For more sex education resources during the COVID-19 outbreak, check out our Better Sex Ed guide.
If you don’t want to masturbate, know that no part of you is “broken.”
While some recent surveys report that 84 percent of people in the United States have masturbated, not wanting to masturbate isn’t uncommon. A person might not want to masturbate for many reasons, and none of them include the words “frigid” or “prude.”
Lack of interest in masturbation can be a short-term experience or something that lasts longer or for an entire lifetime, depending on the reasons behind the disinterest. Before diving into those potential reasons, one quick thing: Masturbation and partnered sex are two different things—you can want to do one activity but not the other, and that’s OK.
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Someone might masturbate because they want to experience self-pleasure or orgasms, but not want to engage in partnered play because they think it’s not for them (more on that in a bit). Someone might want to engage in partnered sex but find that solo sex just doesn’t do it for them. To complicate things a bit, masturbation and partnered play aren’t always mutually exclusive: You can continue to masturbate while in a relationship, and you might also enjoy mutual masturbation (masturbating while your partners also masturbate).
Every sex act—including the many ways you can masturbate—is just one option on a vast and varied sexual menu, and it’s OK to pass on any of them.
(If you’re avoiding masturbation because of unwanted sexual pain, you might want to look at other resources.) Here are some other reasons you may find yourself disinterested—or averse—to masturbating (and what you can do about them, if you want).
You feel sexual shame
As a sex educator, one of the most common experiences students —especially cisgender women—share with me is feeling shameful, embarrassed, or “dirty” when thinking about masturbation. People of any gender identity can experience sexual shame, but in the United States, cisgender women are taught that masturbation is “dirty,” deviant, and can contribute to a whole host of made-up problems (like hairy palms).
So, it’s no wonder that so many people feel ashamed to masturbate.
That shame originates in a belief system that says that sexuality is only something to be experienced with your partner who you’re married to. In that belief system, any type of sexual exploration—including masturbation—is bad.
But masturbating (both when you’re single and when you’re in a relationship) doesn’t take anything away from partnered sexual relationships you might have. In fact, masturbation can help you learn about your likes and dislikes so that you can more accurately and clearly communicate those things to your current or future partners. Plus, masturbation is linked to higher levels of self-esteem and sexual self-confidence.
If you experience sexual shame, it’s worth thinking through the ways that you feel it. Is it only associated with masturbation, or does it also involve partnered sex? If so, which kinds? What is your brain telling you when you think about masturbating? When you can identify the root of sexual shame, you can start working on unpacking and unlearning it.
You’re asexual (or on the ace spectrum)
Asexuality, or “ace” for short, is a spectrum of sexual orientations that span from no interest in sex at all (asexuality) to only interested in sex with people you’ve built strong emotional bonds with (demisexuality). There are also a whole host of other ace-aligned identities in between, too, and many ace people may also align with other sexual orientations, like bisexuality or pansexuality. Ultimately, an asexual person is someone who rarely or never experiences sexual desire for others.
While some ace folks do not partake at all, some people on the asexuality spectrum might still have sex and masturbate—both are valid choices. Plus, lack of sexual desire doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of romantic attraction, so ace people may still form romantic relationships (unless they’re aromantic, too).
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being asexual or lacking the desire to masturbate, so there’s nothing to “fix” in this scenario. Your asexuality isn’t a problem to be solved.
You experience genital dysphoria
Many people experience genital dysphoria, a form of body dysphoria in which you have intensely negative feelings or have a negative relationship with your genitals.
You might experience it if you’re transgender and your genitals don’t feel representative of your gender. Cisgender people may also experience genital dysphoria if they believe their genitals are abnormal in some way (perhaps because they have large labia, are uncircumcised, or feel like your genitals look, smell, or taste weird). People who have given birth may also have complicated relationships with their post-birth genitalia and may feel averse to them.
If you experience genital dysphoria, you might not want to touch or see your own genitals because the feelings that come with it (like sadness, anxiety, and even dissociation) are unpleasant, to say the least. But you may still find yourself wanting to masturbate and then feeling frustrated that you can’t do so without having a negative reaction.
If you fall into the latter group, there are some things you can try: Rather than using your own hands to masturbate, you could try using a toy. If you experience genital dysphoria because you’re trans, try finding a toy that affirms your gender or isn’t made for a specific genital configuration. If toys aren’t an option for you, try masturbating through your clothes or underwear.
If you’ve previously enjoyed masturbation but find yourself drifting away from it, it could be because you’re bored. Think back to the last several times you’ve gotten yourself off—were they all in the same position or using the same technique? Your tried-and-true method might be effective, but maybe your brain is looking for a little more stimulation, too.
If this sounds like you, try making slight modifications to your position, the tools that you use, or the porn and erotica that you consume to restore your interest in self-pleasure.
You’ve experienced sexual trauma
Sexual aversion (including an aversion to masturbation) is one of the potential side effects of experiencing sexual violence. It isn’t every survivor’s experience, but it is one that many deal with. Conversely, masturbation can also be a helpful tool for rebuilding a positive relationship with sexuality after violence.
If your disinterest in masturbation began after you experienced sexual trauma, give yourself patience. Right now, your brain is connecting “sexuality” with “danger” and having an automatic shutdown response.
There is no one act of sexual violence that leads to this response. Everything from cyberstalking and street harassment to physical acts of violence can lead to post-traumatic sexual difficulties. No matter your experience, it’s both valid and understandable to have a reaction later. A therapist or mental health-care provider can help you work through some of these struggles over the long-term.
The path to healing isn’t by jumping right back into masturbation or partnered sex. Rather, rebuild your comfort with non-sexual touch and slowly ease your way back into solo sex in a low-pressure way.
You’re missing sexual connection with others
If your disinterest in masturbation is something that has developed recently, it could be because you miss partnered sex right now, and solo sex just isn’t doing it for you.
Remember, partnered sex and masturbation are two different things, but they also can affect each other. If self-isolation has made your self-love routine disappear, you might simply be missing the touch of other people. And since we don’t realistically know how long physical distancing guidelines will need continue, in the meantime you can still try to have satisfying partnered sexual experiences safely from afar.