Words: Ted Lavis Coward
Illustration: Meg Murgatroyd
The past twelve months haven’t been normal for anyone, in any capacity. I’ve had a pretty tumultuous one, starting lockdown in a passionate relationship and ending it processing a breakup. My liaisons with masturbation have been a good barometer for my feelings on that relationship, both whilst we were together and in the aftermath of the heartbreak, but masturbation is also an activity that assists me in not just navigating my feelings in and out of a relationship, but also understanding my relationship with gender.
Many of my friends have used this time to invest in sex toys and get better acquainted with their bodies, which seems expected given it has been illegal for many of us to have sex like we normally would. For trans and non-binary people, lockdown granted some the space and safety to explore their identities, with my exploration of my own body so often crucial to my understanding of my gender.
There have been moments in previous relationships where it’s been clear at times that we're on different sexual frequencies. During lockdown I had spoken to countless friends whose sex lives had changed dramatically when locked in with their partners. It’s really no surprise that things had shifted for people given the anxiety that came at the beginning of the pandemic and people’s whole relationships being condensed into four walls.
Masturbation is normal and enjoyable and should be done free of guilt but having secret wanks in the bathroom while a partner/partners sleep in your shared bed feels odd and disrespectful and is a scene that has peppered a couple of my relationships. It’s entirely normal to wank while in a relationship but that can feel weird if you live with your partner/partners, and this weirdness is magnified if no one can leave the house.
Sex is important to me in a relationship and of course a quick 7am bathroom wank can often be more respectful than complaining about sexual needs not being met. Often for relationships to work, a certain level of sexual compatibility needs to be established. If you’re unhappy with your sex life then communication is incredibly important and discussing this with your partner(s) can make all the difference. But it’s also important to consider that changes in sexual behaviour are perfectly normal and often only temporary.
I’m sure the context of the pandemic has led to many relationships changing drastically, and it’s up to us as individuals to broach the topic at an appropriate time and in a considerate manner with our partner/partners. People’s sexual habits change for so many reasons, or none at all, and from experience the most successful relationships have a mutual understanding of each other’s needs and that sex drives vary, and can also talk through any root causes while speaking openly about solutions.
When me and my partner broke up in the autumn my relationship with masturbation changed significantly. I have comorbid bipolar and BPD, and predictably a breakup triggered some difficulties with manic and depressive episodes. I remember the first wank that I had about a week after we split. Like that weird compulsion of sticking your tongue to an ulcer I couldn’t help but think of him as I got more turned on but also upset. The sadness edged me for what seemed like an hour until I eventually wiped the cum from my chest and the tears from my face. These ceremonial cry wanks became a painful but helpful grounding exercise for me as I processed my failed relationship and learnt how to exorcise the intrusive thoughts of our time in bed together.
Like many non-binary people, porn has and continues to help me explore and understand dysphoric feelings about my body. Although I have a penis and I sleep with men, I find myself watching both gay porn and straight porn regularly, often projecting myself onto different actors in a scene, thinking about building an orgasm as someone with any genitals.
There's a recurring joke between my old housemates and myself that I actually have a vagina, because my orgasms last a long time, I precum a lot, and I have no recharge period. I guess the difference between certain genitals isn't as vast as some would have us believe.
Back during a particular dry spell in one of my relationships I am fairly sure my partner came home and noticed me getting a little hot under the collar whilst watching a hot straight sex scene from some Netflix show and I’m certain he must have been confused as hell. Does Ted fancy women? Why is Ted so goddamn horny? We didn’t discuss it and I felt so much weird affinity with Fleabag in that iconic scene where she touches herself to an Obama speech on the sly.
Like so many of my pals in lockdown, I’ve also invested in sex toys as I try to improve my relationship with sex through masturbation. Over the last few years, I have become slightly too into sex with substances, and toys have granted me the pleasure I’m looking for without having to indulge the slight problem with chemsex that was emerging in my mind.
Now in 2021 I don’t think of my most recent ex when I have a wank – I think of past affairs, current lovers, and future flings. I’ve moved away from searching for the grimiest porn or imagining sex while high. I have started having sex again with a greater respect for the kind of sex I want to be having. Masturbation has allowed me to identify that my relationship with sex had become unhealthy, but through exploring my body I am now able to have good, fun, and varied sex without the aid of any substances.
That kind of sex has its place and probably will in my future, but now I know that ruining your own relationship with sex for the sake of sparse moments of intimacy is not worth it. I don’t just want sex with a partner when there are remnants of drugs between our lips. I’m glad I’ve moved on from that – with a little help from a drug and alcohol programme, therapy, and a generous helping of masturbation – and I’m thrilled at the prospect of a summer of sexual freedom, both with myself and other people.