Figuring out why I'm so uncomfortable with my partner's self pleasure

August 15 2018 | Guest post by Anonymous

Here's a response to our post about embracing masturbation in a relationship. It's a perspective on sex, guilt, religion, and all the goes along with it…

Figuring out why I'm so uncomfortable with my partner's self pleasure
Date with Palmela 8×10 Print by That's What She Said Art

My partner masturbates without my knowing and for some reason it really bothers me. My reaction surprised me and I had to dig into it to understand why. We have had a lot of conversations about how I struggle with the fact that he masturbates. Thankfully he is typically able to be open-minded and not take it personally. He knows that it's my issue, and he knows that I know it's my issue and that I'm not trying to control him.

Just recently he decided that, until I get this anxiety of mine figured out (I promised that I'll start seeing a therapist), he's going to stop masturbating. His thoughts on it are that if I'm not anxious about obsessing over whether or not he's masturbated in a given day (I seriously have this weird sixth sense about it and seem to know whenever he's done it), I'll be able to think more clearly about why I have a seemingly instinctual issue with it. Thus far it's been working. I'm still looking for a therapist, but I'm keeping my promise.

Here are some things about my hangups that other folks who have the same issue may find helpful…

My conservative Christian upbringing

This mash-up of ideas and input created a bizarre and destructive idea of sexuality in me from a very young age.

I grew up in a Christian household. Sex and masturbation were taboo subjects. There was the very clear understanding that one was not to have sex before marriage. Masturbation was foul and sinful. This was driven home by parents, siblings, church leaders, youth group, and the general culture to which I was exposed. We did not have the internet until I was 14, and so I was easily sheltered. All my education about sex came either from church, public school sex ed, and general conversation in school or snippets here and there from adults around me.

Needless to say, this mash-up of ideas and input created a bizarre and destructive idea of sexuality in me from a very young age.

The problem I faced was that I have a very powerful sex drive. I recall masturbating from a very young age, as young as five, though it could go back earlier than that. I only remember that age due to the fact that an elder sibling caught me in the act then. I learned how to masturbate with my clothes on, so I don't think he knew what I was doing, but I distinctly remember the terror and embarrassment I felt at being discovered.

At that point I didn't know what sex was. My "fantasies" didn't even involve sexual acts. I look back at them and wonder how I was even turned on, but the brain is a fickle thing. And for some reason I always felt like what I was doing — even before anyone told me what masturbation was and that I shouldn't do it — was very, very wrong. I can chalk a lot of it up to being an empath. Even as a child I could draw in the emotions of others without realizing it, and it's likely those experiences, like where I was discovered and sensed the uncertainty of another, caused me to fear what I was doing in a way.

Whatever the case, when I began to understand what sex was and began to be aroused by it, that was when the real guilt set in. I was never taught that it was important to develop a sexual identity. I was never told that it was okay to explore my sexual thoughts and feelings. The public school sex education I experienced really only served to scare kids and young adults into not having sex for fear of pregnancy or STIs. And masturbation was hardly even covered at all. In church and in my family, everything I was taught was to practice abstinence until married. And don't you dare touch yourself, because that's sinful and lustful and God is always watching.

My own sex drive

As a person with a very high sex drive, it was pure torture at times not to masturbate. When I did, I felt intensely guilty and would immediately repent and promise God I'd never do it again. I thought I had a problem because I felt the desire to masturbate every day, multiple times a day. I thought I had an addiction and that I was messed up and perverted. I congratulated myself if I went more than a week without masturbating. One time I think I made it a month. I was miserable.

I wanted to have sex so badly. It became an obsession, some tangled wiring in my brain that is still there to some extent where sex barrels into my thoughts at least every half hour even now in my late twenties. Such a complex about sex and relationships had been created in me, that I was terrified to be in a relationship for fear of having sex and getting pregnant or contracting an STI. Just as terrifying was the shame of my parents finding out or my peers calling me a slut for my thoughts and actions. I did not think I could control myself if I came to be in a relationship with someone.

And so masturbation became my sole sexual outlet, however guilty I felt about it. It became the thing I miserably did when I wanted to have sex, which was frequently. This type of interaction with masturbation and sex lasted well into my early twenties. It was shaped into something unsurprisingly more twisted and unhealthy as I matured and interacted with even more conservative Christian beliefs.

My happy relationship

Fast forward to the present. I am in my late twenties. I am no longer a Christian. I am happily sexually active with my partner of two years. My sex drive is higher than his, though we usually manage to work things out well enough. I have been diagnosed with several endocrine disorders that affect mood and behavior causing symptoms of anxiety, OCD, depression, and ADD. This has a heavy impact on my behavior and anxiety related to sex and masturbation, and I struggle daily with issues brought on by my upbringing. Thankfully, my partner is very supportive and is willing to work with me through what I am dealing with.

Though I don't consciously think of it as a dirty thing any longer, I know the idea of it being there is still in my mind, shaping my attitudes and feelings.

I masturbate infrequently. Though I don't consciously think of it as a dirty thing any longer, I know the idea of it being there is still in my mind, shaping my attitudes and feelings. I feel as though it's a sneaky, selfish thing to do despite all that I tell myself it isn't. It still holds a very strong stigma of the thing that I do when I want to have sex very very badly.

It is extremely rare that I just want to masturbate. If I'm turned on enough to masturbate, I damn well am going to want to have sex, not "settle" for masturbating. I don't think this is a healthy mindset. Especially because I project it onto my partner. When he masturbates, I ask myself why can't he just have sex with me? If he's so turned on, why masturbate? I'm usually around when he does it. It seems the lesser of the options because I can honestly say I am always ready to have sex. Or at least why can't he masturbate with me there so I can experience it and use it to get off myself? I'm also incredibly turned on by thinking about it.

I didn't have any experience of it and so am anxious about it.

When I know he has masturbated, whether because I found out or he told me, I struggle massively with an avalanche of conflicting thoughts and emotions that range from anger to guilt to arousal to disgust to anxiety to abandonment. I am angry because he did something on his own without me when I would have been perfectly willing to be involved. I am guilty because I know I should be okay with it but don't know how to be. I am aroused because my imagination immediately runs wild with images of him doing it as well as thinking about his experience of it and his arousal. I am disgusted because that's what I was taught to think about masturbation, and despite no longer holding those beliefs, their echoes still haunt me. I am anxious because I don't know exactly what he did; I don't know what he watched, how he did it, how long it took, how he felt, how strong his orgasm was, what it looked like, etc. I didn't have any experience of it and so am anxious about it. And I feel abandoned because I wonder if there is something wrong with me that he would choose to masturbate to pornography or fantasies over having sex with me.

I believe all these feelings are legitimate in that I am having and experiencing them. However, I don't believe all are healthy, and I try my damndest not to react to them. I will talk to him about them, but I do my best not to control his actions due to my own issues and insecurities.

All this and much more is why I am seeing a therapist as soon as I find one in my area who is decent. Because I would really like to have a healthy relationship with my sexuality. I think being okay with my partner masturbating starts with being more secure in myself and my sexuality.

Can anyone relate? Have any advice for me?

  1. When trying to pick your way through what you have been told about sex and how it's shaped you, other people's stories and experiences can be really helpfull. If you are shy about having those conversations in real life then a book can be great. Our Bodies Ourselves by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective is about all aspects of womens health but has loads about all aspects of sexuality with loads of quotes from women they have interviewed and worked with. My mum kept a copy of this when I was growing up ( in the kitchen) and I've been recommending it ever since!

    4 agree
  2. Relating to your third point, a realization that may help you is that sex is not equal to mastubation in many ways.
    As you state, as far as fulfilling sexual desire and sensation go sex does seem to come out on top (if you’ll pardon the pun), but in many ways masturbation is far superior when you consider the demands of life. Masturbation is quicker, cleaner, unburdened and pretty much a sure thing. My hubs does it in his morning shower and I sneak away for quick vibe sessions. In our household is it considered apart of our self-care/hygiene routine and has little to nothing to do with our sex life as a couple.

    13 agree
  3. I think a good way of dealing with this would be to reframe and 're-educated' yourself about what masturbations is and isn't. You mention wondering why you were 'turned on' as a child – the easy answer is that you probably weren't in the way that adults conceive of it. I think masturbation in kids is a lot like thumb sucking, it makes them feel good and helps them self-soothe. They touch themselves and then realize "this feels good" and then keep going. I really don't think there is much, if anything, "sexual" about it. (You mention nothing about this but excessive masturbation in preschool aged kids can be linked to early sexual abuse – something to think about. I'm sure your therapist has mentioned this but I thought it would be good to add for others reading).

    In terms of adults masturbating I think it can be kind of similar. I suffer from insomnia and most nights I masturbate so I can get to sleep. It's not really 'sexual' per say, I may have to think of sexual things to 'get there' but it's all about climaxing so that those feel good hormones are released, then I'm relaxed and find it really easy to fall sleep. I really think that most solitary masturbation is about getting those feel good hormones and in a way is really more of an avenue for adults to self-soothe. That's not to say that it can't be sexual, but I think often it's really just on the periphery. Maybe it would help to think of your husband's masturbation as his alone time, where he is getting those feel good hormones? A childhood of religious brainwashing can take a long time to get over and I commend you for putting in the work. Good luck!

    11 agree
  4. I think the issue here is that he's choosing to masturbate when you're around and available for sex. I get it, to some extent- masturbation is usually faster and easier and sometimes I'm worn out and I just want to shake a headache and relax or whatever and not have to worry about a partner's pleasure (it *is* selfish in that regard, but in more of a self-care way). But I don't do that if my partner is right there ready and willing. Frankly, that's fuckin' rude, and it would bug me too. I'd either offer sex or wait until they're not home. Especially if pornography is involved, it feels neglectful, and I think your feelings about that are legitimate.

    Different story if you're talking about coming home at the end of the day and "sensing" that he masturbated and getting upset… unless he's masturbating so frequently that he's not up for having sex with you when you are home.

    IMO masturbation/pornography use/etc only becomes a problem when someone is doing it INSTEAD of engaging sexually with their partner. I've been with guys who jerk off twice a day and still jump at the chance to get laid, and okay, great. But if someone is regularly choosing masturbation over partner activity that's not a healthy dynamic. And while your upbringing has certainly complicated your feelings towards these things, I don't think you're wrong to feel bothered by this.

    15 agree

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