Because we're discussing safer sex tools beyond the traditional condom barrier method (Part I and II covered dental dams and female/innie condoms, respectively), mutual masturbation should be included as an extremely effective safer sex method. Masturbation is sex? If you define sex as sexual activity, then yes. If you define sex as engaging in sexual activity with a partner, then, still, absolutely yes! Does that mean you're no longer a virgin if you masturbate? That depends on how you define virginity.
There is a relatively loose definition of mutual masturbation. Some include mutual manual stimulation as part of that definition. Here, I'm primarily discussing mutual masturbation as an activity where two or more partners pleasure themselves in front of each other, either simultaneously, or taking turns. Mutual masturbation is potentially one of the safest forms of partnered sex. If used correctly, condoms are a very effective protection against pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) transmitted through bodily fluid, and does a good job reducing skin-to-skin transmitted STIs. Mutual masturbation reduces the risk of skin-to-skin STIs much further, and in many cases, can largely eliminate this risk. If one is engaging in mutual masturbation for the purpose of safer sex, be aware that one can still exchange fluids via hands, mouth, and sex toys if not cleaned properly between partners. Some sex toy materials are not technically sterilizable, so it would not be advisable to share those toys unless you're putting a condom on it.
There are many other benefits to mutual masturbation, other than safer sex, though. It can provide a new sexual dynamic to explore for partners who are in long-term relationships and are a little bored with their regular sexual routines. Or if one partner is recovering from an injury or illness, or suffering from chronic pain, mutual masturbation can provide a physically less stressful alternative to other forms of sex. Mutual masturbation can compensate beautifully for divergent sex drives, too. While one partner may not be in the mood to physically engage in any sexual way, they may be very excited to enjoy the show or even provide some sexy cuddling while their lover self-pleasures. These are just examples. Let's also remember that watching your lovers touch themselves is a fabulous way of learning how they like to be touched. It's quite possibly one of the best how-to "videos" out there! So pay attention!
For many people, mutual masturbation takes them way out of their comfort zone and can even be a difficult subject to broach. Masturbation is an activity we are used to doing alone. (And if you are curious about mutual masturbation, but have not masturbated alone, it may serve you better to form a sexual relationship with yourself first.) So masturbating in front of a lover can really take one out their element. It may be helpful to acknowledge the fact that solo masturbation and mutual masturbation are different sexual activities. Although it involves self-stimulation, mutual masturbation is an interpersonal sexual activity. You are sharing a sexually and emotionally charged space with your lover, and the same rules of communication and consent apply to mutual masturbation as they do to any other sexual activity. So respect your own boundaries and your lover's boundaries the same as you would otherwise.
Self-pleasuring in front of a lover can bring out uncomfortable feelings of self-consciousness and vulnerability. For many, masturbation in any scenario can feel this way. If you're game, try it with the lights off! Try it while wearing a blindfold! Try it over the phone! Try role-playing – perhaps you're a doctor educating her patient about the biological sexual response via a live demonstration? (Sexual role-playing can sometimes provide a protective layer over your most vulnerable self, and therefore allow you to explore certain activities more than you would otherwise.)
A lot of different kinds of sexual activities can evoke feelings of rawness and vulnerability, but these feelings may be uniquely amplified when you are the center of attention. Try embracing these feelings. If you're taking turns, let your lover's attention feed you the way the adoration of fans feed a musician. As the partner who is doing the watching, remember that you are also participating. There are many ways this can play out. Have fun.
Ally Booker is a pleasure activist passionate about educating herself and others on cool sexuality related things. You can often find her at her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St.. You can reach her at 777-9434 or AllyBooker@Jellywink.com.