What Counts as “Sex”?

11/21/2012 4:00 AM |

Dear Audrey,
I am a straight guy. I enjoy sex, and I think I’ve had good sex, but most times I just enjoy masturbating more. I can control all of the sensation, and I don’t have to worry that the person I’m with is having a bad time. I’ve always felt guilty about this. I even tried not masturbating for a long time to see if it made sex better. It did, a little, but wasn’t really worth it. I was just going to live with this. But then my girlfriend (pretty serious girlfriend) and I took one of those online tests where it tells you stuff each other is into, and it turns out she likes masturbating better than sex, too. So now what? Are we just bad at sex? Should we break up? Or stay together and just beat off separately? We talked about it and are both feeling really confused.

Okay, a couple things. First, hooray for you guys for talking about this! Right? Here is what you thought was going to be a dark lifelong secret haunting your sex life, and instead you and your partner can talk about it. That’s good!
Second, it’s only in a certain sector of the straight world where “sex” unequivocally equals a penis going into a vagina. If you are going into sex thinking, “If I don’t stuff this dick inside my gal and go at it until I ejaculate on/in her, then I have failed at having sexual intercourse,” you’re giving yourself an unnecessarily limited set of sexual options. Unless you are trying to make a baby, you don’t have to have that kind of sex. Ever!

That is what is wonderful about sex. If you are enjoying it and your partner is enjoying it, you can do whatever you like and it totally counts. So if you want a sex life where each of you mostly masturbates alone and then occasionally get together to do something else, that is allowed. If you want to spend your sex time beating each other off, or just beating yourselves off together, that is also allowed. Anything is allowed if it makes you happy.

It sounds like you both feel pressure to have a more “normal” sex life. Maybe if you removed that pressure and experimented with doing what makes you happy, you both might find the kind of sex life that is most pleasurable for you. Liking masturbating more than sex is only a problem if your partner is unhappy. It might be true that the penis-in-vagina sex you’ve had in the past wasn’t the best penis-in-vagina sex ever, but you’ve seen porn (I assume, with all the wanking), so you know how it works, generally. You can’t be doing it that wrong.

I know it can be weird to have frank conversations about one’s sexual needs and desires, especially if you’re a person with a normative view of acceptable sexuality and you’re negotiating a non-normative arrangement for the first time. You’re revealing a part of yourself that you tried to hide for most of your life. But it’s worth the discomfort and effort if you can find out what kind of sex life you want. Conjecture: if there was no societal standard of “normal” sex, most people would not strongly prefer penis-in-vagina only. If your version of heaven is you and your girlfriend each rubbing one out in separate rooms, then, well, make that happen.

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