Sexy pop quiz! Have you ever awoken utterly confused to a mild vibration, only to find it's your partner taking care of business, solo-style right there beside you in bed? Did you: A) Laugh. B.) Ignore it or C.) Shut it down or D.) Lend a hand? Let's explore!
In any cohabiting relationship, it's bound to happen eventually, right? Someone is horny, the other someone is not and/or asleep, so the horny someone decides to service the equipment. True, in many anecdotes of this nature the horny someone sneaks off to another room, waits until they're alone, or pressures their mate into maintenance sex. But let's imagine here that it's late, they're tired, and, hey—it's their bed too, right? This, at least, was the scenario in a recent Dear Prudence over at Slate (see the second question):
I recently moved in with my boyfriend of about two years. Everything has gone pretty well, except one. My boyfriend has always had a very strong libido—I have no complaints about that—but lately his desire has been over the top, and the other night he crossed a new line. I have not been as aroused lately due to some issues outside of our relationship, and it has been a little hard on him. The other night when I came to bed (he was already asleep), he woke up and, as I was drifting away, I felt the bed shake a little. I look over to discover that he was masturbating right there next to me. I told him I found it gross, and he said that most other people would just join in! Am I wrong for thinking this crosses some sort of politeness barrier? I feel icked out and don't know what to do.
For many a 'bater, the act is best conducted alone, in private. Other people, I guess, are enviably comfortable in their own homes and ready to bust a nut whenever the need arises. If you're in the latter scenario, you could:
Who could blame you for letting out a little chortle for waking up to a swift handy? Self-administered handjobs are hilarious (as are all handjobs, in my opinion), and a perfectly valid response to a mate going to town enthusiastically enough to wake you up is good-natured laughter. Give it a try. Try saying this with cheerful surprise: Oh, hahahaha, oh, ok then, well, alright, enjoy that, g'night! Then off to sleep and make no mention of it again.
2. Ignore It
Hey, this ain't your first masturbation-adjacent moment. Maybe you have a sixth sense—a masturbation radar—or a simple furtive glance will confirm all the details you need to know: This is a private moment, no need to embarrass anyone, and there's certainly no need to interrupt it or your sleep. Save your protest energy for more important matters, like wet towels on the bed. Now that's something to get worked up about in broad daylight.
3. Lend a "Hand"
Perhaps the sight or sounds of your partner in the throes of self pleasure is a major turn-on, in which case, congratulations: you're winning at life. If so, you can wake up, re-orient, and ask if your loved one would like a hand with that. It doesn't have to be a literal hand—it could be a prop hand you've been sleeping with under your pillow for months, waiting and hoping for just this moment. OK, it doesn't have to be a prop hand, it could be your vagina. Or mouth. Or butt. Or just some old-fashioned enthusiastic sideline support. You get the idea.
4. Shut It Down
Surely, in a relationship that is otherwise going well, cutting off the act mid-stroke is a last resort. You don't want to shame your partner for expressing natural sexual urges, and there's something kind of comforting about the idea that they wouldn't feel the need to hide it from you, when so many people do. If you're offended by the location of the act, I'd say wait until the next day and suggest that going forward, move the self-love to somewhere decidedly more private—all after-hours masturbation to be heretofore committed in the breakfast nook.
And yet, I have to say I was sort of happy about the idea of people just going for it in a good, happy relationship in this way. It's all about the quality of the relationship and context, no? In the reader question, there is reason to give pause when she asserts, "I have not been as aroused lately due to some issues outside of our relationship." Grief? Illness? Job loss? It's hard to speculate, but a friend who read the question thought the dude was in the wrong. Maybe he knew his lady was depressed or something and was trying to get something anyway. My friend referred to this as "classic passive-aggressive masturbation," which I admit I had zero idea existed. Someone please explain.
On the flipside, I think the reader also betrays her own comfort level with the situation. She knows he has a high libido, and lately she hasn't been into it, for no reason she attributes to him. She even admits her lack of interest has hit him hard, which means he's taking care of business as he should. She says his aforementioned high libido is not a problem, but clearly the problem is him still having one in her presence. Whether you agree with her probably depends on how much you enjoy it when your partner's libido wakes you up, taps you shoulder in the middle of the night and asks for directions to the nearest bliss.
Prudie's answer was prudent enough:
Your boyfriend was aroused by the nearness of you, and because you've made clear you're not available sexually at the moment, he decided to take care of himself. He was being both flattering and polite. I agree with him that in response to the bed tremors, you could have offered to lend a hand. Be glad that you're not one of those women whose partner finds the Internet infinitely more gripping than her. Even people who enjoy the most robust sexual relationship can sometimes desire quick, personal self-relief. There is nothing icky about that. Living together is supposed to enhance your intimacy with your boyfriend in every way, and that means having a better understanding of his sexual desires and expression. Tell your boyfriend you're sorry you overreacted and you're going to work on being less prudish.
Or at least make sure the building is up to code.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.