Written by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.
My wife... has little to no interest in sex and yet I have caught her several times using the vibrator when I am not home (during the day when I am at work), when I am away on business and even when I am home. There have been a number of times when I have tried to initiate sex and have had her say she is too tired, only to be woken up in the middle of night with her masturbating in the bed beside me as she thinks I am asleep. When I confront with this, she has denied it and grows defensive... I explained it made me feel inadequate and I felt as though I had been replaced. [...]
To begin, here's what I told him:
Your reaction is very understandable. You feel rejected. Indeed, you're BEING rejected by your wife, but it sounds to me like her rejection and her masturbation are actually separate issues.
Having interest in sex is not the same as having interest in having an orgasm. The nice thing about a vibrator is that it can provide a quick, easy, complication-free orgasm. It probably DOES help her fall asleep.
Separate the masturbation from the lack of sex - I really believe they're not related. It's just not in the same category as sex with you.
But do talk to her about finding a way back to a sexual connection with you. What works for many couples is agreeing to non-sexual touching a few nights a week. Women are more likely to feel interested in sex AFTER foreplay has started.
So the question is: if his wife has no interest in sex with him, why does she masturbate? Well let's think about people's reasons for having sex. Here's a far-from-exhaustive list (feel free to suggest more):
Reasons to have sex:
Reasons not to have sex:
In the cost-benefit analysis of sexual decision-making, sex with a partner might lose out because there's too much on the reasons-not-to side, whereas masturbation wins because there's less drama. The masturbation isn't a REPLACEMENT for sex with a partner (not in this case, anyway, in my opinion, though it might be for some people), but rather a different behavior with different benefits and consequences.
Sometimes masturbation is just simpler and easier than partner sex, with its interpersonal and physical complexities.
Slightly triggering story ahead:
A long, long time ago I talked to a young woman who was TOTALLY FREAKED OUT to have woken up in a hotel room she was sharing with her father, to the sound of her father masturbating. My guess is that her dad was probably just trying to get to sleep after a long, stressful day and he thought she was asleep. She felt VERY creeped out.
Tactfully, I did NOT try to defend her father's choice to her. (Really he would have been better advised to get in the shower and masturbate there, rather than in the room with his (adult) daughter.)
But the reason I'm telling this anecdote is to illustrate the point that masturbation isn't necessarily about any other person; sometimes it's just about wanting a fast, easy, reliable orgasm, for whatever purpose orgasm serves. Sleep. Stress relief. Fun. Mood regulation.
What do you want out of sex? Sometimes all you want is to feel a little better, a little calmer. And masturbation has fewer calories than wine.