This blog is about to get more real. Today we’re going to talk about…
[cue dramatic music] … masturbation.
[Feel free to giggle, shrug, or seek medical attention as necessary.]
But in all seriousness, it’s hard to talk about because it’s so personal, which creates the potential for shame. And, because Christians are divided on whether it’s right or wrong, which creates the potential for judgment.
Some of you, though, may be wondering what the big deal is. After all, it seems like everybody’s doing it. And, what’s the harm in a little escape?
It’s interesting that the bible doesn’t address masturbation directly.
I’m pretty sure it existed back then, so it’s not like God forgot to include it in the final draft. He could have just come right out and given us a clear answer. But, he didn’t.
On the one hand, this suggests that it isn’t among God’s top concerns for us. On the other hand, our sexuality is a core part of how God created us, and we’ve all seen the damage that can result when we mishandle it.
So let’s ask some other, deeper questions so that we can receive deeper, better help. We’ll look at three today, then another four next time.
#1 Does Masturbation Lead You Into (Or Go Along) With Other Sins?
While I’m not going to address the ‘is it right or wrong’ question head-on in this mini-series, masturbation is often not a standalone event. As an example, for many it also goes along with sexual fantasies and porn.
So, even if masturbation itself isn’t wrong, sexual fantasies (about someone other than your spouse) and pornography clearly are. And it’s not just about ‘breaking the rules’. No, it’s far deeper than that.
In a helpful post about masturbation, counselor Winston Smith writes:
… your fantasies are about more than sex; they are about relationships. That is, sex is more than a physical act; it is something that you do with a person, not an object…
For a moment look beyond the sex acts and explore these fantasy relationships in nonsexual terms. How would you describe their attitudes? How are they relating to you?
Don’t just answer, “They are enjoying themselves,” or “They are giving me pleasure.” … In most cases… you are the center of attention in a world where no one cares about anything but you…
In relational terms, sexual fantasies are a world where you practice selfishness and manipulation.
Whoa. Pretty intense, right?
When we think about our relationship and masturbation, we have to ask if we’re living out Philippians 2:3-4:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
For further reflection: if you masturbate, do you also engage in fantasies or pornography? If you do, what do you think God would say to you about them?
#2 Can You Stop (Really)?
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
Again, we can talk about whether masturbation is ‘lawful’, but Paul says it’s critical for us not to be ‘dominated’ by it. He goes on to mention food, and then specifically sexual immorality (verse 13) as Exhibits A & B.
To be honest with you, before I got married, I wasn’t able to stop. God gave me increasing success, but I wasn’t fully in control of my body.
For younger guys especially, our bodies are filled with raging hormones and it can feel nearly impossible to stop. But that’s not true.
I have a friend whose wife passed away unexpectedly when he was in his mid-thirties. Although he said it was really hard, God gave him the grace to not masturbate for two years until he got married again. It’s not like he’s a super-Christian, either.
God calls us to ‘discipline [our] bod[ies] and keep [them] under control (1 Corinthians 9:27) as we depend on the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-24).
For reflection: Are you in control of your body, or, is your body in control of you? Consider stopping for a time to find out, then talking to God about what you learn.
#3 What’s In It For You?
Like money, sex and masturbation are never just about sex and masturbation. We’re always seeking a deeper benefit, whether real or perceived (or both).
For example, beyond the obvious pleasure, masturbation is often an escape from stress. It can be an escape that’s under our control. That doesn’t require us to seek God. In that sense, it can be a lot like food, alcohol or smoking.
One way to figure out what you’re looking for from masturbation (or any escape) is to ask, ‘When am I most tempted by it?’ For example, common suspects include times of:
- loneliness and isolation in your marriage
- rejection from someone you want to date
- conflict with family
- stress and deadlines with school or work
- public or obvious failure
- feeling out of control
Looking back, loneliness and seasons of stress at school were the biggest triggers for me. So, instead of trying to ‘just stop’, I (slowly) learned to ask God to help me deal with the underlying triggers. Progress wasn’t easy or linear, but acknowledging that only God could ultimately meet me in these spaces really helped over time.
Even better, depending on God for friendship and peace when I was stressed out helped me not only sexually, but in every other area of life, too. When we tackle masturbation by leaning into God, the benefits ripple throughout our entire lives.
For reflection: What do you think you’re really looking for when you masturbate? How can God meet those desires more fully?
By asking better questions in our struggles with masturbation, we uncover our deepest issues and – more importantly – discover God’s infinite grace to meet them.
See you next time with three more questions. [Update: you can read Part 2 of this post here.]