I read Eliza Jules’ essay “I Obsessively Monitor My Husband’s Lube Bottle” over at xoJane and was left with this question: Is a partner’s masturbation something we should worry about? The more I’ve thought about it, though, the more I’ve concluded that, for me, I’m at the very opposite end of the spectrum as Jules; I’d be worried if someone I was dating didn’t masturbate, all the more so if I was the cause behind them holding off in the self-love department. I also wouldn’t expect someone’s firmly entrenched patterns of masturbation and porn use, especially if I met them well into their adult life, to change just because they were with me.
I’ll even go so far as to say I would definitely not want to be the sole source of my partner’s masturbation fodder. Part of it? Sure. But imagine the pressure if every single time they jerked off, they were thinking about you. That would creep me out a bit, and while I’m not an expert, I don’t think that’s a realistic goal, especially when you’re talking about long-term relationships.
I get where that desire comes from; we all want to be respected and lusted after, and don’t want to feel threatened by, say, some “perfect”-looking model or actress or porn star, or someone closer to home. But is masturbation truly a threat, or simply something they do separate from you (and vice versa)? I asked my friend Jamye Waxman, sex educator and author of Getting Off: A Woman’s Guide to Masturbation, who agreed with me that a lot of this hoopla is a result of an over-reliance on the myth of love conquering all. “I think women are so concerned with their boyfriends fantasizing, masturbation or porn use because we’re conditioned to believe that if they loved us, they wouldn’t need these other things. So we feel threatened in our relationship when we’re aware of their sexual ‘habits’ because we may lose them to a barely legal porn star or to their own right hand.”
It’s one thing if the person is refusing sex in favor of masturbation. But what Jules is talking about sounds like your everyday horniness. Some people might have the urge more often than others, and if it’s not detracting from what you do in bed together, I say, go at it as much as you want to. But we’ve become so locked into a wildly out-of-control devotion to monogamy that it has been extended beyond the physical; now women are demanding mental monogamy too. That’s like saying, “I don’t just want your body, but also your mind.”
Now, I probably differ from a lot of women on this point, but I actually like, to a point, hearing about who someone I’m dating finds attractive, kind of like the celebrity sex list; but even if they aren’t celebrities, I want to hear about it. I’m not necessarily talking about who they’d literally sleep with if we broke up, but who, in general, they find hot. Maybe it’s because I’m bisexual and if I’m dating a guy, I like to share which girls I think are sexy and hear their answers, but I suspect it’s more that I’m, in many ways, a voyeur. I enjoy hearing about their thought process as much as the actual fantasy, and even if it’s not a fetish I share, it’s interesting to me. One ex told me he was hot for women in sneakers when I was changing out of heels into sneakers; another told me why Katie Holmes did it for him.
That being said, I don’t expect my boyfriend to tell me every one of his fantasies, or how often he jerks off, unless he wants to. I wouldn’t hold it against him if he didn’t want to, because it’s his personal space, both virtual (mental) and the time and physical space he uses for said act. As Tracy Clark-Flory recently put it at Salon, “Want to make a man stutter in bed? Ask him to describe the peaks and valleys of his personal erotic landscape.” Of course it’s an edgy topic. It’s one of the most personal things you can ask someone, in large part because those fantasies often stem from childhood or teenage desires that have stayed with them into adulthood.
I take the fear of talking about one’s masturbation fodder partly as a nod to the idea that that there are “correct” and “incorrect” kinds of fantasies. Some people might fear that spilling the “wrong” kind might kill their partner’s lust, and in fact, that might be true; I’m not arguing that everyone should reveal everything that has ever gotten them off. Maybe keeping it in your head is a way to keep it turning you on. But I think there is value in at least broaching the topic, in acknowledging that masturbation happens, and that its frequency or intensity or fantasy fodder is something separate and apart from the mutual sexual pleasure you share.
Most of the people I’ve dated have been curious to hear what I get up to when I’m alone, both to learn about the physical sensations I enjoy and toys I use, and to get to know me better. I find it hot to watch a partner get off in front of me, precisely because it is such a private and personal act. Even if I sometimes get to watch, or listen, I know I’m just a temporary spectator; I still respect their right to have a personal sexuality.
Waxman advocates for masturbation within relationships, as a teaching tool, a way for men to maintain their erections longer, as a visual show, and because “it relaxes us, so if he comes home stressed and masturbates it can help avoid some fights.”
National Masturbation Month (May) just ended, but I’d venture to say that every month should be Masturbation Month. Jerking off isn’t just for single people or people who aren’t getting their sexual needs met in a relationship. You can be having hot hot sex with someone you love, and still want some special sexytime all your own, with no one to interfere. To that point, Jules wrote a followup post in which she told her husband what she’d written, and his response was to tell her she could watch! So maybe once we break out of the view of masturbation as separate and apart from a mutual sex life and instead see it as something that makes each of us unique and special, it can even bring a couple closer together.
I think it’s unrealistic to expect a lover to never engage in a sexual thought about someone else, ever, and I’d find it, frankly, boring, especially when contemplating a long-term relationship. Asking to be the star of my partner’s sexual fantasy world 24/7 seems like a way to quell sexual adventure, rather than foster it. So I say, if you’re dating me, please do indeed get off and fantasize about anything and anyone at your leisure. I know I will be.