When it comes to sex there is probably no problem which is more common– and yet so little talked about– than masturbation. Statistics show that 100% of males and 50-60% of all females practice masturbation at one time or another. Masturbation involves the self-exploration and fondling of one’s own organs for self-stimulation. And in most adolescent lives such a practice is often surrounded by guilt, shame, secrecy, self-loathing, ignorance, fear, fantasy, and frustration. And yet there is no one to talk with about it! Most books are sadly silent on the subject.
Did you know that even the Bible is silent on the subject? From Genesis to Revelation masturbation is not mentioned at all. Some have tried to interpret Onan’s sin, as described in Genesis 38:8-11, as the sin of solo sex, but according to Deuteronomy 25:5-6, it was not masturbation, or even the act of sex, but Onan’s unwillingness to perpetuate his deceased brother’s family that constituted his sin.
Others point to 1 Corinthians 6:9 in the ancient King James Version of the Bible and argue that the mention “abusers of themselves” refers to self-stimulation. Yet the best translations render the passage more correctly as “homosexuals.”
The Bible is simply silent on the subject. And for the Christian that means masturbation is neither moral– something we are commanded to do– nor immoral– something we are commanded not to do. Instead, solo sex has to be viewed as amoral– something of which the rightness or wrongness is to be determined by the individual.
Still, there are those in our world who vehemently proclaim masturbation to be immoral. Fundamentalists and Catholics, by and large, consider it a sin, lustful, and a perversion of the act of sex. People caught masturbating in some schools are made to endure public humiliation by being forced to wear a green glove, and silly myths are perpetuated which say that self-stimulation makes you crazy or grows pimples or lands you in hell.
The other extreme in our culture holds that masturbation is entirely moral in that it provides a healthful outlet for pent-up sexual energy with no negative social consequences such as unwanted pregnancy or rape.
The amoral view, however, takes the middle ground. From this point of view, masturbation might not only be harmless physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually, but it can also be helpful as part of a larger process of self-discovery. Just as one grows and matures and learns to use his/her ears and eyes, hands and feet and mind, so one must become aware of and learn to use his/her sexuality. Thus, private acts of exploration and self-stimulation are a very real and healthful part of growing to maturity.
In our day, when marriage is often delayed for educational and economic reasons, the level of sexual frustration is often very high. Long ago our bodies developed an appetite for a face-to-face sexual relationship– an emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual bonding with a married mate. Yet such a oneness is often denied us. Sex with oneself, therefore, as masturbation, can serve as a sort of comforting experience for those who yearn for and yet cannot have a marriage relationship.
But a word of caution here is now in order, for there are certainly pitfalls to self-stimulation which must be recognized and avoided. Masturbation is clearly less than God’s ideal for it is the completing in one flesh what God intended to be completed in two– one man for one woman for life in married love. It is not a “togetherness” experience but a “by-myself” experience.
Furthermore, masturbation can lead to very selfish sexual practices which, if carried into a later marriage, can prove troublesome. Self-stimulation provides immediate feedback– you’re in it to satisfy yourself– and upon achieving orgasm for yourself, you quit. When carried into marriage such conditioning can make the act of sex a very selfish taking of pleasure instead of a mutual giving and receiving of pleasure. And this can be a difficult pattern to erase.
Finally, there is the important question of lust, for it is easy to begin to put a face on one’s hunger for a sexual partner. When this happens, masturbation becomes entangled with fantasy in which one’s projected sex partner is seduced, undressed, and intercoursed, and this is sinful. Jesus Christ talked about this in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
So if one is going to masturbate as a means of self-discovery, comfort, and release of sexual energy, one must always remember that sex was not created to be experienced alone, and the pitfalls of self-centered sex and fantasy must be avoided lest you later find it difficult to relate to a real person in a marriage relationship.
In 2 Peter 2:19 the Bible says, “A man is a slave of whatever has mastered him.” And, sadly, for many their sexuality has come to master them instead of their mastering their own sexuality. And this can easily become true of masturbation.
So how does one get control again?
First, stop hating yourself. Sexual passion is God’s gift to you, and self-discovery, self-stimulation of your sexual organs, is a natural part of growing up into all that God made you to be. Remember that the Bible never once mentions masturbation! It is not condemned– only lust is.
Second, if solo sex has gotten out of control in your life, and lust, pornography, and very frequent masturbation have begun to consume you, confess it to God and ask Him to forgive you and give you strength to get control again. Psalm 103:8-14 and John 14:18 are helpful promises to remember.
Third, perhaps you should think not of quitting solo sex entirely, but of cutting back, of getting control, instead. Often we put ourselves in an “all or nothing,” “total victory or total defeat” mentality. If we give in, then, and masturbate again, we feel totally defeated and think we’re hopeless. But cutting back, gaining more control, is important progress and can be seen as a significant measure of victor.
There’s every likelihood that one may never stop masturbating entirely. But one who is in Christ can surely lean to rule his passions instead of allowing them to rule him. So don’t seek to quit; seek to gain control.
Fourth, don’t try to stop masturbating by dealing with the act itself. Instead, deal with the things that cause one to act in such a way. Just as you wouldn’t try to get rid of a vine by clipping the branches rather than by laying an axe to the roots, so you must root out the causes of too much solo sex– and then the act itself will begin to wither away.
I think you’ll find that if you begin to lead an active social life, and quit focusing so much on yourself and your loneliness, that the problem will begin to diminish. Learn to make friends, talk things out with a confidant, laugh, play a sport, invite people over, learn more about God in Christ. Meaningful human relationships, and a meaningful relationship with Jesus, will lessen your need to create fantasy relationships by sex with yourself.
Fifth– and finally, learn to control the things you hear and see that arouse you sexually. Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes.” (Job 31:1) Make such a covenant with your own eyes not to read erotic literature, look at pornographic magazines, view sexually explicit television and movies, or allow the endless sexual yearnings of radio music to fill your soul. Instead, fill your mind with sports, physical activity, art, the beauty of nature, friendships and Scripture. Then sex will play the role in your life God intended. It will work for you– you won’t slave for it!