Given the deadly virus going on, sex might not be at the forefront of your mind. Whether you have a partner who’s been feeling really anxious lately, you’ve been feeling really anxious lately, or you’re not partnered, but not feeling super comfortable about hooking up with someone new, it’s entirely possible that you’re just not in the mood for much, action-wise.
Whatever your situation: Maybe you’d still like another strategy for feeling hot and getting off with a partner in a lower-stakes way. In that case: Consider mutual masturbation, a more chilled-out, reduced-effort, and/or non-penetrative way to be with someone else.
“Sex can feel really daunting for some people, especially when their libido is in the trash. Masturbating with a partner takes the pressure off to perform if you [or your] partner [are] struggling with that,” said sex educator Dirty Lola. “Masturbating together is more about watching each other, and not focusing so much on getting each other off.” Masturbating with your partner, or doing your thing while they watch or vice versa, can help you feel physically close to each other and is, in general, a great option if you want to try something new.
Masturbating together is also a low-stakes way to make sure you both have a good time safely if you’re getting to know someone new. “Mutual masturbation, from a sexual health perspective, cannot transmit STIs [if each person is only touching their own body]," said Alexandria Williams, founder of the sexual health blog Sexology Bae.
If any of this sounds good to you—or if masturbating together just sounds hot!—here’s what you and your partner need to know about touching yourselves, but getting off together.
Talk about the possibility of masturbating together while you're not actively hooking up.
Even if you’ve been having sex with your partner for a while, masturbating in front of someone else—or even just talking about masturbation—can feel uncomfortable for some people at first. Start the conversation in a neutral space, and let your partner know you enjoy feeling physically close with them both in and out of the bedroom. In terms of what to say, try something like, "‘I understand that maybe you're not interested in having sex, but I want to be close to you. What if we masturbated together?’" said Lola. “Or, ‘I'd love to masturbate with you in the room next to me, or watching me.’"
If you know your partner likes to masturbate on their own, ask them how they do it. “You may have never even seen your partner masturbate, and I think it's important to be open and curious about it,” said Lola. "Something like, ‘I've never gotten to see you do this,’ or, ‘You've never seen me.’ Maybe you're just talking about when you started masturbating, or what you like to do when you're masturbating alone.”
Part of this is being warm and curious about potential awkwardness here. Williams addressed some of the insecurities people might feel about talking through or actually doing this with a partner: “We're used to masturbating by ourselves, and don't want to think the way we do it may be seen as weird by someone else,” she said. “We're [sometimes] taught that masturbation is shameful or weird, and that needing to do it when you're partnered indicates some sort of deficiency in your sex life.”
“You can feel really vulnerable,” said Sarah Trivett, a trauma therapist who focuses on holistic sexual healing. “There are a lot of shaming and puritanical narratives around masturbation floating around.” If you or your partner have any of those feelings but still want to give mutual masturbation a shot, consider bringing them up openly when you talk through this idea and seeing how you might make each other feel better in those ways.
After that's done, ask them if they'd like to try some of what you discussed together in practice—and, if they do, outline beforehand what that might look like in terms of things you'd both definitely be into, things you'd possibly want to try, and things you have firm boundaries about not exploring, either this first time around or more generally. That way, everyone's able to go into not-quite-"solo" sex together with clear expectations and understandings around wants and needs.
Plan ahead about what setting (and sex toys) might make masturbating together feel especially good.
Once you’ve discussed what you and your partner each like—and you know you’re both into it—consider the logistics, like where and with what toys you're going to make it happen.
Creating a relaxed environment beforehand can help you both feel another way to feel relaxed and ready to enjoy yourselves. Light a few candles, grab a few blankets, and throw on some soft music. “Think about what's going to be comfortable for you. Are you going to want lube? Are you going to need a towel? Are you going to want a playlist?” said sex educator Carly S. "I'm always a big proponent of flattering lighting. Get yourself a lamp, and put a pink light bulb in it, or light some candles. Ambient lighting really does help you relax because your perceived imperfections aren't on full display.”
Keep your go-to toys charged (and washed) so they’re ready to go, or pick out something new you can both use together, like a rabbit toy, stroker, or an anal plug. If you're looking for suggestions there: “Wands are some of my favorites because they're easy to fit between two bodies if you're using them together, and they're great for warming up [by using them for] body massage before you even start touching genitals,” said Carly S. “They can be used on any kind of body and genital configuration, and basically any body part—even your feet, your back, or your neck.”
Choose positions that work for both of you.
“I think sometimes it scares people when they feel like they have to put on a show,” said Trivett. “Usually when we're performing, it means that our focus is on how we're being perceived from the outside, and sex is the most pleasurable when we're connected to our internal experience of what we're feeling on the inside.” You’re masturbating with your partner, not performing for your partner, so focus on situating both of your bodies so you feel at ease.
Lying down side by side is a great place to start if you’re feeling shy or nervous. “When people are self-pleasuring alone, they're usually lying on their backs,” said Trivett, so it might feel more natural to both of you. And it lets you both feel slightly less exposed and able to ease into things: “You're not fully facing each other. It's a little more protected, a little more private," said Trivett. "You can still take little furtive glances at each other, but it's not as intimidating.”
If being watched still feels too overwhelming, try using a blindfold. “This way, you can feel more like you're alone, even though you know your partner is watching. All you can do is hear them,” said Lola. “There are ways to remedy any awkwardness that can also be very hot.”
If you do like being watched, Williams recommended lying with your heads propped up on pillows and facing each other, with your legs draped over each other. “Having your genitals almost touching is a way to get close while still preserving your line of sight,” she said. You can also try laying your head back on your partner’s abdomen, or vice versa. Experiment with different positions and locations—like the couch instead of a bed—if a certain spot is uncomfortable or you want a different view.
Talk to each other about what you're each thinking and doing as you go.
Keeping an open approach to changing things up as you go will help you both have the best possible time, so ask questions, and offer up your own feelings, too. “It can be really freeing for people to create more possibility and choice around what sex can be,” said Trivett, and that also means making sure everything is both consensual and feeling good and fun. (And: If either of you find that you're not really into masturbating together, just call it off! Reassure your partner that you won’t judge or shame them if they need to take a break or stop, and ask them for that same reassurance if you need it.)
If you're both feeling into it: Keeping a running commentary focused on turning each other on can be really fun. If you're not sure where to start when it comes to dirty talk, here's a guide to doing it (without feeling fake!) for both the newest of newcomers and those who want to add more smut to their vocabularies.
By describing how you're touching yourself or inviting your partner to do the same, you might learn something new, too. “Your partner can learn through watching how you touch yourself, how you like to be touched, and you can learn the same from them,” Trivett said. Making something private into something new that you can share is even hotter if you guide each other along the way (…and maybe get off on watching each other do that, too).
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