Dear Patrick: My boyfriend found out that I masturbate with a vibrating dildo. It has an extension that comes out of the side to use on your clit. (This toy fell out of the sheets when he was helping me change my bed.) He got pretty upset. I think his comment was, “Wow, that’s a lot bigger than anything I’ve got.” We had a little fight but then we made up, fell onto the bed, fucked like crazy, and I thought he was over it.
But on our next date, he told me that he was worried and wanted me to promise I would stop using dildos. He told me that he believes they can cause internal vaginal bruising and maybe even cancer. I don’t know where he got this misinformation. This is not a guy who says things like “cervical dysplasia” off the top of his head. So I’m not sure if he found this myth on-line or if a buddy of his fed him a line of crap or what.
I bought my vibrator at a store that’s owned by women. I feel like if it was dangerous, they wouldn’t sell this toy to other women. I trust their merchandise. And I don’t want to change the way I masturbate—or quit completely, which I think is what he really wants me to do. I know he has skin magazines in his bathroom. And that probably doesn’t hold a candle to what he’s got on his laptop! Double standards piss me off!
Despite my desire to be assertive and keep the vibrator, I haven’t masturbated for a while. Maybe he succeeded in making me feel guilty or self-conscious. Do you have any sources I can quote to him to prove he is wrong?
Under American federal law, sex toys are not regulated. (From time to time, a few states and municipalities have attempted to ban their sale.) They are considered novelty items, which means they are supposedly sold for entertainment purposes only. Since they are not a medical device, their safety or lack thereof is completely a case of “buyer beware.” Very little, if any, research has been done on the relative safety of different sorts of sex toys.
Consumer-driven sex shops and artisans who craft small batches of toys are actually the consumer’s best friend because they do go out of their way to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to looking out for the health of their customers. The factories that churn out a million dildos a minute are only driven by profit motive. If one type of plastic is half a penny less per ton than another, they will use the cheaper stuff even if there’s legitimate concern that it might be a carcinogen. For example, do an internet search on poly-vinyl chlorides (PVC). Feminist sex shops started rejecting personal lubricants that contained nonoxynol-9 long before the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control raised question marks about its use as an HIV preventative in sex lube and on condoms.
One piece of “research” that can probably be trusted is several million years of sexual behavior on the part of higher primates, including homo sapiens. Women have been masturbating (employing external, internal, or both techniques) for a very long time. So far, the only negative outcome has been minor soreness and the occasional male nose that was put out of joint. I’m sure that if you used a toy that was way too big or too abrasive, or if you were using lube that contained noxious substances, you could probably bruise your tender parts or give yourself a vaginal infection—maybe even a dubious Pap smear. But as long as the device feels good and slides easily into place, I don’t think you have to worry about masturbation being bad for your health.
In fact, the opposite may very well be true. Getting off is an excellent form of stress relief. NOT being able to come is likely to cause more wear and tear on your body and mind. Depression, anxiety, and considerable resentment can result when an outside force comes between a woman and her vibrator. Lack of pleasure can also make it difficult to get relief from the occasional headache, case of the blues, aching muscles, or an episode of menstrual cramps. How does that make anybody’s life easier or more healthy?
We’ve gotten far enough away from the Victorian era to understand that self-stimulation is a normal part of human sexuality. But it amazes me how many people still think that if you are in a relationship, and if the sex in that relationship is good, you don’t masturbate. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. You wouldn’t quit combing your hair just because you have a lover who tenderly runs their fingers through your tresses. Partnered sex is a different sort of pleasure. But the fact that it requires one to take another person’s needs into account can make it the wrong choice for certain kinds of relief. Acupuncture might work just as well as a couple of OTC Ibuprofen. But if you wake up with back pain, you swallow the capsules; you don’t call your acupuncturist in the middle of the night. Masturbation is a quick and easy solution to an itch that needs a quick and easy scratch.
My observation is that a good sex life with a willing partner can actually lead to an increase in masturbation. A hot partner can boost your libido so much that you stay in touch with sexual energy; it’s closer to the surface that it is when you are single and repressing your needs. Thinking about what the two of you did last night or fantasizing about what the next date might be like can be the shortest line between your hand and your naughty bits.
Some men will abstain from masturbation for fear that this will decrease their interest in or ability to satisfy a partner. This may or may not be true, depending on how rapidly any man is able to get an erection after enjoying a climax. Most men are certainly able to come more than once within a 24-hour period, for example. There is evidence that having frequent orgasms actually boosts a man’s capacity to enjoy frequent erections. Most women do not experience the same limitations on orgasmic capacity. On a physiological level, most women are able to keep on having orgasms as long as they receive effective stimulation. If a woman stops having orgasms, it may be because she is tired (or is afraid her partner might be tired). But this is a matter of personal preference, which is not the same thing as the typical penis’s inability to become erect immediately after ejaculation.
What I’m trying to get at here is that you might be able to build a case for a ban on masturbation for your boyfriend, on the grounds that it could make him less available to pleasure you. But when it comes to your sexual capacity, the same argument cannot be made. You, of course, are too sensible and kind to demand that he keep his hands off himself if you are not around.
Most relationships could use a healthy dollop of privacy. If it upsets you to imagine that your partner masturbates, don’t think about it. Put the whole topic in the same big box of blur that you put a dinner guest who has stepped into the bathroom. You don’t want to know what is going on in there, and it’s none of your business anyway. Other things that belong in this cognitive vacuum might include the number of lovers you had before you met your current bedmate; your first orgasm with another person; your most intense orgasm with another person; whether you find any of their friends attractive; and how long you will wait to find a new lover if the current one becomes permanently unavailable.
Since this topic is already out of the closet in your current relationship, you may be unable to avoid a frank discussion in which you tell your boyfriend that you are not going to stop masturbating just because he seems to feel uneasy about it. Reassure him that you enjoy making love with him; pile on the praise for his equipment and the way he uses it; but don’t make any false promises. If he keeps on harassing you, tell him the subject is closed. And if he can’t accept that, he may find that your bedroom door is also closed. Along with your thighs, your arms, and your cell phone.