College Advice: Should There Be a Double Standard For Midnight Masturbation?
I’m a 22 year old girl who’s been in a relationship with a 21 year old guy for about four months now. Things had been going really well until a couple of weeks ago when my bf woke up in the middle of the night while I was doing myself next to him in bed. It didn’t occur to me that I was doing anything offensive – I just couldn’t sleep, and kind of wanted a way to relax. Plus, though sex with him is generally really good, I didn’t come when we had sex earlier that night, and so I was feeling some tension that needed release! Anyway, he got all upset about it. He didn’t really explain why, but I got the sense that he felt kind of threatened by it.
I wanted to drop the whole thing, but he wouldn’t let it go – and just as I started to get really frustrated with him, he brought up a point that I couldn’t really counter. Simply put, he asked me how I would feel if I woke up to see him jerking off right next to me. I wanted to say “no problem at all,” just to sort of win the argument. But I couldn’t in good faith say that because, actually, that would really upset me.
Masturbating next to a sleeping guy has just never struck me as a weird or offensive thing to do (though I guess I do it as quietly as I can so that the guy doesn’t wake up – which I guess means that maybe I recognize it’s not TOTALLY kosher?). Am I wrong to think that there should be a double standard here? Logically, I guess that if I can do it, he should be able to as well. But that’s not how I really feel. Am I wrong to think there should be a double standard? That girls can do themselves when their man is asleep, but that guys shouldn’t be allowed to?
Frustrated, but Trying to be Fair
I can see why your boyfriend doesn’t want to talk about it. It’s hard to level a clear argument in such a murky area, much less one strong enough to convince someone who instinctively disagrees. Nevertheless, I think both of your perspectives are based on an implicit logic, which you’ll have to confront in order to resolve this.
The topic of sex is touchy in part because it’s such an inherently unsymmetrical act. I asked around, and as far as I can tell, homosexual couples perceive this imbalance as much as heterosexual ones. Even when the balance swings back and forth, at any given moment, one person’s doing the work — and with good reason: we like it that way. No matter how much we value balance and equality in other aspects of our relationships, total symmetry in sex just wouldn’t be sexy.
In other words, to some extent, we are always dealing with inherent differences when we deal with sex, because we’re dealing with roles. In your case, we have to isolate the differences that you and your boyfriend are confronting, and determine whether they are deep enough, and relevant enough, to warrant a double standard.
First off, men’s and women’s sexual appetites are different. Women are often capable of having an orgasm and then having sex again shortly afterwards, while most men are not. While this might not make a difference in the middle of the night, it still effects the way we view men’s and women’s sexual appetites — a man’s desire is seen as more of a commodity, in a way, because it’s capable of being depleted, while a woman’s seems infinite, although in reality they’re probably more similar than we realize.
The other big difference, which you mentioned in your letter, is that many women don’t reliably achieve orgasm during sex. If you normally don’t come during sex, then waking up your boyfriend wouldn’t solve your problem (although he might like it anyway). On the other hand, part of the reason he’s upset might be that he suspects that you didn’t come earlier — or, if he knows it, he may feel frustrated and inadequate as he confronts the fact that you were left unsatisfied yet again. You say that “sex with him is generally really good” — maybe he needs to hear that.
The strange truth is that being in a relationship involves making agreements about each other’s sexual practices. If he can’t get past this, then no matter how irrational he’s being, you’re both going to have to deal with his feelings in order to make it work. A relationship is just two people, after all. Practically, you have several options: you can decide to always wake each other up, to mutually forbid or allow masturbation, or to employ a double standard. (The hidden fourth option is to agree not to let each other know. Actually, I might opt for that one, in your position.)
In the end, it’s not just about the differences between men and women, which are at best elusive and hard to pinpoint: it’s also about how the two of you feel about those differences. I can opine as easily as either of you, but I can’t convince him if he fundamentally disagrees with me, and neither can you. The best you can do is present the problem in the clearest possible terms and see if you can get him to see your perspective. Do it as sweetly and with as much care as you can — this is a sensitive topic for many reasons, not the least of which is that he may feel that his masculinity is in question. Use language that reminds him that your feelings apply to men at large, not just him.
I wish I could help you more, but from here on it’s between you and him. As a last thought, I’d caution you to be particularly careful with double standards. We tend to adopt them in ways that privilege our own perspectives. Think about the raw facts: for various reasons, he’s bothered by your doing it; you’re bothered by his doing it; and he seems to be willing not to do it. If neither of you can see the other’s perspective, then this becomes a negotiation, and in that case, you don’t have a leg to stand on. You have to give it your best shot, of course, but in the end, this might be a time when you have to accept a logic you don’t understand for the sake of his feelings.
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