Sex Ed

In an LTR, What (if Anything) Does it Mean if Your Partner Masturbates?

April 28, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

In a long-term relationship, what does it mean when one or both partners masturbate on their own? A lot of people would be tempted to conclude that it’s a sign that things are going poorly in the relationship–in other words, when people aren’t getting the amount or type of sex that they desire, they turn to masturbation as a substitute. However, some researchers have argued that, rather than being a substitute for a lack of sex, masturbation tends to complement to an already active sex life. Basically, they claim that regular sex amps up your overall level of arousal and makes you want to touch yourself more often.

So which one is it? Is masturbation a substitute or a complement?

In my latest article over at VICE’s new health channel, TONIC, I review the results of a new study that sheds some light on this fascinating question. The results indicate that we’re not dealing with a simple either/or answer here; instead, it seems that there’s a complicated relationship between the amount of sex we’re having and our odds of masturbating. In short, what the research suggests is that for people with high levels of sexual desire who aren’t getting their sexual needs met, masturbation may emerge as a substitute. By contrast, for persons with lower levels of desire who are meeting their needs, masturbation is more likely to take on a complementary role. In other words, masturbation can be a sign of both sexual satisfaction and dissatisfaction, depending upon the specific context.

Of course, there are also some people for whom masturbation isn’t necessarily a sign of anything positive or negative. For instance, among persons with high levels of sexual desire who are happy with the amount of sex they’re having, they’re equally likely to masturbate regardless of how often they’re actually having sex, presumably because they just have more interest in this activity to begin with.

Check out the full article in TONIC to learn more about the study. While you’re over at TONIC, check out some of my other recent articles on sex and health here.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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