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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?

Who's in Charge of Sexual Fantasies? continued...

Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs, says psychologically there's a contrast effect involved in looking at other women and fantasizing about them. "Your wife can't measure up. Sex with her will be boring. But if you can avoid the temptation, every time you make love with her will be wonderful."

Limiting sex to one's partner may be contrary to human drives, he says, but as a sophisticated culture, we've agreed it's good for society to rein in certain drives. "We live in a monogamous society I'm not exactly sure we're wired for, but we've decided monogamy is a good idea," he says. "Pornography is really difficult to resist. It shows up in email every day. Erase it or get filters."

Join the Fun

Noting there are now lines of erotic videos and web sites designed for women, Weston says more and more women are enjoying explicit images. "Some women think that any porn, which I call 'explicit images,' degrades the people who made them and that the actors did it under coercion," Weston says. "That's not true. Granted there are porn mills where people are taken advantage of, but plenty of people are doing it as a legitimate business."

Instead of trying to restrict a mate's online or phone sex, she suggests joining in. "A lot of couples are going online together." One couple she counseled involved a woman who was upset because her partner didn't want sex as often as he once did. In therapy, he disclosed that he was masturbating to images online, specifically to erotic images of women having their hair cut. "The woman said, 'Let's look at it together.' Once they got it out in the open and shared it, things were fine." Weston adds, "Sex is adult play. Go play."

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Behavior

The San Jose Centre researchers described the 8% minority for whom online sex was problematical as "compulsive" and those among them who averaged 38 hours in online sexual activities as "sex addicts." Furthermore, problems correlated positively with the amount of time spent in online sexual activities.

Not all sex therapists agree with the addiction model. "I'm not a fan of the idea that people can be addicted to sex in the same way someone can be addicted to drugs," says Weston. She does feel that solo sex can become obsessive, a line that's crossed in a relationship when explicit and tacit agreements are subordinated to the obsession.

"We don't approach solo sex as either a healthy and unhealthy form of behavior," says Schnarch, author of Passionate Marriage and Resurrecting Sex. "It's a couples issue, not a medical issue. Anybody is free to decide (and usually does) what is healthy and what isn't, and usually couples are clear about it. It's relational politics: 'if I like it and it doesn't make me nervous, it's OK," or "if what you're doing makes me nervous, it's not.'"

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