Better Sex: Tight Hand or Loose Vagina?

I’m in New Zealand this week training a marvelous group of psychologists and sex therapists. In addition to issues such as intimacy, menopause, power dynamics, and medication side effects, we’ve spent some time discussing pornography.

Inevitably, someone raised one of today’s most popular myths: that there’s an epidemic of young men with erection problems. This is supposedly caused by all their masturbating to porn—getting accustomed to the perfect stimulation from their hand, thereby reducing their interest in, and satisfaction from, sex with a real woman.

I told my Kiwi audience that that’s one fact, one misunderstanding, and one complete inaccuracy.
* Yes, men are learning about sex from masturbating to porn, which is unfortunate.
* No, there is no epidemic of ED in young men.
* No, there is no epidemic of young men preferring masturbation to partner sex.

Seriously: go to any high school or college campus anywhere, and ask a bunch of male students what they dream of sexually. None of them will say “I dream of the day when I can masturbate to porn anytime I want, and never have to mess with dating or having sex with an actual person.” Young men today want what young men have wanted since the beginning of time: a willing young woman (or young man) with whom to kiss and hug and have sex.

(Yes, there have always been a few guys too shy, inhibited, guilt-ridden, or even disgusted to want partner sex. That hasn’t changed, and there’s no reason to think it’s increased.)

Where’s the data about young men’s increasing erectile problems? It doesn’t exist. While some people think only middle-aged and older men have erection problems, scientists have known for at least 60 years that some 10% of men age 29 and younger have erectile dissatisfaction. I haven’t seen any increase in this number since I started practicing sex therapy in 1980 (some 20 years before internet porn became popular), and neither have any of the urologists or psychologists with whom I work.

But a huge number of young men jack off to internet porn, so how about the competition between the perfect hand and the imperfect vagina?

I think it’s simple. If sex were about only one thing—physical stimulation—one’s own hand would provide better sex than anything else, no question. But sex is about more than friction: it’s about feeling desired, touching and being touched, kissing, nibbling, and smelling, pleasing someone else, and feeling part of the ongoing human erotic parade.

Sex with Mary FiveFingers may provide more perfect stimulation and a more reliable orgasm, but when it comes to sex, that isn’t everything.

Most young men want to have sex not only with a vagina, but with the person at the other end of the vagina. Of course, most young men are missing some of the skills they need to enjoy both a vagina and its owner. And yes, internet porn is definitely giving its consumers unhelpful ideas about sex. But the rhythm of modern communication—texting, email, social media—is also undermining everyone’s ability to read facial cues and voice tone, as well as have the longer conversations that enjoyable (sexual) relationships inevitably require.

So yes, a vagina alone (tight or loose, moist or dry) can’t compete with the world’s most perfect hand—your own. But sex with an actual female? If a person can relax, communicate, and participate, partner sex offers way more than perfect friction. It offers connection, excitement, validation, arms, legs, hair, smiles, and a chance to explore the universe with a companion. Our hands are great, but they aren’t very good company.

Internet porn has a lot to answer for, but not for ruining the enjoyment of sex with a live woman (or man). Imperfect as the friction might be, that’s still among the best things life has to offer. And as pornified or textified as most young men might be, it’s still what they want.

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