Wanking while you’re in a relationship: do you do it? Probably. Do you talk about it? Maybe not. There’s an unusual squeamishness about discussing masturbation when you’re going out with someone, most likely based on a hefty dollop of sex shame combined with a misconception about the purpose of wanking itself. Although there are lots of reasons to masturbate, some people still see it as an outlet for sexual frustration. The theory goes that wanking is a substitute for a partner, so if you have a partner there’s no longer any ‘need’ to do it. These people often – though not always – make their partner feel guilty for wanking. In turn, people like me make them feel guilty for doing that, and the cycle of guilt continues until we all have a really big fight.
I wank, on average, twice a day. I actually have a pretty set routine, because I work from home. One quick wank before my mid-morning coffee, then a bit more work, lunch, and another wank before the afternoon caffeine hit. I wouldn’t recommend combining the two – hot coffee will play hell with your genitals.
I’m not sure how often my other half masturbates, but I’d hazard a guess that he’s roughly the same as me, although he has a proper job in an office, so he has to cram in more nighttime wanks, or weekend wanks, in order to match my 2-a-day average.
Does it mean that either (or both) of us are sexually frustrated, or not getting all our needs met? Fuck no. In fact, wanking is the perfect way to make sure we can get our needs met, without always having to rely on someone else to be in the right mood (and the right place) all the time.
Wanking means wanking
Without wanting to sound like Theresa May trying to tell us that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, I’m afraid that tautology might be genuinely useful when it comes to wanking. There are lots of different reasons to masturbate that don’t require some waffling pop-psychology or underlying relationship crisis: boredom, stress relief, curiosity, a way to get to sleep when it’s 2am and all you can think about is what you have to do tomorrow. So if your partner is wanking – whether they tell you about it or not – there’s likely to be a variety of reasons, depending on their mood at the time.
Regardless of reasons, everyone has the right to engage in the odd pleasant, private wank.
But if you don’t know this yet, that doesn’t make you a bad person.
This post was prompted by a couple of things: firstly someone on Twitter asked me to cover it, and very occasionally I do actually take requests. Secondly, someone linked to one of my old blog posts from this Reddit thread, in which a woman walked in on her partner having a wank and nearly melted with lust on the spot. Her intense arousal was exactly what I would have felt too – I’ve been known to have to run off to my bedroom for a lie-down of my own on the few occasions I’ve caught my other half knocking one out.
But the word ‘caught’ here is deeply misleading. ‘Caught’ implies guilt, which implies there’s been wrongdoing. Like me walking in on my partner is the equivalent of a SWAT team storming a drug den. As if I’m going to haul him before a judge, force him to make excuses for having a surreptitious shuffle, and maybe lightly mock him with puns about being caught ‘red-handed.’ But it isn’t like that, and it shouldn’t be. No matter how proud I was of that ‘red-handed’ line, I actually have to be pretty damn careful when I’m talking to my partner about wanking. Not because he should feel guilty, but because he shouldn’t.
Gendered masturbation stigma
My partner knows I don’t think like this, of course, but it takes time to get rid of this baggage. Nowadays he’s more confident about having a wank in front of me – porn, lube, noise-cancelling headphones and all. And I’m a horny sex blogger, so I can combat some of the stigma he used to feel about wanking by sitting in quiet yet enthusiastic awe in the corner of the room while I watch him beat one out. Yet many people are still nervous about being open with their partner about wanking.
Not just men – there are women who struggle with masturbation in relationships too, whether it’s hiding the fact that they wank, because they’ve been repeatedly told that women don’t tend to do it, or even worried that their partner will get envious of their wanking. Some people have more orgasms when they’re alone than they do during partnered sex. This is a thing which happens – it’s neither uncommon nor the end of the world.
The long and the short of it is that there are plenty of people who are worried about wanking, and for many their primary fear is about how their partner will react. But what do you say to someone who’d react badly in this situation?
Part of me wants to class wanking as a simple bodily function. A natural thing that most of us do. And when you class it like this, shaming your partner for it seems desperately childish.
When I was younger, I used to read magazines like Bliss and Just Seventeen. In the problem pages there were often questions from nervous young girls about doing gross stuff in front of their boyfriend. I remember one in particular that asked:
“I’m 16 years’ old and the other day my boyfriend kissed the tip of my nose. One of the spots I had on my nose popped in his mouth. Do you think he’ll dump me?”
To which I suspect the agony aunt replied with something along the lines of ‘a good man won’t dump you for having spots,’ but for which I suspect the real answer was ‘probably – he’s 16, and people are twats at the age of 16’ but that’s not the point. This story spawned many conversations between me and my 16-year-old friends about the grossest thing you could do before a boy would absolutely, definitely dump you. Weeing yourself in public, vomiting on his Mum’s best rug, maybe shitting yourself in the middle of a party, that kind of thing.
Obviously now that I’m 32, all of these markers have been met and crossed – either by me personally, or by people I love. And these things are proportionately shocking – embarrassing lapses of judgment or the result of serious illness – far beyond the simple pleasure of having a cheeky wank at lunchtime. It’s not a direct comparison between shitting oneself and wanking, but it strikes me that often the stigma around masturbation – and specifically ‘catching’ one’s partner doing it – is partly down to a squeamishness that wouldn’t be out of place on one of these problem pages. An assumption that wanking is a grotesque, embarrassing thing that no one should ever know about – akin to squeezing a zit in the mirror or letting out a massive fart. In this way, those who’d be disgusted by a partner’s masturbation end up looking like the 16-year-old who’d dump his girlfriend for having an inappropriately squishy pimple.
On top of that, there’s a toddler-level of selfishness in demanding that every ounce of someone’s sexual energy is focused on you and you alone. In interpreting a wank as a violation of some mythical ‘right’ that you have over all your other half’s arousal, just because they happen to be married/going out with/shagging you too.
Making better arguments
The above section is what I would have said five years ago. In fact, I wrote a pretty angry blog post back when I started blogging, ripping apart people who get angry when they ‘catch’ their partner and think that watching porn counts as ‘cheating.’
Now, though, my answer would be different. Oh I’ll still tell you that watching porn isn’t cheating, and that wanking is perfectly healthy whether you’re in a relationship or not. But one of the things I’ve learned over the last five years of blogging is that things are always more complicated than I initially thought. Yes, it’s shitty to shame your partner for wanking. No, wanking while you’re in a relationship shouldn’t be something you have to hide. But are those who hate it necessarily childish/selfish/bad people? Nope. The boring answer – which comes with fewer jokes and snarky asides – is that they’re probably struggling with a lot of stuff themselves. Their reactions, while childish-seeming to a wanker like me, are actually perfectly rational if you accept the principles they’re working on.
They don’t want to cause their partner misery; they’re reacting to the fact that their partner is causing them misery. They don’t want to stop their partner doing something healthy, they genuinely don’t realise it is healthy. The problem isn’t caused by wanking itself, but by the false belief that wanking is harmful or bad for your relationship.
When the guy on Twitter initially asked me about wanking in a relationship, my immediate instinct was to respond with a one-liner (“Of course I do it – it’s fine, what’s the problem?”), but that – like so many of the other shit I write – assumes that everyone’s had the same info I have. What seems plain to me isn’t going to be plain to someone who’s grown up in a different environment, being taught different things about sex, and what counts as a ‘healthy’ thing to do.
We don’t disagree on the principles (be nice to your partner, make them feel wanted, and so on), we simply disagree on the facts (wanking is good/bad/a betrayal/a healthy way to spend an afternoon/etc). They’re still obviously wrong, of course. But in this context even if I’m right, I’m nasty. And hypocritical. I’ve accepted that there’s a lot of sex shame, and that the sex shame is bad and has a huge impact on the way people I love behave – my partner taking time to get used to wanking in front of me, for instance – but I often don’t recognise when other people have internalised that shame. I’m too focused on the ‘right’ answer that I don’t take time to bring people along on the journey. Not just ‘you should believe this’ but ‘here’s why I believe this.’
I still believe that wanking in a relationship is essentially a good thing, and I know I always will. But given the opportunity to revisit the question, I wanted to tackle it again, hopefully a little bit better this time. With more understanding, a touch more compassion, and fewer occasions where I call my opponent a dick.