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Masturbation isn't cheating. It's actually a really important part of your relationship.

A person hides their sex toy collection from their partner

If you masturbate, are you cheating on your partner?

This question, along with other popular Google search queries, reveals a great deal about the prevalence of myths and misinformation about masturbation. Other top questions include: Is it healthy to masturbate? (yes, very!); Do women masturbate (yes!); and Should you masturbate before sex (if you want to!). It's only natural that we turn to the internet for help with these burning questions given that many of us received little to no sex education at school.

Is masturbation cheating? When our partners are out for the night, and we crack open the box of vibrators, does it count as a betrayal? To clear up any confusion, I spoke to Gigi Engle, ACS certified sexologist, resident sex educator at 3Fun, and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love, and life. "Cheating is betrayal. Cheating is physically having sexual contact with another person(s). It is deception. Cheating is getting yourself off," Engle told me. "You cannot cheat on your partner with yourself."

"The whole concept is just silly," she added. "There are so many other, grander relationship concerns you’ll deal with during the course of your relationship. Don’t put masturbation on that list." While questions like this might frame masturbation as a negative in a relationship, it can actually have the opposite effect for couples. "In fact, studies have shown that masturbating in relationships can actually increase overall libido, leading people to more frequent partnered sexual play," Engle added.

"You cannot cheat on your partner with yourself."

Engle went on to explain that masturbation is often shrouded in shame and wrongly positioned as a less important sex act than penis-in-vagina sex. It's also framed as something that you shouldn't "want" or "need" if you're in a happy, healthy relationship. "As if your partner were some magical unicorn who could fulfil all your sexual needs on a dime. Again, wrong," Engle said. "Not only is it unreasonable to expect one person to satisfy every single sexual whim, the very notion of this takes away from the beauty of masturbation. It's a literal human urge and it is completely normal and healthy to do it."

Megwyn White, certified sexologist and director of education at sexual wellness brand Satisfyer, told me that people often believe that masturbation is just for single people and a way to compensate for the lack of regular sex a long term relationship might bring. She added that some people believe that sexual pleasure comes from a partner only and that it's unnecessary to pleasure yourself while in a relationship.

Couples that masturbate together...

While we've established that masturbation while in a couple isn't cheating, nor is it anything to be ashamed of, let's dig into the benefits of embracing masturbation as an important element of your relationship. "Masturbation can teach us the importance of taking pleasure into your own hands and not relying on anyone to do it for us, which is so important," said White. "Masturbation helps us learn what we like and what we don’t like, which in return helps us communicate with a partner and achieve even more satisfying sexual relationships. In fact, a study in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy revealed that not only is masturbation common in most women, but women who masturbated more frequently also experienced greater satisfaction in their overall sex lives."

If we aren't able to explore as individuals what makes us come, what we like, and what turns us on, it can be difficult to find satisfaction during partnered sex, White added. "There has been some research on the fact that women who masturbate regularly also report greater satisfaction with a partner. This can be attributed to a variety of different factors including an increased awareness of what turns them on, as well as the fact that orgasms will naturally increase libido and desire by increasing levels of testosterone," White explained. "Not to mention the increase of fantasy when one masturbates which often helps to motivate seeking a partner."

As well as solo masturbation, introducing mutual masturbation into your relationship can be a lot of fun — and also great for showing your partner how you like to be touched and what works for you. As Mashable's Anna Iovine recently wrote, you can even give it a go over FaceTime. Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author, told Iovine: "Mutual masturbation can also be a helpful teaching tool for showing your partner what you like and/or the kind of stimulation that helps you to reach orgasm," he said. "In other words, it can be a sexy 'show-and-tell' of sorts and a potentially helpful form of sexual communication."

As Engle told me: "Masturbation, like pretty much all consensual sex acts, has its place inside and outside of relationships. And not only does it have its place, it can even spice things up between the two of you. Namely, when you masturbate WITH your partner. Mutual masturbation is a very fun way to have one off the wrist without all the energy is takes for more intense sex acts."

Communication is key, of course. If there's anything you're not comfortable with in your relationship, talk to your partner, set boundaries and assert hard limits for anything you do not want to try.

A vibrator is not a sentient being and your partner using it (or their hands) to get off is not the same as being cheated on. Your ability to bring yourself sexual pleasure is part of your bodily autonomy and your relationship status shouldn't interfere with that.

Remember: The longest sexual relationship of your life is the one you have with yourself.

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