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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?

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.'"

Resolving Solo Sex Issues

Sometimes partners are so polarized on the issue of solo sex that counseling is needed. Resolving a couple's issues around solo sex is a process of helping them figure out what's going on in the relationship and what it means to them, says Schnarch. "Some therapists will take the attitude that erotica is wrong and will get involved in adjudicating proper sexual behavior in relationships. We don't. For some couples, the issue is growing up and realizing that when your partner masturbates the fantasies aren't about you. For other couples it's recognizing there's a war going on over sex in the relationship, and one person's use of erotica is either an attack or a way of balancing out having sex withheld. There are many reasons people look at erotica."

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Reviewed on July 14, 2004

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