Solo sex is good for your relationship

My wife recently admitted to me that she masturbates a few times a week. I was surprised that she does it at all, to be honest. We’re young and we have a healthy sex life — does that mean that I’m not satisfying her?

Solo sex is good for your relationship

If your wife preferred masturbation to sex, you might have a problem, but she doesn’t, so you don’t. Far from being an indication of sexual dissatisfaction, in women, regular masturbation indicates a higher than average libido, a healthy appetite for sex and a willingness to experiment. Although it is often mocked as the solace of the sexually deprived, research into the role of masturbation in marital and sexual satisfaction found that married women who masturbated had significantly more orgasms, greater sexual desire, higher self-esteem, greater marital and sexual satisfaction, and required less time to become sexually aroused.

Forty years earlier, Alfred Kinsey published his landmark study of female sexual behaviour in which 62% of women reported having masturbated, 58% of them to orgasm. Kinsey’s 1953 report gave a detailed analysis of the techniques women used: 84% stroked or stimulated their inner lips and/or clitoris and 10% crossed their legs and exerted a steady rhythmic pressure affecting the whole area. Women also used vibrators or rubbed themselves against pillows or beds. Just 20% of women used penetration during masturbation and 2% could orgasm from fantasy alone. In fact, Kinsey found that masturbation was the second most frequently practised sexual behaviour among women, whether they were married or single, and it was the behaviour in which orgasm was most frequently achieved.

The frequency of masturbation tends to be lower for men who are having more frequent sex, but women who masturbate more often also report more frequent vaginal sex and a more experimental repertoire of sexual activity. These findings come from face-to-face interviews in Britain with 11,161 people aged 16 to 44 years. The interviews were carried out between 1999 and 2001 by Makeda Gerressu and her colleagues at the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, University College London and they revealed that 73% of men and 36.8% of women had masturbated in the month preceding the interview. Those figures roughly correspond with findings from the 1994 “Sex in America” doorstep survey of 3,423 Americans aged 18 to 59, which found that 61% of men and 38% of women had masturbated during the past year.

The Sex in America study, which was designed by the sociologist Edward Laumann, and the economist Robert Michael at the University of Chicago, in conjunction with the psychologist John Gagnon at the State University of New York at Stony Brook found that married people, or people who have regular sex partners, are more likely to masturbate than people without sexual partners. Even so, half of the adult women and men who reported masturbating felt guilty about it, a finding that was echoed in a 2000 study by Carolyn Halpern at the University of North Carolina, which found that adolescent males are still afraid to admit that they masturbate.

Centuries of pseudo-scientific 19th-century nonsense about going blind and growing hairs on the palms of your hand haven’t helped. Nor has the Christian right. For example, when Kinsey published his details about female masturbatory techniques the evangelical Christian Billy Graham wrote: “It is impossible to estimate the damage this book will do to the already deteriorating morals of America”, and the subsequent furore lead the Rockefeller Foundation to withdraw its support for Kinsey’s research.

Despite abundant evidence that private masturbation is normal and healthy, individuals, institutions and organised religions always have, and probably always will, attempt to curb our capacity to self-soothe. Legacy guilt can make masturbation confusing but, instead of feeling intimidated, try to think about your wife’s solo sex life in terms of sexual maintenance. It provides her with sexual pleasure and sexual relief if you are unavailable. It helps her to relax. It can alleviate menstrual cramping and ease lower back pain. It also boosts her immune system, increases sexual function, strengthens her pelvic floor and aids restful sleep.

It’s good for you too. Basically, the more often your wife tunes in to her own body, the better she gets at turning on her sexual feelings, and the result is more satisfying sex for both of you.

Is that really a problem?

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