Sooooo. I’ve totally masturbated before.
Maybe once. Or maybe 87 million times.
Truthfully, I don’t want to talk about it because it makes me really uncomfortable and I can’t stop thinking about my mom or grandma reading this and saying: “Heavens to Betsy! Did you know that Matt played Diddle-Me-Elmo!?”, or thinking about everyone I knew in high school sitting around going: “Ha! I knew that dude wanked it!” and then making plans to announce it at our next high school reunion. It makes me want to set myself on fire.
But THAT feeling is precisely why I’m talking about it.
I can’t write about shitty husbandry with intellectual honesty if we don’t talk about pornography and masturbation. According to a 2015 NBC News report, porn is a $97 billion industry worldwide, with about $12 billion of that in the United States alone.
What that means is, mathematically, EVERY American, including newborn babies and nuns and 90-year-olds, spends $40 annually on porn. And that’s with virtually unlimited free pornography available on the internet.
Conclusion: You totally wank it too, you Pervy McPerversons. It’ll be our little secret.
Many—maybe even most—relationships that go south, do so because we’re too afraid to talk about things for fear of judgment or rejection, and then our partners end up believing things about us which aren’t true, and you spend years with your marriage never really having a chance because no one knew the real story. Our partners were literally—at least a part of them—someone other than who we thought.
I wasn’t who my wife thought because I never told her who I really was, sexually.
When two people promise to never have sex with anyone else again, it stands to reason that—unless you despise orgasms, physical intimacy, or prefer sexual repression—you and your partner MUST make your bedroom (or wherever!) experiences really good, to avoid craving something more or different in ways that will ultimately destroy your relationship.
And then there’s the flipside. The people who are so cavalier and shameless about it that they don’t see any downside to pornography or “taking care of things themselves,” which I can only get behind if all their cards are on the table with their significant others. If one or both of them are lying about, or hiding, that part of them, it can only end badly. More on that in a bit.
Why didn’t I talk to my wife about it? I was afraid.
I was afraid that if I told my wife the unfiltered truth she’d think I was some sex-crazed perv or deviant and not love me anymore. That she’d think I was a freak. That she’d somehow reject me.
I wasn’t smart enough to see the big picture and choose bravery.
If your ultimate goal is to marry for life, you CANNOT be too afraid to discuss true things with your partner.
In addition to actually having a good chance to stay married for life, it also just feels so much better when people choose you even after knowing things about you that make you feel insecure.
I understand there are a lot of people out there who can’t understand what the fuss is about. Some people will shout it from the rooftops: “Of course I masturbate! I have my best orgasms with my vibrator!” or will be like one of my college buddies who was the first person I’d ever heard talk about it casually and without embarrassment.
It took 19-ish years for me to hear someone speak about it in front of others.
Remember The 40-Year-Old Virgin? I handled all masturbation-related conversation even worse than Steve Carell’s Andy did.
And I’m a little bit jealous of the self-assuredness of Paul Rudd’s hilarious David.
Andy: [motioning to David’s box of porn] “I don’t want this stuff, okay? Because I don’t do that, that much.”
David: “What, masturbate?”
David: [who has been standing in the doorway, fully clothed, for only a couple minutes] “Dude, I’ve jacked it twice since I’ve been here.”
Why This is Dangerous
If sex is unimportant to you AND your spouse, then it probably doesn’t matter very much.
If you hate long-term monogamous relationships or were forced into marriage, or just really want to divorce, then this isn’t a problem for you.
But if your marriage is important to you, and you’re like 99 percent of people who really like sex, even if it’s a big secret to everyone who knows them, then this matters.
I grew up in a little Ohio town with conservative Catholic parents. I went to Catholic school, attended church on Sundays, was part of religious-based activities from first grade through high school graduation, and only “knew” a few things about masturbation as a kid:
It’s a sin and depending on what God decides on Judgment Day, could lead to eternal damnation.
Imagine that for a minute. The shittiest time in your life you can think of. The worst you’ve ever felt. So, like, a few weeks after divorce, and your ex is dating someone else, and you’re crying and afraid of everything, and then one day you’re like, working it out in the shower or wherever, drenched in loneliness and shame, while everyone else in the world watches because you’re secretly the star of a real-life The Truman Show, and then someone randomly emails you the video with a note: “Everyone knows, loser!!! Even your mom and grandma!!!” and then you look out the side window of your house and there’s your 70-year-old neighbor lady pointing and laughing at you. And then, because you’re in hell for jerking it, you have to feel THAT FEELING for ETERNITY. Not two weeks. Not 1,000 years. FOREVER. That’s what we’re taught. And, you know, maybe it’s true. I don’t have any way of knowing. I just know when you are afraid of THAT your entire childhood and combine it with #2, your marriage can get really shitty.
That’s weird and gross! I can’t talk about that! No one else does it! You can tell because everyone at school makes jokes about it! No chance any of these other adults in church would ever do something like that!
True story: Catholics go to confession, where we tell a priest in private about the things we feel guilty for, and then God through the intercession of the priest forgives our sins. And even though I’m not a very good Catholic, I’ve been to confession in adulthood. So, I mention this to the priest one time when I was still married, and he can tell I’m feeling nervous and uncomfortable talking about it. So, he asks: “How often?” I told him. And he replied: “That’s it!? You’re not even trying!” Made me snort. Maybe God or the pope or really pious people would frown at him cracking that joke. But it was a huge moment for me in terms of really understanding that most things that make us uncomfortable are things that many, maybe most, other people also feel uncomfortable with. Because so many of us are kind of the same underneath all our masks. Which is awesome to understand when you’re having conversations like this.
Just letting “things” build up seemed wholly unsustainable.
I don’t think most young people think: Gee, what can I do right now for fun? I know! Diddle myself! I think they think: Good God, man. I totally need to do it with someone. But I’m like 14 and don’t know how, and we’re supposed to wait until we’re married, and premarital sex is a sin too! But that seems like an even-BIGGER sin than this other sin. So, I guess I’ll watch this weird scrambled TV channel that is mostly snowy static, but I can totally see a naked boob once in awhile. Or whatever.
So I didn’t talk to my wife about it.
I don’t want to blame Jesus and my parents and my Catholic upbringing for my failed marriage. We’re all responsible for our choices. But that’s seriously the reason all the sex stuff got weird. Fear and shame related to beliefs about sex that were unhealthy in the context of marriage.
I had, and in some ways, have, legit guilt-shame issues about sex. And I’m guessing many kids who grew up in religious or conservative homes, or small towns like me, ALSO have some of those conflicting feelings swirling around, and maybe many people outgrow it. I’m working on outgrowing it. But it takes courage for me to talk or write about this. And maybe it does for you, too.
It’s the same fear that kept me from talking to my wife openly and honestly about sex.
Even the most-religious and conservative teachings I’ve heard about marriage don’t address what marital sex is supposed to look like. But no matter what that is? If you’re doing it together, and not hurting other people in the process? How can that be wrong? Be honest with the people you love. They NEED access to what’s inside and underneath the masks, or your relationship will suffer badly.
What it Looks Like for Many People
One of the most common stories you hear about is the guy who sneaks to the computer late at night or when no one else is home, and looks at porn photos or watches videos.
I’m not much of a porn consumer, and I’m not just saying that. Real people just seem hotter to me than “fake” people in photos or videos, and that’s always been true. I think relative to people who consume adult material, I’m probably in the bottom 5 percent.
But I’ve still been the guy whose wife turned on the computer to find some pop-up web page that had been minimized with a bunch of porn images on it, even though it’s never been a major thing.
Maybe some wives don’t care.
But I know some do. Some do because it makes them feel insecure, as if they are not good enough to make their husbands feel good or satisfy him sexually. Some do because their sex lives are inconsistent or seemingly non-existent, and she’s asking herself all these questions about why because she wants to reconnect with him in the bedroom, and then she finds porn.
And she’s like: “Wait a freaking minute. I totally want to have sex with you, even though you’re a shitty husband half the time, and I have actual body parts and a vagina and stuff, and you’re choosing airbrushed, fake-breasted electronic chicks on a screen, and your hand over me!?”
So, guys. Mental exercise: Think of your best guy friend. Or one of her platonic guy friends or co-workers you know. And now, imagine your wife has rejected your sexual advances for a few weeks and you’re starting to worry about it or wonder why.
And you come home one day, and you find her masturbating while looking at a picture of your friend or another guy she knows, and moaning his name.
That might be close to how she feels when she realizes you never touch her or tell her she’s sexy or beautiful or that you want her, but that you’re wanking it to internet chicks. It’s bad.
The Sexual Motivation Problem
You probably already know this, but you WILL get bored with pretty much everything in your life. It’s called “hedonic adaptation,” and it happens to everyone about everything. You get a new car, you get a new job, you get a bunch of money, you get a new TV, you get new clothes, you get a new romantic partner.
At first, it’s amazing. Everything feels good and it’s all rainbows and unicorns and orgasms.
Then, one day, and you don’t even notice it happening, it stops exciting you. Whatever new thing that made you feel awesome at first has now stopped generating those good feelings.
Hedonic adaptation is your brain naturally adjusting to positive life changes.
This means, you’re going to eventually “bore” of your partner in some form or fashion. It means, if the value of your relationship is measured in skin-deepness, that hot bartender or the new girl in accounting at your office is going to seem more attractive or exciting to you than the person you’re always with, in purely a base mammal sort of way.
This is why we choose to love our partners every day, and not be duped by how we sometimes “feel,” because feelings change constantly and always will.
This is why we actively practice gratitude for all that we have, instead of pining for what we don’t.
This is why we work daily to build profoundly honest and strong and intimately connected relationships, where something as superficial as a person’s physical appearance could NEVER feel more attractive to you than your partner.
This is why I’m championing mega-honesty about sex before and during marriage. Practice doing it with your spouse A LOT. Get awesome at it. Like, really, really, really awesome at it. Because, who wants to go bang some stranger who could never come close to doing it as well as your masterful partner who loves and respects you?
In Mark Manson’s Models: Attract Women Through Honesty, he tackles the subject of porn and masturbation in the context of dating, and does so without filtering it through the prism of religion or morality.
I think it applies to modern marriage, too.
Here are some excerpts:
“Since the advent of internet pornography, it’s become easier than ever for men to satisfy their sexual urges… there’s an entire generation that has grown up always having access to as much pornography as they want since a young age…
“There’s no hard scientific evidence (yet) for porn addiction. But here’s something that is absolutely true: porn kills your motivation to pursue women in real life.”
Part of making your marriage awesome is making your wife feel respected, safe, loved, desired, and sexy so that you can have a kick-ass and bond-forming sex life together.
When you stop pursuing your wife emotionally and sexually as you did when you were dating, she feels less respected, less loved, less desired, less sexy, and thusly, less safe. And even though that’s true, she may still want to have sex with you a lot.
When you’re jerking it all the time, you eliminate your physical and psychological motivation to pursue your wife. When she expresses sexual interest in you because the kids are finally asleep, or because they’re spending the night at grandma’s, and you say “Um, I’m really tired tonight, babe. I just want to watch this movie,” but the truth is you just got off by yourself in the bathroom, maybe because you guessed incorrectly that she wouldn’t want to do it tonight, or maybe just because you never considered her at all, she’s going to feel rejected.
Like, it’s going to start to really hurt and pile up on top of all these other things we accidentally do to destroy our wives emotionally.
We are selfish creatures, we humans. Some more than others. If you selfishly want your marriage to be good and last forever, then you need to unselfishly communicate with your wife about your wants and desires, and take steps to build up your sexual motivation by devoting that energy toward her. Instead of expecting her to drop her panties on command, maybe you could do what needs done to make her want to.
Maybe even need to. That’s always fun.
“There’s a bit of an epidemic of sexual apathy going on worldwide, where husbands, boyfriends, and even single men are turning to pornography rather than the real life women that they see walking around every day. And it makes sense why: it’s easier… the sex is more exciting, it’s available at any time… the girls never say no, and… there are no obligations or commitments involved.
“The problem is that there are some negative side effects. The first being that porn creates very, very unrealistic expectations about sex, about women, and about sexuality. Porn makes money by accentuating and exaggerating sexual ideals. Actual sex with an actual woman often involves awkward moments of figuring out what she likes, what you like, who likes it which way. It also involves ecstatic moments of emotional intimacy, something porn can never provide…
“The other problem is that porn is so easy, that it encourages men to masturbate… a lot. And as we all know, as men, the more we masturbate, the more interested we become in food and television, and the less we become in women and accomplishing something…
“Science is starting to back this up. Orgasms, or more accurately, ejaculation in men, actually causes a depletion of various hormones and endorphins which often lead to useful behaviors as well as motivation.”
Maybe you’re totally comfortable discussing sex. That will really help you have open and honest conversations with your wife which can contribute to an amazing, and perhaps marriage-saving, sex life. I hope you’ll have them.
Or maybe you’re sometimes scared to talk about it like I was. Maybe you’re afraid to tell her because you’re afraid of rejection or her judgment.
Maybe you have some warped sense of moral duty to hide from your wife some of these things you feel on the inside.
But you have to figure out how to have the conversation. You owe it to her. You owe it to you. You owe it to any future children you have. Talk to her. Courageously. Because you may be surprised to discover she wants those things, too. No matter what, it might help her understand that she is desired and enjoyed much more than she believes.
You may be surprised to discover that little things like blindfolds and neckties and headphones blasting a sexy playlist and ice cubes and food and touching her there, and there, and right there, just like that, can play a major role in making your marriage the sustainable, healthy and joy-giving institution it’s designed to be.
This part of your life can destroy your marriage if you’re not honest with her.
This part of your life can make it phenomenal if you are.
Not tomorrow. Today.
Read more of Matthew Fray on the Good Men Project!
This essay originally appeared in part on Matt’s blog, Must Be This Tall to Ride.