Woe Is Me! “I Don’t Like That My Boyfriend Masturbates to Other Women. Am I Being Unreasonable?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I am in my early 20s, and my boyfriend recently told me he once masturbated after seeing someone’s boobs in real life (before we were dating, she had an outfit malfunction or something). I also did a lot of research to understand what kind of masturbation habits do men have and it all just bothers me a lot. He gets defensive and distressed when I tell him how I feel about this. What does it all mean and what should I do?”
— Hands to myself
RN: There is so much to unpack here, but first and foremost I really hope your boyfriend did it privately in that incident you described, and the woman in question wasn’t aware or made to feel uncomfortable in any way. Desire is a complicated thing and people fantasize about other people, it doesn’t mean they’re cheating or being unfaithful — especially if this was before he started dating you! It sounds like you need to introspect whether you’re being entirely fair to him when you confront him about something so personal. Would you be comfortable if he suddenly got all confrontational with you about your masturbation habits? Can you help the fact that you may sometimes find someone else attractive? There are a few things that partners can mutually agree upon — and what they agree to not interfere with is one of them. While I understand that you’re uncomfortable with men’s masturbation habits (and pop culture does a terrible job with representing this in a healthy way), you need to give your partner some space and privacy because not every aspect of him would, or should, be about you just because he’s your boyfriend.
DR: Okay, let’s start with the basics: masturbation per se isn’t cheating. Now, about the last instance that you mentioned, I feel there are too few details for me to judge your boyfriend’s behavior, so I’m going to keep that aside completely. Coming back to the present, it seems to me that you’re taking your disapproval of “men’s masturbation habits” — whatever that means — on your boyfriend. I can’t imagine that being a pleasant experience for him at all, especially if your source is a bunch of websites that look down on masturbation. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case, but I also don’t think it’s a great idea to criticize him personally for something men, in general, do unless you know he does some, or any, of those things. Look at it this way: how would you feel if your boyfriend began blaming you for all the 5,96,273 things Kartik Aaryan’s character blames all of womankind for in his misogynistic rant from one of his 2,59,637 misogynistic movies? So, if you have any specific problems with his masturbation habits, perhaps, you can bring those up with him?
Now, going back to the basics, in my personal opinion, masturbation can be an aspect of self-exploration that doesn’t necessarily have to include one’s partner(s) — even in a monogamous relationship. It could be something he likes doing in his alone time. Perhaps, it helps him understand his sexuality better away from the gaze of his partner. This is something that only your boyfriend can answer — provided he has introspected and is aware of his motivation(s). In the little information I have before me, I don’t see anything that immediately jumps out at me to suggest he’s doing anything “wrong.”
However, I don’t want to entirely invalidate how you feel either — especially because, again, I know very little about what your anger is exactly based on. Do you have a gut feeling that he’s creepy to other women, or procuring their pictures without their consent? Has he made any comments about preferring masturbation to intercourse with you? Are you, generally, worried he’s unfaithful to you and that worry is manifesting into anger towards his masturbation habits? Do you feel secure enough in the relationship? Has he tried to body-shame you or compared your body to that of pornstars? Do you have any preconceived notions about masturbation being a “bad” thing? These are questions only you can answer. Once you have, perhaps, you can tell him where you’re coming from and ask him how he can support you. Or, you can sit down with him and both of you can have a calm, collected discussion on your individual motivations, and help each other through your individual journeys of introspection. I know too little here to say one of you is definitely in the right, and one is certainly wrong. What I do feel, however, is that there might be a lack of communication about sex that’s jeopardizing your relationship — or, at least, certain aspects of it.
AS: In my opinion, none of this seems like a bad thing. For starters, the fact that you and your boyfriend can openly communicate about your sexual past, desires, and wants should be seen as positive. Communication — about everything, including sex, or rather, especially sex — is important for any relationship’s foundation. No one talks about sex in our culture and as we’re growing up, we’re left quite in the dark about what “normal” sexual habits are. I’ve heard many women get shocked when they learn that everyone watches porn, and it’s not just something “bad boys” do. When this information does smack us in the face, our first reaction is to think of people’s sexual needs as desperate or depraved, when it’s actually the most human and natural thing. I can understand why your boyfriend would be feeling defensive and distressed — because he’s been going about doing this as a regular part of his life, and it obviously won’t feel good to have someone come and tell him that it’s wrong. As for who he masturbated to before you guys were together — does that even matter?
Actually, even now that you are together, I’m sure you realize that you don’t own his thoughts and fantasies, and he doesn’t own yours! So long as it doesn’t affect your time together with each other, I don’t think it’s anything to feel threatened about. The more accepting you both can be of each others’ desires, the healthier your equation will be.
P.S. Have you tried fantasizing about someone else? It might help soothe your worries!
SK: I think there’s a hint of an answer to your dilemma. Why does masturbation bother you? I’m sure this must be an uncomfortable conversation for a lot of people because of the way our society treats sexual pleasure — especially for women. At the same time, giving him space and privacy to explore his desire is… healthy? It may help to think about how you perceive sex, desire, and self-pleasure. Experience it for yourself, read about it, explore. But do it for yourself and to understand yourself better, not because you want your boyfriend to change.