Masturbation and Partnered Sex: Substitutes or Complements?

Arch Sex Behav. 2017 Oct;46(7):2111-2121. doi: 10.1007/s10508-017-0975-8. Epub 2017 Mar 24.


Drawing upon a large, recent probability sample of American adults ages 18-60 (7648 men and 8090 women), we explored the association between sexual frequency and masturbation, evaluating the evidence for whether masturbation compensates for unavailable sex, complements (or augments) existing paired sexual activity, or bears little association with it. We found evidence supporting a compensatory relationship between masturbation and sexual frequency for men, and a complementary one among women, but each association was both modest and contingent on how content participants were with their self-reported frequency of sex. Among men and women, both partnered status and their sexual contentment were more obvious predictors of masturbation than was recent frequency of sex. We conclude that both hypotheses as commonly evaluated suffer from failing to account for the pivotal role of subjective sexual contentment in predicting masturbation.

Keywords: Gender differences; Masturbation; Partnered sexual behavior; Sexual desire.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masturbation / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Young Adult