What My Time As A Professional Masturbator Taught Me About Sexual Desire

    Everything I learned from reviewing sex toys

    by · August 04, 2017
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    Collage by Danielle Moalem, photos via getty images

    When you masturbate professionally, there are orgasms for work, and then there are orgasms for you.

    My orgasms for me used to be pretty uninspired. Before I started to review sex toys (mostly anonymously) a few years ago, sometimes I’d want to masturbate five times a day (thanks, self-employment!), but more often I’d forget all about it. I was never creative, never elaborate—get it done, have a nice time, move on with my life. But you can’t review sex toys like that. Reviewing sex toys—even occasionally—requires paying a little more attention and demands a far more vigorous schedule. It demands repetition. It demands duration. It demands frequency. If I only did it when I felt like it, I couldn’t do it at all.

    But I’ve noticed something: The more I masturbate for work, the more I masturbate, period. I notice when my body’s turned on, I find my attention wandering toward my vibrator in the middle of the day, and I find myself reaching for it, too. I crave sex with partners—both extended scenes and bathroom quickies—far more often. Even through depression or stress, which normally torpedo my sex drive, if I’m reviewing sex toys, I want sex. And this only seems to happen when I have a backlog of toys to get through. Regular masturbation or sex just for me doesn’t seem to do the same trick. Making me wonder, what’s going on with how my desire works?

    “Most people tend to think there’s only one type of desire and that it’s just spontaneous desire,” says sex therapist Vanessa Marin. Spontaneous desire arises immediately out of nowhere—one minute you’re just sitting there, the next you’re aching for sex and grabbing your partner and running together to the nearest bed or couch or floor. It’s out of nowhere, it’s simple, it’s straightforward—and it mostly only happens to cis men.

    “Most people assume that sexual desire, in general, functions the way we expect cis men’s desire to function; you have it, at some frequency, regardless of what’s going on. However, realistically, some people have more spontaneous desire than others,” says Dr. Liz Powell, a sex-positive psychologist. “Statistically speaking, and from research that didn’t include trans people, cis women are more likely to experience responsive desire than cis men.”

    Responsive desire is less eroticized, more likely to be part of women’s experiences, and occurs in response to something sexy already in motion—which could mean fantasy, watching other people be sexual, or sex already underway with partners or with yourself. “It’s kind of mind-blowing for people to realize, oh, there are two different ways desire can function, I’m not broken, I’m not a low-desire person, it’s just that my desire functions differently than I thought it was supposed to,” says Marin. (To blow your mind even further, check out Dr. Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are, essential reading that focuses on sex mechanisms mostly for women but that are true for people of lots of genders.)

    I learned that my desire is more responsive because of having to have work orgasms and liking it. If you’re not quite as lucky, you can look at what parts of sex you like the most for clues; if it’s more in the middle or toward the end, you might have more responsive desire. “If you’re saying, yeah, I get into it right at the end, you’ve got to change the way you guys are having sex, so you can have more enjoyment [throughout, rather] than just at the end of it,” says Marin.

    And it plays out across relationships, too. In the beginning, desire might feel like it’s working differently. “Often times, people with higher tendencies toward responsive desire experience more spontaneous desire at the start of the relationship when neurochemicals associated with New Relationship Energy are at their highest,” says Powell. Over time, the spontaneous desire fades, which can make people feel like they have mismatched libidos and create conflict.

    As time goes on, the differing types of desire can lead to problems—not because of desire itself, but because of lack of understanding. “A lot of times we want our partner to respond in the same way that we’re responding, so if you have that moment of spontaneous desire for your partner, sometimes it can feel like a rejection if your partner doesn’t spontaneously feel that desire for you in that exact same moment,” says Marin. Instead, rethink your ideas about how sex works. “Your partner doesn’t have to respond in the exact same way at the exact same moment that you do in order for the two of you to be intimate, that doesn’t need to be a barrier to it, it just means slightly changing your approach.”

    For people with more responsive desire patterns, who want to experience sexual desire more often, “focus on adding more stimuli to your life, giving your body something to respond to, giving your brain something to feel desire for,” says Marin.

    You can also approach initiating sex differently by giving your desire room to show up rather than expecting it to appear on demand. If you tend to ask yourself, Do I want to have sex? when a partner is trying to initiate, instead try asking, Am I open to sex? That can be a way to see if you have desire for sex without trying to force it on yourself. “So giving yourself a little bit more space to actually start being intimate with your partner, start having contact with them, and being curious about seeing if your desire does end up surfacing in that moment. That’s something I’d only do with an established partner that you trust, not with someone random that you’re just pushing yourself to be intimate with,” says Marin.

    Masturbation, as I discovered, can also impact desire. “Some people with responsive desire might find that masturbating in general, or getting into a schedule of regular masturbation, can help them experience more desire with their partner(s),” says Powell. You can also try masturbating before sex to give yourself time to get into it—on your own, in front of a partner, or along with a partner.

    The most important thing to remember is that, responsive or spontaneous, your desire is normal. “It’s not a problem, it’s not low desire, your desire is just surfacing at a different time and in a different way than you were expecting, but it’s there,” Marin says.

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    Last updated: 2017-08-03T17:25:13-04:00
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