Many married people feel guilty about masturbating, but self-pleasure can be healthy for just about any relationship. Here’s why.

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Masturbation and marriage may seem like strange bedfellows, but self-pleasure can be a healthy part of your sex life. (Not to mention, it feels pretty good.)

Self-touch offers an opportunity to explore what turns you on and gives you pleasure, which can help you communicate your sexual desires to your partner.

Despite the fact that it’s OK for just about anyone to masturbate, many couples sometimes feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about it.

The messages and stigma surrounding self-pleasure are often rooted in shame. Many people feel it should be kept private and secretive.

“Our society has made the act of self-pleasure dirty and shameful,” says Dr. Juliana Hauser, a therapist and sex educator in Lexington, Kentucky. “The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ general mindset can easily be carried over into marriages today.”

Yet, masturbation has many benefits and can promote a sense of sexual empowerment.

Benefits of masturbation

According to 2007 research, masturbation is not only healthy but can lead to more satisfying sex.

In a small 2015 study, married women who masturbated had more orgasms and sexual desire, boosted self-esteem, and overall, greater satisfaction in marriage and sex.

Self-pleasure can:

  • help you discover the best ways you achieve orgasm
  • boost your libido, whether you’re masturbating alone or with your partner

Masturbation in marriage can also be helpful when your partner is not able or in the mood to engage in sexual activity.

Plus, skillful communication about sex and pleasure is often lacking in committed partnerships. Knowing how you like to be touched and stimulated is valuable information you could convey to your partner.

Hauser is a strong proponent of speaking openly about the role of self-pleasure in your marriage — in both your individual sexuality and your joint sexual connection to your partner.

“Although I encourage all of my clients to have a healthy and robust solo sex practice, it’s crucial for a couple to openly discuss the comfort level of solo sex with each other,” Hauser says.

Try these tips to talk with your partner about self-pleasure:

  • Know what you need and want first.
  • Give your partner space to consider their feelings.
  • Be clear on what you both agree and disagree on.
  • Address any differences as a team rather than who’s right or wrong.

Hauser also recommends checking in with each other periodically about your needs and whether expectations are being met or need to be adjusted.

To make sure you’re on the same page, consider the following questions:

  • Do you need privacy for self-pleasure?
  • How much time do you require for self-pleasure and where will it take place?
  • Is there a preferred time of day?
  • Is porn use acceptable?
  • Are fantasies acceptable?
  • Do you want to talk about the details with each other?

There can be a few negative effects associated with masturbation in marriage. Still, you and your partner should maintain an open and honest line of communication with each other and stay committed to what you’ve agreed on.

“You want self-pleasure to be a way to better get to know your body and what feels good, rather than a source of frustration that your partner doesn’t know your body as well as you do,” Hauser says. “Use it as a course of communication, not exclusion.”

Habit vs. compulsion

Masturbation is a healthy way to explore your relationship with pleasure — but it isn’t a replacement for sexual intimacy with your partner.

While masturbation in marriage can be a healthy sexual activity, there’s a difference between habit and compulsion.

Masturbation addiction is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) as a mental health condition, but it does fall in the category of a compulsive sexual behavior.

When masturbation becomes excessive, it can lead to reduced sexual satisfaction over time and interfere with your relationship and other areas of your life.

Is it better if I don’t fantasize?

While fantasizing is common, particularly among men who often rely on visuals to become aroused, it’s possible for anyone — regardless of gender or sexual orientation — to masturbate without fantasizing.

“All genders are socialized more frequently to associate self-pleasure with fantasizing, but many people use mindfulness techniques to stay in touch with the present senses and sensation rather than only using fantasies as a source of arousal and desire during self-pleasure,” Hauser says.

If you prefer a scintillating fantasy, 2018 research suggests that fantasizing about your partner can heighten arousal and even enhance your relationship.

Is fantasizing cheating?

Hauser says that some monogamous couples feel that just thinking about a sex act with someone else is cheating. But it’s only cheating if that’s what you and your partner truly believe it to be.

“[Fantasizing about someone else] is not a notion I subscribe to unless a couple has mutually agreed to that being an acceptable component of their relationship,” Hauser says.

She adds that what she does like is the practice of fantasizing about your partner, since it can help bring fun and different layers to self-pleasure practices.

Whether you’ve got a penis or vagina, there are plenty of good reasons to practice self-stimulation.

No matter your reasons — stress relief, an energy boost, or winding down at the end of the day — a healthy masturbation habit can help you learn about your body and what brings you pleasure. The best part? You’ll invite more passion and sensuality into your relationship.

To help reduce the shame and stigma associated with masturbation, and, as Hauser puts it, “claim your birthright,” here are a few best practices you could try:

  • Support your partner’s right to practice self-pleasure.
  • Talk about your techniques and any fantasies or visuals you feel comfortable sharing.
  • Bring any insights from self-pleasure into partnered sex.
  • Vary your self-pleasure practices like you would your partnered sexual acts, from time of day to different toys and techniques.

Self-pleasure is an act of self-care and self-love. Exploring your erogenous zones can help define your individual sexuality and also strengthen your relationship.

If you feel shame surrounding masturbation, you may find that speaking with a therapist can help you unpack the reasons.

If you’re married and feel guilty about masturbation, remember that it’s a key component of sexual health and that it’s good for your sex life, too.