Mutual masturbation is underrated. Remember a decade ago when pegging was ‘weird’, according to normative sex advice? It’s the same with mutual masturbation today. Inevitably, people will once again get over their shame and realize that mutual masturbation is amazing.
Don’t believe me? Let’s get into it.
First, mutual masturbation is a great way to practice safer sex!
Navigating safer sex presents a challenge for many, especially newly non-monogamous couples, folks who are casually dating, or deliberately single. Issues around fluid bonding, types of barriers, testing schedules, and STI disclosure can quickly reveal a lack of adequate knowledge, overblown fear of transmission, and often spirals into disagreements between couples. I’m based in the US, and it’s no secret that our incompetent sex education programs leave adults unprepared and nervous to have necessary safer sex conversations.
While monogamy can offer a shield for many couples to dodge addressing their lack of understanding around STIs, any sexual form of non-monogamy requires couples to directly tackle these conversations. I regularly talk to couples who are stalling on practicing polyamory because they don’t know how to create agreements around safer sex. Most have never considered mutual masturbation – but they should!
By definition, mutual masturbation does not exchange fluids; you only touch your own genitals. This provides a super-easy way to share intimacy with pals without needing to know when they last exchanged fluids with others. It’s also a fantastic activity to try when you, or new pals, are waiting five weeks to be tested! A month can feel like a long time to wait out incubation periods, but it shouldn’t mean you can’t have sex – you just need to expand your definition of sex to include other forms of intimacy. As long as you keep your fluids to yourself, you’re entirely responsible for your own safe sex measures and your pals are responsible for theirs. Keep in mind, mutual masturbation isn’t a solution to the inability to navigate safer sex conversations (that’s a post for another time), However, it does resolve many disagreements that ethically non-monogamous couples frequently encounter.
Now I get a lot of resistance from people when I suggest they try mutual masturbation. The top complaints of people who’ve never tried are: 1. Masturbation is not real sex; 2. I’m too shy; 3. I want to touch my partner. I have some counterarguments.
1. Masturbation isn’t real sex
I’ve got news for you: that’s some outdated heteronormative nonsense. We need to move past the idea that only penis-in-vagina counts as ‘real’ sex. Any intimate act that you consensually engage in to bring pleasure to you and your pals can count as sex, including mutual masturbation. Masturbation is a fantastic way to explore your desires and a great way to share intimacy with your partners. Not only can it help your partners see how you enjoy being touched but it can also increase the chances of orgasms, especially for cishet women who have the lowest rates of orgasm during partnered sex! When you touch yourself, you receive your body’s feedback, meaning you can adjust. When pals touch you, they don’t know what it feels like for you, so they need your feedback and guidance. Since many people don’t speak up during sex, they don’t get exactly what they desire. Mutual masturbation is not only hot, but it can help pals replicate techniques you enjoy.
2. I’m too shy
But you’re not too shy to have sex with the person…? Okay, I don’t want to be dismissive, as shame is a real obstacle for many. There are usually a couple of socially conditioned factors at play. First, is the taboo of masturbation. Many folks, especially those with religious upbringings, have internalized shame around masturbation. Even as adults, they only engage in self-pleasure in secret. So the idea of masturbating in front of someone else can feel too vulnerable or uncomfortable. If that’s the case, I recommend starting slow by either touching your body in intimate (but non-sexual) ways until you feel more comfortable. Alternatively, start touching yourself during regularly scripted sex. I advise established couples to add new sex acts to their existing scripts, rather than tossing everything that’s familiar. Blankets, clothes, or covers can also be helpful tools to develop a sense of comfort; you don’t need to sprawl out fully naked for your pal the first time you attempt masturbating together.
The second block is our rigidly held heteronormative sex script. As I mentioned above, a lot of people don’t believe masturbation is real sex, because it doesn’t follow the standard sex script. Think of mutual masturbation as an alternative to scripted sex that’s meant to allow you and your pal to greedily focus on your own pleasure, but together! If you’re someone who doesn’t typically enjoy masturbation, you can also use this as a way to try new techniques.
The last obstacle is the performative role of women in partnered sex. This one is a little harder to break down because it requires us to look at the ugly ways socialized gender roles have inhibited women from authentically experiencing pleasure. Since standard heteronormative sex scripts cast women as passive receivers, their participation is often performative. Rather than being fully present in their desires, women are often accessories to men’s orgasms – this describes the orgasm gap, in case you’re not familiar. Mutual masturbation, while intimate for both (or more) people, requires folks to focus on their authentic pleasure. If you’re used to only centering your partner’s desires, rarely vocalizing or prioritizing your needs, it can feel daunting to let down the performative veil. Often mutual masturbation can reveal that genuine pleasure differs from your scripted sex. If this is the case, take this discovery as an opportunity to reassess your typical sex script with your pals. You don’t have to settle for mediocre one-sided performative sex. What brings you actual pleasure?
3. I want to touch my partner
Part of the fun of partnered sex is obviously physical touch. Remember, as long as you’re not swapping fluids (by that I mean staying away from mouths and genitals), you can still touch each other and be practicing safer sex. A lot of ethically non-monogamous people get hung up on the sexual details of their pals and metamours, both from a safer-sex and from a jealousy/control perspective. I find that mutual masturbation is a good way to honor safer sex agreements, keep everyone in the polycule happy, and still make space to share some really hot intimacy.
I dissuade folks from seeing their safer sex practices as black and white, this usually leads to unsafe decisions down the road. Let me give you a common example: someone starts dating a new pal, and their existing partner insists the new person get tested before they have sex. The new couple agrees they won’t have sex at all for the five-week incubation period before the new pal gets tested. Here’s where the all-or-nothing mentality becomes an issue; at some point, they realize five weeks is a really long time to wait since they’re experiencing strong new relationship energy, so they rationalize that it’s probably alright to have sex anyway. (I need to pause to remind you that self-assessment of previous transmission risk is not an adequate substitute for STI testing.) Regardless, some couples don’t end up getting tested at all, because what’s the point when they’ve already had sex? Their words, not mine! The existing partner gets upset when they find out their hinge has broken the no-sex-until-after-testing agreement, the hinge gets defensive, and suddenly everyone is in conflict. A safer alternative that upholds everyone’s safer sex boundaries is to engage in mutual masturbation instead.
STI outbreaks or flareups are another useful time to practice mutual masturbation. For example, HSV (herpes simplex virus) is a super common infection and, depending on your symptoms, you can still have sex but barriers often don’t work. HSV transmission comes from skin contact and condoms or dams don’t always provide adequate coverage. Mutual masturbation is better than not having sex at all! You can prefer partnered sex over mutual masturbation, but there are certain circumstances where alternative forms of intimacy are necessary. Again, mutual masturbation is a responsible way to honor everyone’s health and to still fulfill intimacy needs.
What’s considered ‘normal’ sex evolves over time. Cunnilingus, anal, BDSM – these all used to all be considered abnormal practices. Over time, people explored new forms of pleasure and slowly busted shame around practices. While mutual masturbation is still seen as bizarre by many, those who do engage in this type of sex tend to really enjoy the connective experience. Over time, feelings towards mutual masturbation will change – it’s my secret belief that an attitudinal shift might start within the ethically non-monogamous community because this practice helps resolve a lot of complicated safer-sex negotiations. But regardless of your relationship structure, pleasure is good for all. So this Masturbation May, I encourage all of you to give it a go!