Masturbation is Our Friend

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 That blog is no longer active, so I have decided to take the second article and republish it.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

Reducing anxiety

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.

Building a New Christian Sexual Ethic

[Update: So many people read the first few paragraphs and assume I am building a case for polyamory. I am not. This is because people aren’t reading to see my key point which is further on. If you’re going to read this article to discover my proposal for a new sexual ethical system for Christians, please read all of it before reacting].


“What does the Bible say about polygamy, polyamory, or Open Marriage?” The man who asked me this had been a missionary for 25 years and was not considering a change in his marital status. He was not contemplating cheating on his wife or taking another bride. He was simply curious.

He was curious because during the previous year, three separate people had asked him these kind of questions. All of them who asked these questions were committed Christians with a good grasp of the Bible and the church’s teachings on sexuality.

“What does the Bible say about polygamy, polyamory, or Open Marriage?” Click To Tweet

“Mike, the Bible doesn’t make it clear where it falls on any of those issues. Though we make excuses for the Bible, there are examples in the Sacred Writings of people who lived with multiple wives, who had sanctioned girlfriends, and who lived this way openly. And from what we can see in the Bible, God never condemns this practice.”

I couldn’t argue with him. The only restriction in the Bible regarding any form of Open Marriage is the 1 Timothy 3 admonition that an Overseer should not be a polygamist. It never expands on this concept by forbidding others to have multiple wives. In short, the biblical ethic regarding Open Marriage was non-existent.


Everyone has ethics; but not everyone has an ethical system. An “ethic” is a belief in how one should act. You can have an ethic that allows you to tell the truth one day and then not tell the truth the next day. But because this is not a consistent ethic, we would say it is not an “ethical system”. I define an ethical system as a series of beliefs regarding a particular behavior that are consistent with themselves. Therefore, if you have an ethical system about telling the truth, that system should apply to all situations. Let me give an example of the difference between an ethic and and Ethical System.

I might believe that it is wrong to kill. That is an ethic. I would not (and do not) kill anyone. But how widely do I apply that ethic? I might believe it is wrong to kill others unless they are trying to kill me. I might also believe it is wrong to kill others even if they are trying to kill me. In addition, I might define killing mosquitoes as killing, killing cows as killing, killing fetuses as killing, killing prisoners on death row as killing. I might believe killing all those beings is considered killing. That is an ethical system.

However, if for some reason I feel that killing enemy combatants on the battlefield is not killing, but killing someone invading my home is killing, then my ethical system is more complex, and perhaps inconsistent.

That is the problem with most ethical systems. Most systems of behavior are internally inconsistent, at least from a logical/philosophical viewpoint. Why is it wrong to kill some people but not others? Why is it wrong to deceive some people, but not other people? Why is it wrong to have sex one day, and then it is not wrong a day later (in the case of someone who may be single and then gets married)? Most people will seek to justify the complexity and variations of their ethical systems by explaining the exceptions.

Why is it wrong to have sex one day, and then it is not wrong a day later (in the case of someone who may be single and then gets married)? Click To Tweet

We will never be free of doing this. Not even those who believe in a so-called “Biblical Sexual Ethic” can get away with it. Let me show how this happens.

In the first paragraph, I noted the question about polyamory. The idea that all sex should be between one husband (male) and one wife (female) is the standard teaching of much of the Church for much of the Church’s existence. But is it a consistent ethical system?

Not really. There are many examples of prominent men in the Bible who married more than one woman. Jacob, Esau, David, Solomon all lived this way. In addition, several Bible characters had sex with sanctioned sex slaves–Jacob, Abraham, David, Solomon, Absalom, Judah and others. God does not condemn any of these men for polyamory. In many cases, God even approves of it. When David raped Bathsheba and had her husband killed, God did send the prophet Nathan to confront David. And in that confrontation, this is what Nathan says:

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

2 Samuel 12:7-8

According to these verses, Nathan is speaking for God and claiming that God gave King Saul’s WIVES to David after Saul died! And God says that he would have given him more women if he wanted. If we accept this as God’s inerrant word, then God not only passively accepts polyamory, but actively endorses it and supports it.

The biblical sexual ethic gets more complicated than that. The concept of virginity (the absence of sexual intercourse in a person’s experience) is touted as a virtue in the Bible. But it only applies to women! Nowhere are men told they must also be virgins. Even the Hebrew word for “virgin” is a word that only refers to females. There is no Hebrew word for a male virgin. There is no place in the Old Testament where men were even expected or ordered to be virgins.

The concept of virginity (the absence of sexual intercourse in a person’s experience) is touted as a virtue in the Bible. But it only applies to women! Click To Tweet

What can we say about all of this? Simply that the Bible does not present a consistent or relevant ethical system regarding sexuality. There are many more examples of this to give, but I want to move on to the solution, not just note the problem.

I don’t believe the Bible is helpful or realistic for building a modern ethical system for sexuality. There are many reasons for this, but they can be distilled down to these:

Patriarchy: Everyone who wrote Sacred Scripture believed in patriarchy. They believed that men had privileges and rights which women did not have. This affected everything they wrote, but especially their viewpoints on sexual relations. One classic example: In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John, chapter 8) only the woman is brought before Jesus and not the man. And no one, not even Jesus, openly notes this. It takes modern commentators to sort this one through.

Ancient Near East Focus of Sexuality: Virginity did not focus on sex; it focused on inheritance. A man wanted to know that his wife had not had sex with another man to ensure his offspring were truly his children. No claim could be made by another man on his children. Children and women were considered possessions of a man, even by the writers of the Bible. Even the teachings on “immorality” in the Bible are really focused on discouraging men from visiting prostitutes.

Misogyny: Women were hated in the days the Bible was written. A Jewish man prayed this prayer most mornings: “Thank you God that I am not born a gentile, a dog, or a woman”. How can an ethical system of mutuality with regards to sexuality ever come from that backdrop?

Homophobia: The writers of Scripture not only had a very low opinion of women, they hated anyone in the LGBTQ community–not that there was an established community due to fear. So, any ethic regarding those who are not cis-hetero men is going to be demeaning and incomplete if we rely on the Bible.

So how do we build an ethical system?

Christians have seen the problem with applying the Bible to many of our ethical systems: Money, power, marriage, reproduction, government, criminal justice, human interactions, etc. There have been many proposals through the centuries on how to build an ethical system which keeps some of the good teachings of the Bible but does not lean too heavily on them.

One of the most profound attempts at this was made by John Wesley. He spent years seeking to apply biblical truths to modern-day ethical problems. His view on Holiness required that our faith be lived out ethically and consistently. But he found that many in his day had widely differing views on what the Bible said on just about any topic. So, while keeping the Bible principles central, he added three more sources of revelation in building an ethical system:

  • Tradition
  • Experience
  • Logic

By tradition, he meant the traditions of the faith community one finds themselves in. By experience, he meant the experiences a Christian has which line up with the Bible. By logic, he is referring to the mind which has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to grasp deeper truths.

Thus, even with these four sources of input to build an ethic, Wesley still saw all of them revolving around the Bible and biblical truths.

I contend that isn’t going to work with sexual ethics. You can certainly hold to it if you like, but the Church’s history with strange teachings on sexuality and moral purity lead me in a slightly different direction.

I still think we can use four sources of input to build an ethical system, including the Bible. But here is how I fashion it:

  • The Bible: We can use the Bible as a source for ethics on sexuality if we strip away patriarchy, homophobia, misogyny, and virginity.
  • Tradition: In the sense that we rely on a trusted community of people whose practices of sexuality are consistent and respectful, we can use certain traditions we trust.
  • Experience: By this, I mean the collected experience of all humans with regards to sexuality. In our day, we are much more refined as a society on what should and should not be allowed in sexual relationships. The #metoo movement did not start the discussion on sexual assault, consent, and misogyny. It simply sought to apply emerging community standards world-wide…to everyone
  • Logic/Reason: By this, I mean that ethical standards need to make sense to a faith community and be reasonable to apply. If the faith community one is a part of does not apply logic or reason to sexual ethics, one might have to find a different faith community.

It should be obvious that this opens the door to many different ethical systems regarding sexuality. But if you think about it, that’s where we currently are. This is even true within the church of Jesus Christ. There are elements of acceptance of the LGBTQ community, and other groups which do not accept LGBTQ as valid. Some faith groups allow for premarital sexual expression and some do not.

But there is widespread acceptance of the following:

  • Consent must be applied to all sexual relationships
  • Honesty and integrity are vital to healthy sexuality
  • The practice of safe sex is paramount for everyone
  • Sexuality with minors is always wrong.

Most of these conclusions do not come directly from the Bible, but rather from experience, logic, and the dialogue of interested communities.

To which I apply my central idea: The Bible itself is only marginally helpful in creating a complete ethical system for sexuality. We should stop trying to make it the cornerpiece of such a system.

To which I apply my central idea: The Bible itself is only marginally helpful in creating a complete ethical system for sexuality. We should stop trying to make it the cornerpiece of such a system. Click To Tweet

Church and the Asexuality Trap

“I don’t know if I want to be married to James any more. This marriage is torture and I can’t see any solution.” Adeline slumped over in her chair and sighed. James just rolled his eyes and sighed a different sigh than hers.

She sighed out of hopelessness. I thought his sigh had tints of anger in it. I asked him to explain how he saw it.

She’s making something out of nothing. Every time we fight it’s always about sex. And I don’t understand it. I give her all the sex she wants. And it’s never enough. And I hate that we have to keep talking about it all the time. Can’t we talk about something else in marriage besides sex?”

I don’t know if I want to be married to James any more. This marriage is torture and I can’t see any solution.” Click To Tweet

James and Adeline had met in a short-term Bible training school. They knew instantly they were perfect for each other. They both loved God, loved to travel, and wanted to get married and have a family. They had so many things in common. They shared so many of the same basic goals in life. Soon, each of them felt they had found their soul-mate

James planned to get a job in computer-aided design and already had his degree. Addy still had to finish her professional year in preparation for teaching high school. When James proposed marriage, she accepted and they began to plan the wedding. They were both ordered and structured people. They knew what they wanted and when they wanted it.

And they knew they wanted each other.

Continue reading “Church and the Asexuality Trap”

Why I Work with Sex Offenders

This short article is part rant and part catharsis.

A common question I am asked is how I can be an advocate for those who have been horribly victimized in sexual assault and child sexual abuse, and also be a therapist for sex offenders.

Isn’t this, at the very least, a conflict of interest? Shouldn’t there be a separation of duties where one therapist focuses completely on one group, and a different therapist works with the other group?

I don’t see it that way. Please keep an open mind and heart.

In 1984, I was finishing up courses in abnormal psychology with Northwest Baptist College. As part of my study, I had to do an internship in related fields. Since one of those fields was sexual deviance, I enrolled in one of the programs the Province of British Columbia offered. I lived in a remote region of Eastern B.C. They were giving paid internships to anyone willing to work with men who had been released as sex offenders.

For six months, I met with seven different men. All of them had been convicted as child molesters. In addition, I also did case study interviews with three more men who were spending the remainder of their lives in jail for molesting children. One of those men had admitted to over 250 molestations; he kept a journal of all of it. That journal was the basis for his life conviction.

Continue reading “Why I Work with Sex Offenders”

The Five Lies that Victims Believe

falsebeliefs

In 1987, I wrote an article telling the story of four sisters who had been molested by their father. Each of them had been molested the same way. Each experienced this at the same age–he moved on from one to the next with maniacal precision. Of course, each of them had been emotionally damaged by the abuse.

I wrote the article for a psychological journal more to point out the differing outcomes of each one. Though they were all affected negatively by the abuse, they all compensated differently to it as adults. They each gave me permission to share their story since I had counseled every one through to health.

But I was intrigued by what they wouldn’t allow. Their father was still alive and still married to their mother. I had talked about the possibility of all four of them confronting him on what he had done. Though they could not have him charged because of a Statute of Limitations, they could have the satisfaction of letting him know how his crime had changed their lives. There is a healing aspect to confrontation.

But all four refused to do it. Curiously, each of them had a different reason:

  • One was afraid it would kill their sick mother
  • One felt she had somehow participated in the abuse and had no moral grounds to confront him.
  • One was sure confronting him would destroy her inside
  • The final one felt she would never be able to get the words out of her mouth.

Their unique responses to confrontation underscores how each victim experiences abuse and assault differently. But it also shows that every victim wrestles with different beliefs emerging out of the abusive situation. Continue reading “The Five Lies that Victims Believe”

Two Doors—Two False Ideas

I grew up in a “cowboy” town in central British Columbia in the 1960s. I say it was a cowboy town because our area was surrounded by 100s of ranches, and everyone in the region attended our rodeo and exhibition which centered around 4H events and ranch life. Our rodeo occupies a place in cowboy lore just a step behind the famous Calgary Stampede.

I hung out with several legit cowboys in high school. After high school, I worked on a cattle ranch and cowboy life became part of my biography.

Most Cowboys like to drink, and the men in our town were exceptional at it. My dad loved to drink beer and play poker, both of which were pasttimes of our town. My dad spent many afternoons and evenings at the saloon near our house. He spoke about it in glowing terms. It was like a mistress he was not ashamed to admit he visited.

One day, Dad, Mom and I were out for a walk. We walked by the bar and Dad pointed out this was the place he told me about. I had seen it before, but now I noticed one of its features. It had two entrances.

On the one door was the word “Men”. On the other door it said “Ladies and Escorts”. (Note: in the 60s, “escort” did not mean prostitute. It referred to a person who escorted another person to a social event. It could refer to either men or women).

I asked Dad why they had two different entrances. “It’s to protect the women”, Dad said. “If a woman goes into the man’s side without a man with her, she is not safe. No woman would want to do that.” I believe he was telling me this: This place is not safe for women without male protection. Continue reading “Two Doors—Two False Ideas”