Down To Earth Discipleship    .    Getting real with issues facing young Christians today
Appendix 2
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Appendix 2: A sensitive dialogue

- Masturbation issues and views

In many ways it is odd that this topic needs treatment in a book like this, but for the reasons given in the early chapters, it clearly does. We would argue that the sensitivity involved is, broadly speaking, a positive thing compared with indifference or with premature sexual indulgence. The views expressed here, all by conscientious Christian males beyond teenage years, are real within our collective experience and not fictional (beyond the literary device of the conversation). It will probably be obvious that the real-life time scale of a shift in attitude like that in one of those involved is more than the few minutes it takes to read!

For serious treatment of the subject read section 4.3, which also grapples with the modern issue of prevalent pornography. This Appendix does not do so, since it was written before the magnitude of today's porn problem was evident to the authors, or bearing upon the guys represented here. Porn is discussed in section 2.5 and we readily concede that for those Christians who fighting their way out of porn addiction, masturbation is usually not a sensible option.

For a light-hearted and fun dialectical approach, which touches on some guys' questions which are not easily written about in the book itself, read on!

Sean: As self-pleasure, masturbation is an entirely wholesome and proper activity. Of course it is not what the equipment is designed for, but in the interim until the time for marriage union, it's perfectly natural and normal. Indeed, it needs to be included in what we thank God for. What's the problem?

James: The problem is that it's addictive. Orgasm releases a chemical in the brain, just like drugs do, and you tend to get hooked on it, so it's clearly wrong.

Paul: OK, so sex within marriage is equally wrong? Come on, that's simply an argument for self-control!

Mike: Sean seems to be going a bit far, but I would see masturbation as a safety valve to lower the emotional temperature so I can get my mind off sexual fantasies in order to get to sleep, or concentrate on whatever. I use it as a way of managing my sexual urges and relieving the emotional pressure created by them, while not pretending that it is virtuous.

Darren: Isn't the pressure valve argument a bit overdone? Don't you really mean that when you are sexually stimulated by thinking of someone in a mental fantasy, this is the genital corollary? That's more like consummation than lust control!

Mike: Sometimes, but often it is before the carnal thoughts take hold, and it does head them off to a large extent. Also I jerk off quite often to be able to relax a bit, or before an evening with my girlfriend - it enables me to focus on her as a person without being constantly diverted by the genital possibilities. I guess I just have fairly high libido, and often I really ache for the coital prospects. For most non-Christians of course the evening would naturally conclude in bed.

Darren: Does she know about that preliminary activity?

Mike: I don't think girls understand guys in that respect. She would probably just think it was dirty, rather than .........

Alistair: Come on! Leaving aside the timing, I reckon she would be really worried if you weren't aroused by her! Surely she would assume that you masturbate sometimes when you are thinking about her?

Sean: I've told my girlfriend that I do it, and she's cool with that! Why shouldn't she be?

James: Well I haven't had to wrestle with the issue as a frustrated super-stud, like Mike! And his comment does imply that many horny guys might well feel that Christian constraints on premarital sex are just too much to bear. I'd answer Sean by saying that the problem is what goes on in the mind rather than manually. But Mike, do you mean that without the constraints arising from your discipleship, you would be going at it with your girlfriend like a demented billygoat?

Mike: Oh thanks! I guess that's one way of putting it! For me, I'd argue that this safety valve use - even the way Darren sees it - represents a greater degree of self-control for me than abstinence does for a person with low libido. In this sexual management role, or also incidentally as a soporific, it's really just a body function with the same significance as wet dreams.
....... And regarding dating, lots of guys do that. Otherwise it feels as though you're embarking on the evening with a loaded gun.

Darren: I think that is conceding too much to the old nature rather than the new life in Christ and the degree to which the Holy Spirit can change things. I would strongly discourage masturbation, even when focused on a girlfriend like Al suggests, or unloading Mike's "gun". My own experience and that of several friends is that thoughts and attitudes become generally healthier when abstaining. And I don't think that getting used to immediate gratification in that department is the best preparation for real sex which consummates a real relationship in self-giving, not just gratification.

Mike: That sounds a bit like repression to me. I would be worried about effectively neutering myself if I blocked every thought of sex, and became like some of the guys at church who seem to have no real sexuality - as far as I can see from their lack of relationships. Is God really helping them towards a proper romantic relationship?

Sean: It doesn't have to be instant gratification Darren, it can be done slowly and drawn out like sex itself. And if we don't enjoy that kind of pleasure before marriage, but regard it with guilty unease, how are we supposed to suddenly rejoice in it on our wedding night? Obviously coital sex is only meant to be within marriage, but where does the bible say that orgasm is only there, rather than being enjoyed in the years before marriage?

James: The issue is essentially one of self-control in achieving sexual purity, and putting the whole question into the context of relationships. I used to find that masturbation complicates rather than eases the task of keeping my mind on wholesome aspects of relationships with girls, and I see Paul's contrast between sexual impurity and self-control in Galatians 5 as applying very much to this. While I would not see the behaviour as a major issue in itself, I certainly would discourage rather than affirm it, and I agree with Darren. When you draw the line and seek God's help in lust control, he gives it!

Darren: Earlier I let myself retreat to where my main "sexual" buzz was wanking, instead of pushing myself to engage with girls and enjoying that. That was pathetic!

Matthew: Yeah, though for me the main issue is that I cannot get away from the thought that girls can see from something about me that I masturbate, and I don't have the confidence to engage them in the way I yearn to. I guess it may just be self-image, but do you reckon they can tell?

James: No way! Absolutely not. Of course we all have different degrees of self-confidence with girls, but that isn't the variable! Girls can certainly pick up vibes about self-image and self-confidence, but not masturbation as such. Mike is living proof!

Sean: I agree. Maybe mine is in some ways a liberal view in the Christian context, but I would say that as part of managing my sexuality without indulgent promiscuity, flogging the dolphin occasionally should be seen as a virtuous activity and not necessarily less glorifying to God than working out in the gym or jogging, or even sex in marriage for that matter - assuming the wank is done for straightforward pleasure, rather than indulging or climaxing torrid fantasies.

Darren: Come on! How often does masturbation happen like that - without the lustful thoughts and fantasies? Surely it's something better avoided - though I agree that lapses are no big deal. In fact isn't Mike really admitting that for him it's usually the physical and genital counterpart of unrestrained lust? An indulgence of it, in fact?

Mike: Let me think about that. But I agree with James that self-control is important. For me that usually means limiting it to once a day. As long as you aren't doing it in the process of getting off on some lurid fantasy .......

Sean: OK Darren, perhaps one is sometimes grappling with lewd fantasies which amount to lust, but the question really is, how do you dampen them down and move on? I guess you are right about the indulging, though the other way to approach it is to ask whether the action exacerbates those thoughts or expresses them inappropriately. Does it feed fantasies, or relieve them? That is the issue.
........In that situation, what better way to clear the brain and put them behind you than a quick bit of stimulation and relief around the lightning conductor of those emotions? Much as Mike said. And why can't this be seen as positive - part of the proper premarital (or extra marital) mind-body emotional exercise? Orgasmic recreation? Or at least as neutral - like a habit such as biting fingernails - and the less worried about, the better?

Mike: It's more positive that that Sean! In fact there's a scientific study showing clearly that ejaculation at least five times per week, especially during one's 20s, significantly diminishes the likelihood of prostate cancer later in life. So it makes sense to masturbate plenty until you're married.

James: Yeah, that was based on a questionnaire filled in by 2500 guys and published a few years ago. Where's the follow-up confirmation? Or scientific explanation of how the wanking helps the gland? Anyway, most prostate cancers are benign.
........Look, we know sex is intrinsically good, within a particular relationship. But masturbation tends to be free-ranging, with all sorts of thoughts fuelling it. For a single guy there's no particular appropriate object.

Paul: That's a good point! So surely there's a difference if you are in a steady relationship? If you are enjoying the emotional high of a particular steady relationship isn't masturbation focused on her an appropriate behaviour? Certainly it is pre-marital and vaguely sexual, but it isn't lust in the sense I understand it because it is mentally monogamous and focused on the person, not just casual and genital. In fact picking up Al's earlier comment, surely one could assume your girlfriend's tacit consent?

Darren: Tacit or explicit? If you tell her that's what you are doing, you in effect invite her to do the same, in her bed or boudoir. Then you are having virtual sex together! WooHoo! Sounds great!

Paul: Oh fair go! I don't see it like that! It's really quite different to doing it in the way you and Sean have just mentioned. There is still self control but it's mainly around not letting thoughts be genitally focused, and curbing the frequency of it. Perhaps this is in part picking up the pressure valve rationale, but it's more than that, and only Mike and Al have really mentioned how girlfriends affect the question. I think it transforms the situation!

Darren: I can't really buy that - I'd see it as negative - because Sean concedes that it is an expression of lust and yearned-for promiscuity or even adultery, and Paul now says that it's potentially a kind of premarital sex.
.........It surely amounts to a collapse of self-control. Look, self-control to the extent of abstinence is much the better place to be. I used to find that masturbation was quite addictive, and it tended to create rather than alleviate unhealthy patterns of thought when I was on my own.

Paul: Yes, it did for me too. But since I've been in a steady relationship, the fantasies have given way to just a comfortable longing and it seems right to express that when I'm on my own in that way. It's meditative and focused, not just lustful fantasy.

James: Hey, meditative masturbation is a new thought! I'll float that one with the pastor!

Sean: : Don't be sarcastic! I agree with Paul, especially if it's focused on the person, not the genital aspects or fantasies. In any case I think Darren is mixing up the action with the thoughts which may lead to it. If you find that your conscience is accusing of the act, isn't the issue really those deliciously entertained thoughts which lead to it? Leaving aside the deliberate exposure to porn or similar, when in the mind does thought about coital union become lust? Or a bit of sexual fantasy become sin? And how do we minimise those thoughts and temptations, or even defuse them? How can we get to the point of being able to laugh at them? For me that answer is clear.

Mike: I agree! No point in boiling your brain trying to control lust. Better to derail it!

Alistair: I support Paul too! The girlfriend context is really important, though not in the way Darren seems to think. I find that thinking about her quickens my pulse and enlivens me inside - there are no particular genital thoughts involved, even if this euphoric thought does lead me to masturbate. Certainly I don't fantasise about having sex with her, it's just that the warm yearning coincides with being horny I guess, and it seems appropriate. How is this morally or spiritually different from a wet dream?

Paul: That puts it well! Tell me Darren: whether as self-pleasure or relief or with girlfriend focus, why should a single Christian be any more sheepish or embarrassed about it than a married Christian is about having sex with his spouse? Of course neither are public acts, neither are part of normal social conversation, but also neither should be furtive or shameful.

Sean: Yeah, both can be part of celebrating how God has made us! What's wrong with stretching out and enjoying leisurely self-pleasuring occasionally? Or like Paul, relish his relationship? I reckon Paul has a point with his worshipful wanking - if he can keep his thoughts above the navel then that's a principled compromise.

Darren: Come on guys! Doesn't Jesus say it's better to pluck out your eye if it leads you to lust after your girlfriend, and cut off your right hand if you masturbate with it? That's pretty heavy stuff!

Sean: Huh? Which version of the Bible do you read? Jesus certainly didn't say what you suggest! That is a prudish misrepresentation. Anyway I'm left-handed.

Mike: There's another issue too, about keeping all systems in good shape for marriage. Wet dreams are fine physiologically, but they don't give you any experience of maintaining an erection or determining how and when you climax. Those are significant in the marriage bed, and masturbation prepares you much better than abstinence.

Darren: There's a big difference between sex and masturbation. Sex is ordained by God and is even put forward as an expression of our relationship with him. The Bible is silent on masturbation because it is completely self-centred and therefore expressing the very essence of sin!

Sean: OK, does that mean that anything solitary we enjoy which is not commended in the Bible is similarly wrong? Maybe the Bible is silent on it for the same reason that it's silent on other ordinary and normal activities, in this case simply premarital ones. I see masturbation as entirely proper premarital enjoyment.
Anyway, what's the moral difference between masturbating and going for a short run? Should you feel better about the one than the other? - don't just roll your eyes at me - tell me: Why?

Mike: Obviously as different individuals we go in different ways on these matters, for all sorts of reasons. There's surely room for that within what is implicitly allowed in biblical teaching if one isn't as creative as Darren. The main point which I think is important is that any genital self-pleasure must not displace social engagement which stirs the hormones and exercises the emotions, or it would be narcissistic. Masturbation certainly doesn't address the desire for human intimacy, in fact it could even displace that desire, especially if what Sean sees as cool became a recreational routine!

Alistair: Yes, and leading on from that I think we need to keep in mind that outside the Christian context, one of the outcomes of exposure to porn is that some guys find real relationships more demanding and less exciting than the contrived frenzy they have seen, so revert to masturbation as their principal sexual outlet. This is obviously perverse and contrary to what sex is all about - the plumbing versus relationships question.
.... The point is that if they succumb to the temptation to look at it, porn will push Christians in that direction too, which is another good reason to steer well clear of it - something that many find is not easy. And Christians can easily rationalise it by the feeling that it is not affecting anyone else, and in any case, no-one else will know they have looked at it!

Darren: Yeah, porn is really the antithesis of sex, if you see sex as all about relationships and intimacy. Porn is like the opposite - focusing on the purely physical genital stuff and being totally self-centered in its stimulation - through the eyes to the thoughts and fantasies and then straight to the groin. Of course none of us, even as a Christian, is immune to the allure of that, but what a sad way to go.
........ And in answer to Sean, I can definitely say that when masturbating I would not have liked to share what went on in my mind with anybody, which I reckon is a clear sign of its sinful nature, and why I now abstain. Also I used to find that when I was masturbating a lot I didn't have the self-confidence to interact with girls wholesomely. Like Matthew, it affected my self-image quite a lot.

James: I agree with Darren and Al regarding porn. Unless you can laugh at it, stay well away! The moment it is seen as fascinating or stimulating, it's a real danger. For me the distracting sexual thought pattern is never too far away without that. But surely those lustful thoughts and fantasies which you can't entirely avoid are best dealt with without recourse to masturbation?
....... Personally, after a bit of a struggle to let go of the habit, I find that is quite realistic. Of course that doesn't mean totally repressing everything vaguely sexual. One can still actively enjoy times of arousal and gain quiet pleasure from that without progressing to the deliberate action of masturbation. Most Christians of my age I know would support this position, even if at present they cannot fully live their own ideals, and resort to some quick relief occasionally. For many, their notion of WWJD is a clinching consideration, and they rein it in.

Sean: At the risk of sounding irreverent, that entirely begs the question, though we can certainly assume the ultimate in self-control. Anyway, for me masturbation and sexually-motivated relationships are quite distinct - I enjoy both! - even if the latter are simply social at this stage! And in that respect Paul may have a point in not being furtive about it.

Mike: OK James, I concede the possibility of more self-control than I have worked at, and I take the point that there is inevitably some indulgence of inappropriate thought. Darren's challenge about lust is a bit close to the bone, though I've never had his problem with self-image. But I do have a problem in how actually to turn things around and rein in the physical urges without boiling over. And I wish that there was a way to let girls know that we guys need all the sympathy we can get on this issue!

Sean: I agree with that! Even though I concede that abstinence is best in the face of acute temptations, I think it is OK to continue enjoying self-pleasuring occasionally when it can be a prolonged, relaxed enjoyment of that part of one's body. It's cool! I think you guys make too big a deal of it in that particular respect, and you certainly seem to assume too much about what goes on in my head at the time! I am frankly more relaxed about it, especially if used partly as a soporific, and I don't have guilt feelings after.
....... Of course, when one is under the hammer with unwholesome thoughts I acknowledge that self-control then is needed. I don't dissent from Darren and James there. And I really feel for Matthew, though he is beating himself up unduly.

Darren: I certainly assume that what goes on is Sean's head is that he is drawing on sexually-explicit thoughts, and even if they don't arise from exposure to porn images which are transferred to the mental wank bank for later indulgence, that is still a problem.

Paul: Good point, but given the broad context of thought and the fact that the act for me is not associated with a climax of lust or similar (though it has been in past), I think it is legitimate and proper when focused on my girlfriend, and like Sean I thank God for the pleasure of it! I reckon it is really no big deal, and not in the same league as being tempted to go where one shouldn't - porn and so forth, or letting thoughts go out of control in any sexual intercourse directions.

Darren: If that's the case, it should be easier to avoid than for others like Mike, though if - and it's a big IF - your enjoyment is actually clean, I can't fault that. James makes a good point about healthy enjoyment of arousal without getting carried away. Keep the equipment for what it's designed for! But Mike, if you're serious about being prepared to draw a firm line, I'll make it a serious prayer point for a while and ask the Lord to enable you to make it happen!
.... St Paul in Romans 8 says very clearly that if we live according to our sinful nature we will die, but if by the Spirit we put to death the misdeeds of the body, we will live! That's pretty clear to me.

Sean: come on Darren! I feel I owe it to my future wife to keep the equipment properly exercised. Venting a bit of semen in a wet dream may keep the reproductive bits ticking over OK, but it doesn't keep you in shape for the orgasmic interaction which is central to marriage as I see it. And I doubt if any of us here recharge or nurture mental wank banks as you imply! Fair go!

James: That sounds like a rationalization! I reckon that putting aside things like masturbation is just part of the radical shift in behaviour that discipleship requires of us. Sorry if that seems a bit negative about Paul and Sean's position and about what I concede is not proscribed, but that's the way I see it!
.... I don't claim one hundred percent success in avoiding impurity on any front, but I reckon that's how we need to see the issue and meet the challenge of it. It's not so much that it's wrong, it's simply inappropriate if we take our discipleship seriously.

Alistair: I'm sure Saint Augustine73a would be proud of you James! And I certainly admire and respect that stance. But God created our bodies complete with sexuality and if he wanted us to avoid enjoying them with masturbation before we enjoy the marriage bed, surely he would have said so through the biblical writers? I reckon that in moderation and with self-control which is less than outright repression, we should be relaxed about it. We really need to concentrate our energy on cultivating and expressing the fruit of the Spirit, which the Bible does say a lot about! That is indeed taking our discipleship seriously!

73aFor Augustine, the evil was not in the sexual act itself, but rather in the emotions that typically accompany it. Chastity is "a virtue of the mind, and ... is lost by the intention of sin, even if unperformed." Augustine's life experience led him to consider lust to be one of the most grievous sins, and a serious obstacle to the virtuous life.