If you’re married, is it okay to masturbate?
We’re starting week 3 of our Sizzling Summer Sex Series, and this week we’ll be looking at how to treat our bodies well to naturally boost our libidos and our enjoyment of sex. But before we do that, I want to cap off our section on spicing things up in marriage with a question that pops up quite a bit: is it okay to masturbate when you’re married?
A reader writes:
My husband and I have both masturbated since out teens and it was something we brought into our marriage. After marriage we both use it at times when we are turned on, but the other person is not available for sex. It doesn’t replace sex in our relationship and we only think about each other when we are doing it. Christians seem to be pretty split on the issue. Some say it is wrong no matter what, and others say it is OK as long as both partners are aware of it and it is not taking away from the relationship. Our kids are also reaching an age where we want to start talking to them about sex and we want to discuss masturbation with them as well.
Masturbation has come up a lot in this series, especially when we were talking about how women often need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm.
Often that’s easier to achieve if you show him how you like to be touched, or move his hand. But then some husbands were balking because that seemed like masturbation.
So I’m glad this woman asked this question. I’ve talked about it before on the blog, but it’s been a few years, so let’s explore this again by going back to first principles.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with touching your own genitals
Seriously. Your body is your body, and you’re meant to know how it works and what feels good. Touching yourself, especially if it’s part of foreplay or so that you can teach your spouse something, is actually quite healthy. It’s being vulnerable and intimate, and it’s not like part of your body is “dirty” and therefore absolutely off limits for you, but not for your spouse. You’re allowed to know your body! And you’re allowed to feel good from your own touch especially when it’s part of your sexual relationship. Enjoying sex with each other is more than just intercourse.
That being said, individual masturbation to the point of climax can be a problem
This woman writes that both she and her husband masturbate at times when they’re apart from each other and can’t have sex, but they’re still thinking of each other. Personally, I’d put this in the category of “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23). I don’t think it’s a sin, but I do think that it can start to be a hindrance to a great sexual relationship.
First, I have known so many couples where sex starts to become nonexistent because they prefer masturbation to intercourse. When you masturbate, it feels more intense immediately, because you give yourself feedback on what feels good. And you can bring yourself to orgasm without all that hassle of having to make someone else feel good, too! Plus, some spouses are not that skilled at making you feel good, so masturbation can seem preferable.
Even if it doesn’t start off that way, it can become that.
Second, it does change the dynamic of sex. There’s something about unfulfilled sexual desire that makes you long for each other even more. When you want someone but you can’t have them, but you can text them and tell them what you’re feeling, or you can plan out elaborately what you’re going to do to them that night–well, that can heighten passion. If you deal with all of that tension yourself, you really do miss out on something together.
And finally, self-control is not a bad thing. To have to channel sexual energy into something else for a time when you can’t get fulfillment teaches you a lot about yourself, about God, and about growing your character. Is it really so bad to have to wait?
In this letter writer’s marriage, it seems that they have a great sex life, and masturbation really doesn’t hinder them coming together when they are together. But I don’t think that’s the norm. Too often masturbation can be used to short-circuit our quest for true intimacy, and I want to look at how that happens.
Sex was meant to be mutual
God made sex to reflect the longing that He feels to be united to us. So He put inside of us a longing to be united to our husbands, and He put inside our husbands a longing to be united to us. We want to feel that kind of intimacy, that kind of true “knowing”. We want to be joined.
Now sexual pleasure is all wrapped up in that, but our actual need is for intimacy. Sex that is only physical is shallow. And, perhaps ironically but not surprisingly, sex that feels the most intimate also brings the most physical pleasure. They’re all intertwined.
The problem with masturbation comes when it destroys the mutuality of sex
If sex is supposed to be mutual and intimate, does masturbation then hurt sex? Well, it certainly can.
1. He/she decides to masturbate.
2. He/she starts to see sex solely in physical terms, and not in terms of intimacy and connection. Thus, sex loses its deeper meaning, and, ironically, the ability to experience the height of sexual pleasure is also compromised, because for both men and women, physical pleasure is greater when spiritual/emotional intimacy is also part of sex.
3. He/she starts to focus on his/her own needs instead of the spouse’s needs. The spouse becomes incidental.
4. The urge for sexual release is taken care of, which means that he/she no longer has to reach out and meet the spouse’s needs. The impetus to become selfless is gone.
5. The couple starts to live parallel lives, but separate lives.
It’s a very dangerous road to go down.
But what if the chain of events doesn’t look quite like that? What if you’re the one whose spouse is refusing sex, and it looks more like this:
1. Your spouse refuses sex.
2. You start to feel desperate.
3. Your spouse gets upset with you bugging her for sex all the time.
4. You masturbate for release, so that you can at least stay civil towards her and try to be loving.
5. You feel dirty and disconnected.
6. The couple starts to live parallel but separate lives.
In this case, masturbation may look like a gift: I’m doing it so that I won’t have to bug her (or him) so much. But here’s the problem with that: what you’re really doing is allowing a sinful, bad situation to continue. It’s not right for a spouse to refuse sex. It really isn’t. I’ve written a whole bunch about that, but these may help:
- What does “do not deprive”, from 1 Corinthians 7, mean? (a three-part series; here’s the last one, but there are links to other two)
- What to do if your spouse withholds sex
- Are you a spouse or an enabler?
God gave us our sex drives so that we would be drawn to each other. That uncomfortable feeling of not having intimacy is so bad that it forces us to work on our issues and to improve the relationship.
What should be our response?
Whether your spouse is the one who is masturbating to avoid sex, or you masturbate because your spouse refuses sex, you must talk to your spouse about it. Ask if you have done anything to contribute to the problem. But then make a line in the sand and say, “it stops here”. We are going to work on this together. I will be sexually available, but you must also be sexually available to me. I want to work on how to make each other feel great. I want to work on our connection. I want to work on making sex into something explosive, not just a transaction or a release. I want us both to experience all levels of intimacy in marriage.
And if your spouse refuses to listen, then I’d talk to a mentor couple about it. If he’s the one masturbating, in essence he’s cheating on you, because he’s meeting his sexual needs with someone else (himself). He’s becoming sexually single, rather than married. And that’s just not right. And if your wife is the one masturbating, or refusing sex, you may very well need a third party to help you address this, too.
Your Sizzling Challenge!
If either you or your spouse masturbates in your marriage, take some time to think about the “why”.
Make sure this isn’t becoming an intimacy blocker in your marriage. And if it isn’t now, is it on the path to becoming one?
Once you’ve thought about it, talk to your spouse about it. How can you better meet each other’s needs? Ask each other, what would you like me to do when I’m sexually frustrated but away from you?