Christian Sexual Ethics

Masturbation: A Progressive View

Image: Google Images — Yes that is what you think it is!

Target Audience: Addicted to Things Sexual, Evangelical Christians, Single/Married People

Intro

A young man, alone in a darkened room, the only light is the glare from his computer monitor, sits at his computer. He has been there for hours. In fact, he hasn’t left the room, except to use the bathroom, since he woke up. Pizza boxes and soda bottles litter the floor, along with his clothes. He has been masturbating and watching porn since he got up. It doesn’t happen frequently, but when he does have a binge, he blocks out everything else, sometimes for days, if he has the freedom. He hates these binges, but he just can’t tell anyone. He knows that he is probably not the only one who battles with masturbation and porn, but he just can’t bring himself to talk to anyone, not even his best friend. Once the binge ends, he spends days, first cleaning up, then living in shame, guilt, frustration, anger, and feeling so very alone. He goes to a conservative, evangelical church, and while he has never heard anyone utter the word “masturbation”, he figures their opinion or view would be the traditional view. He doesn’t need anyone to educate him on that. Trapped, feeling alone, and hopeless, he finds it even difficult to talk to God.

An older man sits alone in his basement office. It is almost 2am and he has been masturbating and watching porn for the past two hours. His wife, to whom he has been married for over twenty years, sleeps soundly two floors above him. His kids, who he adores, are also asleep. He told his wife that he is behind at work and might have to work through the night. In fact, he did start catching up, but just after midnight, he got the urge to masturbate and has been feasting on his favorite porn site for the past two hours. Naturally he doesn’t use his work computer. More often now, when his wife plans a family getaway to visit her relatives, something he loved doing earlier in their marriage, he now begs off, once again siting the need to catch up at work. In fact, he might spend most of the weekend naked, in his basement office, masturbating and watching porn. He doesn’t feel good about this, but as he and his wife have drifted apart sexually, his sex drive seems to be as strong as it was when he was a teenager. He is a leader in his church, which is one of the more conservative churches in his town. He is well-respected by people at church and in his community.

Who Should Read This Article

If masturbation is a spiritual problem and you have never been able to overcome the guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy that are often associated with this issue, this article may help you. If you know someone who is trapped in habitual or compulsive masturbation, read this article.

Why Read This Article

The Bible says that people love darkness because we do evil deeds in darkness (John 3). When we are part of a community, things done in the dark can be brought to light. The blogosphere is a community. We all do better when we connect to a community, even if it is just knowing that others are on the journey too.

In This Article, I will discuss:

  1. The Traditional Christian View About Masturbation
  2. What the Bible Says About It
  3. A Proper Image of God
  4. Common Issues
    1. Guilt
    2. Shame
    3. Secrecy
  5. Why Do We Masturbate? An Incomplete List
    1. Is it Always Lust?
    2. Other Reasons
  6. Pornography
  7. Is It Okay to Masturbate Online with Someone Else?
  8. Masturbation as a Single Person
  9. Masturbation in Marriage
  10. Conclusion

The Traditional Christian View About Masturbation

Conservative Christian leaders, if they agreed to discuss it or recognize it at all, would likely dismiss it as being sinful. There would be no need to have any further discussion about it. They would file it under the same category as they would any other sexual practice outside of marriage: sin. How are Christians to deal with sin? We are to “repent”, which they would claim means “turn from” it. In fact, the Greek word for repent is “metanoia”, which means a change of mind or attitude. When we change our minds, we often change our behavior, but the word repent does not mean to turn away from sin. It has been my experience that most conservative Christian leaders would rather drink battery acid while having their teeth drilled without freezing than spend 5 minutes talking about masturbation. The conservative wing of Christianity has traditionally demonized masturbation, then shrouded it in shame, guilt and ignorance. If that didn’t work, they just dismissed the subject out of hand.

Liberal Christian leaders would not dismiss it or demonize it. In my experience, the liberal theologians that I have spoken to about masturbation have merely shrugged and dismissed it as part of life. They do not say it is sin. They do not say it is good, healthy, natural, or anything like that. They merely ignore it. For them, it is a non-issue.

A Proper Image of God

If your image of God is of an angry, vengeful person, then there is no way you can fully experience His love in your life. If you see God as a Judge, someone who loves to punish sin rather than forgive the sinner, if your image of God is one of violence as opposed to peace, then it is unlikely you will be able to forgive yourself.
1 John 4:8 tells us that GOD IS LOVE.
So, if your image of God is anything other than love, as mine was for way too many years, then perhaps it is time to update your image of Him.

What the Bible Says About It

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This will be short: nothing at all. The word is never mentioned in the Bible, nor does anyone ever refer to it by using another term. The closes we come is in Genesis with Onan, who was commanded to marry his dead brother’s wife and produce an heir. Not wanting to follow that command, just as he was about to achieve an orgasm with his brother’s widow, he pulled out and shot his semen on the ground. That is the closest reference to masturbation in the Bible, but it really wasn’t masturbation. Onan was having sex, but then decided he didn’t want to finish the act and produce a child, so he ejaculated onto the ground. The Bible talks about lust, but those references do not specifically refer to masturbation.

Common Issues

Guilt

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Perhaps there is no more common issue associated with masturbation than guilt. It isn’t even just Christians who feel guilty after they masturbate. I have talked to a lot of people about how they feel about masturbation, and a lot of people talk about this subject every day on the Internet because of the reticence of Christians to discuss it in real life. Guilt is so common it would not be inaccurate to say that it is pervasive, particularly among younger people who have not yet sorted through the emotions and spiritual elements of it. While guilt can be a good thing, it can also be paralyzing if there isn nothing for which we ought to feel guilty.
Objective Guilt is guilt that we feel because we have done something wrong. We’re guilty! We did it! We ate all the cookies! That is objective guilt. There is a reason why we should feel guilty.
Subjective Guilt is the feeling of guilt but we really don’t know why we are feeling so guilty. This is often the guilt that many people feel after they masturbate. They feel guilty, but they are often unsure why they feel guilty. I do not believe this guilt is productive or healthy.

Shame

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Shame is guilt’s kissing cousin. They often are found hanging out together, but both of them are often useless emotions that trap countless people in emotional and psychological prisons. I associate conservative Christian leaders with the most common purveyors of shame. Both guilt and shame are key components of organized religion, which preaches sin, and the guilt and shame associated with whatever they define as sin. Any sexual thought, particularly with conservative evangelical Christians is sinful and worthy of guilt and shame. The more egregious the sin, the more guilt and shame should be experienced.

Secrecy

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There is probably nothing shrouded in as much secrecy as anything involving our sex lives. One pastor told me years ago that most people would rather talk to you about their sex lives than any other part of their lives. I tend to agree with him. Personally, I don’t understand this phenomena, but perhaps people, not just evangelical Christians, but people are searching for acceptance, affirmation, forgiveness, or something else by sharing stuff from the deepest, most intimate part of their lives.

Most people are more than happy to disclose information about virginity, how often they have sex, when they began having sex, and a host of other stuff, but masturbation seems to be the one topic where they draw the line. From a very early age, it seems, both boys and girls go to a lot of trouble to hide the fact that they masturbate.

The Bible does talk about secrecy, well things done in darkness. John 3 talks about how we love darkness because people do evil things in the dark. When their deeds are brought into the light, they no longer can do the deeds they do in the dark. This might comfort some, but the image of everyone knowing all the bad stuff I have done held me in rapt terror for decades. It wasn’t until my current teaching pastor reminded me that God has forgiven me for everything I have done, therefore there is nothing for Him to judge me for or punish me for.

Why Do We Masturbate? An Incomplete List

Is it Always Lust

That is probably the most common response, but I am not sure that it would necessarily help someone who believes that he or she masturbates too much but can’t seem to control the urge to do it. There is no doubt that some sexual urge or desire is likely present when someone wants to masturbate. Whether it is lust or not is another matter. Jesus merely said that if someone lusts after a woman he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Jesus didn’t say what He meant by lust. There have been a really broad range of definitions over the centuries. The most common, but I believe the least helpful is: any thought about sex outside the bonds of marriage. I am not sure how many people subscribe to that definition today. The one that I have found helpful is: objectifying another person for your own sexual pleasure. This definition is more specific. For example, if you don’t know someone but often fantasize about that person when you masturbate, you are, in fact, using that person as an object of your sexual desire. Some people have tried to do an end run around objectification by fantasizing about anime or fictitious people. If that works for you, then who am I to judge? Ultimately, masturbation is something that is between you and God. I think lust might be a main trigger, but I don’t think it is the only reason we masturbate.

Boredom

I am not sure when I realized that some of the time I masturbate because I am bored. There are always things to do, but sometimes I am just in that zone where I don’t feel like doing any of the things that I ought to be doing and I just wind up masturbating. I think at those times I am probably sexually triggered and want the release I get from it, but if I was of a mind to do what I needed to do, I probably wouldn’t do it at that moment in time. If you think or feel that you might be masturbating too much or are uncomfortable with the frequency that you do it, you might want to consider if you do it out of boredom and perhaps find a way to “change the channel”.

Loneliness

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A very close cousin to boredom, loneliness is often a reason many people masturbate. It is just as legitimate, in my mind as any other reason, but I believe that a lot of us masturbate when we are lonely.

Rejection and Anger

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At the core of why anyone masturbates is the fact that it feels good, or perhaps we can derive a feeling/gratification from masturbation that is not readily available to us in a sexual relationship.
These may rival lust for reasons why people masturbate, and it ties in with anger so well, I am dealing with it in one section. Someone who has experienced a breakup, or perhaps never got that far because the person they wanted to date/marry rejected them before there was a relationship. I will confess that I have never been able to handle rejection very well. Some people deal with it better than others, but for those of us who do not handle it well, often masturbation provides an escape from the harshness of reality. It isn’t perfect. It is a lot like getting drunk, but without the awful hangover. For a period of time we can escape the feelings of rejection because we can fantasize about being accepted, perhaps even by the person who rejected us, or maybe someone else.
Rejection can often result in anger. For Christians, the way to deal with anger is to forgive the person with whom we are angry and move on, but like so many other Biblical principles, they are ideals that are often not realistic for daily living. I am not saying that the teachings of Jesus are not practical or relevant for everyday life. My point is that, being human, we are not always able to achieve these lofty ideals. Being rejected can cause a tsunami of emotions to rise to the surface, anger being one of the more common ones.

Depression and Anxiety

Masturbation is a creature comfort. It feels good and often we feel good when we are doing it. People who battle with depression and anxiety often resort to things that make them feel good, even if what they do doesn’t actually help lift them out of depression or relieve anxiety. One of the ways I have handled depression is by eating junk food. One of the things about being depressed is that decisions that I make often are not rational or logical. Most of us feel good when we are doing it, hence it may be a go to activity when we are feeling depressed or anxious.

Pornography

A number of years ago my church opened the morning service with a ten-minute video about Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED). I am not sure if it really exists, or if a number of people experience impotence if they have not been “primed” by pornography, but an addiction to porn is definitely serious, particularly if you are a Jesus-follower.

One of my friends who attended a 12 Step group told me that he believed that up to 75% of all mature males in our church have some level of addiction to porn. I think he projected statistics about addictions to porn onto the church. Even if the number isn’t that high, it is safe to say that a lot of men (and women to a lesser extent) battle addictions to porn.

The attraction to porn is really easy to see. For people who are not in a healthy sexual relationship, they can find anything that turns them on. With the exception of things that are illegal, there are no boundaries, no barriers, every fetish is served equally. All major credit cards are accepted, thank you. Yes, it isn’t just the free porn. It is the stuff that people pay to see, too that poses the problem.

In at least one other post I have pointed out that pornography is progressive. It isn’t static, What satisfies someone right now very likely won’t satisfy them a year from now or five years from now. The fetishes they find so appealing and delightful now may be a turn off for a future partner.

Is porn wrong? I am not going to make a definitive judgment because it might be okay for some people. I will say that, in my opinion, it is not the ideal. It is not something that anyone should use if they want to get married or even have a healthy relationship. Of course, the ultimate decision is between God and you.

Is it Okay to Masturbate with Someone Else Online?

Image: Google Images – Creative Commons License

I believe porn theaters died when porn got home delivery. Like most other things online, porn, chat rooms, and interactive online cybersex sites grew over time. At first, no one had the technology, or rather very few people had the technology to secretly record someone and post the video on a porn site. That was way back when. Now, to masturbate on a webcam, you might just as well upload the video yourself to a porn site, unless you really know the other person. There is no guarantee the adorable stranger is not secretly recording you and will upload the video to his or her favorite porn site. So, if you want to take that chance, by all means, put yourself out there, but as so many people are finding out these days, what you do online often follows you to job interviews and even when prospective partners check you out online. The only way to be absolutely sure there are no nude images of you out there is to never post any. If you never want to have videos of you masturbating out there, then make sure you never masturbate on your webcam.
Many years ago when I was much younger and totally addicted to porn theaters, a friend of mine essentially helped shatter that addiction by asking me a simple question: Of the people I encounter in the porn theater, who would I feel comfortable introducing to my family? That question stopped me cold. So, in 2021, who on a porn site or an interactive sex site, would you feel comfortable introducing to your family? Lust is the objectification of another person. If the man or the woman with whom you enjoy cybersex is merely just an “object” that you use, and you let them use you as an object for their sexual pleasure, are you really comfortable with that?

Masturbation as a Single Person

For single people who consider themselves dedicated Jesus-followers, masturbation is really the only viable form of sexual expression available to them. They do not have the worries or concerns of people who are married or are in committed relationships. They are not “cheating” on anyone. They are not betraying the monogamy of a relationship. It is simply a form of sexual release. Whether it is a sin, well that is really up to the individual who engages in it. I believe it is more a matter of conscience than an issue of law or doctrine. After all, the Bible is completely silent about it, so whether a single person masturbates or not is really up to that individual.

One of the reasons this issue is so difficult for some Christians to navigate is that there are always variations and what ifs to consider. In a similar vein as masturbating online with someone, is it okay to masturbate in a group? I am not saying this is a common occurrence, for some people, mostly guys I would think, a small group of friends who have similar tastes in porn or erotic content might masturbate in a group setting from time to time. Is that all right? Again, I think it comes down to conscience. No one can, nor should anyone, attempt to make that determination for anyone. Besides, if someone does not feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then there are probably no moral or ethical barriers for that person.

Masturbation and Marriage

I have never been married so this is written from the perspective of pure theory. Unlike a single person, though, someone who is married has at least one other person to consider — their spouse. I have no statistics to support this, but it is my hunch that most married couples, if they ever did talk about masturbation or sex, it was very early in their marriage and they probably don’t talk about sex at all as time has passed.

The obvious elephant in the room, or fly in the ointment is: the spouse. For single people who are not in a relationship, masturbation may be a moral issue, but for someone who is married, it could be a serious problem if there is not proper communication and decisions made borne from love.

Once again, not to deny or exclude women, but I will defer to the male gender as I believe it is more of an issue for men, married men, than it is for women.

I believe there can be many variables at play if a married man masturbates throughout his marriage. Perhaps the most obvious is that his sex drive has not diminished with age and he feels the need to relieve sexual tension through masturbation, if his wife is not available. If the couple has a relationship that allows for open and honest communication about sex, then it is possible the couple can come to an understanding about this issue. That, though, is the best case scenario. I am not sure how often it actually happens. In most cases, from what I heard in Open Share rooms at Celebrate Recovery, men masturbate in private, in secret, hiding the porn, hiding the entire experience from their spouses — well, until they get caught, and then all hell breaks loose.

Conclusion

Essentially, it is a decision that needs to be between God and an individual. Anything anyone writes about this is biased. One writer can put forth a positive, compassionate, and passionate case for masturbation. Another writer can put forth an equally passionate, compassionate, argument that is also based upon Scriptural principles. Ultimately, regardless of what anyone writes, the decision rests between God and the individual.

Comments

How did you feel when you read this article? Have you ever talked to anyone about masturbation? Do you think people should feel guilty if they masturbate? Do you think the descriptions in the stories are reasonable? Accurate? Do you believe masturbation is a sin? Why? Why not?
Your comments help me develop this blog and develop as a writer. Thank you in advance for your comments.

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