Ask Professor Foxy: Will Masturbation Ruin Me For Sex With Others?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Hi Professor Foxy!
This might be a dumb question, but I wanted to ask your opinion about something. I’m a female “virgin” who has been regularly (and unapologetically) masturbating since I was 12. I’m 27 now. At this point, it’s down to a science! However, I’ve also lead an entirely celibate life, partly because of numerous relocations, partly because of medical school, and partly, you know, ’cause I felt like it. I know society can give people some odd ideas about sex, specifically about how much you should have, when you should have it, and who you should have it with. I’m pretty open about my life and habits, and I try not to let media messages or others’ comments get me down.
However, recently, I was having a conversation with a male friend, and the topic turned to his exes, of which there are many. He wanted to compare notes, so I told him that actually, I don’t have any exes. He was surprised, and said, “But I thought you had toys, and you were like, really open about that stuff.” I said, “I am. I just do it by myself.” He told me that this really worried him, because he thought that by having so much sex by myself, I was ruining myself for sex with another person, “the same way porn ruins you for sex with real people” (his words).
I laughed him off at first, but that comment really disturbed me. I’ve never thought about it that way before. I’ve read in this column and elsewhere that masturbation is actually supposed to make partner sex better, but now I find myself wondering if that’s only true for people who’ve actually HAD partner sex. (I’m also wondering what it says about my friend, but that’s a different story.) I’d like to know what you and maybe your readers think. Has perfecting the art of sex with myself ruined me for any partner I might eventually get?
Thanks,
C

Dear C-
This is not a dumb question AT ALL. There is an amazing amount of sexist hypocrisy in this country and in popular media when it comes to masturbation. For men, masturbation is natural and healthy and the man’s future sex partner and the partner’s satisfaction are not considered. For women, if we – heaven forbid – actually learn to please ourselves, we are dooming ourselves to a lifetime of an inability to connect with our partners (read husband). How dare you be sexually satisfied without a man! Bad girl, bad!
Masturbation will not ruin you for future sex partners as long as you keep a few things in mind (these things are true for all genders). First, masturbation can and will make you a better, more satisfied lover as long as you can communicate your desires to your partners. Through 15 lovely years of masturbation, you now know what feels good for you. When you do have a lover, you will be able to tell your lover. Good lovers want to know how to please their partners and will gladly take instruction. Sexual communication happens through words, noises, and demonstrations. You can even masturbate in front of them. . . good times for all.
Second, masturbation feels different then sexual interactions with other people. You know your body so well, you need to give your lovers time to even begin to reach your level of knowledge. Orgasms and sexual feelings will likely feel different with other people. It is important not to rank these feelings (such as one is better than the other), but just notice that they are different. Variety is a wonderful thing.
You’ve chosen not to have partnered sex and some people may judge this, but you seem pretty damn happy with your choice. You have other priorities and still have a satisfying sex life with yourself. Good for you! Your friend’s response speaks more about him than it does about you.
Best,
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

Join the Conversation

  • aletheia_shortwave

    I just wanted to say — hell yes! This is great advice. My situation was the opposite: I began having partnered sex several years before I learned how to masturbate or even have an orgasm. A close friend of mine, upon learning I’d never had an orgasm, took it upon herself to buy me a vibrator and talk to me about sexual techniques, and it really changed my life in a lot of ways. The idea about masturbation helping partnered sex is really true.
    Another aspect of this is that you don’t have to rely upon your partner for sex all the time, especially if for other reasons you can’t really have sex, or your appetites are somewhat different, or you’re out-of-state, or whatever. That leaves you the time and space to enjoy what is really unique about partnered sex — not just getting off, but getting off in a way that is shared with and related to the body of your partner.

  • Tara Lazet

    Good advice but I do have 1 comment.
    Make sure you mix up your masturbation routines. This way it will be less of a transition to partnered sex. I know he is pretty much hated around here but Dan Savage actually has some sensible stuff to say about this subject. He has featured quite a few letters of people (mostly men) would had gotten used to one, specific, way of reaching an orgasm and would then have trouble when those exact circumstances couldn’t be replicated. His advice would always be to vary the routine, so as to get used to different sensations.

  • pesematology

    The only thing I’ve noticed is that when I’ve got a good self-love groove going on, partner sex can seem like it’s too slow and clumsy. Just keep in mind you’ll need a little extra patience, and enjoy the build up. It can be a little frustrating at times. If you channel the frustration into sexual tension and try to have a little extra patience, all should be well.

  • notemily

    I’d also like to say that I think “porn ruins you for sex with other people” is very different from “masturbation ruins you for sex with other people.” Porn very specifically presents you with a fake experience of sex. The people in porn (mainstream porn, of course, I’m generalizing here) don’t look like most people, and the things porn stars do are not the same as the things people do when actually having sex. I mean, sometimes they are, of course, but in general there are a bunch of tropes in porn–for example, women always wear high heels in bed, women are always shaved everywhere, women always love being penetrated and have orgasms from it, women always moan loudly, men always pull out for the money shot–that might give someone unrealistic ideas about sex. Masturbation, on the other hand, is still sex with a real person–yourself. It’s not fantasy sex.
    I don’t necessarily think porn “ruins” you for sex with actual people, but I think if you don’t have an idea of what sex with actual people is like, it might give you some incorrect notions. The same is not true for masturbation.

  • timothy_nakayama

    I can see why women would consider masturbation a better release than partnered sex. I mean, there are a lot of cool masturbatory gadgets for women, which is great, because it helps women achieve orgasms, something they might not get through partner sex and they can learn about their bodies better, ie, what works for them.
    In a hetero-relationship, I don’t see how a man could even begin to compare in terms of giving a woman pleasure fast and efficiently as compared to vibrators, etc.. Maybe in the future we could get penile-implants that cause the penis to vibrate!

  • VickyinSeattle

    Oh, no! No vibrating penis implants! That’s like asking a woman to get breast implants because you can only get off with large-breasted women.
    Let’s keep both the male and female bodies au naturel!

  • VickyinSeattle

    Oh, no! No vibrating penis implants! That’s like asking a woman to get breast implants because you can only get off with large-breasted women.
    Let’s keep both the male and female bodies au naturel!

  • VickyinSeattle

    I recently read a Dan Savage give that exact advice to a man who’d gotten so used to a towel routine that he couldn’t orgasm during intercourse or in any other way.
    I think the same applies to women. If your body gets so used to one way of getting off, nothing else will quite be enough.
    Having said that, I think many women don’t even know their bodies and need to get comfortable with themselves and figure out what feels good to them. The woman:masturbation to man:porn comparison is totally off the scale because watching porn (and masturbating) are considered part and parcel of modern-day male sexuality. Sadly, I’ve met too many women who concede to having never masturbated.

  • AtrociousR

    I

  • TD

    Masturbation, on the other hand, is still sex with a real person–yourself. It’s not fantasy sex.
    You know many (most?) people will fantasize when they masturbate, fantasy and a fair amount of time they will use materials to spur that fantasy which aren’t limited to pornography, there are all manner of things people use including romance novels, fan fiction, etc.
    Yet it only ever seems to be pornography which is singled out for creating unrealistic expectations of sex. Everything else equal whats the difference if you conceive it entirely in your head, read it in a book, or watch it in film and why should it matter to anyone else?

  • FrenchKiss

    I wouldn’t say that masturbation ruins you for partnered sex. I do, however, think that frequent use of vibrators for clitoral stimulation makes it more difficult to climax without them (vibrator dependency as Mojo Nixon would say). The same can be said of men who flog their dongs too often, fast and hard.
    But even if a woman can no longer get off without the help of vibrating sex toys, it doesn’t mean she can’t have fantastic sex with a partner. She just has to find partners who are open minded and secure enough not to be bothered by the use of vibrators during sex. Unfortunately, a lot of men feel inadequate if they aren’t in total control of making their partners climax and they’ll either get upset about vibrators being used at all or at least want to hold it themselves. When this happens, they never seem to get the right spot, or if they do, they slide off of it repeatedly.
    In my opinion nothing beats partner sex involving penetration coupled with clitoral stimulation. Masturbation is enjoyable and essential if you don’t have a sex partner you feel comfortable with. But it doesn’t have the same emotional or cerebral enjoyment as sex with someone you love and/or desire; and the physical sensation of being f#¢%ed while holding a vibrating egg to your clitoris is an overwhelming pleasure that is hard to replicate on your own.
    I hope that wasn’t too crude.

  • Kurumi & Cheese

    I think the difference is that porn plays a role as a kind of sex ed for some people. So they think that this is how they should have sex and how sex should be.
    For example, I’ve seen a lot of women writing to ask what to do when their boyfriends complain that they don’t moan enough. The woman doesn’t really want to moan and obviously isn’t inclined to moan, but the guy expects it. Now MAYBE he could expect it because of a previous partner, but it’s far more likely that he expects it because all the women in porn moan and scream and he thinks something is out of the ordinary if she isn’t moaning.
    I don’t think that people treat their fantasies as being as real as that or being as universal. It’s kind of apples and oranges what you’re talking about anyway … watching porn to get off or reading stories to get off is not the issue. It’s the sex-ed aspect. So if people were only reading furry fanfic stories (video porn doesn’t exist, let’s say) and assumed that sex had to involve fursuits and fursonas and were engaging in sex they perhaps didn’t like but was what they assumed was normal … that would be more comparable.

  • Josh Jasper

    The problem isn’t that it’s crude, it’s that there’s no medical proof that frequent vibrator use has a long term negative effect on clitoral sensitivity.
    About.com has this article about the subject. Further advice from scarleteen and medhelp.com backs this up. There is no research that indicates that long term use of a vibrator has any lasting effect on clitoral sensitivity. In the sort term, most of the literature reports an *increase* in sensitivity after vibrator use. Having one’s clit be too sensitive to be touched can certainly be a downer if you want more of that sort of orgasm.

  • naomi1978

    Porn, unlike say erotic fiction or comix, involves real people doing real sexual acts. So it messes with one’s ideas of fantasy and reality more than, say a fantasy novel on hot elf sex.

  • Tenya

    The articles you’ve linked to discuss permanent nerve damage (which doesn’t occur) and since there has only been one study on the issue in terms of preference (which didn’t compare partner sex vs. vibrator sex, only non-vibrating masturbation) the absence of proof doesn’t mean it isn’t a truth to the “vibrator dependency” for at least some women. The medhelp advice actually says exactly what FrenchKiss was saying, that vibe-related masturbation might, for some people, be difficult to translate to non-vibe sex with a partner. And for more anecdotal evidence I agree, there is a world of difference between the sensations that occur when using a vibrator to having partnered sex, and if one really really works than the other can only be poor substitute. Which you can work with in a variety of ways, such as varying your masturbation routine to not only be a vibe if one wants (which in my experience works) – advice for whatever set of genitals you have if you’re stuck in a routine, to introducing a vibe during sex (also a huge win). Or keep working on partnered sex until you have something that is workable and orgasm-able. Which is not to say, in any sense, that if women had never been shown a vibrator they’d orgasm hugely with partnered sex – no. It would probably just take a much longer amount of time to do the ‘figuring something that works’ part, instead of knowing that vibration is where it is at.

  • pesematology

    Why do something as drastic as a penis implant? There are fingertip massagers already. Why is it that “real” stimulation is that which comes from the penis? Why would you need the penis to be a vibrator when you already have a vibrator that is a vibrator? Teach the dude to use your toys on you and that’s all you need.

  • katemoore

    I wouldn’t go so far to say that Dan Savage is hated around here. I’d say he mostly gives decent advice with a few epic fails sprinkled in.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Actually, porn involves actors pretending to have sex in a video. The problem comes when some people (for the most part, guys) forget that it’s just a movie and expect real life sex to be like it is in the video.

  • decleyre!

    I just want to point out that not all women are into vibrators :)

  • TD

    But then porn is not unique in any way its a lack of a decent sex ed program. With the fan fiction you have all manner of incorrect views about sex (e.g. what constitutes lube, what can actually go where) but porn isn’t responsible for that, without porn you’d simply see people going to the next less reliable source of information.
    For example, I’ve seen a lot of women writing to ask what to do when their boyfriends complain that they don’t moan enough. The woman doesn’t really want to moan and obviously isn’t inclined to moan, but the guy expects it. Now MAYBE he could expect it because of a previous partner, but it’s far more likely that he expects it because all the women in porn moan and scream and he thinks something is out of the ordinary if she isn’t moaning.
    I’m sure there are plenty of better examples, but moaning during sex is a way of showing your partner that you’re enjoying yourself. Guys and Girls both have objections to partners who are silent and I say this as a guy who was pretty much completely silent and made a conscious effort to be more expressive out of consideration for my partner, because it helped them get in the mood not because of a partners exposure to pornography.

  • FrenchKiss

    Yes, exactly. I’m glad you stepped up to the plate to help explain it!
    And I totally agree with what you said about not neccessarily having huge (or any) orgasms with partnered sex in absence of having ever used a vibrator. If we’re talking about clitoral stimulation by a partner’s mouth or hand- it can often be too intense to the point of discomfort early on in one’s orgasmic history.
    If you mean from penetration only, I thnk it’s much rarer all around regardless of how often one has masturbated or what methods of getting off one chooses. It usually requires a state of hyper arousal, a good deal of bumping /grinding, and the woman in control of the rhythm and movement. I think most women lack the sexual assuredness and understanding of their own bodies to pull this off until after they’ve spent many years perfecting the art of pleasuring themselves. And lets face it- even after you’ve reached that point, it’s still not easy to come by (no pun intended) that way.

  • FrenchKiss

    Sorry but your first two links are pretty lame and the third one just backs what I said. I never said that vibrators caused permanent nerve damage, nor did I in any way suggest that women who use them are drug taking derelicts who engage in risky sexual behavior.
    The increase in sensitivity following vibrator use that you speak of (where the clit is too sensitive for you to touch) only occurs when an orgasm is reached, and the effect would be the same no matter what method produced the end result. Even if she used a vibrator on her clit for 20 minutes, it would not be that tender if she didn’t climax (though it might be a little bit sore). I’m sure you find the head of your penis is equally sensitive whether you rub one out, or ejaculate inside your partner.
    The vibrator effect is not unlike what happens with men and condoms. A man can wear a condom whenever he has sex for years without a problem; but if he winds up in a long-term monogamous relationship where another form of birth control is used, he might have problems going back to covered sex once he’s gotten used to doing it bareback.

  • makomk

    Interesting. I’ve seen this idea that it’ll ruin you and your future partner’s enjoyment of sex applied to male masturbation quite a bit, but this is the first time I’ve noticed it for female masturbation. (Yes, really. Take a look at the way Fleshlights are marketed for one example.) Presumably I’ve been hanging out in the wrong circles?

  • Comrade Kevin

    There’s still this erroneous belief that men masturbate and men don’t, or that the women who do should be ashamed of it. I can still remember being 14 and having my sister, then two years younger, state firmly, and with all seriousness, that only lesbians masturbated.
    Let’s flip the debate to a different gendered frame just for the sake of argument. Does masturbation make me a less effective lover? No. Actually it makes me a better lover because, as the post mentions, I am able to translate what feels best to my partner. Does pornography ruin partnered sex? No. In actuality, pornography has been instructive regarding different positions and things to try with a lover.
    While I personally have had several ex’s over the years, it isn’t necessarily always a good thing, when one considers how many of them were very short term. Do I ever judge my partners based on how many people they’ve dated over the years? No. While it is nice to be with someone who clearly has the life experience to be skilled at sex, part of loving someone else is accepting them on their own terms. Part of being with someone else as a lover is a process of exploration, which in some ways is just as preferable to being with someone who has their act figured out. There’s often something romantic about unraveling all of those mysteries.

  • Comrade Kevin

    that men masturbate and WOMEN don’t….

  • cmb

    erg, you know, there wasn’t a word about “sexist hypocrisy” in the original letter. she was talking to a male friend but that in no way implies that her friend thought that female masturbation was worse than male masturbation. or that she was ruining the sexual experience of a male partner as opposed to her own enjoyment or that of a female partner.
    the tagline at the end that says “Your friend’s response speaks more about him than it does about you.” and likewise, your response says more about you than it does about him. give guys the benefit of the doubt, sometimes you’ll be surprised.

  • FrenchKiss

    “…that only lesbians masturbated.”

    How sad. Did she mean that if a woman pleasures herself it makes her gay (just as some men think that if a guy would suck himself off if he could it would mean that he’s gay)? Or was she talking about mutual masturbation as a form of lovemaking between two women?
    I think there are probably a lot more women who have never masturbated than there are men. But if your sister was twelve years old when she said that, there’s a good chance that she was either on the verge of self-discovery, or she had just begun to explore her body and was ashamed of it.

  • TD

    she was talking to a male friend but that in no way implies that her friend thought that female masturbation was worse than male masturbation. or that she was ruining the sexual experience of a male partner as opposed to her own enjoyment or that of a female partner.
    Yes, in fact the original letter would seem to imply the exact opposite, that the male friend thought this was true of pornography’s effects on men.

  • Sex Toy James

    They have vibrating cock rings that will make your cock vibrate. That’s so much easier and so much likelier to reach the clit than vibrating implants. So why wait for the future when you can have a vibrating wang right now for less than ten bucks?
    Not being able to compete with fast and efficient isn’t really a defeat. I’m pretty sure that “fast” and “efficient” aren’t topping the list of search terms in women’s erotica. Sex is not a race to orgasm.

  • instrumentjamlord

    It sounded to me like someone had used the line about porn ruining people for their partners against him, and he was starting an argument with the letter writer out of having been made to feel attacked over porn. (Essentially, “If A, then how possibly Not-B? Double-standard?”)

  • KBZ

    I will apologize in advance if the following is too much information …
    First, masturbation itself does not reduce the pleasure of sex with a partner — in fact, it enhances it in many cases as you know what you’re doing and can point-the-way, so to speak, and can engage in performance-masturbation (which my husband finds extremely enjoyable).
    That being said, I would caution against over-use of a vibrator. I am among the women that can orgasm from penetrative sex alone, and found that capability reduced when I used a vibrator. My husband and I have been together for a decade, and he has never had any problem getting me off via penetration. However, during the time in which I experimented with a vibrator, I found that either penetrative sex wasn’t quite stimulating enough to put me over the edge, or, when it was, it took quite a bit longer to do.
    I found it a bit frustrating, and, at first, wasn’t sure why I couldn’t finish. My husband pointed out that he didn’t vibrate, and wasn’t really into the vibrating ring idea (he’s very good at lasting as long as he needs to — but figured he’d have endurance problems if he was vibrating). I threw the vibrator out, and went back to regular manual masturbation, and my PIV orgasm capability returned shortly thereafter.
    This is not to say that vibrators aren’t a godsend for some women, but to caution that they can possibly reduce pleasurability during PIV intercourse in heterosexual relationships.
    kbz

  • instrumentjamlord

    “…but I think if you don’t have an idea of what sex with actual people is like, [porn] might give you some incorrect notions. The same is not true for masturbation.”
    The same IS true for masturbation. Both leave you not having an idea of what sex with actual people is like. Porn may leave you with false impressions about partnered sex — but masturbation leaves you in abject ignorance of it.
    In both cases the focus is on solipsistically increasing the pleasure level of the active participant: the viewer, in the case of porn, or the soloist, so to speak, in the case of masturbation. Sex with another person is necessarily mutual. Some porn even manages to depict a reasonable level of mutuality. Masturbation can’t, by definition. Even if you are busy fantasizing about how good you are making your partner feel, it’s for purposes of increasing your own arousal.

  • TD

    It sounded to me like someone had used the line about porn ruining people for their partners against him
    That’s fair, it also sounds like he believed that line.
    Which would not point to any “sexist hypocrisy”, it points to the guy was applying the same incorrect belief equally across genders.
    Which is why it is so puzzling that in the response it was apparently necessary to take two paragraphs to discuss how the guy was sexist. None of that was in evidence from the letter, what was in evidence was that at worst he passed on the shame that was given to him in an equal fashion to both genders.

  • cattrack2

    “I’d also like to say that I think “porn ruins you for sex with other people” is very different from “masturbation ruins you for sex with other people.”
    The main similarity between porn & masturbation is that both can help you achieve the Big O faster & ‘more efficiently’ than partnered sex alone. If you expect your partner to be as knowledgeable about your body as you are–and hence as fast at getting you off–you’re bound to be disappointed. Nothing wrong with masturbation, but in the same way that porn can “spoil” you, masturbation might spoil you too.