One of the most tonally incongruous moments in the study-abroad-fanfiction series Emily in Paris happens right at the end of the pilot. A sleepy-eyed Emily and her Chicago-based boyfriend try to masturbate over FaceTime after their first few days apart. When the video lags, Emily instinctively reaches for her vibrator, which proceeds to blow out the power in the whole building.
Despite the fact that Paris’ electrical system could absolutely handle a Hitachi and that the show is fun precisely because it’s not rooted anywhere near our present reality, it got one thing strikingly right: Mutually masturbating when you’re both exhausted-yet-turned-on is the move. And it couldn’t possibly be more the move than during the pandemic, when both burnout and horny levels are simultaneously peaking. Better yet, the New York City Department of Health recommends mutual masturbation as a COVID-19 precaution.
The main appeal is that masturbating separately — yet together — is easier than penetrative or oral sex, yet can still result in stress relief, mood boosts, emotional connection and all the other perks of sex. “Anything that takes pressure off of each other right now is going to benefit the relationship,” says psychologist and sex expert Antonia Hall. “[Masturbating] solo or together when one of you isn’t feeling it can be an excellent idea during these extra stressful times.” Or, as redditor and mutual masturbation fan TMO5565 puts it: “Sometimes we don’t feel like getting sweaty or doing all that physical exertion so we’ll lay on opposite ends of the bed and watch each other masturbate and wow… The orgasms are incredible.”
Beyond its practicality, mutual masturbation can also prove beneficial at a time when, whether you live together 24/7 or mostly see each other over Zoom, you might especially crave more sexual and emotional closeness. As another redditor points out, mutual masturbation helped him and his wife reconnect when childcare wore them down — by buying her a WeVibe Tango vibrator, getting off next to each other and not pressuring her for P-in-V sex, they (ironically) started having sex three times a week during the pandemic.
Travis, a 27-year-old restaurant manager in Omaha, notes that he and his partner often “found watching each other to be a big turn-on, so about a third of the time we ended up having sex or performing oral on one another, so it was actually a boost to our sex lives.” Plus, he adds, “I was able to watch and take mental notes on what methods she was using, which helped me know what she likes.”
Part of that increased intimacy comes from overcoming any lingering stigma around masturbation, which is still often portrayed as either a private or male-centered act. “I can’t tell you how many times a woman has said to me, ‘I’m broken. I don’t know if I’ve had an orgasm,’” says Laura Bogush, a Cleveland Bodysex workshop instructor. “The truth is that women are responsible for our own orgasms, and sex is a skill that needs to be practiced,” something that she says is harder to do when mainstream sex ed focuses solely on reproduction and provides zero guidance on pleasure. That unevenness in pleasure can feel particularly pronounced right now, when women can feel the dual pressure of needing to have clothes-off, physically taxing sex that doesn’t even guarantee an orgasm.
Bodysex workshops, created by famed feminist sex educator Betty Dodson in the late 1960s, are mutual masturbation havens. Famous for women sitting naked in a circle and learning about their pleasure anatomy through diagrams, mirror-aided “Genital Show and Tells” and, of course, masturbation, Bogush describes them as a place where people can explore self-pleasure, alone but together. Orgasm is never required in these workshops, but it often happens with the sexual energy in the room. “We snack, take breaks and go back for another orgasm,” she says. “The experience creates an extraordinary connection with yourself and other women in the group. At the end of the workshop, it’s hard to leave.” And while her workshops are now all virtual, the lesson remains the same: Masturbating in the presence of an equally open person — or people — brings you closer together.
For first-time mutual masturbators, Hall recommends starting someplace comfy. “You may want to begin mutually masturbating while kissing each other, whispering in each other’s ear or sit facing each other, slowly touching down each other’s bodies,” she says. Eventually, you can slowly make the shift to touching yourselves. And if you’re doing it remotely, you can enhance the experience with long-distance sex toys.
But while mutual masturbation can be something really connecting, the irony of it all is that it’s really more about doing what makes you feel good and inviting another person to witness it. Sure, it can lead to touching each other or act as a prelude to intercourse, but you’re really satisfying yourself, here. The view is hot and it’s an intimate thing, but the pleasure is yours. Some may see that as “selfish,” but it’s really not — when you’re too bone-tired to bone, when the act of doing perpetual dishes or logging in another fully remote work day is already too much, thinking about your own sexual satisfaction is, in itself, a liberating act.
Besides, when you’re this exhausted, sometimes all you need at the end of the day is something good to watch.
Your Hardest Questions About Sex, Answered
- Why do we think hard sex is an orgasm highway?
- How can you last longer in bed — especially when it’s, well, been a while?
- Here’s one way: try a little face-sitting.
- Should you be more worried about low sex drive or premature ejaculation?
- But really, what the hell is a “good” sex noise, anyway?
- Is “hard sex” really the orgasm highway we think it is?
- What’s it like to have sex when you’re nonbinary?
- Stronger, more intense male orgasms? Yes please!
- Was the sex even that good if you didn’t break a sweat?
- Scientifically speaking, what’s the right age to lose your virginity?
- And why do we want to screw as soon as we set foot in a hotel room?
- Ever wondered what the average number of thrusts is during sex? Here you go.