Solo Pleasure When Coupled:
Is it Okay?
Many people question whether it is healthy to still practice solo sex when in a monogamous relationship. Does it violate the terms of the relationship agreement? Does it compromise a partnered sex life? How common is the practice?
You are your most reliable, lifelong sexual partner
You will always have yourself as a lover. You know your own body and pleasures the best. As long as you are physically able, you can always bring yourself the pleasure of sex. Most people find that solo pleasure is the most reliable way of achieving orgasm, especially when it is not so easy to orgasm with a partner. It might be the only way to actually experience the release of orgasm for some folks. And of course, solo pleasure is a great way to experiment and hone in on what you like, so that you can communicate that with a partner. One 2009 study found that masturbation helped increase self-esteem in many participants, which is always a good thing.
Solo sex is common among partnered people
Many people still engage in solo pleasure when partnered. A 1994 study found that 45 percent of women and 85 percent of men who were living with a partner still engaged in solo sex. In fact, solo pleasure can even be incorporated into partner sex. Some people like to watch each other for educational or erotic purposes. It can also be a great way to tease each other or enjoy erotic encounters over the phone, skype or text.
Solo sex can help with sexual challenges
Sometimes sex does not work the way we want it to. Masturbation can be a vehicle to practice techniques that will also enhance partner sex, without the pressure of a partner present. Mastering techniques to delay erections or to have an orgasm are often best learned on one’s own. One study found that 90 percent of women who followed a masturbation program were able to learn to orgasm, and 85 percent of them were even able to achieve it from intercourse. Men can practice the stop-and-start technique to delay ejaculation or practice breathing and presence during pleasure if they experience unreliable erections due to performance anxiety. And women who suffer from dryness, atrophy and thinning walls from menopause are often advised to keep the blood flow moving to the area through regular pleasure such as masturbation.
Partners cannot always fulfill all of our needs
Sometimes we have fantasies that cannot be enacted in real life due to practicality or a partner’s differing desires and abilities. We can’t expect a partner to satisfy all of our sexual needs, just as we don’t expect them to meet all of our social needs or to participate in all of our interests. Solo pleasure can be a way to express our sexual desires within a monogamous relationship without a partner’s participation.
Differences in desire
It is almost universal that one partner has a higher sex drive than the other. Desire discordance can be a point of tension in monogamous relationships. The ability to practice solo pleasure is one way for the partner with a higher desire to release tension, explore fantasies and feel pleasure. It also is a valid way to have sex without the stress of asking for shared pleasure and/or the tension of the other partner not wanting to engage at the time.
Is solo sex ever a compromise or unhealthy?
Solo pleasure is only a compromise if it somehow takes away from the relationship. If masturbation reduces the quality and frequency of partner sex, then that might hinder the erotic connection of a partnership. Several studies indicate however that in general, the more a person with a partner masturbates, the more likely she or he is to engage in partner sex. If solo pleasure is done in a way or place or time that leads to shaming either partner, then that is not healthy. Or if the need for frequent and urgent self-pleasure compromises other aspects of a relationship such as desire to do activities together, then it likely has become harmful. Finally, if solo pleasure leads to personal challenges such as not being able to get to work on time or retreating from friendships or exercise, then one’s whole sexual experience might be worth discussing with a partner, trusted friend or skilled professional.
How much is too much?
Again, please do not worry about your own or a partner’s solo pleasure habits and frequency unless it is interfering such as in ways mentioned above. Because masturbation has been much maligned as unnatural in general or only OK for single folk to partake, we can be quick to jump to fears that a regular solo pleasure habit is unhealthy. Enjoy your body, give your partner your blessing in their exploration and enjoy a full life of solo and partner play.
Carlyle Jansen is the founder of Good For Her, a sexuality shop and workshop centre in Toronto. If you have questions or comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go online to goodforher.com