What It Means When Married Men (And Women) Still Need To Masturbate

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Why Married Men (And Women) STILL Feel The Need To Masturbate

Married people do masturbate — let’s just get that out of the way at the front.

The idea that marriage fulfills all sexual needs and that married people should, therefore, have no need to masturbate has been pretty thoroughly destroyed by modern society.

Married people do end up having more sex than single people on average, and numerous studies do show that being single or newly divorced often predicts an increase in both porn-watching and masturbation (mostly in men). But ... being married isn’t a “cure” for masturbation.

Historically, masturbation by married people has been seen as something that takes away from a marriage or a committed relationship.

And it is still often viewed as an indication that something is wrong in the relationship, especially when it involves fantasies about people other than one's current partner.

If a married man needs to masturbate, urban legend would have it, either the wife must not be giving her husband what he “needs” or the husband’s desires must be out of proportion for what is reasonable to expect of his wife.

In reality, people masturbate for a variety of reasons, including to fulfill their desire for sexual pleasure, as a means of relieving stress, and as a way to experience private, self-focused sensations without the distraction of a partner.

And when people masturbate within the context of an intimate relationship, it can be valuable to understand the motivations behind their choice to practice such self-pleasure.

Two main theories have been promoted about the relationship between masturbation and partnered sex.

  • The Complementarity Theory: This theory proposes that people masturbate within a relationship in order to enhance their partnered sex so that masturbation might increase and improve their partnered sex.
  • The Compensatory Model: This model suggests that people in relationships masturbate as a means to make up for sexual desires that go unmet (whether in quantity, quality or type) within their relationship.

Alternatively, it's also been suggested that masturbation and partnered sex are two separate, perhaps even parallel behaviors that each meet different needs.

And, because men and women appear to approach the issue of masturbation within marriage differently, it has been suggested that men use masturbation in compensatory ways whereas women use it in complementary ways.

But, as with many things, reality turns out to be far more nuanced than these theories suggest.

A recent study by Regnerus, Price and Gordon examined this issue explored this issue among a large, nonclinical sample of Americans — 7648 men and 8090 women selected at random, though controlled for traits, such as age and gender, which correlate with masturbatory frequency.

It's important to note that this was the first time the question of whether sexual satisfied within a relationship relates to the frequency with which people masturbate. Though this seems pretty intuitive, this variable had not been considered in the past.

Overall results indicate that the frequency of recent sex within a relationship has little connection to either partner's frequency of masturbation, but when the variable of sexual contentment was added to the mix, strong relationships started to show up in the results.

Here are 7 of the major findings about the reasons married men and women masturbate:

1. Overall, people who feel sexually content within their relationship masturbate less often.

Notably, people who reported being sexually content within their relationship were thirty percent less likely to report masturbating in the last two weeks. In a probability sample of this size, a thirty percent difference like this is indicative of a large effect.

2. Women who are satisfied with the amount of sex in their relationship are MORE likely to masturbate.

Gender differences emerged in the results as well, showing that women who were more sexually content with the amount of sex in their relationship were actually more likely to report masturbation.

Women who were sexually content but hadn't had sex in the last two weeks disclosed masturbation at rates of 21 percent, while 33 percent of women who were sexually content and had sex four or more times in the past two weeks reported recent masturbation.

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3. Men who are sexually dissatisfied masturbate the most frequently of anyone.

In men, these relationships were even stronger.

Men who were sexually discontented reported the highest rates of masturbation and showed the strongest relationship between the frequency of partnered sex and masturbation. Sexually discontented men who hadn't had sex recently reported high rates of masturbation (79 percent) compared to men who'd had sex four or more times over the past two weeks (60 percent).

Sexual discontentment was less predictive of masturbation in women than was sexual frequency. Women who were sexually unsatisfied but had sex often were more likely to masturbate than unsatisfied women who weren’t having much sex.

Interestingly, sexually contented men who'd had sex once in the last two weeks were more likely to report masturbation, whereas sexually contented men who hadn't had sex were much less likely to have masturbated.

4. In general, women approach masturbation as a complimentary practice and men approach masturbation as a compensatory practice.

The results of this study suggest that the different theories mentioned above (complimentary theory and compensatory theory) can be applied accurately to the role masturbation serves men and women within the context a marriage.

Sexually satisfied women’s masturbation fits a complementary model, meaning that they use masturbation to enhance their partnered sex, essentially “priming the pump.”

For men, the compensatory model generally fits, but only for sexually dissatisfied and discontent men. If a man is unhappy with the frequency of sex in his relationship, he’s likely to masturbate more frequently when he has less frequent sex, although if he is sexually content with the frequency of sex, he is unlikely to masturbate more often when he has less sex.

Interestingly, sexually discontented women masturbate about as frequently as sexually contented men.

5. In general, more men feel dissatisfied with both the frequency and quality of sex in their relationship than do women.

An important result emerged — 57 percent of women in this sample reported feeling sexually content, compared to only 42 percent of men. This means there are a lot more men than women out there who feel unsatisfied and masturbate in order to meet their needs.

For 64 percent of men and 35 percent of women, feeling dissatisfied with sex in the relationship predicts more frequent masturbation, and because masturbatory frequency is often used as an indicator of libido and sexual desire, the recorded levels of dissatisfaction and masturbation frequency likely indicates many couples have mismatched libido, with one partner wanting sex more frequently than the other.

That said, masturbation was more strongly tied to sexual discontentment than to sexual frequency, so the mental state of being sexually dissatisfied isn't likely to change by simply increasing sexual frequency.

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6. When people masturbate to compensate for their unmet needs, these needs involve more than just the frequency of their orgasms.

Sexual satisfaction isn't about the number of orgasms someone has, but more about the mental state and qualitative factors involved with having partnered sex.

7. People who are content with having little to no sex masturbate very infrequently.

This one is really self-explanatory.

This research is also critically important in helping us understand the nuanced relationship between porn use and marriage.

Men who watch porn in secret often experience negative relationship outcomes, such as a breakup or divorce. But why are these men watching porn in secret?

Because they feel sexually dissatisfied and can’t talk about it or negotiate it within their marriage and masturbate to porn in order to compensate.

For men, around 95 percent of porn viewing involves masturbation, so, we must consider the question of sexual contentment when we examine the effects of porn on their relationships.

Based on the findings in this study, however, it's likely that women who watch porn are more actually more sexually content than others and watch it in a complementary manner.

These feelings of sexual contentment and satisfaction are important to examine, and the frequency of porn viewing and/or masturbation appear to be solid indicators of sexual satisfaction.

This leads me to believe that therapists can best help couples who are struggling with issues related to masturbation and porn by assisting them to discuss their sexual needs, negotiate around sexual frequency, and develop win-win approaches to sex.

David J. Ley, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on issues related to sexuality and mental health who has been published in the Los Angeles Times and Playboy and has appeared on television with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Phil, among others. His second book, "The Myth of Sex Addiction," challenged the concept of sexual addiction and triggered a firestorm of debate, allowing people to finally challenge the media hype behind this pseudo-disorder. His latest book, "Ethical Porn For Dicks: A Man's Guide To Responsible Viewing Pleasure," offers men a non-judgmental way to discover how to view and use pornography responsibly.

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This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.