't want to put pressure on their lower-libido partner, she says. But that's not a bad thing.
Even though masturbation is a part of overall sexual wellness, it can feel tricky bringing up your routine or frequency to your partner. Sometimes, people perceive their partner masturbating as a threat, personal rejection, or betrayal, Lilla says. "A person may feel entitled to this information, or may even assume their partner does masturbate," she says. "But upon finding out how frequently, they may react negatively and try to find a way to control the other person's behavior."] If you feel comfortable, it's a good idea to discuss your routine with your partner — including how often you masturbate. Take any judgement — of yourself or your partner — out of the equation and remember that "talking about masturbation can be helpful for your relationship," Dr. Chavez says. It normalizes self-pleasure, and gets the conversation started about sexual needs and interests, she says. "If you can openly discuss it with a partner, it's a good sign that you have moved past the stigma and embraced it as part of your overall wellness," she says. And keep in mind that there's no data around how much masturbation is too much, she says.
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