Show Transcript for Episode 216: Masturbation — We All Do It

George Faller:

Okay, Laurie, you say all women masturbate, so let’s spend some time talking about something that most of us never talk about.

Laurie Watson:

Welcome to Foreplay Radio, couples and sex therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller:

And I’m George Faller, your couples therapist.

Laurie Watson:

And we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other.

George Faller:

Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart and the body.

Laurie Watson:

So we’re going to talk about masturbation, like the hardest thing to talk about.

George Faller:

Certainly one of them.

Laurie Watson:

Certainly one of them, definitely. You know, I have a personal example. I don’t know if I should share this though.

George Faller:

Go for it.

Laurie Watson:

I had to be put under for some dental procedures, something in your unconscious and then you come out and you’re in this twilight place and I just, I was probably in my early twenties and all I could think of is like, what if I tell the dentist that I masturbate? That was like my serious concern. And now of course I’ve told the whole world.

George Faller:

This is a confessional on a dentist chair. I like it.

Laurie Watson:

I mean, but I guess that’s the level of, that it occupied my mind and that I felt guilt and shame about the whole thing and that it was that present for me that, that was potentially going to happen. Well, so now the whole world knows this, but I would say that.

George Faller:

well, I appreciate the risks trying to change this stigma, because it’s something everybody does, but nobody wants to talk about it.

Laurie Watson:

That’s right. And I think especially for girls, this is something that parents get really alarmed about. I think there’s a lot more acceptance when our boy children masturbate, we kind of expect that. But girl children, we start to feel protective. Like, does this mean she’s too sexual? Does this mean that she’s going to be promiscuous, she likes sex. And most children, it’s really not at all sexual when they touch themselves, it’s about discovering their bodies, feeling sensual pleasure.

Laurie Watson:

I had a girlfriend call me the other day and she said, my daughter, she keeps putting her hands down her diaper and I don’t know how to get her to stop and I don’t know what to do and you know, I’m so frustrated and afraid she’s going to do it in public and she’s like, well, what am I supposed to tell her to stop doing it?

Laurie Watson:

I said, no, you’re supposed to smile at her and say, that feels nice, doesn’t it? That’s a good place. That’s what it’s there for. And tell her the names of it and basically give her, her body as a gift from her mother that says, this is a delightful special place because I think that helps her own it. I mean, one of the things that the research shows is if our mothers tell us about our bodies and name our parts, actually it leads to a reduction in promiscuity statistically. So we want to give our children a sense that their body brings them pleasure and is their own. And of course, eventually we want to help them with boundaries about that.

George Faller:

I appreciate the example of a really healthy encounter, where a child is getting a beautiful view of their body and what health can be. I think every parent struggles with that balance on, like a seesaw. On one side, you want to provide structure and discipline and consequences and boundaries. All those things, rules that are needed to survive in this world and the other side you need the empathy, the support, the comfort, the love, that responsiveness that’s so essential to feeling safe in this world. Right? So this child has to get both of those images, right, that it’s okay to love your body, to touch yourself and that masturbation is part of that curiosity and you know any other, the other part of that boundary is like, and we have to learn where to do that and where it’s appropriate and safe and people are not going to kind of use that against you and you know, so it’s fine then that balance.

Laurie Watson:

Yes. I like that. I think I would add one thing to what you said we need. And I think it’s that we need matched delight that we can see mirrored in our parents’ face and eventually in our lover’s face. The delight that they feel about our delight, that feeling good, feeling sexual, feeling sensual is a wonderful feeling. And we want to see that mirror of like, I get it. This is wonderful and we want to see that eventually in partnered sex, right? That our partner loves it when we respond and that when we let ourselves go, we want to see that delight in their face.

Laurie Watson:

So I think a parent, and this is really a stretch for most parents, like what, I’m supposed to say this? I remember another young mother with a boy child said, my son was masturbating in the bath and he’s saying, “Look, mommy, look at what it can do.” You know? And she’s like, I had no idea what to say. And I said, you should say, “Look, isn’t that wonderful? Your body is so precious and it can do so many wonderful things. Look at the way that happens.” I mean, I think that delight helps the child own it. And I agree with you though, of course, there’s boundaries around where to do that and when to do that.

George Faller:

And what you’re saying, 99.9% of us probably never received in our families.

Laurie Watson:

Right.

George Faller:

Right. Most of us did get messages of no and shame and inhibition around masturbation.

Laurie Watson:

Yeah, certainly. I think that most children, girl children masturbate in ways that are often not as easily shareable. Like they often begin sort of masturbation with a pillow or they masturbate through their labia. They often don’t touch their clitoris at all in the beginning and they often masturbate on their stomachs. Like that’s the way they hide it. So if their parent walks in, they’re just sleeping on their stomach. I think boy children, it’s often more open and they masturbate in many different positions and-

George Faller:

It’s a little bit harder to hide it.

Laurie Watson:

A little bit harder to do on your stomach too. Exactly. But I mean, the good thing about it for boys is that gives them confidence that they can have erections in many different places and many different positions. And girls often feel like there’s only one way I can do it. And so they need more experience and they often get that in partnered sex that they can be responsive in many different positions.

George Faller:

What you’re highlighting in that healthy view of masturbation is that if a child or an adult experiences success in that kind of doing it, that people around them are open to that, that you can kind of celebrate or enjoy what’s happening. That it doesn’t feed that shame or that guilt or that inhibition. And then the other side of the coin is, are there good reasons why people can feel guilty about masturbating?

Laurie Watson:

Sure.

George Faller:

And why I’m introducing that is-

Laurie Watson:

Go ahead.

George Faller:

Why I’m introducing that is, I mean, I think all of us have our own values around what is right, what is wrong, our spiritual beliefs, is this sin, is it not? And you know, guilt is usually just a signal from the body saying, Hey, check it here does this aligned to your values? If it’s aligned to your values, great, enjoy it. If it’s not, then maybe you need to adjust or to kind of tweak it. So is this masturbation leading you to know your body better or is this masturbation leading you in a direction of needing more stimulation? We see this today with the younger generation as they’re turning towards pornography and needing ever increasing amounts of arousal and stimulation that’s really going to have a long-term impact on how they actually will be intimate with their future partners.

George Faller:

So in a situation like that, that emotion of guilt or part of your body saying, Hey, wait a second … All this stuff that you’re needing and you’re turning towards, maybe this isn’t what’s best for you. And that’s always a criteria that I’m using with couples too. Is this masturbation something that’s strengthened in your bond, getting you more in touch with your body so you can be more engaged and more present, or is this masturbation taking you away from your partner, getting lost in your own world, kind of leading to that isolation and disconnection.

Laurie Watson:

And we know that people are listening from many different belief systems. I mean, it’s interesting because you and I have talked about the different polls that we have, both personally in terms of where we come from, our conservativism or professionally, you know polls like wait, you got to say everything’s okay. Everything under the sun is okay. And we get listeners who write in and say different things to us about what we should feel and what we should communicate about right and wrong. I just think masturbation is kind of a flash point for people. There are certainly conservative people out there who say, maybe from a religious background, that masturbation is wrong. It is sin, it is bad. And I think another way to think about it and other people describe, whatever you do with yourself or that is consenting between you and your partner, and your partner is okay with it, it’s good.

George Faller:

I think you’re making room for a lot of different relationships to masturbation. And what were trying to bring a message that say how do we talk more about it and get more comfortable with these different vantage points.

Laurie Watson:

Okay. Let’s come back and talk some more.

Laurie Watson:

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Laurie Watson:

So we’re back and we want to talk further about masturbation and it brings up I think lots of different feelings in us individually and in us as couples. I certainly hear lots of people discovering their partner masturbating and feeling shocked and feeling like it means, oh, am I not satisfying you or why would you do this? There’s all kinds of feelings that we come to that discovery with and I think the most common one is that the partner feels like somehow or another, I’m not enough if you still need to do this. Whereas I think probably people masturbate their whole lives. It’s something that is both a pleasure and private and stress-relief and I mean there’s all kinds of things that happen.

George Faller:

What I so appreciate, what we’re trying to do is open up some space to just have these conversations. We don’t have to have all the answers, we don’t have to be the experts that knows what’s right and what’s wrong. But to just start the dialogue is really, I think that first step. If we can start helping people see the benefits of masturbation, when it’s appropriate and healthy, it just makes that bigger picture of a definition of healthy sex that much clearer and people just being in their body, being engaged, being present.

Laurie Watson:

I second that we don’t have all the answers. We’re still learning and talking about it and figuring this out too. So you said you had an example of this, and maybe we should talk about that.

George Faller:

When I’m working with a couple and we are assessing for masturbation and fantasies, again, I’m going back to that simple criteria. Is this action strengthening that emotional bond or is it creating distance and that emotional bond? So for an example, I was working with a husband who had strong spiritual beliefs and tried to live by those. And yet he found himself so much stress, going into a massage parlor not knowing, just really wanted a massage. And one time before you know it, there was a more than just a massage with a happy ending, as he called it. so he admitted that it was an affair, was a break of their vows and the couple did the work and kind of repaired trust. They continued to struggle, though sexually. The distance, they still couldn’t reconnect. And the husband would talk about when he wanted to orgasm, he would go back to the massage parlor.

Laurie Watson:

In his mind.

George Faller:

in his mind, right? Going back that massage parlor, in his mind was a way to get him over the edge so he can have that orgasm. So when he’s doing that during sex or if he’s masturbating to himself, he might want a release and his wife’s not in the mood, that act of going outside, he would feel a lot of guilt about. So again, we’re trying to figure out, how does that land on you to just hear that.

Laurie Watson:

I think I feel different things. Part of me says we have a right to our own sexual fantasies. Part of me understands that something between them is not connecting sexually. There is something that’s off between them. So is that fantasy part of it? I would want him to talk about that. And what is it about, I mean I think it’s more than just that he has the fantasy, it’s like what does the fantasy provide him? Is it, I need a sense of rebellion and taboo in order to let go and to orgasm? Is it something about his wife? I mean, fantasies are so complicated, George. I can’t have sex and sexual climax and release with my wife, who is the mother of my children, who reminds me of my mother. You know, I have to go to sort of the bad girl who, she is able to hold sexuality, my wife, I don’t see her as sexual. I think the issue is about how the fantasy operates inside him and then how that operates relationally versus should he have or not have that fantasy.

George Faller:

It’s a great answer to invite that curiosity. I mean, I think that’s how these fantasies become a doorway to growth and under understanding yourself in a deeper way. So I’m not trying to take a moral stance, I just want to give that, actually people who are masturbating empower them to figure out what’s what’s best for them. So if they want to lean into that in a curious way and say, “Hey, listen, what is it about, what’s the excitement that’s in this fantasy?” Right? How maybe do I find more of that in my real life? I think that’s a great exploration to go on. And I also want to give room for, if this fantasy does feel like a conflict with my values, and I want to use that as that guilt to motivate me to stop some of those fantasies because it’s going to protect me and protect my marriage. I also want to make room that, that would end up be an appropriate response to it.

Laurie Watson:

Right. The guilt as a signal for him to examine what it’s doing to him and his wife. I mean I’ve often said, well I think fantasy is by and large something that makes up our erotic self. I mean I think focused fantasies are important to examine. I mean, I think the fantasy of the neighbor next door consistently kind of sets your heart in motion toward the neighbor next door. So in that way, are fantasies always benign and innocent? No, I don’t think so. And certainly we know that people who come from trauma backgrounds and have families that are very disturbed sometimes have disturbing fantasies sexually. And we’re not saying that that’s all okay, but I think to me, fantasy is reflective, fantasy with masturbation often reflects themes that are big turn-ons and big arousal patterns.

George Faller:

Do you have an example of that, of how you gotten curious of somebody’s fantasy that’s really unleashed some more of that erotic energy that they could apply in their relationship?

Laurie Watson:

Yeah. I had a patient, and I think I might even talked with you about this, George, in another one, but her fantasy was of her husband being seduced by this really highly aggressive, tear his clothes off, scratch his back, kind of sexual woman. And you know, we talked about that. She was very withheld and orgasmic. That means she couldn’t have orgasms herself ever under any circumstance, let alone masturbation. But this was a part of her. And so the challenge was, you’re making up the fantasy, girl, so this is not, I mean, she felt ashamed of it. You know, I fantasized about another woman with my husband. It’s like, okay, that’s a little simplistic. You’re projecting a sexually aggressive part that you could have access to personally to give yourself sexual enjoyment. You know, that was very insightful and helpful to her as she was thinking about, I don’t see myself as a sexual being. I don’t see myself as a sexual person. So yeah, I think that exploring fantasies are really a way to enlarge our eroticism overall.

George Faller:

I agree. If we’re going to lead in one direction and say, well, there’s something about the guilt and a slippery slope and you know, we want to be careful about that. In the other direction, the health of it all is it’s trying to unleash more energy, more stuff that you can work with sexually. If you look at most of the fantasies, you know they have a very similar script. There is really high levels of passion and eroticism and engagement and that’s usually just different scenes of that same day. It’s very attractive to see the other person in the fantasy just so caught up in their sexual desire that it allows you to tap in deeper into your sexual desire.

Laurie Watson:

I think that’s really important. I appreciate that guilt is something that accompanies masturbation very frequently. I have thought about it as empty, probably guilt though from parental protectiveness or religious mores that say it’s sinful, it’s bad. I mean some of that is present, but then I think about like let’s say in the south here I, I have a ton of Baptist couples come in to see me and it’s a young woman who says, I told myself, wait until I get married and then I’m married and every time I feel sexual, I feel guilty. It’s like to just discard that and say, okay, it’s wrong now for me to feel guilty. It’s like it’s a huge process to get these kids to inhabit their bodies and work through that guilt and come into joyful freedom with each other to have what they actually believe is wanted. I mean, they don’t necessarily believe at this stage that sex is just for procreation. I think that-

George Faller:

To me, that’s more of a symptom of a big a problem, which is just around the negativity of sex. If all being told is no, or this bad thing could happen, or pregnancy or disease and sin, if it is always negative, you’re going to have a lot of inhibitions around sex.

Laurie Watson:

Right.

George Faller:

And masturbation is just another form of that.

Laurie Watson:

Yes.

George Faller:

So I guess what I’m curious about is, I get this a lot. I think what’s confusing for a partner is you don’t show interest in me, having sex with me, but you still want to masturbate. That’s a harder one. Not to take personal. It’s like I get it. If I have lower desire and you want to have sex with me and then you need to blow off extra steam by that, that’s fine. But when you’re saying no to me and then turning towards masturbation, how do you not tick that person off?

Laurie Watson:

And I think it’s a wider lens and an understanding that masturbation is also not representative simply of what we desire with a partner. Some of it is tension release, some of it is working through our sexual problems. I had a girlfriend who I actually encouraged to masturbate because she was having low desire and she needed to work through a lot of blocks internally about letting go and feeling arousal and how difficult those places were for her, which she did. Her husband wasn’t real happy with me for a while, but he wasn’t. But you know, eventually she got there.

George Faller:

It would be very helpful. We’re trying to help couples partners be better communicators to just kind of let people into their process. So you know, if a partner says, “Hey, I’m trying to work through my issues and masturbation is going to help me and in a short term, I won’t be able to have that with you because I’m really trying to understand myself better so I can have more with you.” That’d be a lot easier for a partner to understand. But a lack of communication leaves us to our own imagination. That’s usually not a good place to be left.

Laurie Watson:

Right. And I think what you just said, I would love for people to talk like that, right? It’s so hard though to talk about masturbation and why people are, why they’re using it personally. I mean hardly anybody does that. So okay, we’ve got to quit.

Laurie Watson:

This is a longer conversation. Interesting. We have lots to talk about with masturbation for sure and guilt. Thanks for listening.

George Faller:

Well we hope some of you go home and talk to people you love about masturbation. That’s your homework assignments.

Laurie Watson:

Absolutely. Keep it hot.

Laurie Watson:

So George, we’re going to offer an intensive on May 14th in Raleigh to two couples. We have two two-hour slots and we would love to get a couple to come in who has sexual problems and you’ll be able to work with George and I. Right, George?

George Faller:

That’s right, and what a great opportunity to just open up some space to hang out and see if we can make some progress in these areas we’re stuck with it.

Laurie Watson:

You can just reach us on Foreplay Radio by email and let us know if you’re interested. There is a cost for both George and I and we are videotaping this for our trainings that only are shown to students. Thanks so much.

George Faller:

We look forward to seeing you there.

Laurie Watson:

Hi, Foreplay Fam. The biggest support you can give us is sharing our podcast with a friend. You can find us also on socials, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and we’d love your questions and feedback and really do use these to guide our show. We’d also love it if you’d rate and review us. If you’re interested in learning more about us and our mission, look us up on our hot new website, foreplayradiosextherapy.com.

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