Histiry of Masturbation.
Masturbation and the Bible.
Medical textbooks prior to the 18th Century seldom
mentioned masturbation at all. In 1758 a Swiss physician named Tissot
published a treatise claiming that masturbation* was the principal
cause of mental illness---a terrible sin to be avoided like the plague.
In spite of many rebuttals and critiques by contemporaries, Tissot's
views became a standard reference found in most all medical textbooks
published until the early part of our century.
"The use of the reproductive function is perhaps the highest physical act of which man is capable; its abuse is certainly one of the most grievous outrages against nature which it is possible for him to perpetrate."
William Acton, a late 19th century prominent physician, wrote: "There is now in Pennsylvania---it seems unnecessary to name the place---a man thirty-five years old, with the infirmities of 'three score and ten.' Yet his premature old age, his bending and tottering form, wrinkled face, and hoary head, might be traced to solitary and social licentiousness." Many doctors of that time taught that masturbation led to insanity, dark rings under the eyes, and other terrible maladies. Guilt and fear were instilled in young people from an early age.
Between 1856 and 1919 the U.S. Patent Office granted patents for forty-nine antimasturbation devices. Thirty-five were for horses and fourteen for humans. The human devices, made for boys, consisted of either sharp points turned inward to jab the penis should he get an erection during the night, or an electrical system to deliver shocks. How many of these devices were actually used, or what effect they had on the children no one knows. Masturbation by girls was even more shocking, shameful, and unmentionable! The pendulum of sexual mores has now most certainly swung to the opposite extreme in the last half-century.
Secular medical authorities nowadays universally proclaim that masturbation is physiologically harmless and that it may even be a normal, natural form of release. Physiologically there seems to be no harm in masturbating, though most psychology text book writers admit that associated guilt and shame afflict millions, especially during adolescence. This guilt is usually blamed on strict and legalistic religious upbringing and Victorian prudishness about sex. Textbooks on human sexuality seem to all go to great length to explain away the guilt that results from illicit sex, and thus many of these secular writers end of writing polemics against the Bible and openly endorsing hedonistic living that is in reality pagan.
Because the Bible says nothing specific on the subject, Christian counseling books vary in their approach in dealing with masturbation. Few Christian youth pastors or psychologists are willing to endorse masturbation as normal and natural, however a minority are willing to suggest that self stimulation can provide a release from excessive tension when one is single. "Better masturbation than excessive obsession with sex," they say, "and better masturbating than risking a fall into more serious sexual immorality involving another person." The Bible does not suggest such a rationalization, however---in 1 Cor. 7:9 the Apostle Paul cites marriage as God's alternative to "burning with passion."
Since scripture does not specifically name masturbation as a sin, some claim masturbation is evidently not critically important as compared, say, to fornication. This argument is not conclusive since the word "fornication" (porneia) is a broad word in the New Testament, actually encompassing all forms of sexual immorality. Youth pastors also know from counseling experience that masturbation is often a huge source of guilt and anxiety for many Christian young men. Therefore they feel the problem is best dealt with by reassurance of God's grace and forgiveness and by focusing on spiritual growth to the end that the individual moves on to spiritual and emotional maturity, leaving masturbation behind as a symptom of spiritual immaturity.
Counselors who work with adolescents also sympathetically recognize that masturbation can be a tenacious habit not easily overcome---a habit only made worse by prohibitions, stern warnings or a critical, judgmental attitude. Vows to quit masturbating seem always to fail and cold-showers are sometimes to no avail. Masturbation can become obsessive to some, producing endless guilt and self- consciousness in young sufferers who find they can not overcome the habit by their own self-effort. Some young people may even feel they are committing the unpardonable sin.
Masturbation often goes unresolved for many years, perhaps as a "secret sin," until the desperate sufferer gets up the courage to share with a fellow-Christian or a pastor. Many married men admit to masturbating surprisingly often, even when they also claim to be enjoying a happy marriage and normal sex life with their partners.
Sharing the secrets of one's defeats in masturbation with a trusted Christian brother, mentor, or accountability group usually brings a real sense of relief and helps the person to be more objective about himself and his place in the world. All of us are sinners and we are only sinners who have been justified by God and made---by grace---worthy members of the kingdom of God. False guilt and self-condemnation (especially in "shame-based" individuals) surely is more serious source of defeat for some people than their true moral guilt before God who is gracious and full of mercy. "As a Father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." (Ps. 103:13, 14)
Although the Old Testament records the sexual failures of a number of men and women there are non-sexual sins that are more serious in the eyes of God, though they usually get less attention than sexual failures (see for example Proverbs 6:16-19). For instance, Jesus was merciful and compassionate towards a woman caught in the act of adultery, but he was scathing in his devastating rebukes of the arrogant self-righteousness of the Pharisees.
Circumcision in Ancient Egypt (6th Dynasty). This ancient ceremony, instituted between God and Abraham as a sign of their covenant, symbolizes the consecration of one's sexuality and one's life to God. (Genesis 17). In the New Testament, circumcision is accomplished in the inner man, "by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ," according to Colossians 2). The health benefits of male circumcision are debated today but this issue is not a relevant Biblical issue any longer under the terms of the New Covenant.
Most Christian writers on Biblical mores and ethics point to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:27-20) where the Lord teaches that it is possible for a person to commit sexually immoral acts in one's fantasy life. The thoughts and intentions of the heart can be very important and as implicating as outward acts. Although deliberately feeding on lustful thoughts and acting them out in one's mind is "already adultery" in the heart, according to Jesus, temptation which is not acted upon is not constitute sin. As an old Proverb says, "One can not prevent the birds from flying over one's head, but one can keep them from building a nest in one's hair." When the factor of fantasies is added into the equation of masturbation there is no doubt we are now referring to fornication and sexual uncleanness. One can no longer claim that masturbation is a "gray area."
In actual fact, masturbation is virtually always closely connected with lustful thought life. Pornography is everywhere in today's society, suggestive TV programs and films laced liberally with sexual promiscuity and implicit sex can only be avoided with difficulty. Advertisements and a spirit of sensuality barrage the mind constantly in today's sexually permissive society severely aggravating the problem of gaining and maintaining purity and personal holiness as a Christian. Many individuals who masturbate will admit that they use pornography, photographs or sexually suggestive stories to heighten the pleasure and vicarious enjoyment of sex. All of these are, in reality, forms of idolatry involving the worship of another person, the worship of sex itself, or the worship of an "image,"--rather than God. An individual whose life is centered around fantasies is not likely to do well when attempting to relate with a real flesh-and-blood marriage partner and the demands of adult life and godliness.
"Jesus was condemning...those fantasies in which we see ourselves possessing that which we are not allowed to have. He is condemning those fantasies in which we manipulate people in our minds in ways that will appeal to and satisfy the lust of our imagination. Whether it be a forbidden partner or a forbidden sexual practice, we must be aware of the fact that the mind is capable of endless perversions" (Ref. 1, page 119).
In those cases where masturbating is used occasionally to relieve what seem to be unbearable sexual pressures, then eliminating fantasies is certainly one step in the right direction. Many Christian young people can not imagine Jesus Christ loving them deeply enough to help them overcome the shame of their masturbation. Thus masturbation is not an area of one's life where Jesus is welcome---it is usually private and secret. Excluding Jesus from any area of our lives is of course risky since we are then left in darkness and in bondage to sin in one form or another. This is because "Anything not based on faith is sin." Nothing we do, even in private, is hidden from God. The Psalmist says, "Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance." (Psalm 90:8)
To be more objective, the Bible is clear that sexual activity is always wrong outside of marriage. Yet today's society promotes, encourages, and teaches young people to explore their sexuality and to become active in early adolescence. Biblical values have been overwhelmed and cast aside in most all schools today with the result that a whole generation has becoming openly pagan and promiscuous. This tragic, terrible state of affairs is associated with a breakdown in family ties and widespread divorce. It is therefore very difficult for Christian men and women who are not yet married to stay clear of sexual experimentation, pornography, and peer pressure to get involved.
Claims that all forms of sexual expression are normal, healthy, natural, and desirable may be fraudulent and false, but they are widely accepted today. In this environment modesty, chastity, purity and celibacy are virtually never discussed---yet they are paramount values in a Biblical view of godliness and spirituality. The fact that masturbation is "encouraged" as normal and healthy by a majority of educators and secular leaders today definitely does not mean that the majority viewpoint is the correct one---the opposite is more likely to be true. In overcoming the excessively inhibited sexual mores of an early generation, the sexual revolution has obviously gone completely over board in the direction of total moral looseness, unrestrained hedonism and unbelievable promiscuity. Billy Graham's wife, Ruth Bell Graham, has well said, "If God doesn't judge America for her immorality, he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah."
The fall of man in the Garden of Eden was a fall into self-centeredness. Our fallen natures are today often infected with lust and covetousness and envy. Our minds are easily programmed by TV, movies, and even school textbooks---all of which now bombard us with sensual images and antichristian values from the cradle to the grave.
It is plain to see that masturbation is usually narcissistic. Narcissus was the Greek youth who, upon seeing his reflection in a pool, fell in love with himself, then fell into the pool and drowned. In other generations masturbation was called self-abuse, solo-sex, self-love, or self-gratification. The emphasis is on "self," not on one's relationship with God or one's family. We can surely say the "solo-sex" is not part of God's original design for man which is for sexual expression in the context of love and commitment in a marriage. Masturbation can never be fulfilling and satisfying since it is inherently an incomplete act to which there is no response or appropriate answer-back from a complementary partner. Masturbation also tends to turn one's focus inward upon oneself, leading to shame, sometimes excessive introversion, often low self-esteem, self- consciousness and detachment from normal social roles.
God did not design sex to be a solitary experience. It is supposed to be shared with another, and only in marriage. Sexuality is intended to be part of the complementary interaction of self-giving love between a man and a woman who are committed to one another for life. (See 1 Cor. 7:4 where the Bible states that husband and wife are to give up the right to their own bodies to one another in marriage). Within marriage the dynamic interplay between opposites can bring healing and wholeness for both the man and his wife. Sexual expression in any other context is destructive to wholeness. The Bible certainly shows that God is not against pleasure, He wants us to say "no" to things that hurt us.
Because sexual activity results in pleasure, sexual habits such as masturbation are become conditioned responses that are reinforced with repetition. In a society where instant gratification is the goal of many, few of our contemporaries think in terms of self-control or long term fulfillment. Unlike hunger or other purely physical desires, human sexual response encompasses body, soul, and spirit. Without food and water man can not live, but living without sexual expression does no harm and can often be of great benefit because it allows libidinal energy to be refocused into socially redeeming activities. Abstinence and celibacy have always been prized by the church as healthy and desirable before marriage, and normative for singles. In the personal experience of countless pastors and counselors in the church of Jesus Christ, men and women are always far better off if they remained sexually inactive until marriage, and faithful to one's spouse thereafter. Countless married couples regret their premarital affairs and sexual expression prior to marriage because the effects show up later on in making marriage less than it ought to be.
Sexual selfishness is more difficult to cure than a tendency to eat too much apple pie or roast beef and potatoes. Even if one were to decide that masturbation is not a specific sin named in the Bible that does not mean it is a neutral issue. In real life not all choices are between right and wrong, but often between degrees of good and better. We can surely say that overcoming masturbation is the better course to seek after.
Unfortunately, once sexual desires are aroused it become difficult to reverse course and return to a celibate, virgin status. Regaining purity is, however, a requirement for Christian growth. In the Song of Solomon, the Shulamite maiden encourages the Daughters of Jerusalem to "stir not nor awaken love until it please," (i.e., until the proper time and place).
Admittedly, sexual desires are most intense biologically speaking when we are young and not yet able to marry. The spiritual victory to be gained (with the help of the Lord Jesus) is one of self-control (1 Thess. 4:1-8) and an inner purity that constantly vitalizes one's intimate personal relationship with Jesus the Bridegroom of the church. The Song of Solomon gives us a good picture not only of marriage but also of our individual relationship with Jesus Christ seen as a discipleship of love (Ref 2). God is working in us to produce wholeness and well-roundedness, a self-giving life style not a self-centered one. Previous generations of Christian leaders taught that instinctual energies could be sublimated and rechanneled into productive and creative actions in the world. This concept has largely disappeared in our time when the focus is on self, self-realization, and self-fulfillment.
Christ--the Only Complete Realist
No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very
hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know
what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try
to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out
the strength of the German Army by fighting it, not by giving in.
You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it,
not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes
simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That
is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They
have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out
the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it:
and Christ, because He was the only man who never yield to temptation,
is the only man who knows to the full what temptation means-the only
complete realist (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
Abstinence from sexual activity is not harmful to the body. In the male, semen may be occasionally released spontaneously in nocturnal emissions (wet dreams), or will be slowly absorbed into the blood stream. One can not survive without food and water, but many men and women live healthy, fulfilled, single lives in Christ without expressing themselves sexually.
Taking all these things together it is difficult to build a case for masturbation as something which is innocuous, though it may be less serious a struggle for some as compared to others. Christian life is neither easy nor free from temptation and even stumbling, falling, failing and starting over. The aim of our lives should be to please God, and to do that we must deny the flesh, put to death our selfish desires, starve the appetites of our inner sensualities and lusts, and feed upon the Word of God. We need to develop close friends we can share secrets with and who will keep us accountable in our spiritual walk.
A number of passages in the New Testament are applicable to growing out of and overcoming masturbation as we seek single sightedness, with purity of heart and motive in following Jesus the Lord.
"Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness." (Rom. 6:13)
"...make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Heb.12:13,14)
"But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints...Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience...Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light." (Eph. 5:3-13)
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming." (Col. 3:1-6)
Masturbation is usually not the crucial issue of anyone's Christian walk, though self-consciousness probably makes it seem so to some. God's loyal-love (hesed) is patiently committed to seeing to it that we become whole and fulfilled no matter how much extra grace we may think we need. Assuming that masturbation is indeed a sin for Christians, one would expect to find consequences, for "whatever a man sows that he shall also reap" (Galatians 6:7). Some suggested consequences include (a) increased self-consciousness, (b) lowered self-esteem, (c) depression, (d) reduced psychological and creative energy, (e) lessened interest in interpersonal relationships, and of course (f) guilt, shame, with fear of being found out. Preoccupation with sexual fantasies tends to substituted imagined relationships with real-life experiences with real persons. The progressively addictive power of pornography is well known. C.S. Lewis once wrote in one his letters,
"I know about the despair of overcoming chronic temptation. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience, etc. don't get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of his presence."
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