Masturbation in Relationships

The Role of Masturbation in Committed Relationships

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Masturbation is usually thought of as a solitary activity, it is often referenced as a symbol of being alone. So it shouldn't be surprising that we don't talk much about masturbation in relationships. But masturbation doesn’t stop when a relationship begins, and by hiding our masturbation in relationships from our partners we’re potentially missing out on an opportunity for sexual communication, and a chance to improve our sex lives.

Do most people in relationships still masturbate?

While there isn’t a lot of research, there have been several studies, dating back to the 1970s, that have asked people in relationships about their masturbation practices. This research has shown that people in relationships don’t masturbate significantly less than people who aren’t in relationships. Yet it is a common masturbation myth that masturbation is just a substitute for partner sex, and that once you have a partner you don’t “need” to masturbate. Whether we’re honest with our partners about masturbation, in research we are fessing up to the fact that many of us continue to make masturbation part of our sex lives, even when we’re in relationships.

Why do people hide their masturbation in relationships?

Sadly, the research also suggests that the majority of people don’t talk with their partners about masturbation. In one small study of married couples, less than 30% of the couples where both partners masturbated, knew that their partners regularly masturbated.

But why would you hide something from the person you are supposed to be most intimate with? There are lots of reasons people might hid their masturbation from a partner:

  • thinking that masturbation is a sign of sexual dissatisfaction with your partner and therefore an insult
  • believing that you only have so much sexual energy and if you use it up with masturbation you’ll have less left for your partner
  • general shame and guilt about masturbation
  • wanting to keep some part of your sex life just for yourself

Reasons to talk with your partner about masturbation in your relationship

While there aren’t any right and wrong answers to the question should you talk with your partner about masturbation, there are some good reasons to think about doing it:

  • masturbation is a great way to deal with differing sex drives: if it’s out in the open you can both use it not as a substitute but as an addition to your partner sex
  • masturbation is a great tool for learning: you can learn a lot about your partner from their masturbation techniques and habits
  • masturbation is another side of you: sharing talk about masturbation and/or masturbating in your partner’s presence can be a powerful way of sharing a new level of intimacy

Should I talk to my partner about masturbating in our relationship?

Ultimately this has to be your decision and you need to do what feels right, not simply what you think is expected of you. On the one hand masturbation is universally derided and considered not real sex. On the other it’s the longest sexual relationship any of us will have, and we should respect and honor that.

Keep in mind that masturbation may mean different things to you and your partner.

While you might think it’s a great part of your overall sex life, your partner might feel threatened by it. This isn’t a reason not to talk about it, but it’s something to keep in mind before you start a conversation about masturbation in your relationship.


Clark, C.A. and Wiederman, M.W. “Gender and Reactions to a Hypothetical Relationship Partner's Masturbation” The Journal of Sex Research. Volume 37, No. 2 (2000): 133-141.

Cornog, M. The Big Book of Masturbation San Francisco: Down There Press, 2003.

Hessellund, H. “Masturbation and Sexual Fantasies in Married Couples” Archives of Sexual Behavior. Volume 5, No. 2 (1976): 133-147