Masturbation: Sex with Someone you Love

While we’re on the topic of self-compassion, let’s bring that right over to the most popular topic on the internet, namely sex.  While American attitudes about masturbation, or as Betty Dodson terms it, selflove, have changed dramatically in the past several decades, even outside of socially conservative circles, prejudices and taboos remain.  These attitudes can create totally unnecessary obstacles to having a satisfying sexual life, including causing conflicts in couples, and contributing to sexual problems and concerns among individuals.

As a psychologist, I want to clarify and publicize my views on the matter of masturbation.  My views are my own, and are informed by 15 years of clinical experience counseling individuals on a broad range of topics, including sexuality.  They are also informed by my read on the existing research literature on human sexuality.

In no particular order:

1. Nearly all adult human beings masturbate in some form (even when they say they do not, believing that if they do not use their hands or a ‘toy’ then it is not masturbation).

2. Masturbating does not make one a “pervert” or “oversexed.”

3. Masturbation is almost invariably healthy and represents a mature response to an individual’s sexual needs.

4. Religious authorities still have mixed opinions about masturbation.  There is no consensus amongst them as to whether masturbation is sinful.  If you are religious in a traditional sense, I recommend speaking with your pastor or other religious leader about masturbation, so that at least you clarify what your church’s view is on the matter.  It may be different from what you think.

5. Men who are reluctant to masturbate or feel that doing so is shameful, or simply “not good enough,” are prone to over-reliance on their partners for sexual satisfaction.  This tendency often leads to conflict in the relationship.

6. Women who are reluctant to masturbate or feel that doing so is shameful, or simply “not good enough,” frequently experience inhibition in the context of sex with their partners.  There is a high correlation between having a satisfying solo sex life and having a satisfying partner-sex life.  Betty Dodson has written extensively on this topic.  Note that a history of sexual abuse, sadly all too common among women as well as men, can complicate sexuality and contribute to sexual inhibition.  In such cases of course, professional help is recommended.

7. Sex therapy has long included mindfulness practices, in particular, the present-moment sex or masturbation exercise known as ‘sensate focusing’.  The present moment is where sexuality can be expressed in a satisfying and healthy way, liberated from thoughts about the past and future, and judgements about the present.

8. The younger, or Millenial generation is much more accepting of masturbation than prior generations, in no small part due to feminism and sexual liberation movements of the 1960s through 1980s.  However even Millenials are vulnerable to unhelpful beliefs from traditional, socially conservative sources, as well as from inherent role-stereotyping (whether macho or feminine) that inhibits sexual expression through masturbation.  While I have little to offer those who buy into traditional anti-masturbation views — other than to check things out with your pastor as I said above — I can say to those who think that masturbation is un-manly or un-womanly that the data show that this is a false belief.  If everyone masturbates, then by definition masturbation characterizes the behavior of both men and women, and is manly as well as womanly.

9. Pornography is a difficult topic due to the extensive exploitation and abuse associated with this industry.  Still, it is enormously popular among men, with the majority of men using pornography as an aid to masturbation at least at times, and a sizeable (perhaps 40%) proportion of women using pornography.  This estimate does not include less visual forms of pornography such as erotic novels, which women may be much more comfortable with than men, and which are far less likely to contribute to harmful exploitation of individuals.  If men used more written erotica and less visual pornography to aid in masturbation, the world would be a better place.

10. The sex industry is morally and ethically objectionable and is fraught with horrific abuses, including child prostitution, which is going on right here in Portland at some of our so-called “Taverns” or strip joints.  The sad fact is that the vast majority of the sex industry involves exploitation and harm to individuals, usually women.  I believe that we would be better off if much of the “live” category of the sex industry be banned, or perhaps well-regulated.  Either way, this topic really doesn’t have to have much to do with masturbation.  Like all sex, masturbation should be done ethically, not at the expense of another person’s dignity or well-being.  Consensual sex of any kind is by definition never coercive, including the coercion of giving someone money to perform sexual acts or performance expressly designed to titillate.  If the number of men who agreed with this paragraph were greater, we would have less exploitation of women in our society.  There is nothing wrong with fantasy, and fantasy and masturbation go hand-in-hand (no pun intended).  Let’s keep our masturbation focused on a healthy, rich fantasy life, not on the exploitation of vulnerable individuals.

Post by Joe

4 Comments

Filed under Dating and Sex

4 responses to “Masturbation: Sex with Someone you Love

  1. Raymond

    Hello there, thankyou for a seriously informative piece,
    I will not invariably submit blog comments but really enjoyed your blog hence thought I would say
    thanks a lot : Hollie

  2. lb

    Loved what you had to say here (especially about the harms of the porn industry) though I’m curious how fantasy and mindfulness can be compatible. Isn’t mindfulness specifically being in the body in the present moment instead of off in a mind-induced daydream or a fantasy? Is there really a difference of impact on the human mind between seeing pornographic scenarios and just imagining them?

    Do you think it’s wholly possible for people to define their sexuality (solo and with a partner) in a way that doesn’t include fantasy and is specifically a mindful, sensory experience? Or perhaps if there is fantasy, this would include something alined with values of intimacy, sensuality, connection, respect, consent, and commitment (if one is bonded with a partner)? Would it be too bold to imagine that perhaps that’s what healthy human sexuality might really look like if it could be removed from a culture of hierarchies, exploitation, and jaded interpretations of human relationships?

    • So sorry it’s taken me 2 years to respond do this comment — The blog has long ago moved to portlandmindful – dot – com, so I’ve not been monitoring this old blog… catching up on responding to comments! 🙂 In answer to your question, I can envision much of what you say, and I think I experience both “jaded” sexuality AND “healthy” sexuality. Perhaps in a more advanced version of the Human species we’ll only have the latter? I do not know. Can you live without fantasy? If you can, you are one of the few. It’s more important for me as a psychologist to normalize what is statistically normal than to demand people change, but both are important to me. If I were an activist by profession, my job would be more the latter than the former, but I am not — and my priorities are my own to determine. Thank you again for your thoughtful commentary.

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