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Is Solo Sex Hurting Your Relationship?

Wives often get upset if husbands are engaging in solo sex, such as masturbation or phone sex. But who is hurting whom?
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WebMD Feature

A woman might feel neglected if her mate spends too much time watching sports on TV. But if his leisure time involves solo sex, such as masturbating, engaging in phone sex, or using the Internet to view explicit sexual images or chat with an anonymous partner, she might go through the roof. And she might post to WebMD's Sex Matters® board, where the overwhelming majority of posts concerned with a mate engaging in solo sex come from women.

Of course it's true that many women as well as men find pleasure in gratifying themselves alone. So is it cheating when the partner is left out? Psychologist Willard F. Harley of White Bear Lake, Minn., says men and women are probably hardwired to react differently. "Most women will say they want their husbands' sexual expression to be exclusively with them -- no masturbation, no pornography, no strip clubs. But men don't care if their wives look at naked men. They think it gives them license to look at naked women."

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Whether solo sex is a problem for a relationship is in the eye of the beholder, says David Schnarch, PhD, director of The Marriage and Family Health Center in Evergreen, Colo. "For some couples, it's a breach. For others, it's not."

When the San Jose Marital and Sexuality Centre in Santa Clara, Calif., observed an increasing number of people in therapy dealing with online sexual behavior, its researchers surveyed visitors -- 86% male and 14% female -- to the MSNBC web site. The often-quoted survey showed that 64% of the 9,177 respondents were married or in a committed relationship, and 92% did not have problems related to online sexual activities. Perhaps surprisingly, most respondents said they got excited but not aroused by viewing and chatting.

Who's in Charge of Sexual Fantasies?

Solo sex can involve human interaction, as with phone sex or Internet chatting, or it can be totally private, as with masturbation. "The common traits are that the partner isn't involved and nobody is touching anybody else," says Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, a licensed marriage and family counselor/sex therapist in Fair Oaks, Calif. "Sometimes people think when they marry that they've just gotten a license to run the life of the other person, including their sexual thoughts and feelings. That's where everybody gets up in arms about solo sex."

She says individuals are entitled to their own thoughts, even that society might deem repugnant. And to police a mate's sexual thoughts and feelings is downright unrealistic. "They're in for a shock," says Weston, who also answers questions on WebMD's Sex Matters® message board.

Harley disagrees. "My basic rule for marriages is that all your sex, including fantasies, should be with each other. First, your wife will want it that way. Second, if your wife is your exclusive sexual outlet, you'll have a much better romantic relationship."

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