Is It OK To Masturbate Without Porn?

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As you know, every week I work with couples in distress about pornography.

Most heterosexual women who want their mate to stop watching porn have predictable reasons: it’s infidelity; it kills your desire for me; it gives you sexual autonomy; it gives you expectations of what’s normal that I don’t share; and making porn is bad for the actresses.

Since almost everyone who watches porn does it while masturbating, what most wives and sweethearts mean by “no porn” is “no masturbating, either.” A surprising number of men acquiesce to this, whether from guilt, shame, or fear; a few occasionally agree that it’s a good idea. Some men really do change their lives and stop masturbating. Some try, and don’t last a week. Sooner or later, most men who stop masturbating resume, although they rarely tell their partners they want to change the agreement.

That said, every few months I see a couple where the wife or girlfriend says “If you do it without porn, you can masturbate.”

What benefits does a woman expect from this arrangement? Logical or not, conscious or not, it’s usually one or more of these:

  • She feels a greater sense of control in life
  • She feels triumphant over her actress-competitors
  • She no longer has to fear a prime source of sexually diverse (“perverse”?) ideas
  • She imagines her guy’s desire for her will increase
  • She has less fear of his infidelity with a real woman

I understand the impulses that drive the desire to feel more control, less competitive, more desired, and so on. But struggling with these issues by regulating one partner’s porn use is not a very effective way to do so.

When a man in individual therapy tells me that his angry sweetheart has mandated he masturbate without porn, I assume that he’ll just think about porn (or neighbor, ex-girlfriend, movie/music star) while he masturbates instead of watching it.

Of course he will. It’s what humans have been doing since the beginning of time. The internet didn’t invent masturbation, and internet porn didn’t invent fantasizing.

So when I follow up by asking what the new arrangement accomplishes, the answer is usually “Well, she feels better.” True, the wife or girlfriend may be less angry (although her frustration may reappear when eliminating porn doesn’t change anything).

I almost never hear a guy say, “Now I realize how porn was undermining my life, sex life, marriage, etc.” I never hear a guy say that because he gave up porn “I desire sex with my partner more,” or “We’ve resolved our conflicts about which sexual activities are off the table.”

Those are reasonable things to want. If you want them, some serious therapy is a better investment than eliminating porn from his life.

For years, I’ve been saying that conflict about pornography is usually about something else. One thing it’s typically about is the decline (or collapse) of a couple’s sex life. Many, many couples struggle with this and just can’t find the emotional strength to bring it up, or discuss it to a satisfying conclusion.

Do you want to bring your mate closer to you sexually? Regardless of your sexual orientation or identity, here are some suggestions:

  • Periodically tell your partner you find them attractive—and in what ways.
  • Touch your partner casually—shoulder, hair, hand—at least once on most days.
  • Recall and share an enjoyable sexual encounter you two had—preferably in the last couple of years.
  • Tell your partner how you feel after enjoyable sex with them—close, alive, graceful, feminine, etc.
  • Suggest a specific time to get together, and a specific non-genital activity. For most people kissing is a highly intimate activity, so you may want to start with cuddling, holding, naked rubbing, or undressing each other. When you feel “OK, now we’ve done that,” do it more.

And a couple of don’ts:

  • Don’t criticize the sex you have, or whine about the low frequency. Instead, talk about the kind of sex you’d like to have (e.g., “When we take plenty of time,” or “Orgasm isn’t the goal,” or “We talk to each other while we’re doing things”).
  • Don’t tell your partner to stop watching porn or to stop masturbating.

If you’re concerned that your partner is too involved with porn, share your concerns, the same way you’d share your concern that he’s not going to the gym very much, or seems to be smoking a lot of pot lately. “Let’s investigate this together” is a more effective approach than “Let me tell you what you’re doing wrong.” “I’m concerned about you” is good, but if he says “Thanks, but no thanks,” that doesn’t leave you many options.

Maybe your partner is too involved with porn. If so, he’s fortunate if you want to examine this with him. Talking as partners rather than as adversaries or a parent-child critique is the only way that will be effective.

If he’s not interested, well, is this really the worst thing he’s doing? And is insisting that he cut back or stop this one poor behavior the best way you can contribute to him or the relationship?

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