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updated 2/26/2009 12:49:16 PM ET 2009-02-26T17:49:16

Q. My girlfriend of five months considers my masturbating to be “taking away from her.” I don’t understand her objection. She said, “All your sexual energy and your sexual release belong to me.”

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I don’t understand why she thinks she can claim this, so I told her that ALL her vaginal secretions belong to me to let her see how ridiculous her “claim” was.

Can you explain her reasoning to me and explain my confusion to her? We are both flummoxed. She is 35 and divorced. I am 25 and have been in a few short-term relationships. This is the biggest impasse we have ever had.

A. It sounds like she wants to be your sole object of desire.

When people masturbate, they often are having a fantasy, and she may be jealous of whatever she imagines you are thinking, fearing it is not her. It could be true you are not thinking of her, which would be perfectly normal.

Sometimes people feel threatened by masturbation, interpreting it as a lack of desire for them. It seems to them that you would rather get off yourself, with your own thoughts, which is often very much not the case.

There is nothing wrong with having an active, healthy sex life and also with masturbating — and fantasizing while masturbating. Your girlfriend sounds unreasonably insecure. I question why.

It might help to let her know that you find her extremely desirable and are very happy with your sex life, and you therefore wonder why she is feeling so possessive.

Maybe she is truly insecure if not every ounce of your energy is directed toward her, believing it says something about her lack of desirability and your lack of focus on her. She might incorrectly worry she is not enough for you, or perceive sexual desire as finite, so that if you take a slice of the pie for yourself and “use up” your sexual energy on the swimsuit edition, for example, there is less left over for her.

You can help by assuring her you have great desire for her, which is not diminished by your having your own thoughts and personal enjoyment.

On the other hand, does she experience something with you that stokes her insecurity? Are you masturbating a lot to pornography or are you addictively focused on some external source of pleasure? Are you in fact spending so little time with her that you are unwittingly making her feel undesired? Her intense possessiveness does not mean you are doing any of these things, but it is worth examining.

Some people struggle with anxiety and jealousy that are a result of a past relationship trauma. If your girlfriend is divorced, it’s possible her ex-husband had a porn problem or cheated on her, so she might be projecting those issues onto you. Be reassuring on that front, making her know you are not interested in being with someone else and that it isn’t really fair for her to punish you for the wrongs of a previous mate.

Still, if she remains highly controlling, possessive or jealous, she might need professional help. Your point about all her secretions belonging to you is well taken — this feels exaggeratedly possessive, to the point of absurdity. If this is her nature or the result of trauma, she could easily become controlling in all kinds of arenas, which wouldn’t be great for either of you. It could drive you away. Overly possessive and jealous partners can not only be difficult to be with, they can even turn dangerous. Therapy can be helpful in dealing with trust and intimacy.

Overall I would recommend reassurance combined with a good dose of a reality check. You can continue with your masturbating, as long as it is not replacing a healthy sex life with her.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Whether or not people are partnered, masturbation is a normal, healthy part of their sex life, and nobody should feel guilty about it.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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