I am going to attempt to discuss something that will probably put me in the dog house no matter what I say, simply because people have such strong opinions about it. The word itself often immediately evokes disgust, defensiveness, embarrassment and shame…
I’m gonna talk about masturbation. This is the much-promised blog post I alluded to in my video which you can watch here:
It’s also a follow up to my video on “Sex Dolls.”
I’m also writing this post in response to the assertions, comments and arguments Joy Beth Smith makes in chapters 6 to 8 of her book Party of One: Truth, Longing and the Subtle Art of Singleness (y’all need to read this book!).
First, a few caveats…
Despite the featured image, I’ve decided to focus on masturbation from a mainly female perspective, because sexuality is pretty much always centred around men.
It’s hard to address everything in one blog post, so if it feels like I have glossed over some stuff, I have. Some stuff require more explanation, more understanding, more research, more prayer, more Bible study. This is where I am currently at with my thinking on the subject. What I’ve written here is just a start (and is very much in note-form).
I’m not advocating for any particular side. In fact, I’ll tell you what I think right off the bat (tl;dr): I think masturbation falls squarely within a “grey area.”
And yet, in the contexts in which I have grown up, conversations around masturbation have tended to be very black and white. At church I would hear a resolute “no” — masturbation is a sin and is self-abuse — whereas in the “world” I would hear that masturbation is normal and healthy and very common. As I have gotten older, I’ve realized that more things fall into grey areas than either side is willing to readily admit.
In conversations involving sexuality, my wish is that we would challenge ourselves to think more… broadly. In responding to (and largely resonating with) what Joy Beth has written, I wanted to present some salient considerations and start a discussion — or at least challenge what you may have thought and make you think a little more deeply.
But first, a definition.
What is masturbation?
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, masturbation is:
“…manipulation of the genital organs for pleasure, usually to orgasm. The term masturbation generally connotes self-manipulation, but it can also be used to describe manipulation of or by a sexual partner, exclusive of sexual intercourse.”
Why is masturbation often considered such a dirty word? Some would say, “Because it is! Masturbation is dirty!” But honestly, I think in large part we are afraid of our own sexuality. We are afraid of how much it can overwhelm or consume us, how visceral or deep our need is, how badly we want it, and how much we need it.
Before anything else, we are sexual beings. We are sexual beings above all. Oftentimes our minds will go, our spirit may go, but we can still have erections.
Sexuality is so fundamental to who we are as humans. That’s why we have whole industries and professions built on sex alone. We were not born with a gavel or a stethoscope or a piano – many of us were born with (the potential for) breasts and a vagina. God’s first command to humans is to be fruitful – copulate and populate.
They say that the oldest professions are doctor, lawyer, and prostitute, which are all professions built on the things that plague and harangue us our whole lives: we get sick, we fight with one another, we want to have sex.
Whereas this is done so freely in the animal kingdom, when it comes to humans we have complicated it beyond measure.
Questions of Morality
Sex as a moral issue
Determining whether any sexual activity is wrong or right will depend on the place from whence you derive your morality and whether you think that sex is a moral issue. I say this because, for many people, sex is not a moral issue. Sex is sex. So when one talks about the wrongness of masturbation, they are alluding to the fact that it is morally wrong. There are many reasons why one might consider masturbation to be morally wrong. If you are against abuse and you consider masturbation to be self-abuse, then masturbation would be wrong. But if you don’t see masturbation as self-abuse, then masturbation is not wrong. The answer to this question for the Christian single would be based on her morals derived from the Bible (more about this later).
I will say though that I do notice that many church people are quick to call masturbation wrong and I wonder: Do they say that it is wrong because it is actually wrong (or they believe that it is actually wrong), or do they say that it is wrong because they are ashamed? As were have seen in pop culture, for instance, often the most vehement critics of certain sexual acts indulge in those very acts behind closed doors.
Do we say it is wrong because we assume that the people around us also believe it’s wrong? Are we holding fast to perceived party lines (i.e. I’m pretty sure my church is against this, and I don’t want to be the lone dissenter thus I am also against this) as opposed to truth and studying for oneself?
I wonder if our discomfort clouds and colours the conversation. If you think masturbation is wrong, that’s fine, but hopefully, it’s based on your own personal, Biblical convictions and not just because the body of Christ is largely against it.
Is masturbation a sin?
Well, what is a sin? This demands a Bible study for which space and time do not permit, but quite simply, sin is the transgression of the law (moral law in this case — see also Prov. 3.1, Matt. 5:17, Rom. 2:12, 3:19). Sin is also doing (or not doing) something God says to do (or not do) (e.g. Adam and Eve, or even Onan). So for masturbation to be considered a “sin,” it would have to be breaking the (moral) law or going against something God has said.
Sin also characteristically separates oneself from God. So one must ask oneself, “Is masturbating bringing me closer to God or cutting me off from Him?”
That said, one could make an argument for the “sinfulness” as well as for the “sinlessness” of masturbation.
Masturbation is not discussed anywhere in the Bible — that is, God has not expressly prohibited masturbation. The one place in the Bible that comes even remotely close — Onan’s sin — sounds more like coitus interruptus (aka practicing the “withdrawl method” so that your partner doesn’t get pregnant) than masturbation (see references for more information).
Many other sexual sins are mentioned in the Bible, but curiously, masturbation is omitted. Surely the practice of touching oneself existed since antiquity. Is that to say that we have carte blanche?
It would be bad hermeneutics I think to reason, “It’s not mentioned in the Bible so I can do it.” Eating Tide pods is not mentioned in the Bible either — does that mean you should embark on a journey of eating detergent? (It’s a rhetorical question — please leave the laundry detergent alone). I think the silence of the Bible (when it is silent on this and other issues) is strategic — allowing people to live according to their consciences, knowing that a strict, outright prohibition may not be practical or relevant as time on earth goes on.
What the Bible does give us are principles — principles which are always relevant. Paul has a whole discussion on sexual stewardship in 1 Cor. 7. The Bible tells us that our bodies are holy temples:
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
The Bible also says that we ought to think about good and pure things, that we ought not to lust after others, that we should not fornicate, that we should not commit adultery, and that there are people we shouldn’t have sex with (you know — like people directly related to us. Curiously though, sex with oneself is not mentioned). Most importantly for this discussion though is 1 Cor. 6:12 (since this verse is a prelude to the discussion in 1 Cor. 7. He also repeats this at 1 Cor. 10:23):
1 Cor. 6:12 (NIV)
“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that masturbation is wrong (or right!), but it does mean that any activity that the Christian undertakes should conform with the aforementioned principles.
In thinking about masturbation, it sounds like Paul would respond similarly: “you can masturbate if you want, but it might not be beneficial” or “ok, masturbate, but make sure you are not mastered by it.”
I struggle with a lot of what Paul says in 1 Cor. 6 and 7, but particularly 1 Cor. 7:7-9 (AMP):
7 I wish that all the people were as I am; but each person has his own gift from God, one of this kind and one of that.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows, [that as a practical matter] it is good if they remain [single and entirely devoted to the Lord] [a]as I am. 9 But if they do not have [sufficient] self-control, they should marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion
It sounds like Paul upholds marriage the only antidote to those who burn with passion. The holy and horny ought to get married, practically speaking. But as most Millennials can attest, getting married is way more easier said than done. Plus, arguably, you can get married and still burn with passion.
It’s an answer that arguably does not help today’s single adult Christian (so much I can say here on that). And, I will be so bold to suggest that it’s an answer that does not necessarily disallow masturbation.
The age of marriage is ever increasing. If Jesus doesn’t return, do we seriously think people are gonna remain celibate for 35, or 40 years? And if so, how? The fact of the matter is it gets harder as you grow older – sexual desires, social stigma. Many people with God’s help can remain celibate (and not masturbate), but not everyone will be able to (I talk more about this in the video).
N.B. Research has shown us that babies seem to masturbate in the womb. Babies are incapable of sin because they do not know right from wrong. Thus, it’s not so much touching oneself for sexual pleasure that’s the issue. The issue is what God thinks about it.
On the “masturbation as a grey area” point, I like to quote Christian psychologist Dr. Julie Slattery:
Masturbation is a complicated issue that doesn’t lend to a clear black and white answer. I want to be realistic about the struggle without giving freedom that God perhaps hasn’t given.
At a purely biological level, masturbation isn’t that much different than other things we do with our bodies—like picking our noses. Toddlers do both. They are wired to touch their bodies everywhere and repeat touching where they find pleasure. Little boys and girls quickly discover that their “private parts” feel really good to touch. As children grow, wise parents gently teach that touching some places of our bodies isn’t appropriate to do in public. And they teach their kids not to pick their noses in public either.
But why does picking your nose have an embarrassing but non-moral stigma, while masturbation has become laden with tremendous guilt and shame? While there is nothing inherently wrong with touching yourself to experience pleasure, masturbation becomes a moral issue because it involves sexuality. Sexuality has intrinsic moral implications. Does that mean that masturbation is always immoral? I don’t think so.
What the “World” Says
Masturbation (or sex in general) does have its benefits:
- Not only can it help with reducing the risk of prostate cancer in men, but masturbation also helps reduce blood pressure and help you relax. Researchers tracked 30,000 men for almost 20 years to come up with their results.
- Masturbation doesn’t bring risks of STIs or unwanted pregnancies.
- Researchers at the University of Michigan say masturbating on the regular boosts endorphins and hormones which lowers cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body. And women who frequently masturbate are believed to have higher self-confidence than those who shy away from self-pleasure.
- It’s so beneficial that Mark Sergeant, a senior lecturer in psychology at Nottingham Trent University, suggests workers should take masturbation breaks as a motivational reward for completing a long list of to-dos, Metro.co.uk reports.
- It can be helpful for women to relieves menstrual pain, Emily Dixon writes in her book Scandalous: Things Good Christian Girls Don’t Talk About But Probably Should
- Others has even said that masturbation should be part of your wellness and self-care routine.
Masturbation in Spirit of Prophecy
(Ok, so — I’m a Seventh-day Adventist so I feel like I have to include this for good measure.)
Ellen White seems to have mentioned masturbation in her writings:
High Resolve and Spiritual Life Destroyed—Secret vice is the destroyer of high resolve, earnest endeavor, and strength of will to form a good religious character. All who have any true sense of what is embraced in being a Christian know that the followers of Christ are under obligation as His disciples to bring all their passions, their physical powers and mental faculties into perfect subordination to His will. Those who are controlled by their passions cannot be followers of Christ. They are too much devoted to the service of their master, the originator of every evil, to leave their corrupt habits and choose the service of Christ.—Child Guidance, 445, 446. TSB 121.2
Vital Energy Is Depleted—The practice of secret habits surely destroys the vital forces of the system. All unnecessary vital action will be followed by corresponding depression. Among the young the vital capital, the brain, is so severely taxed at an early age that there is a deficiency and great exhaustion, which leaves the system exposed to disease of various kinds. TSB 122.1
Foundation Laid for Various Diseases Later in Life—If the practice is continued from the ages of fifteen and upward, nature will protest against the abuse she has suffered, and continues to suffer, and will make them pay the penalty for the transgression of her laws, especially from the ages of thirty to forty-five, by numerous pains in the system and various diseases, such as affection of the liver and lungs, neuralgia, rheumatism, affection of the spine, diseased kidneys, and cancerous humors. Some of nature’s fine machinery gives way, leaving a heavier task for the remaining to perform, which disorders nature’s fine arrangement; and there is often a sudden breaking down of the constitution, and death is the result.—Child Guidance, 444. TSB 122.2
The Results of Self-Abuse—Females possess less vital force than the other sex, and are deprived very much of the bracing, invigorating air by their indoor life. The results of self-abuse in them is seen in various diseases such as catarrh, dropsy, headache, loss of memory and sight, great weakness in the back and loins, affections of the spine, the head often decays inwardly. Cancerous humor, which would lie dormant in the system their lifetime, is inflamed and commences its eating, destructive work. The mind is often utterly ruined, and insanity takes place. [See Appendix A.]—Appeal to Mothers, 27. TSB 122.3
One Who Requested Prayer for Healing—My husband and I once attended a meeting where our sympathies were enlisted for a brother who was a great sufferer with the phthisic. He was pale and emaciated. He requested the prayers of the people of God. He said that his family were sick, and that he had lost a child. He spoke with feeling of his bereavement. He said that he had been waiting for some time to see Brother and Sister White. He had believed that if they would pray for him, he would be healed. After the meeting closed, the brethren called our attention to the case. They said that the church was assisting them, that his wife was sick, and his child had died. The brethren had met at his house and united in praying for the afflicted family. We were much worn and had the burden of labor upon us during the meeting and wished to be excused. I had resolved not to engage in prayer for anyone, unless the Spirit of the Lord should dictate in the matter…. TSB 123.1
That night we bowed in prayer and presented his case before the Lord. We entreated that we might know the will of God concerning him. All we desired was that God might be glorified. Would the Lord have us pray for this afflicted man? We left the burden with the Lord and retired to rest. In a dream the case of that man was clearly presented. His course from his childhood up was shown, and that if we should pray, the Lord would not hear us, for he regarded iniquity in his heart. The next morning the man came for us to pray for him. We took him aside and told him we were sorry to be compelled to refuse his request. I related my dream, which he acknowledged was true. He had practiced self-abuse from his boyhood up, and he had continued the practice during his married life, but said he would try to break himself of it. This man had a long-established habit to overcome. He was in the middle age of life. His moral principles were so weak that when brought in conflict with long-established indulgence, they were overcome…. TSB 123.2
Here was a man debasing himself daily and yet daring to venture into the presence of God and ask an increase of strength which he had vilely squandered, and which, if granted, he would consume upon his lust. What forbearance has God! If He should deal with man according to his corrupt ways, who could live in His sight? What if we had been less cautious and carried the case of this man before God while he was practicing iniquity, would the Lord have heard? Would He have answered? “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with Thee. The foolish shall not stand in Thy sight; Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”… TSB 124.1
This is not a solitary case. Even the marriage relation was not sufficient to preserve this man from the corrupt habits of his youth. I wish I could be convinced that such cases as the one I have presented are rare, but I know they are frequent.—Child Guidance, 450, 451.
See also: http://www.ellenwhite.info/masturbation-sin.htm which talks about zinc deficiency in men (don’t know if it’s true, but there you have it).
Purpose of Sex
Your thoughts on masturbation will also be informed on what you think to be the purpose of sex:
- Procreation and Enjoyment and Intimacy (not mutually exclusive)
- Sex drives are supposed to drive us to find a partner – get up out of our bedrooms, put some pants on and go find someone to marry/have sex with
- Thus, it begs the question: Is sex for me or is sex for others?
- Sexuality was supposed to illustrate the intimate nature between Christ and the church. The church didn’t go out trying to satisfy her own needs. Her needs are all wrapped up in Jesus
- Masturbation perpetuates the lie that sex is for me – well, sex is for you; it’s also for someone else. It’s both/and, not either/or
- Famed French psychologist Esther Perel has said herself that sex isn’t just physical – she says it’s about inhabiting a space/going to a place – within yourself (literally or figuratively) and/or within another person (literally/figuratively)
- Speaking about going to a place, one important consideration for masturbation is the idea of escapism — fantasy and escapism — which leads me to my next point:
Why are you masturbating?
I agree with Joy Beth when she says that motivation is a factor.
- Some people use masturbation to escape boredom and/or loneliness, heal from rejection, or distract themselves
- E.g. “I’m bored – I’m gonna go jerk off. I asked my partner if he/she wanted to have sex, and they rejected me, so I’ll handle it myself. I want sex, but I’m afraid that I’ll never find a sexual partner – all of these people have rejected me, I’ve been unsuccessful with relationships, so I’ll take matters into my own hands (literally), I’m lonely; I’m having a hard time finding people to connect with. I’m having a hard time finding and creating deep and intimate relationships. Sex dolls.”
- Masturbation, coupled with a fantasy, is soothing and comforting and pacifying, and placating and makes you think/believe/feel, if only for those 3 to 30 mins, that you are not as alone as you actually are. We think it’s about releasing sexual tension, but it can also be about nursing an emotional wound). And so we masturbate.
- Maturbation can become harmful if we use it to dull the other pains of life, if we use it to distract us, as opposed to tacklng those other things head on. It’s like an opiate – and the thing is all painkillers must wear off, and sometimes when it does, you need stronger and stronger ones.
- Masturbation and isolation – turning inwards as opposed to turning outwards – turning inwards is a low risk situation; turning outwards involves risk
- In their book Facing the Facts (NavPress), Stan and Brenna Jones remind adolescents that masturbation is only a small glimpse of what God has planned for their future sexual pleasure. “Masturbation is surely not the full blessing God wants for our sexuality,” they write. “Maybe one reason so many people have confused feelings about masturbation is that it falls short of what God intended for our bodies and feelings.”
Sex is Physical, Emotional, Spiritual
- Sex has a mind/body element
- Connecting with oneself vs. connecting with another spiritually (some would argue that the purpose of sex is to do the latter)
- Is there any harm in connection with oneself??
Getting to Know Your Body/Discovering Yourself
Masturbation can helpful in discovering your erogenous zones and what feels pleasurable to you.
Women have a complex sexual anatomy:
- Masturbation can help one know what turns her on so that she can in turn share with your partner:
“There is nothing wrong in touching your own body and being aware of what stimulates your sexual responsiveness. Good sexual adjustment in marriage is a result of feeling comfortable about your body, knowing what is pleasurable to you, and communicating this to your partner. For many women, a sexual climax is not experienced in the early stages of marriage. In fact, some women go years without having a sexual climax simply because they don’t know what stimulation their body needs in order to respond. There is nothing wrong with self-stimulation to learn this information, if the motive is to have a deeper enjoyment of the sexual relationship with a spouse. — Christian couples counsellor Dr. Kay Kuzma (see references)
- All discoveries are made when there is space for discoveries — in a spirit of openness, when there are very little, if any, limits, restrictions or parameters
- There is something to be said for creating the space for sexual discoveries and exploration
- “Hey look what I found! When I touch myself this way, it feels really, super good.”
- It can be something discovered on your own that benefits the marital relationship
- Counter argument: This exploration and learning is something that you should learn together with your husband.
- Sex should drive you to meet people – procreation, not isolation
To quote Dr. Slattery:
Sexuality was created to draw us into relationships. The hormones that flow through a teenager’s body awaken the desire to seek intimacy. The goal of masturbation is to bring pleasure to yourself, typically outside of relationship. For this reason, some believe that masturbation is selfish and misusing the gift of sex. While that may be the case, I don’t think it is always so cut and dry.
Wrong Way to Masturbate
Some people masturbate in such a way that they find it hard to orgasm with a partner. Consider this account from Betty Dodson:
- Betty Dodson, who literally wrote the book on masturbation, Sex for One, “which simply displays how unfucked this country is.” She told me that my adolescent jerk-off method is most common among women, who will cross their legs, lie on their stomachs, and squeeze and release. Pleasure comes from pumping the pelvic floor muscle, which is at the base of the abdomen. “I have to give you credit,” Dodson told me. “You managed to have an orgasm without, quote, touching yourself, unquote, down there.”
From some people, it may be hard to go from masturbating in prone position or masturbating using vibrator and then achieving orgasm in partnered sex.
For men, unusual or vigorous masturbation techniques can contribute to copulatory erectile dysfunction. Normal intercourse cannot match the pressure (death grip) and speed (very fast movements) employed by many desensitized men. Masturbating on the stomach (prone) can be one of the most troublesome forms of masturbation in terms of reducing sensitivity to normal intercourse.
This website www.healthystrokes.com helps men recover from prone masturbation, which they call “traumatic masturbation syndrome.” The following two FAQs are from healthystrokes.com.
- What is Traumatic Masturbatory Syndrome? Traumatic Masturbatory Syndrome (TMS) is the habit some males have of masturbating in a face-down (prone) position. Some TMS practitioners rub their penises against the mattress, pillow, or other bedding, or the floor. Some TMS practitioners lie on their stomachs and thrust into their hands.
- What’s wrong with masturbating in this fashion? Masturbating face down puts excessive pressure on the penis, and especially on the base of the penis. These sensations are not easily replicated in conventional masturbation or in sexual intercourse. This can make TMS practitioners unable to have normal sexual relations. A survey conducted for this web site revealed that males who masturbate conventionally have sex 6.6 times more often than TMS practitioners.
Frequent masturbation in men has also been linked to premature ejaculation/erectile dysfunction.
Sex, Masturbation and Disability
For some persons with disabilities, masturbation is the one of the few ways that they can experience and express their sexuality:
Here’s How People with Disabilities Are Taking Back Their Sex Lives
Boys in Chairs: That Time I Could Not Masturbate By Myself Anymore
Taking Your Body for a Ride: Masturbation and Disability
‘Hand Angels’ charity provides sexual services for disabled people in Taiwan, helping them masturbate and ‘reach orgasm’
Sexuality of the disabled often overlooked
Sexual Violation and Sexual Dysfunction
To quote Dr. Slattery:
Many women learned (or were even taught) to masturbate at very young ages. This is particularly true of those who have been sexually violated and have been “sexualized” at a young age. While I wouldn’t recommend masturbation, I also don’t think it should add to the shame that women feel about their sexuality. Just like men have “wet dreams,” many women masturbate and orgasm in their sleep. Single women are sexual. Even those who are committed to purity in mind and body have sexual hormones, dreams, and thoughts that impact their body.
Masturbation can also be beneficial in cases of sexual dysfunction. A very common form of sex therapy called “sensate focus” helps a woman pay attention to how she responds to sexual touch, first by touching herself and then by guiding her husband’s hand as he touches her. This can be an important step in healing, particularly for women who have experienced sexual trauma that triggers anxiety at sexual touch.
Keeping Yourself “Chaste”
Dr. Slattery says:
There are Christian leaders working with singles who believe that masturbation may be a way to stay sexually pure until marriage. While I would be very cautious to give that advice, I recognize that for some, masturbation is a way of channeling sexual urges away from the temptations to have sex. It’s possible for the motive of masturbation to be for purity and a form of exercising self-control.
Masturbation and the Marital Bed
Some partners may feel threatened by the toys employed or the masturbation habits of their spouse.
I also think of Esther Perel’s sex podcast (“Impotent is No Way to Define a Man” Episode 5). In this episode, the male partner struggles with impotence. Perel says that his importance is only part of the problem. Part of it is his aloneness. His habit taught himself to satisfy his own needs – not only sexually, but otherwise – by turning into himself as opposed to turning to his wife.
One the other hand, masturbation can serve as an added feature of a sexual relationship.
Interestingly enough, for those who do masturbate, most people do not stop masturbating when they’re in a sexually satisfying relationship.
In fact people who have regular sex partners, live with their sex partners, and/or are married, are more likely to masturbate than people without sexual partners and/or who live alone (Michael et al., 1994).
Within a relationship, masturbation has been shown to promote higher levels of marital and sexual satisfaction (Hurlbert and Whittaker, 1991). I would also add that if you are burning as a single person, you will be burning as a married person. Certainly marriage can help steward your sex drive, but marriage is not a cure for your sex drive.
Some partners enjoy watching the other partner engage in self-pleasure. Some partners will take turns in manually pleasuring one another. Mutual masturbation is a feature of many sexual encounters.
The whole “don’t touch yourself for sexual pleasure” argument kind of unravels here. If I tweak my nipples while my husband is working on another part of my body (teeheehee), is that sin? Is it the Biblical expectation that I am just supposed to lie there and make him figure out my pleasure, or can we entertain the thought that we can help each other out – I can help him help me come and/or I can make myself come while and he is welcome to participate? Which leads me to:
My Theory on Orgasms
I have a theory on the female orgasm, which may evolve (or devolve, lol — we’ll see) overtime and which has been slightly informed by Halle Berry’s sex life. It’s not even necessarily Biblical. But hear me out. Here’s the radical thought:
My orgasm shouldn’t be soley his responsibility; it should be a shared responsibility.
In other words, I wouldn’t go into a sexual encounter thinking, “It’s your job to make sure I come!” I would hope that we would figure this out together.
Similarly, while I believe in sexual justice, and that male partners need to be intentional about ensuring the sexual pleasure of their (in this case) female partner, if I did not have an orgasm, I could not necessarily blame my partner. It may just be me. I have a role to play too.
I wouldn’t want to give any sexual partner that much power – the idea that I can only enjoy the heights of sexual pleasure with a partner, or that only a partner (only another person) can give me access to feeling pleasure in my body. I think it is problematic to believe that I can only find and have pleasure outside of myself.
I’m not against being dependent on others, but it is empowering to need or prefer others to help you, knowing that, if need be, you could help yourself.
I have heard that it is an ego boost for men — that men love to know it was them who made your toes curl. I’m not saying men should or should not have a role or a starring role. I’m just saying that the responsibility should not necessarily rest squarely on his shoulders.
What a burden. “I have to give her an orgasm.” So what happens if he doesn’t discharge his duty to give you an orgasm? Has he failed as a lover? Is he less of a man?
When we realize it’s a joint duty, there’s less pressure on him to make you feel good, and it doesn’t dispossess you in your own role in your own pleasure.
I believe in sexual justice. Men and women should orgasm/should mutually enjoy sex. I think men should help their partners come, especially if they have already ejaculated. It’s much like the title of Ian Kerner’s seminal book on the female orgasm: She Comes First. That should be the motto for life. I think men should ensure their partner’s pleasure. I think men should help/try to make his partner orgasm. I don’t necessarily believe men should ensure their partner’s orgasm (only if the other partner is OK with this).
I also don’t think the bedroom should be a place of roles and responsibilities and pressure. It should be a place to just be.
Sick or absent partner
Masturbation can become the primary means for sexual expression if partners become ill, or people find themselves single after death or divorce (Crooks and Bauer, 1983).
Counter-argument: Masturbation as Substitution — when masturbation take the places of seeking out your partner. This, I see as problematic.
Dr. Julie Slatery says:
The question of motive is also important for a married woman. There is a huge difference between a selfish wife who masturbates because she is angry with her husband and a wife who masturbates for the purpose of building intimacy with her husband. Consider, for example, a wife who is separated from her husband because of travel, deployment, or illness. She wants to focus on her husband and channel her sexual urges toward him.
Dr. James Dobson says this:
The fourth concern about masturbation refers not to adolescents but to us as adults. This habit has the capacity to follow us into marriage and become a substitution for healthy sexual relations between a husband and wife. This, I believe, is what the apostle Paul meant when he instructed us not to “deprive” one another as marital partners: “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
Keeping Everything in Working Order
Masturbation (and sex in general) can help keep your body in check. Just ask Toni Braxton: “My gynecologist told me, ‘Toni, you need to start using your vagina more,'” the 47-year-old singer told the ladies of “The View.”
Some would say that you shouldn’t masturbate because you can get addicted. That’s like saying don’t drink alcohol because you can become an alchoholic or don’t eat food because you can get addicted to food.
It’s all quite silly.
Just because you eat something – that doesn’t mean you will get addicted.
That said, you can get addicted to anything — including something as powerfully pleasure-inducing as masturbation.
To quote Dr. Julie Slattery:
“The apostle Paul taught that “nothing should master” us. In other words, we shouldn’t be controlled or addicted to anything. This applies to food, shopping, Facebook, and also to masturbation. For many women, masturbation can become a way of escape from boredom, loneliness, depression, pain, and stress. We learn at a young age to soothe ourselves with something that feels good. Some ways of coping with stress and boredom are clearly unhealthy, like drinking alcohol or cutting. Other forms of coping are destructive because they abuse an inherently good thing. For example, food is a wonderful gift. But a binge on ice cream and Doritos because you are lonely is abusing that gift. The same is true of sexuality. The neurochemicals released during sex and orgasm reduce stress, help you sleep, and make you feel at peace. However, having sex outside of marriage or habitually masturbating is an abuse of the body’s natural response to sex.
If you are masturbating on a regular basis or use it to deal with negative emotions, I’d encourage you to find other means of coping. God gave us healthy ways to release the chemicals in your body that bring peace and contentment. Prayer, meditation, exercise, talking to a friend, or creating something artistic might take more work, but they are alternatives to falling into an addictive cycle.”
Also, Dr. James Dobson say that one way masturbation may become obsessive is how it is initially addressed:
The second circumstance in which masturbation might have harmful implications is when it becomes extremely obsessive. That is more likely to occur when it has been understood by the individual to be “forbidden fruit.” I believe the best way to prevent that kind of obsessive response is for adults not to emphasize or condemn it. Regardless of what you do, you will not stop the practice of masturbation in your teenagers. That is a certainty. You’ll just drive it underground — or under covers. Nothing works as a “cure.” Cold showers, lots of exercise, many activities, and awesome threats are ineffective. Attempting to suppress this act is one campaign that is destined to fail — so why wage it?
Denial of the Flesh and Honouring God
There is something to be said for denying basic, healthy desires for a higher purpose. The Christian is called to die daily and deny herself — her flesh. Just like we deny ourselves food when we fast, we can arguably flee our fleshly desires all in the of honouring God.
Certainly, lust is a feature of many masturbatory sessions and we women struggle with lust too — it’s not just a guy problem. On this point, here is what the Bible has to say:
But I tell you that if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts. (CEV)
1 Corinthians 6:18
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. (NIV)
1 John 2:16
For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. (NIV)
And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” (NLT)
See also Bible Verses About Lust.
I think we can say definitely that if you are lusting over (i.e. picturing yourself having sex with) someone who is not your husband, in that case masturbation is a sin.
You’ll remember I talked about masturbation and risk above. Masturbation as a cop out — it’s low risk way of getting high risk benefits.
If I fantisize about Dwayne Johnson (he’s so fine. My Lord), I get the benefit of using his body (or an image thereof) for my own sexual pleasure without doing the work of putting myself out there, being vulnerable and taking a risk.
I don’t think that’s fair. And frankly, were the object of desire to find out, it’s a little unnerving to say the least (I know because it has happened to me. I was grossed out when I overheard a middle-aged man talk about how he was going to masturbate to a photo he had taken of me. *shudders*).
This is often one of the main arguments I hear against masturbation — masturbation is based on lust. Many times yes, but not necessarily. In fact, is possible to masturbate and even orgasm without lusting after someone — without any sort of fantasy. Many women find sexual touch to be enough (see Emily Dixon except below).
SOOOOOO much I could say about porn. So much. It needs its own blog post, so I won’t really get into it here. Porn is often accompanied by masturbation (why else would you watch porn? The acting sure isn’t all that great). I don’t think I can’t find any basis on which I could be pro-porn. I don’t see how porn usage is helpful for the Christian single.
Above I alluded to the fact that if a sexual activity is undertaken within the confines of a marital relationship (barring adultery) that it may be okay (i.e. mutual masturbation). But even if couples agree to use porn to “spice up” their sex life, chances are the actors (especially the female actors) on set are being coerced or drugged up in some way. I know ethical porn exists, but porn gives unrealistic expectations of sex. Our vaginas don’t necessarily look bikini-waxxed all the time. We don’t all moan like that. Our boobs flop to the side when we’re on our backs. We have bellies. Porn is also often very male-gaze focused. Not to mention lust. Porn often evokes lust.
Whereas with masturbation I can see strong pros and cons, with porn, I see mostly cons. I could go on and on, but you should really read this book: Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families by Pamela Paul (she’s not even a Christian author, and even she’s anti-porn, so yeah…).
A Note on Guilt and Shame
Many people feel guilty about sexual acts they have participated in. It should be noted that guilt doesn’t always mean that you’ve done something wrong.
Consider the women to whom Joy Beth alluded to and who I have read about — women who, because of bad messaging in childhood and adolescence feel guilty after having sex with their husbands because they still think sex = bad.
Guilt is usually a good indicator of wrongdoing, but if your ideas of wrong and right and good and bad are messed up, guilt is not able to give you the guidance you need.
Brene Brown says this about “Shame vs. Guilt”:
Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.
I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.
I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.
Moreover, shame is correlated with addiction (p. 129, 251, I Thought it Was Just Me by Brene Brown):
I’m just going to say it: I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done – or failed to do – with our personal values.
If you feel guilty, ask yourself why that is and what values you are betraying, and if you don’t feel guilty, as yourself why that is and what values you feel that you aren’t going against. Because at the end of the day, it’s about what you believe about sex, pleasure and the guidance that you believe that you’ve received from God that is going to inform your thinking on this issue, and, ultimately, your choice.
At the end of the day, sexuality should not be laden with shame and guilt. The quicker you can unhinge shame from your sexuality and sexual past, the better off you’ll be.
Some Other Thoughts on Masturbation
Stuff I mentioned above and really should integrate into my points above but I’m tired and it’s late. Please read anyway:
From Scandalous: Things Good Christian Girls Don’t Talk About But Probably Should by Emily Dixon:
And from Serious About Love: Straight Talk to Single Adults by Dr. Kay Kuzma:
So is masturbation a sin? Should you masturbate? It’s such a fine line — a line so fine and precarious that many people in Christendom will counsel you to stay away from this sort of personal ministry. On the other hand, masturbation has been and is helpful for others. We are all on our own sexual journeys. To quote blogger Christine Woolgar:
I strongly believe that we need to be very slow to judge other people’s masturbatory habits and fantasies.
Our bodies are complex. Our minds, imaginations and histories are also complex! And yet, engaging in sexual activity brings all of these things together. I think it’s very harsh to expect people to get it all right, all the time. In some senses that’s not OK, but I also believe that it’s nothing God can’t handle. Yes, he’s holy. But he’s also patient, gentle and powerful to save. Let’s keep these things in balance.
I think Joy Beth was spot on when she quoted Tara Owens on masturbation:
“Does this action help me love myself and others more fully and freely, and does it allow me to love God more deeply and wth more of myself?”
The only thing I do know is that you should go to God. He made you and He made you sexual (unless you are asexual, which is cool too). Go to God with your horniness and your hormones, talk to him about your sexuality, ask Him what His plans are for you in terms of how to manage, tame and steward it healthily and in a way that honours Him. After all, the Word says:
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” (Psalm 32:8).
I don’t have an answer for you on whether or not you should masturbate. But I do think that if you are struggling with shame there is grace. I don’t think God is mad at you or looking down at you in disapproval. I do think that God cares and I will be so audacious as to say that His answer for you may differ from the answer He gives someone else:
“Never make a principle out of your own experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” — Oswald Chambers
Like I mentioned at the outset and in the video above — my counsel would be to go to God. Tell Him everything, and then see what He tells you.
References, Resources and Interesting Sites
Party of One: Truth, Longing and the Subtle Art of Singleness by Joy Beth Smith
Serious About Love: Straight Talk to Single Adults by Dr. Kay Kuzma
Scandalous: Things Good Christian Girls Don’t Talk About But Probably Should by Emily Dixon
Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families by Pamela Paul
Pastor John Gray Talks About Masturbation on the Breakfast Club
Real Problem with Female Masturbation
Getting to the Root of Female Masturbation
Masturbation: Is it Always Sin
Ten Reasons to Make Masturbation Part of Your Wellness Routine
OMGYes — Research and Education on Female Sexual Pleasure and Orgasms
Dr. James Dobson on Masturbation
Sue Johanson on Female Masturbation
Health Benefits of Masturbation
On Guilt and Shame:
Photos by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash
7 thoughts on “Is Masturbation a Sin?”
Simone! What a beautiful sister you are in Christ. I am also SDA, a young 68 yo lady, twice divorced and recently struggling with masturbation and crucifying myself after each time. the Lord knows I long for a good and godly man, but I’ve been alone a long time and suddenly my hormones are going crazy. You have sought out the people that I love and have listened to, like julie Slattery, kay Kuzma, Dr Dobson and others and I agree with you and all the light and insight they have brought to the table and opened up to me/for me. thank you, pray for me and i will do so for you. You are a real blessing!
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Bernadette, wonderful to see your comment.
Masturbation is something for all women of all ages and stages of life.
I have been working on my own blog to compliment Simone’s and others.
Good bless you Bernadette, enjoy God’s gift.
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Bernadette: I took so long to respond because I didn’t know what to say. But I should let you know that your comment has made my entire week. Thank you for reminding me that my voice and my work matters, and that God will the work of placing it in front of those who need to see it. ❤
Hello dear sweet Simone! What are you doing up at 2:30am?? You need that beauty rest each night.
Just able to share now. The Lord has changed my heartl really, I cannot continue to do what i had started. Please know that I stand in judgment of No one. And I do feel for and pray for those who really believe as you do. And I know for some, it feels very right and only they really know. the Lord loves us all so much and He won’t stop loving those who need to masturbate. I’m so sad and broken afterwards, that’s how I know that Satan is trying to ruin me; he has been torturing me for months now, and I won’t let him in and break me any more. I thought to myself, what if Jesus came in the middle of my self-gratification? Couldn’t handle that. But, you will always be my sister, now and forever. And we’ll be neighbors and best friends in heaven with the Savior. My heart will never stop loving you and caring about you. I’m not saying it is a sin, I’m just saying I can’t handle it myself and still be where I want/need to be with Jesus. I don’t know who it was, but recently someone said, “It’s like prostituting Jesus.” I know how awful it sounds(again they were not my words). I pray we can still talk about lots of things and still love one another profoundly. you are in my heart and in my prayers and I am forever changed because of you!
Much love and blessings, Simone! Bernadette
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Praise God Bernadette! It truly is an individual journey and we must obey the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Hi Honey! Yes, I was weak a day or 2 ago, but I just keep running to Jesus who will purge me of this, because I know I cannot continue. I think of you often and so happy you called on me. Let’s keep praying for one another. You are right — it is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that begs me to hear and go the way Jesus is telling me to go.
Be well, Simone and don’t stop talking to me! love you, Bern 🙂