Author: Dr. Trina Read (Trina Read)
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By the time this couple came to talk to me, they were in a pretty bad sexual rut. They had been married for fifteen years and had two teenage kids.

             I met with them separately to take a sex history. It turns out both were masturbating almost daily, at about the same time in the evening without their partner knowing. To top it off, neither wanted the other to know what they were up to because they were too ashamed of their behavior.

 My philosophy is not to keep secrets in a relationship. I told them the jig was up. Their next step was to tell each other what had been transpiring for over three years. I also requested not to contact me until they had.

Three months later, I received a call. Apparently, during the first week, every time the subject was brought up, it was immediately dropped. During the second week, every time one brought up the topic, they would end up in a huge fight. Finally, after three months of fighting and with much reluctance, they shared. Did the sharing help? Certainly much of their sexual angst was an inability to communicate preferences and needs. Their admission opened an untapped avenue in their 15-year relationship. From that point, they were able to reach a new level of intimacy.

 I still have yet to figure out why many couples feel masturbation is a taboo topic. Couples who decide to be in an exclusive, long-term relationship open up and share their finances, childhood hurts and future dreams but not their solitary self-pleasuring. It is almost as if many couples hit an intimacy and vulnerability wall.

In my opinion, as long as masturbation is not divisive in the relationship, there is no need to discourage it. Couples need to handle all of their sexual outlets objectively and without value judgment.

With that said, I hear two main themes about why masturbation in a couple’s situation is so secret. First, some people feel masturbation is an infidelity. “Real” sex is equated to couple’s sex and precludes the need for one partner to go off and self-pleasure.

In essence, it is seen as a slap in the face to the other partner. For example, a wife walks in on her husband having a “moment” in the shower. She may have feelings of “what is wrong with me” or “don’t I satisfy you?” As well, a fellow’s manhood may come into question when he feels his partner cannot get all her needs met with him.

The second most frequent thing I hear is that masturbation is a private matter. Absolutely. However, there is a difference between privacy and having a secret masturbation life. Many people do not communicate this private life in order to save their partner’s feelings. Or they simply do not know how to bring the topic up because they feel ashamed or guilty.

Sex therapy books like Lonnie Barbach’s For Each Other and Bernie Zilbergeld’s The New Male Sexuality show the therapeutic benefits of sharing such information. Both authors advocate that the individual is the only one who knows what feels best to them. Because these individuals may feel awkward in expressing their sexual needs, they leave it up to their partner to figure out how to best do it. This is an unfair predicament to place on the partner. In effect, it is saying, “I want you to give me the most satisfaction possible, but I am not going to tell you how to do it.”

When the individual shares how they most like to be pleasured, it is a goldmine of information for their partner. As well, it can guarantee pleasure from the majority of their sexual encounters.

Barbach’s book highlights a survey done by Philip and Lorna Sarrel, sex therapists at Yale University. They concluded, “Among women who have told their partners exactly how they like to be touched, seven out of ten indicated they have orgasms ‘every time’ or ‘almost every time’ they made love. The good communicators had intercourse oftener and were likelier to be satisfied with its frequency.”

So here is my question to you. Have you ever shared your masturbatory habits with your partner? If yes, great. If no, perhaps you need to ask yourself why or what is stopping you.

Trust me, this is one of those exercises that is intellectually easy; actually doing it is a completely different kettle of fish. Just like the couple above, a few fights might ensue. The reason is that society has scripted incredibly negative messages since childhood on how touching ourselves is wrong, bad or immoral.

Yet when you open yourself up to your partner and become more vulnerable, it can open a whole new level of sensuality.