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Heather Corinna replies:
Recently my girlfriend and I have become more sexually active. We've agreed not to have intercourse, but to do everything else. Along with our discussions came the issue of masturbation. We both do it, but she never achieves orgasm through it. She hates that I do it, although I've explained it is natural and healthy for guys and does not affect anything we do and does not make her less important. I do not know really how to approach the issue to make her feel better.
Masturbation is natural and in no way unhealthy for men or women if and when it is what someone wants for themselves. It's also not something that's just okay or healthy for guys, or more healthy or okay for men than for women. It's something that the majority of both men and women do and report they feel benefits them and their sexuality.
Does absolutely everyone masturbate? No. Some men don't, some women don't. Though many people do reach orgasm through masturbation, not everyone reaches orgasm from masturbation (or sex with a partner), all or some of the time. And it will sometimes take some people longer to get to that point with their masturbation or with a partner than it will for others.
I hear your girlfriend carrying around a big double-standard here: it can be okay for her to do it, but not you. Even if she wasn't okay with it for herself, that still wouldn't make it okay for her to dump on your masturbation based on what she likes or doesn't for herself.
Just because you enjoy it more than she does, or reach orgasm from it when she doesn't does not somehow make your masturbation intrinsically different than hers. You're both doing the same thing: she just hasn't come yet. That's the only difference I can see based on what you've told me.
I do not think anyone should feel, or be made to feel, guilty about masturbation. It's something even infants or toddlers often do -- even though infant and child sexuality is a very different thing than teen or adult sexuality -- and is no less about primarily comforting and relaxing ourselves than taking a long bath, getting a massage or having a cup of hot cocoa is. If you love yourself, you don't withhold love from a partner because of self-love. In fact, having a strong love for yourself better enables you to love others and to do so more fully. I'd say the same about masturbation.
What I'd suggest in talking to her about this is starting by addressing that sex with a partner is us sharing our sexuality -- a sexuality we possess with or without a partner -- not something we are giving a partner full ownership of. If she just full-stop owned your sexuality, that'd be a lot less meaningful than you willingly choosing to share it with her. If she's seeking to try and control what you do, all by yourself and with no one else, with your body, that's just plain out of bounds and unhealthy. As well, if the sex you were having with her was driven by when you just needed to get your ya-yas out (which is more what masturbation is for), rather than when you wanted to create a unique and shared experience of pleasure and bonding, and only when you BOTH wanted to do that together, your sexual life together would not likely be as good as it could be. You don't withhold anything from her by masturbating: you bring you to her when you have sex together, and not masturbating wouldn't somehow result in you having more of you available.
What is it she "hates" about masturbation or your masturbation? What makes yours seem different to her than hers does? Might she be projecting something unto your masturbation because she isn't enjoying hers or reaching orgasm through hers? If and when she does reach orgasm on her own with masturbation, does she think she'll feel the same way, or that she might feel differently? (Is she reaching orgasm with you? If not, you might want to ask if that has anything to do with this, too.) What does she feel like her attitudes about her own masturbation are? How did she grow up thinking about masturbation? How about her attitudes about male sexuality in general? How does she rectify this double-standard? How does she think you masturbating or not masturbating does or doesn't impact the sex you have together? These are all the kinds of questions I'd ask her to try and both better understand how she feels, and for her to feel heard. They should also help her clarify what she's thinking and identify flaws or logical flaws in the way she's thinking.
But honestly, whatever is going on, since the overwhelming majority of people masturbate, she's very unlikely to have any partner in her life who doesn't masturbate, so she will very likely need to find a way to accept masturbation as something her partners will all probably do. Most frequently, if we feel sexual desire for others and have a sexual life with others, we're going to also have sexual feelings independent of other people too, and a solo sex life of our own.
Until she gets to that point -- and not knowing what her issues really are or where they're coming from, I can't say if that will take months or years -- it's fair to ask her to stop endlessly voicing how much she hates your masturbation to you. Through all of your talks about this, I would be very clear that if you two are going to have an intimate relationship, she will need to find a way to accept and be okay with you masturbating in time, and that when she talks to you about masturbation, she needs to do so respectfully and without putting you down. Not only is it going to be pretty hard to feel healthy sexually with someone saying those kinds of things and having that attitude, it's bound to just be negative for you period, and to leave you feeling pretty lousy about yourself, even if you know, in your guts, that masturbation is common, healthy and okay.
When we have a sexual partner, even if they don't share desires we have, so long as they are not pressuring or forcing us to participate in them themselves, or are breaking rules we agreed to when it comes to the model our relationship has, it's important we not insult or diss those independent desires. In fact, if she's worried about you holding back with her sexually, that's much more likely to happen based on your being made to feel bad about your sexuality by her than it is because of your own masturbation. Most importantly, being put down by a partner about anything, isn't healthy: it's abusive.
That last statement given, I also just want to check in with you and make sure that outside of this issue, your relationship is healthy and beneficial for you. While something else could be going on entirely, put-downs, double-standards or seeking control of a partner's solo sexuality are two things that can be signals of emotionally abusive behavior. Is this kind of dynamic something you find in other areas of your relationship? If not, and you can work this lone matter out together peaceably, then it's probably all good: heck, if you can work this out, your relationship is probably only going to get a lot better. But if you are seeing other things with this kind of dynamic in them, I'd be sure this is a relationship that is healthy for you, and one where you are accepted, respected, loved and cared for.
I'll part by saying that if there just is no rectifying this issue, and she just won't let it go, I hope you know it would be understandable (and perhaps even advisable) to exempt yourself from the relationship -- or at least from a sexual relationship -- on this basis alone. As I said, it's really hard, if not impossible, to have a healthy sexual relationship with someone who is being very negative or dismissive of an intrinsic aspect of our sexuality. You, like anyone else, deserve a sexual partnership where a partner leaves you feeling good about yourself sexually, and accepts and respects for your sexuality, even when it's different than their sexuality.
Here are a few links for you, some of which you might also want to share with her: