The information here comes in part from a couple of online surveys we did. The first important question then is how accurate are those surveys, do they represent married Christians as a whole?
As the surveys were not done from a randomly selected pool and we do not have demographic information, there is no way to know. That said, our educated guess is that the results of the men’s survey do closely mirror married Christian men in their 20’s and 30’s. I say this based on how it compares with other surveys and years of talking to men about this issue. Based on fewer female answers and where women saw the survey link, our best guess is that the women’s survey is not representative of Christian women as whole, but rather of a fairly sex-positive and sex-enjoying subset. That said the women’s study still gives some interesting insight into why married women masturbate.
Please note that for these surveys the definition of masturbation was self-stimulation to orgasm while not with one’s spouse. This excludes mutual masturbation or masturbating while one’s spouse is present.
The numbers here are from a 2013 update of the survey results.
Of the 1,040 men who replied, 87% said they had masturbated in the three last months. While this may seem high, it is in line with other sources.
Monthly frequency looks like this:
less than once – 13%
once – 12%
2-3 times – 18%
4-6 times – 23%
7-14 times – 16%
15-22 times – 9%
23-31 times – 6%
more than 31 – 3%
Let’s put this in perspective:
One quarter are masturbating no more than once a month. Based on the notes, a lot of this is men who only masturbate when they are away from their wives.
Four men in ten masturbate every 5 to 15 days; this is a moderate amount. As above, some of this is due to temporarily being away from their wife. Many men masturbate as often as they would be having sex if they were with their wives.
One man in six is masturbating every 2 to 4 days; this is what is normal for a young single man with no other sexual outlet.
Nine percent of the men are doing it between 3½ to 5 times a week. This is fairly high, and this level of masturbation is often (but not always) driven by porn use.
About one man in 20 is masturbating six or seven times a week. This may be a habit left from before marriage.
One man in thirty is masturbating more than daily. This could be anything from eight times a week to several times a day. (See our article on Chronic Masturbation).
What we find more disturbing than how often married men are masturbating is that most of their wives are not aware they are doing it, or at least have no idea how often they are doing it. We asked, “If you have masturbated, does your wife know?”
She knows how often I masturbate – 15%
She knows, but thinks it’s less than it really is – 20%
She knows I might on occasion – 28%
She may suspect – 20%
She has no idea – 17%
Only fifteen percent of wives are aware of how often their husband is doing it himself. This includes a good many who said their wife suggested or encouraged it when the couple are apart, or during a period of time when she was unable to meet his sexual needs.
About half of the wives are aware their man masturbates, but think it happens less often than it actually does.
Based on the husband’s estimation, four in ten wives are fairly to completely clueless about his masturbation.
This is the big question. Men were asked to check all the reasons that applied, and on average they choose two – some more, some only one. There is no doubt some justifying going on here, but given the anonymity of the survey and the fairly low number of men who feel their masturbation is sin (see next) that effect is likely small.
My drive is higher and I don’t want to bother her – 53%
To relieve stress – 44%
She says no often – 35%
To keep from being mad at her when she says no to sex – 28%
To help me sleep – 28%
I just like it, even when there is plenty of sex – 24%
It goes with my porn use – 16%
I only do it when she is sick or on her period – 10%
I only do it when we are apart overnight – 11%
The last two answers are primarily men who masturbate to keep the frequency of sexual release consistent.
The most common answer, from just over half of all men, is that they masturbate because their drive is higher. We know from years of discussions that many of these men ask for only a fraction of the sex they want. Some know from experience that they will have sex at most a certain number or times a week (or month) no matter what they ask. Others can’t deal with the hurt of being told no too often. Others think it is unfair to even ask – they think she should only have to have sex a certain number of days a week, and any desire beyond that they should deal with on their own.
One man in six said he masturbates along with using porn (probably a shocking number to some, but lower than what one sees among unsaved married men).
A quarter of men say they enjoy masturbation and like to do it even when having plenty of sex with their wives. Some men see masturbation as a different form of enjoyable sex and see no reason to deny themselves occasionally doing it. Many men do not feel this way, but it is not rare.
A little more than a quarter of men masturbate to help them get to sleep. For some, this is the relaxation that follows orgasm. For many, it’s because sexual arousal keeps them awake.
A third of men said they do it themselves because their wives regularly refuse to have sex. A subset of these men, a more than a quarter of the whole, say they masturbate to keep from being angry at their wife about the lack of sex. These men feel they would be less loving and more sexually demanding if they stopped masturbating.
More than four in ten men said they masturbate to relive stress. This is an open-ended question, so it covers a great deal, but it shows that orgasm is a common stress reliever for men. When looking for orgasm for stress relief, many men choose solo sex over sex with their spouse because it is sure, easy, and quick.
A couple of other answers that showed up several times in the comments were masturbating to avoid pain from congestion, so they can last longer when they do have sex, and using it to avoid the temptation to use porn or to cheat.
Of those who do masturbate, fifteen percent feel their actions are sinful.
An additional twenty percent do not see masturbation itself as wrong but feel hiding it from their wife is wrong.
Twenty-five percent of men feel their masturbation is not wrong, but her sexual refusal is.
Just over half do not see their actions as wrong in any way.
Of the 381 women who replied, 77% said they had masturbated in the three last months. This is somewhat higher than the 65% number given by sources that polled the general population of married women, and most likely is a reflection of the sex-positive cross-section of the population doing our poll.
Again, we specified self-stimulation to climax apart from her husband.
Of those who are masturbating, the monthly frequency looks like this:
Less than once a month – 21%
Once a month – 16%
2-3 times a month – 23%
4-6 times a month – 18%
7-14 times a month – 9%
15-22 times a month – 7%
23-31 times a month – 3%
more than 31 times – 2%
As expected, the rates for women are much lower.
One third do it once a month or less
One quarter do it a few times a month, but less than once a week.
Eighteen percent masturbate once or twice a week, on average.
Nine percent are in the every 2 to 4 days range.
Five percent masturbate more than every other day.
The numbers here were similar to those for the men. We asked, “If you have masturbated, does your husband know?”
He knows how often I masturbate – 22%
He knows, but thinks it’s less than it really is – 14%
He knows I might on occasion – 30%
He may suspect – 12%
He has no idea – 22%
Twenty-two percent of husbands know how often their wife masturbates.
Forty-four percent of husbands are aware she masturbates, but think it happens less often than it does.
Based on the wife’s estimation, a third of men do not know their wife self-pleasures.
Why women masturbate has some significant difference from why men do.
When we have sex he sometimes leaves me unsatisfied – 39%
To relieve stress – 37%
I just like it, even when there is plenty of sex – 31%
To help me sleep – 28%
Helps me be more sexual with him (the more I have, the more I want) – 28%
My drive is higher and I don’t want to bother him – 23%
To learn about my body – 20%
He says no often – 18%
I only do it when we are apart overnight – 12%
It goes with my porn use – 13%
To keep from being mad at him when he says no to sex – 11%
I only do it when he is sick – .3%
The top answer, at four women in ten, was that they masturbate because their husband sometimes leaves them unsatisfied during sex. There was no breakdown on this, so it includes those who rarely have this problem and those who usually or always feel this way. This group also includes those who climax once but feel they need more.
The second reason, given by more than a third of women, is stress relief. As with men, women may choose solo sex over sex with hubby for stress release, or feel the need when he is not available.
Almost a third of women said they just enjoy it, even when they have all the sex they want with their hubby. This is a surprisingly high number and probably is due to the sex-positive, sex enjoying nature of our survey sample.
Over a quarter of women masturbate as a sleep aid. Although some do this because they cannot sleep due to arousal, many do it apart from arousal because they know it works.
Twenty-eight percent say they masturbate to increase their sex drive or pleasure when they were with their husband. This may sound odd to men, but many women find that they want and enjoy sex more when they have it more often. In the notes, several women indicated masturbating when they were away from their husbands to ensure they would be interested when they were together again. Others find that masturbating during the day results in a stronger drive and better sex that night.
One woman in five masturbates to learn about her body. This is logical – the better she knows her body, the more she can teach him about giving her pleasure.
Sexual refusal was far from rare as a reason. Twenty-three percent of women said they masturbate because their drive is higher than their husband’s drive. This fits with the growing number of women who say their husband refuses them. In fact, eighteen percent gave his refusal as a reason they masturbate. Again, this may be higher than the general population, but not significantly so. While we are not aware of a well-done study on this issue, rates of 10-15% are commonly cited. About one woman in ten said she masturbated to keep from getting mad at her husband for sexual refusal.
Twelve percent limit masturbation to times when they are apart from their husband. A couple indicated in the notes that they usually do this as part of phone sex with hubby.
One woman in eight said their masturbation goes with their porn use. Yes, one in eight. Porn use by women is growing at a rapid rate. (There is help – try Dirty Girls Ministries.)
Of those who do masturbate, one in seven feels that their actions are sinful.
Another one in seven does not see masturbation itself as wrong, but feel hiding it from their husband is wrong.
Nineteen percent of women feel their masturbation is not wrong, but his sexual refusal is.
Just short of two-thirds do not see their actions as wrong in any way.
There is a whole lot of solo masturbation going on in Christian marriages. Much of it is unknown to the spouse, and sin and selfishness seem to be the root cause for a great deal of it. The odds are both you and your spouse have masturbated in the last month, and if either of you is refusing the chances that your spouse is doing it are very high. We strongly suggest you talk about masturbation with your spouse. If you both feel there are times and situations where it is acceptable that is fine, but be open and honest about it. If you are both masturbating, maybe you could have more sex, and both be happier about that.
If you do not like your spouse masturbating, you have a more difficult discussion. If you feel it is sin, and they do not, you have a very difficult discussion. Ultimately, you both have to do what you feel is right, while giving as much grace and support as possible to your spouse. If you unwilling to meet your spouse’s sexual needs, telling them they should not masturbate is not likely to go well.
If porn is a factor (as it is for 16% of the husbands and 13% of the wives) you will likely need some help. We recommend Dirty Girls Ministries for women caught in porn, and Be Broken Ministries for men using porn, and wives of men using porn.
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