Love and Relationships

[Two Pronged] ‘My body, my choice?’ My partner gets upset when I masturbate

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer

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[Two Pronged] ‘My body, my choice?’ My partner gets upset when I masturbate

David Castuciano/Rappler

'Me and my partner have a slight incompatibility when it comes to sex. I have a high sex drive while hers is the opposite.'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Hi Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

Me and my partner have a slight incompatibility when it comes to sex. I have a high sex drive while hers is the opposite. It probably has to do with some trauma that she had before, having undergone sexual abuse and harassment.

As a partner should, I am understanding when she declines to do the deed; if she doesn’t feel like it. It goes without saying that sex should not be given out of obligation and both parties should be willing and looking forward to it. Having “duty” sex is not healthy and morally questionable since it satisfies one at the expense of the other.

I end up masturbating often since I need to satisfy my drive. She found out and became upset about me satisfying myself. 

Am I in the wrong here? Do I not have the right to do with my body as I please? Aren’t we supposed to believe in the phrase, “My body, my choice?”


Dear Adam,

“My body, my choice” originated as a feminist slogan and shorthand for a woman’s right to self-determination over her body, specifically covering choices in such areas as marriage, reproductive, and sexual matters. It has famously been employed in battles over birth control, abortion, and more recently by anti-vaxxers.

However, it is not universally accepted by any means (abortion and homosexuality are criminal offenses in many countries, certain drugs are likewise illegal, etc.) and should be viewed as a moral choice, not a legal right.

Your decision to invoke this slogan in your current predicament is, I fear, a red herring. The argument with your wife (let’s call her Alma) is not about your right to bodily autonomy but whether your choice of masturbation is appropriate in the context of your marriage. You do not tell us the grounds upon which Alma opposes masturbation, but let’s proceed at least on the basis that it is not religious; if it were, you would be consulting a spiritual or religious person.

Perhaps Alma opposes your choice because it in some way offends her notion of marriage. Perhaps she sees sex within marriage as being exclusively between husband and wife, in which case an imbalance between sex drives can only be addressed either by abstinence, in your case or what you call “duty” sex on hers. Alternatively, or perhaps in addition, the past trauma in her life that you allude to may play an important role here.

What seems crucial, whatever the reasons for her stance, is that you discuss the issue openly and fully so that you both understand each other’s position and can manage jointly to find a way forward that accommodates both parties. If trauma is indeed a factor, it needs to be addressed, not ignored and left to fester.

Communication is key if you wish to resolve this. Forget grandiloquent slogans and pseudo-moralistic posturing, and instead try to uncover the real basis of your differences. Only then can you explore the way forward to a common position that meets the needs of both of you.

All the best,

Dear Adam:

Thank you very much for your letter.  I agree with Mr. Baer that “communication is the key,” but I disagree with practically everything else he wrote. First, his false dichotomy that: “(This) is not about your right to bodily autonomy but whether your choice of masturbation is appropriate in the context of your marriage.”

I also strongly disagree that, by evoking “my body, my choice” you employed “pseudo-moralistic posturing.” It is true that this saying originated as a feminist slogan but it doesn’t have to stay that way. That is one of the beauties of a living language. It does not remain static but grows, expands. There is absolutely no reason it should not grow to include everyone, no matter his sexual orientation, drive, sexual identity, etc. In fact, in my opinion, it is lovely that you see it as inclusive, emphasizing that what feminists want is not special treatment but basic human rights everyone is entitled to.

Its only limitation is that your choices should not impinge on another person’s human rights; if it doesn’t, then go! 

Masturbating in the privacy of one’s bedroom/bathroom, etc. is perfectly ok. Asking Alma to cheer or even merely listen to your moans as you near orgasm is not. 

I hope Alma heals from her trauma in the best way possible. It’s wonderful that you support her every way you can, while realizing it is not your job to be her therapist. Indeed, part of healing would be the ability to discriminate between her sexual abuse and others’ healthy sexual desires that require nothing from her.  

Since I cannot believe that Mr. Baer could really be that insensitive, I have asked him to exercise his right of rebuttal.  

Best wishes, dearest Adam,
MG Holmes

CLARIFICATION: When I allude to pseudo-moralistic posturing, I do not mean to impugn the sentiment, but merely suggest that this whole argument is irrelevant and distracts from the main issue: why does Alma oppose this seemingly simple solution to the imbalance of sex drives within the marriage, and how do you deal with that? 



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