In the movie Patch Adams, one of my favourite movies, there is a scene at the beginning of the movie where Patch is creating a stir with his fellow psych-ward patients. At one point he yells, “Who likes to masturbate?” and all the patients, including Patch, put up both their hands and cheer. As a young person seeing this I thought, “Yeah, that’s about right; masturbation is for psych-ward patients.” That’s a true story… a very sad, true story. As a teen, my friends joked about it (I wasn’t homeschooled), so I knew of it, but I didn’t think normal, everyday people did it. It was something only crazy people and criminals did. Turns out, I was wrong – who knew? If you can believe it, I thought this until I was around twenty-four and heard a guest speaker at my post graduate college program say that masturbation was healthy and important, especially for girls, because everyone should be familiar with their own bodies before they’re shared. This was an eye opening moment for me because before that I really didn’t think of it as healthy; it was sin… wasn’t it? This new way of thinking makes more sense to me because how can a guy expect to be able to please his partner if she’s not comfortable and familiar with her own body? Yes, some discovery together as a couple is valuable, but it’s hard to enjoy being with someone if we only see it and/or our bodies as dirty and shameful, which I’ve seen cause some Christian women to be scared of anything sexual even in marriage.
When I was eighteen, I asked my former youth pastor turned pastor about masturbation and he shared what his pastor told him at my age: The story of Judah and his sons. This is the Judah who was the father of the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the one chosen to be the line of Jesus. If you’re thinking he must be a great guy, you haven’t read this story – he’s a turd. Judah had three sons. The one son died before having children with his wife, and according to the custom his brothers were responsible for impregnating the widow because at that time kids were everything; they were your legacy, your help, and your retirement plan. While “helping” the widow the brother was said to “spill his seed” on the ground and eventually God struck him dead for his selfishness. Afraid of losing his third son, Judah leaves the widow to suffer (nice guy), but later she tricked him into having sex by pretending to be a prostitute (he’s an awesome guy). When Judah heard that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, he wanted her stoned to death for being sexually loose until he found out she was pregnant with his son and then it was okay. It’s a beautiful story. I’m pretty sure Hallmark is making it into a movie. This pastor I trusted for guidance used this story that had no relevance to self pleasuring for describing the dangers of masturbation – God will strike you dead for spilling your seed. That’s a couple steps worse than hairy palms or going blind (the traditional warnings).
A non Christian friend told me, masturbation was wrong because it was an act of lust, which made more sense, but then I was confused because how do you go from having no lustful thoughts about a woman to marrying her and being able to have sex all in one day? And if you’re married, can you lust for her then? Proverbs says about your wife: “Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love,” (5:10) so it seems that lusting for your wife is encouraged because it can help keep a couple together. Perhaps, the problem is in the interpretation of lust. For instance, maybe true lust is more dramatic than simply looking at someone and being attracted. Perhaps lust is more about dominance, which is something the Bible continually fights against: All people are equal and have value.
The other thing I don’t get is in marriage we can have sex with our partner because we become “one” body, so in a weird way, isn’t that a form of masturbation? If I can have sex with my wife because we are one body, I should ultimately be allowed to have sex with just my body… shouldn’t I?
On top of this, hormones make us stupid. When I was a teenager, I could’ve avoided a lot of embarrassing moments and hurting a lot of people if I wasn’t so revved up on hormones. This leads to the question: If masturbation is in fact a sinful act, is it still better to do that in a controlled manner (e.g. five minutes twice a week) than to not do it and act stupid out of hormonal build up embarrassing yourself and hurting others? Another way of putting it: Is it better to do one sin if it prevents three other sins?
All of these questions lead me back to the same conclusion I had last week:: God wants sex to be something that gets us talking and connecting with Him to see what is appropriate for us in our personal journeys with Him. In marriage, it’s very important you don’t replace your partner with your hand, especially when it says in 1 Corinthians, “The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.” (3-4) But what happens if the one partner has a much higher desire for sex than the other? For instance, I’ve worked with people who craved sex every day while most are happy with two times a week. At some point, the spouse may want their partner to help themselves, especially if it lowers aggression and when it comes to a guy, if he’s not getting enough release through sex or by himself, he’s going to have a wet dream, and what partner wants to wake up to that?
In the Old Testament, God told Moses: “Whenever a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his entire body in water, and he will remain ceremonially unclean until the next evening. Any clothing or leather with semen on it must be washed in water, and it will remain unclean until evening. After a man and a woman have sexual intercourse, they must each bathe in water, and they will remain unclean until the next evening.” (Lev 15:16-18) In this passage, whether a man is alone or with a woman, the idea is the same – he is ceremonially unclean and needs a bath and time to be clean again. This suggests that masturbation, wet dreams, and sex are in a way equal. Either way, God is not afraid of them; He did create them. The important thing is to learn is that sexual activity is private and between you, God, and your partner, and should not be about dominance.
I should be clear that I’m not saying masturbation is okay for everyone because it can easily lead to addiction. Again, it needs to be between the person and God because it’s ultimately about being connected to Him. I will claim, however, that we need to establish healthy boundaries and be praying about it and talking about it with trusted people. As it’s taught in Jewish culture, God wants us to ask questions because that leads to bonding with Him and others.
Questions to consider:
- Is there a difference between a boy and girl doing it?
- What’s the difference between lust and admiring? (i.e. is lust about dominance or all sexual desire?)
- Can someone masturbate without lust or is it always wrong?
- Can masturbation prevent young people from going too far with their dating partner or will it exacerbate it?
- Is there a difference between a visual aid (what turns on men) and a romantic movie or erotic novel (what turns on women)? Is there a difference between looking at something versus fantasizing about something?
- When it comes to a visual aid, is there a line of what’s appropriate and what’s not? (e.g. a woman in a beautiful dress versus lingerie versus people having sex, knowing versus not knowing the person, if the person likes to be looked at sexually since it can be empowering, the person had no intention of being sexualized like an underwear model, etc.)
- What is “porn” versus art or sexy?
Rules to consider:
- No one should know what you do (a very important rule for teens) and people should limit joking about it because it’s such a cheap and gross joke.
- We shouldn’t judge others based on what we feel is appropriate.
- There is a line we need to be careful about because there is risk of addiction just like with drinking. I, for one, have never had alcohol because alcoholism is in my family and personality type… that and I’m really cheap and prefer free water.
- If masturbation is acceptable, how far someone goes for visual and/or physical aids should have strict rules, especially when it can really hurt the partner.
- Guys need to be firmly told that touching yourself while thinking or looking at a picture of a girl is not a “compliment” to her and can be scaring if he says anything to her.
- All young people need to be told that sexual pictures of anyone under 18 are considered child porn and, therefore, illegal even if they themselves are under 18 and the picture is their girlfriend or boyfriend.
- Dabbling with porn is very dangerous, especially as a teenager.
This week may this topic lead you to be closer to God.
Rev. Chad David, Chaddavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)