Important historical note.
This article is Part 2 of something I wrote back 12 years ago originally. I had been asked to participate in a discussion at a well-known Christian magazine on the topic of Masturbation. There were four therapists in the discussion; two of us were pastors. We rolicked on this topic for a couple of hours, discussing both theological implications and psychological ideas. We were all positive on the concept of masturbation in the life of any individual.
And we were all excited this conservative Christian publication was going to run our discussion. However, when it came before their editorial board, it was axed. I was not surprised. Neither were my fellow masterminders. They did, however, allow us to have the full rights to it. We brought it to another Christian magazine who was interested in running it. This one was more contemporary than the first one and we were sure they would approve it. All of us were paid for it.
They decided not to run the article for whatever editorial reasons they had. Again, I was not surprised. It is amazing that people of all stripes, religious or not, avoid the concept of masturbation like it has cooties.
But they also would not publish it or release the rights to it. Therefore, I took the concepts of that article and produced two articles that ran on my previous blog. In the first article, I simply highlighted our discussion and essentially ran down the outline of the article we had been meaning to publish.
A week after putting it on my blog, the magazine contacted me with a cease and desist letter. They asked me to take down the first article. They allowed me to publish the second one. That blog is no longer active, so I have decided to take the second article and republish it. This magazine still chooses not to run the original article and I respect that. They now own it.
The kid was in my office very upset and agitated. I have always had a good rapport with teens, since I counsel so many of them. I like teens and they know it and often feel comfortable talking to me about delicate problems. In this case, I knew he was there to talk about sexual problems. I was confident we would eventually talk about pornography, masturbation or the girl he dated last week. I was not ready for what he came up with however.
“I have lustful thoughts, Mike. And they’re driving me nuts. And I know God is angry with me over them.”
“What are these lustful thoughts you’re having?
“You’re going to think I’m crazy Mike. I feel so ashamed to tell you….but here it is. If you want to kick me out of your office, go ahead. When I masturbate, all I can think about is Jessica Rabbit.” He then put his head in his hands.
Let me supply readers with context here. In the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, a partly animated, partly “real life” film, there is a character called Jessica Rabbit. She is not a bad rabbit, but as she says “I’m just drawn that way.” She is pictured as an animated, rabbitish form of Mae West. She has impossibly large breasts (especially for a rabbit), narrow waist, sultry voice and wiggly walk.
If she existed in real life, she would easily be an object of great admiration. But she doesn’t exist in real life. That’s the point. This young man was having fantasies with an imaginary rabbit as he pleasured himself.
I wrestled for about a millisecond before going into my teaching on masturbation and the joy of sexual pleasure. I assured him that he had not “lusted” after the legendary vamp-rabbit, but was doing what comes naturally. Every person who identifies as sexual desires to have sexual release. There is nothing – and I repeat, nothing – wrong with the urge to feel sexual pleasure. On the surface of things, it is no different than the desire to eat food.
In the first article on masturbation, we mentioned the six benefits of masturbation. Since this is originally a Christian audience I am writing to, I brought up the reality that the Bible never prohibits or even mentions masturbation. Why? Even though it is the most common practice known to man, even the Bible makes no reference to it. All this tells us is that masturbation is not wrong in and of itself. As I say to most people, learn to love yourself well, and when you are having sex with someone you love and are committed to, you’ll know how your own sexual response works.I brought up the reality that the Bible never prohibits or even mentions masturbation. Why? Even though it is the most common practice known to man, even the Bible makes no reference to it. Click To Tweet
In the first article in this series, I mentioned the conversation we four therapists had regarding masturbation, the theology behind it, and the benefits you can realize. That conversation was recorded and intended for publication. It was never released for various reasons which is why I am summarizing it in these two articles.
In the first article, the four of us noted that masturbation was made by God and commended for:
Learning about our sexual anatomy before introducing it to anyone else.
Control of libido
A source of pleasure
Gaining control of our own sexual identity
Leveling the unmatched libidos of a committed couple
Rejoicing in how God has made us as sexual beings.
In this second article, I am asking, “Are there dangers to masturbation?” I made brief allusions to some of those at the end of the last article, but in this second article, I do want to give a few explanations. So let me tabulate some elements of masturbation that can be harmful or at least inadvisable; and allow me to reiterate those things I don’t consider to be problems.
Practices that Cause Physical Harm: Several sex therapists have raised the alarm bell about particular kinds of masturbatory habits involving sexual aids. People often don’t know or remember that anything we bring into the vicinity of our penis or vulva had better be extremely clean and sterile. In particular, women are seeing an increase in yeast infections and bladder problems because of masturbation using foreign objects. Just be careful.
For men, the problems often relate to the use of devices which promise to making their penises larger. Some men experience serious vascular and muscle tissue damage from these devices that promise more than they can deliver.
This is not to say a person should avoid dildos, vibrators and penile sleeves. All of these are wonderful ways to have an orgasm. If a woman has not been able to give herself an orgasm through finger stimulation, a vibrator is a wonderful tool. Or even if she can manually induce orgasm, vibrators can be much more intense. But make sure you clean it well and store it in a place where bacteria cannot affect it easily.
For men, you don’t need to extend your penis. Learn to work it well in masturbation, learn how to control your orgasm and your partner will thank you down the line.
Masturbation and Lust: Because Christians are the intended audience of our articles, we need to define what lust is and what it isn’t. To do that, allow me to quote a Bible passage that often comes up in this discussion: Matthew 5:27, 28:
“ 27″You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery ] 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”
There are some commentators and preachers who interpret this to mean “If you fantasize about having sex with anyone but your wife, your fantasy is equivalent to adultery”. I have to say that many commentators and theologians DO NOT hold this position.
To explain what this verse means, let’s get the context to this section of Matthew 5. This is a sermon where Jesus challenges the legalistic teachings of the dominant rabbis (not rabbits) of his day and gets down to the heart of the issues. He deals with many issues from tithing to hatred. His formula is the same: 1. This is what is currently taught. 2. Here is what I say about that. 3. How will you respond? In this case about adultery, he is dealing with one of the Ten Commandments.
How can he hope to improve on the Ten Commandments? The only explanation is that this commandment was not being taught properly. The rabbis of Jesus’ day had very complicated ideas about what constituted adultery. Some rabbis defined adultery as intercourse; others as oral sex; others still as any open look a woman might give to a man across the room. Each rabbi had a different definition.
Understand that this verse is not a teaching on lust. It is a teaching on the heart condition of man. The word “lust” is the Greek word epithumos. Thumos is the word for desire. Epi is a prefix means “to lay something on top of something else”. So epithumos means “to lay something on top of desire”.
This is the difference between lust and sexual desire. Desire is not wrong. It is when we lay something on top of that desire that we enter into lust. Jesus is warning people that adultery starts in the heart, not with the genitals. But let’s be clear what he is not saying. He is not saying that the thought and the action are the same thing. He never accuses a person of sin here. He is warning that the longer you allow a particular sexual fantasy to linger, the more chance your heart is going to want to make it a reality. The danger is always that if we masturbate and fantasize about a particular person we are not married to that we will begin to work out how we can actually have sex with them.
I was asked if there is a difference between lust and fantasy. The difference is always the difference between desire and decision. If I desire sex with someone I am not necessarily lusting; I simply have desire. The second I start to take steps to make fantasy a reality, I have crossed the line. Jesus is not saying that fantasizing is the same as committing adultery. He is warning that the heart is where the line gets crossed. None of us should ever disagree with that.
The young boy in my office had fantasy, but not lust. How could you lust over an imaginary rabbit? That’s an easy one Mike: get to the harder issues. Well, if I see a woman in the mall and never see her again, but was physically attracted to her, am I lusting? Absolutely not, unless I follow her around to find out her name and get to know her. If my purpose in doing this is to have sex with her, then my intention is indeed lust. But this is not true in every case of desire.
My point is that each person must ask God about their own hearts. There is a fantasy which stays fantasy and is not sin. Sin is an action that proceeds from an attitude. To use another picture, no one gets thrown into jail for murder if they hate their next door neighbor. Yet we are told that hate and murder are connected. Adultery is an act; it is not the same as fantasy. Lust is when a course of action is laid upon a fantasy.
Masturbation and Self-Medicating: There are problems when we escape our deeper emotional problems with masturbation. This is especially true when someone has untreated trauma. When used to escape trauma pain, this puts masturbation in the same category as alcohol abuse and work abuse. Any time we avoid dealing with significant trauma this can give to masturbation a significant power over the mind.
Masturbation and Avoidance: If one spouse is using masturbation to avoid having sex, this can be a harmful use of it. There may be serious problems that need to be addressed in marriage; and if masturbation is getting in the way of dealing with those problems, it should be stopped. But then there needs to be a time of accounting and deep discussions about what problems exist. As far as I’m concerned, people should masturbate however often they want to. Just don’t use this as a tool to cut off intimacy from your partner.
Here is the bottom line for me. Fantasy is fine for those who are married, unless we begin to cross the line into making any of that a reality. I have been challenged so many times by people who claim you cannot fantasize without trying to work it out in reality. I disagree. I know many people who have never considered cheating on their spouses who enjoy a rich fantasy life with masturbation.
I ran into the young man at the beginning of this story a few years ago. He doesn’t remember coming to see me. But when I reminded him, we had a good chuckle. And then he thanked me for introducing him to the idea that he didn’t need to feel guilty for enjoying himself.
To the rest of you, you’re welcome.