In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about people who think about their own selves while masturbating.
Q: It is normal that I’m straight, but when I masturbate I can’t think about other people? Like, I get turned on by myself. I usually tend to have better orgasms by myself than with another person.
Remember that episode of Broad City when Ilana meets her doppelganger, played by Alia Shawkat, and they end up having hot, hot sex? I bring it up not because it was an exceptional moment of bisexual television (which it was) but because it’s an example of “autoeroticism.” And that, Reader, is what I suspect is going on with you.
Autoeroticism is a sexual preference for one’s own self, rather than for other people. Like bisexuality, it exists on a spectrum — on one end, there are people who are only turned on by their own selves, and on the other, there are people who sometimes like masturbating in front of a mirror, but also like getting off with a partner. There are even some who argue that everyone has an element of autoeroticism in their sexuality. What is masturbation, after all, but “self-love?”
Being turned on solely or primarily by your own self is probably not super common — humans would have died out long ago if it was — but it’s as “normal” as any other sexual preference. And, honestly, it’s time to throw out the whole idea of “normal” sex and “weird” sex. One of the amazing things about human beings is the wide range of sexual preferences and interests that can be found across our species. No one person’s sexuality is exactly the same as any other person’s — we really are unique in this regard.
The reason people so often ask if their sexual preferences and practices are “normal” (and, trust me, everyone asks this at some point) is that our culture carries a lot of shame around sex. Like filing your own taxes, most people are thrown into adulthood, not having any idea how to do it. Instead, we’re left to fumble around and figure it out on our own — usually not even able to talk to other people about it — which leads to embarrassing mistakes and a deep-seated feeling that we must be abnormal.
So, when you find yourself asking, “Is this normal?” about your sex life, remember: All consensual sexual activity, with yourself or with others, is “normal.” Period.
As for having better orgasms when you masturbate than with partners, you’re definitely not alone there. People with vaginas are less likely to orgasm from partnered sex than are people with penises. And when it comes to the quality of orgasm, one 2018 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that between 8% and 14% of people with vaginas preferred the orgasms they gave themselves to ones they had with partners. It would seem, then, that people both autoerotic and not can prefer self-stimulation orgasms to partnered orgasms.
Now that you have a new term to define what you’re into, Reader, lean in! Invest in a great mirror. (Or maybe a few.) Make your own porn by photographing and taping yourself doing what you do best — you! And don’t worry anymore about being “normal.” Because, really, how boring does that sound?
Rowland, David L., Sullivan, J., Hevesi, K., Heveski, B. (2018) Orgasmic Latency and Related Parameters in Women During Partnered and Masturbatory Sex. Journal of Sexual Medicine. https://www.jsm.jsexmed.org/article/S1743-6095(18)31108-1/fulltext