Sex for One: How It Changes Sex for TwoMen and masturbation: from Porky’s to stand-up routines, the subject is a perennial punch line. In fact, so much manly humor depends on jack-off jokes that it’s reasonable to wonder if men’s key relationships are really with their own hands. Of course, these days women’s humor winks and jests about self-loving, too – along with every other aspect of sex. Popular routines especially love to highlight our propensity for collecting colorful toys and plenty of batteries. Perhaps masturbation is such great fodder for humor because laughter releases anxiety and gives us permission to shed collective shame about solo-sex – a pastime that unfortunately still gets a bad rap in many circles.

In an effort to dispel those negative attitudes, we sex experts praise masturbation as a healthy form of sexual expression; we repeat ad infinitum that solo trial runs teach us how to drive our basic sexual equipment, and that freedom from shame about masturbation helps us develop self-esteem. We also like to say that being comfortable discussing masturbation with a partner is an important step in developing intimacy. In a nutshell, most experts agree that masturbation is at once fun, funny, delicious and enlightening. In the best of all worlds we would all embrace it, enjoy it, and share our experiences sansguilt.

Yet, even when the most positive spin on masturbation is taken to heart, we have to confess that too much of such a good thing can also cause problems. Excessive masturbation can reinforce compulsive behaviors or become an isolating form of stimulation that keeps intimacy with others at arms’ length. Even healthy amounts of masturbation can turn into sticky problems when a particular method of enjoying ourselves is in opposition to the skills needed for successful partner sex. Yes, habits that seem perfectly fine when indulged alone can inadvertently subvert pleasure for two. Let’s take a look at why that happens and what can be done to about it.

Men and Masturbation

Masturbatia’s Next Top Model

There’s nothing unusual about men masturbating to fantasies of drop-dead gorgeous women. But relying exclusively on these fantasies for arousal and satisfaction can build a wall that separates men from the joys of real, loving partners. Disparities between one’s unattainable idea and actual partner can take many forms based on body type, age, sexual orientation, and the kind of sexual activity one prefers. Maybe you dream of a woman who is so submissive that she allows you to do things that would infuriate your partner. Or maybe your ideal is a robotic bullet-breasted dominatrix or doll-like cartoon figure. All is well until these figures set up shop in your mind and drive out images of the ordinary gal next door. Like a pair of sharp scissors, these fetish-models and hentai babes snip the psychological wires that keep associations between pleasure and real women vital. The only fix is to relinquish most of these fantasies and begin to embrace the beauty of real-life women. Fantasizing about average Jane may seem like a tall order, but the shift is necessary if having a successful relationship matters to you.

It Hurts So Good

Compulsive masturbation can lead to binges of such ferocious activity that some men actually injure themselves. However, even “ordinary” masturbation can be idiosyncratic, too. A man may develop an unusual style of self-stimulation early in his experimental years, eventually becoming accustomed to a degree of pressure, speed, duration, or forcefulness that can’t be replicated by oral or penis-vagina sex. Consequently, intra-vaginal orgasms are hard to come by, creating frustration and confusion between partners, and resulting in a condition referred to in medical texts as “delayed” or “retarded” ejaculation – sometimes just “RE.” While men find it initially difficult to switch from literally choking the chicken to stroking the chicken, with the right training a man can relearn basic responses, enjoy a greater range of sensations, and build satisfaction for both himself and his partner. Granted, plenty of dedication along with the assist of a sex coach or therapist is usually required.

His Toy Story

Let’s turn our attention to men and their machines. One cross-cultural study offers a dramatic example of what happens when technology becomes more appealing than people.

Studies from Japan indicate that the birth rate in that country is declining and the population is shrinking. This, according to some researchers, is a direct effect of male reliance on the variety of male masturbation toys currently available and utilized with porn as a replacement for sexual relations with their wives. The trend has led medical experts in Japan to coin a term for a new condition they call “vaginal ejaculation dysfunctional disorder.”

“There are physical reasons believed to be behind this, including prejudice against women, past trauma and overuse of masturbatory aids so that a vagina is unable to provide sufficient stimulation,” says Dr. Tsuneo Akaeda, the head of the Akaeda Clinic in Tokyo’s Roppongi entertainment district.

I can’t agree with Dr. Akaeda that sexism or prejudice against women are “physical reasons,” but I do concur that when prejudice, anger, and resentment toward women generate desire for emotional distance, masturbation becomes a preferred sexual outlet. To the extent that a man’s sexual responses are habituated to the sensations produced by a masturbation toy or by the absolute control that extreme fantasy affords, relations between partners will suffer. One can’t offer a “quick tip” to change a culturally ingrained pattern, but if a man wants to reignite his intimate relationship, sex therapy will teach the necessary steps.

Quick, Someone’s Coming!

If difficulty ejaculating – i.e. delayed ejaculation or RE – is related to craving extreme stimulation that partner sex doesn’t offer, then rapid (or premature) ejaculation is just the opposite. PE is related to hyper-sensitivity to even the slightest arousal or stimulation; a quick trigger that inhibits prolonged penetration. There are various physiological conditions or patterns that explain why “one minute men” have trouble controlling their ejaculations; one of these involves a man’s long-standing habit of hurried, goal-oriented masturbation.

Imagine that during your first years of masturbation activity you always rushed to finish before someone could pound on the locked bathroom door or stir in the bed across the room. Imagine, too, that as years pass these hasty sessions become your standard operating procedure. Soon it would seem that orgasm is the only point of sexual stimulation. An appreciation for the pleasures of deep sensuality would also fail to develop. This might not be an obvious problem to a man who is alone, but things could change drastically if he were to hook up with a woman who expects her partner to control his ejaculatory responses – as most women do. At that point he would be, in a word, screwed. Let’s face it, only the rare woman will say, “It’s ok…I don’t mind that you were gone in 60 seconds,” and actually mean it. Consequently, addressing PE in sex therapy is absolutely necessary to building a mutually fulfilling sexual partnership

Women and Masturbation

Rabbit Addict?

Habituation to stimulation by the ever-ready bunny or any other vibrating device leads many a woman and her partner to worry that she has become addicted to her vibe. The truth is that she’s not addicted, merely well trained. Bodily responses conditioned to a certain high intensity stimulation may have less affinity for gentle or generalized stroking. The vibrator not only gives a jolt to the clitoris in the right spot, but also sends its message to precisely the right nerve root. No human ministration can compete.

While the toy is a consistent companion, ordinary stimulation may have little effect. But the problem is only short-term. When a woman takes a few weeks’ break from her vibe, she is usually far more responsive to lighter caresses by tongue or touch.

Vibrator “training” doesn’t have to be a problem between partners. Sometimes vibrators are desirable or preferred adjuncts to lovemaking, especially because women and men’s orgasms are achieved via different pathways and activities. Still, the feeling that mechanical assistance is required can be an obstacle for some lovers, and if that’s the case, simply putting one’s mechanical companion in a drawer for a while allows time to introduce new options. Orgasms may not be achieved easily for the first few weeks, but eventually most women will adapt to lesser RPMs.

Rub a Dub-Dub

Just as men can develop unusual or idiosyncratic self-stim styles, women can, too. Lots of women learn about pleasure purely by accident, through rubbing against sheets and bedclothes, or pushing against a pillow or mattress while lying on their stomachs, or otherwise applying pressure to the pelvis in the course of rolling around in bed. The good news is that such women are often highly responsive to pelvic thrusting during lovemaking; they may seem to have “vaginal orgasms” when in fact they are having pressure-induced clitoral orgasms. The difficulties arise when the pattern of pressing or pulling that they developed can’t be reproduced during intercourse or foreplay. Just like men whose idiosyncratic style is difficult to incorporate during partner sex, these women would be wise to let a therapist help them develop new roads to pleasure. Remember that if we always have sex the same way, our body comes to demand that procedure time after time and resists responding when denied the expected action. To expand your repertoire, all that’s required is greater awareness, a willingness to embrace new training, and faith that there’s more than one route to ecstasy.