What would you do if you found your partner masturbating? To figure that out, today you're going to play a grownup choose-your-own-adventure game. Remember those? You’re presented with a scenario, a range of options, and then you pick which option you want to go with in order to move the story forward. So, here’s the scenario: You’re hanging out downstairs, killing time on Facebook, and your feet have gotten cold. Your socks are upstairs in the bedroom, so you head up there, open the door, and find your partner masturbating. Do you: A) scream, back out of the room, and go sob on the couch, B) quietly close the door and hope they didn’t see you or, C) join in the fun?
If your answer was “A,” you’re not alone — but we need to talk. You’ve probably bought into the prevailing sentiment that self-pleasure is a kind of cheating. That belief can come from a lot of places, including insecurities about the relationship, cultural ideas about masturbation, or even confusion about why a person might masturbate. The reality, however, is that masturbation is totally normal for people of all genders, whether they’re single or partnered.
"Masturbation is a healthy way to determine what is pleasurable," sex therapist Rachel Hoffman, LCSW, M.Ed, a PhD candidate in Human Sexuality, tells Bustle. "It may also help relieve stress and promote sleep. Regardless of your relationship status, masturbation is a healthy form of sexual expression. Be open and honest with your partner about masturbation, as majority of individuals feel worse about their partner lying than about the behavior itself."
Still not buying it? That could be because you’ve been sold the idea that you should be the one and only for everything for your partner — socially, sexually, romantically. I call it the “soulmate myth,” which is one that we’re spoon fed from the first fairytales our parents read to us as children. But just like there aren’t mermaids or Tinkerbell, there’s no such thing a “the one.” You cannot be everything to one person, no matter how awesome you are or how great a fit you two are as a couple — and that includes sexually.
So here are nine reasons you really should choose “B” or “C” and not freak out about your partner masturbating in our grownup choose-your-own-adventure tale.
1. It's Really Not About You
Really, it’s not. Your partner masturbating is about them — not you. It has nothing to do with their attraction to you, nor does it signify that you’re not “enough” for them. All it means is that they want to have an orgasm and they want to have it alone this time. That’s it!
2. It Means They're Sexually Healthy
Masturbation is a healthy part of sexuality, so if your partner is masturbating, it means that everything is in working order. Masturbation is just human beings responding to another bodily function. This about this way: If they were hungry, would you have a problem with your partner eating a sandwich? Didn’t think so.
3. It’s 100% NOT Cheating
At its most basic level, cheating is having sex with someone else without your permission. Please note the “someone else” in that sentence, because “someone else” is exactly who is not present when your partner is masturbating — and fantasies don’t count. Your partner is free to do whatever they like with their own body, and that includes the thoughts they have when they’re getting themself off. Now, I understand that each couple has their own boundaries about what is and isn’t cheating, but masturbation should not be on that list. Remember: Noe one can ever be all things to another person.
4. There’s Nothing Wrong With Masturbation
Despite what some cultural institutions would have you believe, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with masturbation. It hurts exactly no one. Take a minute to think about whether or not you think masturbation is fundamentally wrong. If the answer is “No,” then why is it suddenly wrong when you’re in a relationship?
5. Masturbation Does Not Equal Partnered Sex
Masturbation is its own thing, separate from partnered sex. Your partner masturbating does not mean that they don’t want to have sex with you; it just means they want to masturbate. However, if you find that your partner is only masturbating and not into partnered sex at all, then it’s time to have a conversation. Make sure to remember, though, that the issue there is not that they’re pleasuring themselves but that they don’t want to get it on with you. One does not replace the other.
Also, the reasons people masturbate are often different from the reasons people have sex. Some people describe masturbation as equivalent to “scratching an itch,” whereas partnered sex has a lot to do with connection, intimacy, and physical contact. See the difference?
6. It’s Part Of A Healthy Sexual Variety
Masturbation is just one more sex act in the range of sex acts people can perform. No sex act that involves consenting adults who are into it is bad. Masturbation, therefore, is just another sex act.
7. It Means They Know How To Get Themselves Off
You should definitely be happy about this one. A person who knows how to get themself off will be more in tune with their body when you’re having partnered sex. It’s a win-win for everyone!
8. It Releases Tension In The Relationship
Even the most perfectly matched pair will sometimes be faced with a libido mismatch. That’s the beauty of being two different people, right? You have different needs. Masturbation is a great way to release sexual tension for the higher-libido partner. It means that the lower-libido partner doesn’t have to feel guilty or shamed or bad about not wanting sex all the time, while still taking care of the higher-libido partner’s physical needs.
9. They Know Their Body Best
Sometimes a little self lovin’ just feels so good! After all, no one can do you like you can, boo.
For many people, masturbation is a form of self-care — emphasis, once again, on the "self." If there isn't a third party outside of your relationship involved, what your partner does on their own time is totally up to them, and not up for discussion.
This post was originally published on October 23, 2015. It was updated on August 30, 2019.