This week I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with an author who just published a fascinating yet controversial book entitled “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University.” The author’s name is Kevin Roose, and he is a student at Brown University who enrolled at Liberty University for a semester as a kind of secular undercover mission into the evangelical world.
Though I have not read the book, I was pleasantly surprised by how sympathetically Roose described his time at Liberty. He found some of the teaching to be archaic and biased, but he was also touched by the friendships he made. Contrary to my expectations, he did not sensationalize his time there, nor did he talk about it in over-generalizations or extremes. Coming from such a young author, that is especially rare and commendable.
(For a great review of the book, check out this article in Christianity Today here.)
Some of Roose’s crticisms are clearly warranted, but there was one perspective with which I disagreed, and that concerned the time he spent with a campus self-help group called “Every Man’s Battle.” The group was for male students resisting the temptation to masturbate, and while Roose felt that such a support group was sympathetic in nature, he was sorry that those men were made to “feel guilty about doing something that isn’t wrong.”
Upon hearing Roose’s words, it dawned on me how absurd the Christian teachings against masturbation must sound to the world. After all, you’re not actually having sex, and no one is getting hurt. What could possibly be wrong with it?
In fact, I wonder if a lot of Christians, particularly women, don’t really know why it’s wrong. There isn’t any clear Scriptural teaching against it, so it’s possible that many believers only have a vague conception based on the fact that it’s sexual and because their youth minister used to warn them about it.
With this in mind, I want to briefly explain why the practice of masturbation is so toxic to the Christian life. I know this seems like a weird topic for a women’s blog, but that is perhaps the first myth that we need to get out of the way. Masturbation is not just “every man’s battle.” Many women struggle with it as well. But regardless of whether you wrestle with this issue or not, it’s important to understand the dangers involved so that you can articulate them in compelling ways. Saying “It’s gross!” just isn’t going to cut it.
The main reason that masturbation seems so harmless is that it doesn’t hurt anyone. Some guys might use it as a way to relieve sexual tension so that they won’t try to have sex with their girlfriends. This would in turn sound like a means for staying MORE pure, right? Or for some of you, it feels good and it isn’t hurting anyone, so why not?
The problem with these 2 perspectives is that they overlook two very important realities about human nature and relationships:
1. Unlike physical appetite, sexual appetite only increases when you feed it, not lessens it.
2. Sex is inherently relational, but we sabotage this fundamental aspect of sex when we divorce it from its created purpose.
Let me tease these points out a bit more…
As I said, sexual appetite increases the more you feed it, so if you are turning to masturbation as a means to abstain from sexual intercourse, you are setting yourself up to fail. Aside from the fact that masturbation is frequently accompanied by lustful thoughts, which Jesus likens to the act of adultery, you are training yourself to desire that stimulation more and more. What can result is either an addiction to masturbation (hence the self-help group), or an eventual succumbing to sexual intercourse before marriage.
In trying to stay pure, you are instead shooting yourself in the foot.
One of THE biggest mistakes that our culture makes in determining its moral standards is short-sightedness. As long as there is no short-term damage, we don’t see anything wrong with it. It is this short-sightedness that enables us to engage in carefree promiscuity, masturbation, or even the “more innocent” serial dating. We plan to change our behaviors once we get married, but for now we’re living the unattached, single life.
The problem with this thinking is that it underestimates the power of our habits. We somehow think that after living one way for 20 years, we can suddenly change upon saying “I do.” But this is not the case. If we establish a pattern of dating tons of people, sleeping with lots of lovers, or masturbating to attain sexual satisfaction, those habits will still be ingrained in us as we enter marriage. That’s why so many marriages fail–Americans are not equipping themselves with the skills they need to make a marriage work. They’re doing just the opposite.
That said, masturbation may seem harmless in the short-term, but it can wreak havoc on your marriage. In particular, it can cause major problems for your sexual relationship with your spouse. If you can satisfy yourself better than your spouse can, then that has severe implications for your intimacy and trust with them.
Ladies, this point is especially important for you! Because women are stimulated differently than men, and because we know our bodies better than men, women who struggle with masturbation may find it easier to do it themselves than depend on their husband for sexual satisfaction. And if you are no longer satisfied by your husband sexually, then it’s likely you aren’t satisfying him, which results in a whole host of marital problems.
Suffice it to say, if you are training yourself to masturbate as a single person, you will not stop when you get married. And to believe that such habit-forming behaviors are harmless is like walking head-on into a coming freight train without a care in the world. It is naiveté at its worst.
Until our culture starts acknowledging that our single behaviors affect our married behaviors more than almost any other factor, I fear the divorce rate will continue to rise.
There have been entire books written on this topic so I could go on and on–there are many other reasons why masturbation is destructive that I have not even mentioned. (For instance, just look up the term “self-abuse” in the Oxford English Dictionary and you’ll find “masturbation” listed under its definitions. That has interesting implications for masturbation’s impact on you as an individual…) But in the interest of time, I hope this was a sufficient summary of the dangers associated with masturbation–especially for you young ladies who may not have given it much thought. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!
Remember that Christian teachers and preachers do not warn against masturbation simply because they’re prudes, or because they’ve been brain-washed into thinking it’s wrong. They teach against it because they’re wise and they know that ALL actions have consequences sooner or later. God created us to have open, honest, trusting, self-giving relationships of love and commitment, and masturbation is just one means of short-circuiting this goal. It may seem harmless now, but don’t be guilty of a naiveté or denial that will later come back to haunt you.