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Q: Is Masturbation considered cheating?

By Maya Khamala

If you’re anything like me, equating masturbation with cheating on one’s partner is simply craycray. But the fact of the matter is, for many couples, there is a tense question perched atop Masturbation Mountain: is masturbation considered cheating? Now, while the answer to this question will vary from couple to couple, and while you’re bound to experience less heartache, guilt, and sexual frustration if you and your partner agree on said answer, I’m going to go ahead and posit that the short answer to the question is a hard no. Of course, the long answer is that it all depends on how you define cheating in your relationship.

Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?

Reasons masturbation should not be considered cheating:

A relationship doesn’t constitute ownership.

Now believe me when I say that I’m on the jealous side, yet I’ve never given a second thought to my partner’s masturbation habits. If you’re in a committed monogamous relationship, that’s cool, but I’m willing to bet you never pledged ownership over one another’s bodies to the point where the other person couldn’t touch their own skin. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, your body is all yours.

Actual cheating involves another person.

Who cares about stating the obvious—let’s shoot for clarity, shall we? Masturbation and sex with another person are two very different things. Different how? Well, for starters, one requires a whole other person be present! We’re talking about scratching two very different types of itches, ‘nam sayin’? This means that regardless of the way someone masturbates, it’s highly distinguishable from cheating.

It’s not a comment on overall sexual satisfaction.

I mean, unless it is, but if that’s the vibe in your relationship, then masturbation is not the problem—your sex life is. The solution likely has to do with stronger communication, or else there may be overall compatibility problems. Either way, such a case would call for deeper digging rather than letting masturbation trigger the blame game. In a healthy relationship, masturbation does not indicate that your partner fails to satisfy you, or that you're losing interest. If you or your partner nonetheless find it offensive, low self-confidence may be the true culprit.

It can be integrated into your sex life.

The simple fact that masturbation can (and should) become a part of your sex life with your partner—because it can be hot AF— to me, signals that it ain’t cheating. If you ‘catch’ your partner masturbating without you—or they ‘catch’ you—why not turn it into a sexual game: with their consent, turn into a voyeur’s fantasy by watching them, and maybe touching yourself at the same time. If there’s porn involved, you might watch it together. There’s no telling what new sexual territory you may end up exploring as a couple.

It's a normal, healthy activity.

Much like other types of alone time (and goddess knows we all need alone time), masturbation is a totally natural inclination. Although few studies focus specifically on the benefits of masturbation, research suggests that sexual stimulation (including masturbation), can: reduce stress, release tension, improve sleep quality, increase concentration, elevate mood, relieve menstrual cramps, alleviate pain, and improve one's sex life—because time spent touching yourself and fantasizing sexually can actually make you a more in-tune lover!

Reasons masturbation might feel threatening:

You and your partner have agreed to only cum together.

If you’re in the kind of relationship where you and your partner agree that you should share all orgasms and that masturbation is a betrayal of this agreement, then, obviously, this would create a problem. But in a relationship situation as restrictive as this, it seems likely that one or both partners would end up masturbating in secret, which is arguably a sign that the agreement needs further, um, probing and possible rethinking.

It’s secretive.

I have masturbated without telling my partner, but usually I mention it because I know it turns him on. That said, if asked about it, I would never lie and insist I hadn’t masturbated when I had. Nor would he. In this way, we maintain an honest relationship where there is still room to explore privately if that’s what the goddess ordered. If, however, you or your partner is hiding and/or lying about their masturbation habits, the hiding and lying part might be a cause for concern (or at least deeper discussion).

Porn is actually at the heart of the threat.

Maybe the real issue is that you or your partner watch porn to masturbate. Clear communication is 100% required on this one, as there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to porn and one’s personal feelings or preferences. If you feel betrayed, then say that. The reality is, people have a rainbow of different feelings about porn. Maybe you’re cool with certain kinds, but not the kind that degrades women. Talk about it. Or maybe you’re into watching porn together, but not apart. Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. But really, while one or both partners may take issue with the other partner masturbating and/or watching porn, equating it with cheating is off base.

Your sex life/relationship is less than optimal.

While masturbation is no competition for sex in a healthy relationship, if you or your partner has been unable to enjoy partner sex, it’s understandable that masturbation can start to feel like the preferred option, particularly if the partner doing the masturbating is using it as a substitute for communication. Your sex life could be suffering for any number of physical or emotional reasons, and, as with most things, communication is key, baby. And so is honesty with yourself.

Bottom line: Masturbation is not cheating, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

That said, if your relationship is suffering from a dearth of communication, an abundance of insecurity, a lack of honesty—or all of the above—that is quite another matter. I, however, have faith that you are fully equipped to unravel the mysteries of your relationship—masturbatory or otherwise. You got this. <3

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