Is it normal to masturbate while in a relationship?

Words by Evangeline Polymeneas

Ridin’ solo.

When one of my single friends is feeling down, one of us always suggests a trip to the sex shop to lighten their mood, because an eight-speed vibrator is always the best way to turn a frown upside down. But for some reason, this is never suggested when the friend who’s upset happens to be in a relationship. 

Masturbation, especially for vulva owners, has always been regarded as a sexual pit stop – something you do on the way to finding a partner, who will eventually take over the job for you. Many of us are guilty of neglecting masturbation when we find ourselves in relationships.

For more advice on spicing up your sex life, head to our Life section.

Sure, the desire to indulge in a bit of self-pleasure might pop up when our partner is away or working late, but often it isn’t as much of a staple in our sexual routines as maybe it once was. But solo sex shouldn’t only be an activity of our past selves – it should be something you carry into your relationship. So what makes us stop?

To shed light on this mystery, I spoke to First Nations sexologist Lauren French for the tea on masturbating while in a relationship. Lauren says that there are definitely some people who have the expectation that when they get a partner they won’t need to masturbate because all their sexual needs will be fulfilled.

This implies that your sexual fulfilment is entirely dependent on your partner, which obviously isn’t the case. In saying this, I can understand why those of us in relationships feel as though masturbation is a bit redundant. When you have a partner, they’re readily available to satisfy your sexual needs, so it makes sense that the urge to fulfil them on your own decreases. But Lauren tells me that solo sex is actually really important to maintain while in a relationship because it satisfies us in ways that a partner never can.  

“We need to get out of that idea that when you’re in a relationship you can’t be sexual with yourself, because that’s still a hugely satisfying and important aspect of your individual and partnered sex life,” she says. “The biggest benefit is that you know yourself better, particularly so you can explain to your partner what you enjoy and what you like. If your partner isn’t so sure, being able to show them physically on your own body can help them and therefore enhance your partnered sex. 

“Masturbation has so many benefits. [It benefits] your health, sleep, heart function [and] even reduces stress!” says Lauren. She characterises masturbation as a form of self-care and describes it as “a moment where you can take time out of your day to enjoy yourself, particularly your body, enjoy your sexuality and be able to do whatever you want to do”. 

For those of us who are a bit out of practice, it’s fair to wonder what solo sex actually looks like. “Solo sex is any form of being sexual with yourself,” Lauren explains. “That can be really obvious like masturbation, or it can be enjoying sexual moments with ourselves. It can be using sex toys or our hands or it can be enjoying erotic media like porn, erotica or audio podcasts. Basically, any moments where you’re being sexual with yourself.” 

And if you never lost your sexual alone time, introducing mutual masturbation to your relationship might be something to consider. “Mutually masturbating together might involve just lying together in bed and touching yourselves and being able to watch each other or it could be small involvement like kissing,” Lauren says. 

Mutual masturbation is for those moments when you want to just focus on your own pleasure but still feel a connection to your partner. “Sometimes we really feel like an amazing partnered sexual experience and sometimes we know that we want to do it on our own. Maybe we want to use our favourite sex toy and not have to worry about anyone else either,” she explains. 

Not only is mutual masturbation a fun twist on a ‘quickie’ it’s also a way to access a new level of intimacy. Masturbation is seen as something you do on your own, so by exploring it together, you open yourself up to being more vulnerable with your partner which can, in turn, bring you closer together.

Masturbation, especially for vulva owners, might feel a bit taboo, despite society becoming increasingly sex-positive. Lauren attributes this to the way women have historically been hyper-sexualised but simultaneously denied the opportunity to explore their sexuality. “As a society, we don’t really view women as sexual, other than to fulfil a male need. It’s then very hard to see why women [masturbate].”

Lauren says that we need to start accepting that women get horny – both while in and out of a relationship – and have needs and may actually want to pleasure themselves. With that being said, if you’re looking for a sign to order that eight-speed vibrator then consider this it.

For more on the benefits of masturbation, try this.

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