Masturbation Saved My Marriage

After a year without sex, my husband caught me getting myself off, and it changed everything.
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After a year without sex, my husband caught me getting myself off, and it changed everything.

When I first met my husband-to-be, Richie*, he was everything I hoped for in a partner: smart, mature, slightly nerdy in that sexy way, a true feminist, and a budding documentary filmmaker to boot.

Sex with Richie was as wonderful as sex with anyone relatively new can be the first two years we were together. We were compatible, and we were in love. He paid attention to my needs, and I could orgasm, at least most of the time.

But like many married couples, things started to go south — and not in the good toward-the-couch kind of way — when Real Life Problems began. First, Richie’s second documentary film tanked, and we lost several thousand dollars that we had invested together in the project. At the same time, my work as a photographer started to pick up, and the disparity between our professional lives created tension and jealousy. He gained 20 pounds; I lost 10 after I started taking more Pilates just to get out of our apartment and away from his sullen moods. 

The times we did have sex were middling at best, both of us far more focused on his needs — pleasing his fallen ego (literally), stroking his manhood (um, literally, again) — than on mine.

My needs soon became relegated to just about never. And in inopportune circumstances, as seems to happen between couples, my libido was on the upswing. I felt sexier than ever in my newly toned body, and it was becoming much easier for me orgasm, thanks to all those pelvic-tightening exercises I was doing in pilates (actually a thing and far more effective than kegels, by the way).

While I was hornier than ever, sex with Richie (when we had it, that is) was worse than ever. I began to use the infrequent times when he left our apartment to take care of my own needs, ménage à moi-style — you know, dialing "O" for orgasm on the pink telephone.

Of course, I had never stopped masturbating when Richie and I started living together — neither did he — but our mutually exclusive masturbation habits were something I felt guilty about or hurt by at the time. When I buttered my own biscuit, for example, I wondered what would happen if he found me going at it. Would he be hurt? Would he think there was something wrong with him? Was there something wrong with him that he and he alone couldn’t please me?

Back then, when I knew he was beating off in the shower, I felt left out, wounded. Why didn’t he want to have sex with me? Was the last time really that bad for him? Was he fantasizing about someone else? And is that where all my expensive hair conditioner was going?

Now that our sex lives had dried up like an old herpes sore, I stopped worrying about what he was doing or what he would think, and I started to feel more and more resentment that he seemed to have all but forgotten about me in the bedroom. As my frustration grew alongside my pilates-boosting libido, it became all I could think about: when could I get home alone or get Richie out of the apartment so that I could get off?

In my metaphorical brain, the ringing of the pink telephone was becoming near constant, and a darn annoyance, too, distracting me on shoots, in the car, at the supermarket, and even lying next to Richie in bed. At the same time, I began to wonder if my husband was even a part of my intimate life anymore, or if this was how our marriage was going to be from now on: intimacy para uno.

The agony lasted for more than a year, during which time we all but stopped having sex (with each other). It was awful, miserable, annoying, and disheartening, all wrapped up into one increasingly unhappy union. 

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Then, one random rainy Monday, I suddenly found myself with a free afternoon after the weather cancelled my outdoor shoot with some female soccer players in bikinis. Sweet Jesus! I raced home, knowing Richie was at his parents' helping his father with some nerdy family film project. I turned on the TV, stripped down, and fell into an open straddle on the couch. I planted my palm on my crotch, closed my eyes, and began. Yeeessssssss…

That was how Richie found me: mid-strum, mouth agape, eyes closed, squirming and shivering as I edged toward orgasm. I hadn’t heard his steps in the hallway, the door open and close, or even his padding across the rug as he made his way to the couch. But there he was all of a sudden, his hand over mine, his fingers taking over the job, suddenly doing with artful precision something he had never done with such artful precision before.

My eyes popped wide open, but before my heart could hit my sternum in total shock, he shushed me and smiled, giving me that heavy-lidded look that happens when he’s either horny or had too much to drink. I looked at him and moaned loudly, as much in my own ecstasy and as in recognition that he was totally into this. One-hundred-and-fifteen percent.

I came quickly and massively, shuddering with a deeper orgasm than I’d had in years. I sunk back into the couch, caught my breath… and remembered him. 

I lazily groped for his penis: Thank you, now it’s your turn. He was rock hard, but he pushed my hand away: No, this is all about you

“That’s the sexiest thing you’ve ever done,” he whispered, leaning forward and thrusting his erection into the couch pillows. “The sexiest.”

Later that night, as we lay in bed listening to the rain on the roof, he reached for my crotch again. He wanted more. This time, I had to readjust his fingers and show him how to palpitate better. He didn’t have the advantage, after all, of immediately mimicking my movements, but the end result was the same: a big, deep orgasm.

This time, I was insistent upon returning the favor, my resentment all but eradicated after two orgasms in a matter of hours with a man I hadn’t had an orgasm with in over a year. I encouraged him to start on his own. You know — cuff the carrot, clean the rifle, burp the worm. I wanted to experience what he had experienced while watching me — the carnal intimacy, the inherent voyeurism, the rare vulnerability of seeing someone you love squirm and shudder in ecstasy. I took over the job, and he came just like I did, quickly and massively.

After that, we took up a regular course of mutual self-pleasure, both watching each other masturbate as well masturbating one another (which differs from giving him a hand job or him fingering me because we were solely focused on the other’s orgasm rather than getting off at the same time). This not only revived our floundering sex life, but also brought a new level of intimacy to our marriage and helped us both achieve deeper, more intense, and more frequent orgasms.

After this lip-biting epiphany, I began to wonder, Did every couple know about the joys of shared manual cumming? Was this some big sexual secret that we were the last ones to discover? Damn it, had everyone else been calling and connecting through the pink telephones for years?

The answer to all above: a resounding nope. Which leads me to five pertinent points on how this parable of the pink telephone — which isn’t over yet, by the way — can help you:

  1. Guys want to watch you masturbate — and then they want to do it for you. After Richie admitted that seeing me masturbate was the sexiest thing ever, I took an informal poll of my guy friends, and apparently, you going down on you is H-O-T. But don’t just trust my lazy research efforts: statistics show that more than 75 percent of all guys fantasize about masturbating their female partners, even though few actually do it.

  2. Voyeuristic and assisted masturbation can significantly boost the level of intimacy in your relationship. Allowing someone to watch you do something intensely personal that leaves you vulnerable basically spells intimacy with a capital I; watching your partner do something intensely personal that leaves him or her vulnerable spells intimacy in all caps. If you haven’t tried mutual masturbation, do it tonight (as long as both you and your partner are willing).

  3. This is the best way to teach your partner what gets you off and vice-versa. Think of voyeuristic masturbation as perhaps the best show-and-tell lesson ever. After all, you’ve likely been getting you off on your own for years and know exactly what it takes to dial up a big “O.” The same is true of your partner, so watch him or her and take mental notes. See how he or she is doing that thingie with his or her hand? Now emulate that.

  4. You will both have bigger, better orgasms. Part of this is a result of No. 3, since knowing how to better please him or helping him better please you will mean bigger, better orgasms for everyone involved. But the other part is because masturbating, which is already a sure-fire way to orgasm, in front of your partner can be a giant turn-on, which will mean (once again) bigger, better orgasms for everyone involved.

  5. You don’t have to be in the mood at the same time. Stay in a relationship long enough or live with someone for more than six months, and you’ll realize that you both wanting to do it at the same time is as rare as a good sale at Barneys. This is just another godsend of masturbation.

I never shared my pink-telephone metaphor with Richie, but I think about it often; because now, for the first time in our sexual relationship, I feel like we’re finally both on the same line, connected and talking to one another rather than just letting it ring, engaging in endless texting, or staring into our own phones alone at night, as so many couples do, both literally and figuratively.

Last fall, after my epiphany, I was wandering through a thrift store when I spotted a rotary telephone in the perfect shade of plastic-vagina pink. I bought it without much thought to the obscene price asked for by the vintage shop dude. But now it sits by our conjugal bed, reminding me that there is a way to dial up an “O” or more intimacy with my husband whenever I want it. All I have to do is pick up the call and use my fingers.