Ask Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Coral contributor, Kinsey Institute Research Fellow and internationally-recognized sex educator answers your sex questions

I’ve been married eight months and, while our sex is good, my drive is stronger than my husband’s. We’ve talked about it, but lately I’ve been masturbating to fill the gaps and he doesn’t know that. Am I an awful wife?

No, you are not! What you’ve described sounds like a sexual desire discrepancy. This occurs when partners in a relationship want or prefer different amounts of sex, and this is actually quite common. Nationally representative surveys find that about one in four men and women report having experienced such a discrepancy in the last year.

In mixed-sex relationships, sometimes it’s men who want more sex, but other times it’s women. These discrepancies can go in any direction and they can appear in any type of relationship, including same-sex relationships. 

One of the many ways that couples try to fill in the gap is through increased masturbation by the higher-desire partner. In fact, this is actually the single most common strategy for dealing with a desire discrepancy, and most people find it to be at least somewhat helpful.

Even so, higher-desire partners sometimes feel guilty or ashamed. For example, they might feel as though their heightened interest in sex is “abnormal,” they might feel shame about hiding masturbation from their partner, or they might hold the belief that masturbation shouldn’t be necessary in a healthy sexual relationship.  

However, just because you want and desire more sex than your partner doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you or that you have an unhealthy interest in sex. It’s also totally normal for people in relationships to masturbate. It’s actually the case that the more sexually satisfied women are in a relationship, the more likely they are to masturbate. It sounds like the sex you and your partner do have is good, so it’s possible that some of your masturbation stems from the fact that you’re having satisfying sex, and wanting more of it, and that this is boosting your desire.

Lastly, you don’t need to feel bad about not filling your partner in on your masturbation practices. Partners aren’t obligated to report to one another on their self-pleasure, nor are they required to seek permission. Masturbation is a form of self-care: something that you do for you. And it’s OK to keep that to yourself. However, if masturbation isn’t quite cutting it and the desire discrepancy is starting to cause distress, then it’s time to revisit the conversation and consider some new strategies, or consult with a couple’s therapist. 

I have never had an orgasm with my husband without using a toy, and I have never told him. Every time we have sex without using something for clitoral stimulation I get no arousal. It almost feels like a job, and I’m just waiting for it to be over. Surely that is not normal? I’m not sure how to bring this up to him, and it also makes me not want to have sex. In the beginning of our relationship, we were having sex almost everyday, and I dreaded it. Now, we have sex maybe once a month. I feel horrible, I don’t want to continue to lie, and make excuses. At the same time, I do not know how to bring the topic up to him.
You’re a lot more normal than you think. 
In a recent study, 645 heterosexual women were asked to record how long it takes them to reach orgasm during intercourse and how they got there. The average was 14 minutes; however, just 31% of the women said they were able to reach orgasm through intercourse alone. The rest required other activities or forms of stimulation, with extended clitoral stimulation being key for many of them.
Clearly, different things feel good to different people and we all need to figure out what works for our own bodies. It’s great that you already know what you like, but now it’s a matter of getting what you want. 
Telling your partner what you need in order to orgasm is something that many people struggle with. They might be worried about hurting a partner’s feelings, or perhaps coming across as “pushy.” But you need to remember that you’re entitled to orgasm every bit as much as your partner and if your partner doesn’t know what you need, there’s a good chance that you’re not going to get it.  
Here are a few tips for starting the conversation: 
  • Pick a good time and place to do a sexual check-in with your partner. Ideally, choose a quiet, distraction-free environment where you’re both feeling relaxed.
  • Frame it as a two-way conversation in which you’ll both have the opportunity to discuss your sexual desires. 
  • In the interest of making it productive and constructive, avoid confrontation, judgment, and blame. If it turns into an airing of complaints and grievances, it probably won’t turn out too well. 
  • Start the conversation by validating your partner. Tell them what you appreciate about them as a partner in general, and as a sexual partner specifically (think about the times you had good sex in the past and where you got what you wanted).
  • Tell them what you want to try more of and why and propose some specific ways of adding clitoral stimulation to sex. For example, you might suggest a couple’s toy that allows for hands-free clitoral stimulation, while simultaneously providing some unique stimulation for him. Or maybe suggest trying some different positions. For example, seated positions like the “cowgirl” naturally provide more clitoral stimulation due to friction from the body positioning, and some research has shown that these positions increase the odds of orgasm.  
My partner and I, among other things, seem to be on opposite arousal schedules. I am most often aroused in the evenings and night, whereas he’s ready to go first thing in the morning. I’ve said we can have sex in the morning, and his response is "I’m not into it if you’re not into it." He knows when I’m dialing it in. He’s frustrated in the evenings that he has no physical drive to have sex, and isn’t the type to just turn it on. What solutions might there be to either help his evening arousal or help my morning arousal?
There are a few different strategies you might consider, and it’s possible that you may need to try a few things before you figure out what works. However, the solution is likely to require some degree of compromise. 
One strategy might be to start scheduling sex, and to alternate when it occurs. For example, let’s say you aim for once per week. If this week involves morning sex, then next week involves evening sex. 
By scheduling sex this way, you can both take steps to prepare for the days it is scheduled at your partner’s preferred time. Given that morning sex isn’t your preferred, you might make an effort to go to bed a little early the night before to ensure you wake up feeling refreshed and alert. And maybe you’ll get up a little earlier than your partner to do something that gets you in the mood, whether that’s reading an erotic story, touching yourself, fantasizing, or something else. 
Given that evening sex isn’t what your partner prefers, he can make an effort to do what’s needed to get himself ready for sex on those days. I don’t know why he doesn’t typically have desire in the evenings, but if it’s due to work-related stress and distractions, he might unplug from his devices and do something relaxing to clear his mind before sex. Or maybe he’ll exercise to relieve stress and get his heart pumping (fun fact: physiological arousal can have the effect of amplifying sexual arousal, so you can use that to your advantage!). 
No matter what time sex occurs, the two of you might also consider some type of warm-up rather than jumping right into it, such as giving each other massages or showering together. Block off enough time so that neither of you feel rushed or distracted, and so that you have some time to build arousal before getting started.
Yet another option to consider is splitting the difference and give afternoon sex a try. If that’s impossible with your work schedules during the week, you could aim for the weekend and see how it goes. 

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