Thursday, May 04, 2006

The "M" Word

Shari (my wife) was a math major. (She'd tell you that her major was because she hated writing papers, but she was/is actually a very good math teacher. And, no, "math" is not the "m" word from the title.) But even math majors have to take core liberal arts courses... and so she found herself in a class (Health?) with a guest lecturer on human sexuality, who advocated a number of "interesting" ideas, not the least of which was that the safest sex is "making love with the person you love the most - yourself."

Well... ok, then.

As I wrote last week, I struggled with talking about masturbation during my message Sunday morning on lust & pornography. It felt dishonest to deal with the topic without actually bringing the physical sexual activity that accompanies the use of visual and/or emotional pornography. And yet, I knew that discussing masturbation would mean that the rest of my sermon would end up sounding like Miss Othmar from the Peanuts TV specials - "Wha wha wha wha wha..."

So, I decided to offer my thoughts & opinions here on the blog. (BTW, this is the cue for some of you to quietly sneak out before finishing the article. Those of you who came here looking for gaming content will be sorely disappointed today. I'll take care of y'all tomorrow.)
  • The Bible doesn't say anything specific about masturbation - and if somebody brings up Onan, tell them to read the story, for crying out loud.
  • Calling masturbation "self-abuse" or perpetrating old wives tales is beyond not helpful.
  • For a long time, I personally believed that the physical act of masturbation was morally neutral. In other words, if you could "indulge" without resorting to fantasy and/or pornography, it was no big deal. Of course, I knew that 99.9% of people don't satisfy those conditions - almost by definition, masturbation & lustful thoughts are linked.
  • I've come to believe, however, that the biggest problem with masturbation is that it teaches people to make the orgasm/release the highest value in sex. When we go that direction, our expectations slide toward "take care of me" rather than the mutuality that Paul clearly teaches in 1 Corinthians 7.
  • The adrenaline & endorphin release that accompanies orgasm can easily become addictive - I know. That was the story of my own sexual addiction issues for a number of years.
  • So, if the Biblical admonition is to "avoid sexual immorality" (1 Thessalonians 4:3), then we need to carefully examine whether our choice for "self-gratification" leads us toward or away from lust.
  • I guess it's pretty obvious that I think it does.
  • And, as I write all this down, I'm well aware that many of you are recoiling from my conclusions... working to dismiss me as a Bible-thumping yahoo or one of those nutty "recovering addicts" who can't simply deal with his own junk but instead has to make sure everyone else makes the same choices he has. Look, this is up to you - but I encourage you to look at the subject through a different lens than we usually use: how would your spouse or potential spouse view your satisfying your "urges" through fantasy & masturbation? (Once again, you need to take a look at Paul's teachings, excerpted below.)
  • Finally, is it easy to choose not to masturbate? I'm not going to lie to you - it's not. But just because something is difficult doesn't make it impossible and/or a bad idea.

Here's some quotes on the subject:

  • Frequent masturbation can... form us in strange & false understandings of sexuality -- not the least the idea that sexual pleasure is an individual, and individualistic, undertaking. Masturbation teaches us that immediate gratification is a part of sex, and masturbation removes sex from a relationship. Indeed, the whole point of masturbation is to provide the release and pleasure of orgasm without the work & joy of a relationship. Laura Winner, Real Sex
  • A man has only so much sexual energy. Especially once he's past his sexual peak and easing into his thirties, it's not easy to reach orgasms two or three times a day. Many men are drawn to pornography because it's an emotionally and physically easier route to sexual satisfaction than pleasing her. Yet pornography further drains men of sexual and emotional energy. In the 2004 poll, 45 percent of men who used Internet pornography for five or more hours a week said they were masturbating too much, and one in five confessed they were having sex less often with their partners. Which isn't surprising, given that 35 percent said real sex just couldn't compare to cybersex anymore. Pamela Paul, Pornified
  • It's good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality--the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to "stand up for your rights." Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it's for the purposes of prayer and fasting--but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it. I'm not, understand, commanding these periods of abstinence--only providing my best counsel if you should choose them. 1 Corinthians 7:2-6 (The Message)

Oddly enough, last night on The Late, Late Show, host Craig Ferguson got into a very PG-13 rated discussion about masturbation with author Frank Court. (Frank argued that masturbation is economically productive for the church... huh?!) Ain't the world weird?


Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Zero comments, eh?

Well, not a complete surprise given the subject matter.

GodFix said...

Hey, I just read it myself. I think it's like social drinking to an alcoholic. If you struggle with sex/pornography, then it's unhealthy. vs

Anonymous said...

Now here's the toughest part. Extend your discussion of chastity to include the history and results of widespread acceptance of artificial contraception. Artificial contraception gained acceptance largely because of Margaret Sanger's promotion, and her purposes were similar to Hitler's = keeping certain people from reproducing. Within Christianity, I believe it was 1935 when the Episcopals first stated that "limited" use of artificial contraception was acceptable...of course that limited use grew, and from there, nearly all other protestance denominations have followed. In large part,the Greek and Roman churches are the ones who have maintained the viewpoint that has been held for thousands of years. Interestingly, in 1968, Pope Paul VI predicted that if Christianity in general came to accept widespread use of artificial contraception, a number of things would happen. He predicted that the divorce rate would rise, the rate of spousal abuse would rise, we would come to accept abortion as a means of birth control, we would come to accept as normal various disordered sexual acts, like homosexuality and bestiality, and so on. Of course, the Sanger crowd spoke up and said that by promoting artificial contraception, they were actually strengthening marriages - forgive the crudeness of this, but it's accurate - because the wife would be able to keep the husband happier
(wink wink nudge nudge) if she didn't have to worry about getting pregnant.

Simple fact is that until 1935, Christianity condemned artificial contraception because it dismantled the twofold purpose of sexual union created by God - the two purposes are physical/emotional unity and procreation. To deny the gift of one's fertility to one's spouse is to not fully give oneself to one's spouse. Essentially, artificially precluding a sexual act from its natural consequence is going directly against the line that was said in most of our weddings: "what God has joined let no man separate."

On top of that, the most popular method of artificial contraception in this country, the pill, has the ability to abort a baby. Yes, read the labels. The pill works in two ways - first by supressing ovulation. But, suppose that doesn't happen? Then the pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting. The label says fertilized egg...what it means is a new, unique creation - a baby. And what happens if a fertilized egg doesn't implant? It miscarries. It dies. People don't talk much about the fact that the pill is abortafacient.

That said, I am a proponent of natural means of avoiding pregnancy if the couple has serious reasons to avoid having additional children (health reasons, financial reasons, whatever). In addition to the reasons above, I will point out that properly implemented, systematic abstinence is more effective than the pill, it's cheaper, it's healthier (ever read the warnings on the pill?), female libido is not supressed, and one does not have to wait for the artifical chemicals to leave the body (2-3 months) before trying to get pregnant.

Scott Rushing said...

I think I clicked on the wrong comments link.

Anonymous said...

Hey Fluff,
I'd like to discuss/debate the topic with you but I find the forum of blog comments far too awkward to do it justice.

Put this on the list of things to chat about should we ever meet face to face. Just not on the top. I wouldn't want to shake your hand and immeadiately break into charting and graphing the pros and cons of self gratification.

Let's tackle open vs. closed holdings first.

Anonymous said...


that was a whole lot of nothing. stay on topic.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - I don't check in too often and tend to read in a linear fashion...clearly my post would have better fit in with the post on porn, but I read this one first. However, I think Mark has shown the linkage between the issues he has been discussing - it's all about marital chastity. This is stuff I have struggled with and most of us probably have. To have a discussion of marital chastity and avoid discussing artificial contraception is to leave the discussion incomplete.

Anonymous said...

I see. Sorry if I seemed rude. You just sound like an antagonist that wants to start an argument.

One of Freedom said...

Sorry just read this, great post BTW.

You said:"I've come to believe, however, that the biggest problem with masturbation is that it teaches people to make the orgasm/release the highest value in sex."

What an excellent insight. I tend to agree with you as well. I wish I had thought of this one.

I know I've wrestled with the whole issue of masturbation (both with the addiction side and with the what is the right message about it side). It is one of those subjects that I find isn't clear for everyone.

I do know that in my own history masturbation is linked to dissappointments in the formatin of my sexual identity. I held onto chastity despite pressures otherwise (and a few very willing partners) for many years, secretly wanting to hold onto it until marriage. When I gave that up I still remember how disappointed it made me feel - that was really the beginning of my own sexual struggles. Since then I found Christ who gave me a reprieve from the issue for a few years and then it raised up again. I think I mentioned how helpful Living Waters (Andrew Comenski) has been to me. The whole masturbation issue for me is really tied to my own feelings of inadequacy in life and a struggle to stay in control - so just on that point alone it makes it unhealthy for me to engage in autoeroticism.

But that isn't the reasoning I've found in any of the material I've read on the subject. Most of it is pretty condemning and partners with shame rather than releasing those caught in shame (Every Man's Challenge was the last offender that I read). I really feel that we need more open dialogue about this subject that are willing to not focus on an action but on an individual coming to wholeness in Christ.

Great topic BTW.

Anonymous said...

zionred- understood. I am not trying to start an argument, I am just trying to point out that there is another component necessary to the discussion. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church, and there was a good deal of talk about sex and reserving it for marriage, but contraception was a foregone conclusion. as I began to learn about other faiths, including the Roman Catholic church, I learned about the history of Christianity's general acceptance of contraception, and it became a question of fidelity to one's faith for me. What's cool is that I know several couples who have chosen not to contracept, some are protestant, some are Catholic. Some even learned about alternatives to contraception from me and my wife.

Anonymous said...

That's fine, but I still don't see how it has anything to do with what Mark's been writing about. You seem to be reaching. Perhaps you should write about it on your own blog.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

OK, I give. I thought I'd come up with the one of the most "edgy" topics you can discuss with people of faith regarding sex: masturbation.

I was wrong. I forgot about birth control.

Anonymous (man, I wish you guys would actually leave your names, for crying out loud)... nicely done job of raising the topic with a great deal of grace AND holding to your position.

Zionred... I understand your frustration with the disconnect between the topics. And you & I (I think) agree with each other rather than Anon., at least in practice. But I think he/she? raises a valid point about chastity & mutuality - you must deal with ALL aspects of sex, not just the ones that are easy (or are easy for you.)

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...


I'd rather talk about masturbation than play Acquire.

Anonymous said...

I did make reference to my I am a "he." I appreciate the perception of a disconnect between the topics because outside of the Greek and Roman churches, the topics are disconnected; as I said, growing up Baptist not a word was said on contraception...but plenty said on sex in general. What is neat to me is that more people are looking to live more natural lives - it's why my daughter's being delayed on her vaccines, it's why my wife still nurses her at 14 month, it's why more organic food is showing up on the store shelves next to the processed stuff. Efforting to live more naturally, many folks are recognizing that pumping the female body full of artificial hormones ain't too natural...and in looking for something better, they find that the natural timing of the female cycle can be a highly effective way to avoid pregnancy, doesn't have side effects, and enhances the relationship both sexually(consider what it would be like to have a honeymoon every month!) and spiritually.

Anonymous said...

Well, whatever you say, Mark. It's your blog.