Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 7, pp 2111–2121 | Cite as

Masturbation and Partnered Sex: Substitutes or Complements?

  • Mark RegnerusEmail author
  • Joseph Price
  • David Gordon
Original Paper


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.


Masturbation Sexual desire Gender differences Partnered sexual behavior 



The survey data for this study were funded by a grant from the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture to the University of Texas at Austin.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Regnerus and Price are uncompensated fellows of the Austin Institute, and Gordon was formerly a paid research assistant of the Austin Institute. Regnerus was the principal investigator of the Relationships in America survey data collection project.

Ethical Approval

The Relationships in America survey data collection project was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Texas at Austin and was performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  3. 3.Marriott School of ManagementBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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