Masturbation And The Bible

by Lambert Dolphin


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.

In 1834 Dr. Sylvester Graham wrote that the loss of semen during sex was injurious to health (a popular idea at the time); men, Graham believed, should not have intercourse more than twelve times a year. Masturbation was especially pernicious, he said. To reduce sexual cravings, Graham advised mild foods to decrease sexual appetites. The graham cracker was the result! In 1884, this curious connection between food and sex appeared in another guise. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg created cornflakes to curtail children's inclinations toward masturbation. Kellogg, who was quite a health eccentric, wrote:

"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."

See Porn Flakes: Kellogg, Graham and the Crusade for Moral Fiber. (Disclaimer: I do NOT agree with Dr. Kellogg and his school of thought. This link is for information purposes only.)

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 does 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."

Notes and References

1. In earlier generations some felt that Onan's sin, for which God ended his life, was masturbation (see Genesis 38). Onan disobeyed God's Word and failed to honor his obligation to his family as is clear from the context. Most all Bible scholars today do not fault his coitus interruptus as the root of his sin.

Journal Notes on Temptation by Bruce (PDF) | Some Comments by Larry Hoppis

2. The Book of Leviticus provides many illustrations of the defilements that we all inherited from Adam. Leviticus 15:16-18 refers specifically to uncleanness resulting from an emission of semen:

"And if a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water, and be unclean until the evening. And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the evening. If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening."

Ray C. Stedman comments on this passage as follows:

"It would be a great mistake to judge from this passage that the Bible suggests in any way that sex in marriage is immoral or wrong. This is simply God's reminder of the pollution of nature, of the fact that the nature of humanity is fallen and that man cannot solve his problems himself. He desperately needs a Savior. And he passes on to his children the same fallen, twisted nature and propensities which he himself is born with...

"Life is continually confirming this great fundamental fact which the Scriptures set before us---that there is something wrong with nature. So all that God is doing here when he says that the act of sex results in an uncleanness until evening is simply reminding us that man is a fallen creature and that he must deal with that problem realistically. He can't avoid it. There is no way that he can eliminate it himself. God must handle it, and God has handled it. There is only one way it can be handled---the redemptive intervention of God---and if it isn't handled that way there is no escape from the defilement and the destruction of humanity which will follow. So God reminds us that even in the act of sex which results in conception there is a fallen nature involved." (Ray C. Stedman, The Trouble with Nature, from Commentary on Leviticus).

In the Bible Knowledge Commentary (Victor Books, 1985) F. Duane Lindsey comments on the above passage from Leviticus as follows:

"The second case pertaining to males was the periodic discharge of an emission of semen, whether possibly a nocturnal emission or one during intercourse. For this case no sacrifice [for sin] was required and the uncleanness was resolved by a simple wash-and-wait (till evening). It is noteworthy that while the normal sexual process between husband and wife made both partners ceremonially unclean---no guilt was involved and so no sacrifice was required." (Commentary on Leviticus, p. 195).

It would seem that all forms of sexual activity, even in a marriage where sexual expression carries God's endorsement and approval, carry the taint of original sin. Portions of Leviticus are designed to protect against sexually-transmitted diseases, and much of Leviticus contains the "holiness codes" for sexual conduct which were imparted to mankind as part of the Law of Moses.

3. A thorough discussion of masturbation and other topics of sexual morality is found in the book Sexual Chaos by John Vertefeuille, published by Crossway Books in 1988. The author is college pastor of Faith Chapel in La Mesa, California.

4. Dr. John White's book Eros Redeemed (Intervarsity Press, 1993)--is excellent.

John White writes as follows (pp124-125),

"In Eros Defiled I wrote about masturbation with compassion. I still have compassion for the victims of masturbation, but the time has now come for me to challenge the views that prevail and to call on Christians to face reality. Masturbation is sin. It is not grave sin, not nearly as serious as pride, or cruelty, or even unkindness. But still it is sin.

Let me state my reasons for calling it sin at all. It is sin because sexuality was not given us for that purpose. In masturbating we use our bodily parts for a purpose God never intended for them. To say that the release of sexual tension justifies it is what my grandmother would have called "all my eye and Peggy Martin"---or what logicians might call specious reasoning.

My first argument, then, for calling masturbation sin is what could be called the argument of design. My body is mine only in the sense that I am responsible for its proper use. I am its steward. For what was my body designed? The Westminster Confession asks a similar if not identical question. "What is the chief end of man?" The answer the authors give is, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever."

Paul expresses the same end for our bodies. He concludes, "So glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:20 RSV). The argument I have been using from chapter three onward concerns the offering of our bodies to God as an act of worship. In the NIV version of Romans 6, Paul even mentions the parts of our bodies, saying, "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness . . . offer the parts of your body to him [God] as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master" (Rom 6:13- 14)

My body was not designed to masturbate. My body was designed to be used exclusively to glorify God. To use it in any other way is to rob God of something that is his by right, for there are no morally neutral actions.

You say: So everything becomes black and white. Are there no shades of gray? Yes, plenty of them. But even the whitest shade of gray has some black in it. So if you should go on to say, "Well, it really doesn't matter that much, does it?" then I must insist that sin always matters. Our sin brought about the death of Christ.

Just as speech was given to us in order that we might communicate truths rather than lies or gossip, so the sexual parts of our bodies were designed to copulate. Remember, copulation is far more than orgasmic experiences. It was to be a sharing, a sort of gateway to deeper sharing, a never-ending mutual revelation of the depths of our souls. Yet copulation can be entirely selfish, a mere using of somebody's body to gratify myself, which is little different from masturbation.

My second argument for calling masturbation sin---closely related to the first argument---is that masturbation is a form of idolatry. Our bodies are to be offered to God. Masturbation is to make a god of my bodily sensations, of relief from the tension that I feel. Again, I know that married lovemaking can itself be a selfish pursuit of bodily sensation. But I repeat: it was not designed to be. At that point it becomes lust.

Yet I know how some men and women struggle. How bitter some people feel in their vain struggle against it! Younger people, young marrieds away from their spouses, have a particularly difficult time. I know a man whose problem began with marriage. Like all sin, masturbation must be dealt with compassionately and in love. I may be in my sixties, but I remember very clearly what it used to be like. Those were dark days when I hated myself. (I do not excuse my past actions, even though, looking back, I can explain them. Nor did my release from the habit occur gradually, dying out as the need for it diminished. It came by the Spirit's revelation.) Let us be compassionate with those who struggle."

As a footnote (Chapter 5) in his very latest (and excellent) book, The Path of Holiness: A Guide for Sinners, (IV Press, Downers Grove, Illinois 1996) Dr. John White says this,

I am fully aware that few Christians nowadays regard masturbation as sinful. If some sins are worse than others, as I believe from Scripture, then sexual sin in general, and masturbation in particular, would be relatively unimportant. Masturbation never used to be talked about. Pastors rarely mention it. But during the last forty years or so, during which time psychology, psychiatry and various forms of Christian counseling have got into the act of giving "expert" opinions on the subject, it has become an understandable and relatively respectable activity, especially for young people. My opinion is at present a minority opinion.

Yet majorities are frequently wrong, and I refuse to follow this one. Masturbation is not merely a habit of young people but continues throughout active sexual life. Some people continue it into their eighties. Significantly many people, in spite of assurances as to its innocence, are deeply ashamed of it, more ashamed than they would be of confessing illicit sexual relationships. Some men, virgin before they married, begin it after they have married.

I believe It is sinful because our sexual parts were not designed for masturbation, but for coitus within marriage. We are using our bodies wrongly when we masturbate, and for purposes they were not designed for. While I lament the excessive guilt of past religious condemnation, I regret equally the present permissiveness. Continence would require only an openness between parents and children.

God forgives absolutely. Our problem is coming to him again and again.

5. Watchman Nee, Song of Songs, Christian Literature Crusade, 1965.

6. Additional references of relevance are listed in the essay Aberrant Sexuality. A short article, Sexual Sin in General compares briefly the Old Testament and New Testament norms for sexual expression. The fact that man created in the image of God is represented by two complementary sexes, not one, is the subject of a discussion Made in the Image of God Several years ago Leadership Magazine published two articles which proved extremely popular and very helpful, The War Within: An Anatomy Of Lust. Self-centeredness is at the heart of what the Bible describes as man's fallen condition. Masturbation has occasionally been symbolized since ancient times in various cultures by the figure of a snake chasing its own tail, The Uroboros Symbol. The Uroboros is fitting symbol for man's basic self-centeredness in all areas of life. Highly recommended is Sex: Should We Change the Rules? by Bishop John W. Howe This booklet on sexuality was prepared by the Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida and is now online on these web pages. Helpful article: Masturbation: A Sin for Christians? by Dean and Laura VanDruff

7. The Courage to be Chaste by Benedict J. Groeschel, Paulist Press, New York, 1985, is an exceptionally fine book which I recommend highly. (2/1/00)

8. Theology of the Body, Christopher West (Excellent Roman Catholic Resources)

Related Topics

8. A Mormon view: Steps in Overcoming Masturbation, (Anonymous author but attributed to Mark E. Petersen), is interesting. I have added editorial comments to this paper highlighting a number of theological errors in this approach. The article may nonetheless offer helpful pointers for some.

9. The Roman Catholic Position:

Offenses against chastity: 2352. By _masturbation_ is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magesterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful, have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability. (1992 Catechism).

10. Outstanding Recent Book: The War Within: Gaining Victory in the Battle for Sexual Purity, by Robert Daniels, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1997. Practical, transparent, realistic, and relevant. Highly recommended

11. The importance of dealing with the inner idolatrous roots of our sexuality is the subject of Leanne Payne's book, The Healing Presence: Curing the Soul Through Union with Christ, Baker Books, Grand Rapids 1995. I know of no book with deeper insights in this area.

12. Dr. Grant Martin's book When Good Things Become Addictions: Gaining Freedom from our Compulsions, Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois,1990, is very good and will be helpful to many.

13. Excellent book on sexuality, religion and culture: The Sanctity of Sex, by Charles Pickstone, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1996, ISBN 0-312-15516. WHERE RELIGION ONCE was ubiquitous, we now find sex. It appears in art, literature, music, film, television, and ads. It occupies a near-sacred spot in our regular activities and dominates our consciousness. In this fascinating new inquiry into contemporary culture, Charles Pickstone, a priest, argues that the pervasiveness of sex in our society mirrors religion's former glory. Indeed, according to Pickstone, sex has usurped religion's position on the spiritual pedestal. In this time of increasing secularization, our traditional views of sex have fallen by the wayside. The religious right bemoans our so-called hedonism as a retreat from religion and values. Yet Pickstone challenges the belief that we have lost our spirituality and have become a world of lost souls damned for eternity. His book provides a sober and lucid response to our concerns about where our society is headed. As he cogently argues, people today have not lost their religious passions and convictions. Pickstone cites one example after another of how we instead find religious ecstasy in sexual intercourse. These powerful examples are clearly linked in an argument that is hard to refute. Pickstone's brilliance lies in his ability to examine what we take for granted and expose its spiritual significance. Whereas one used to pray to ease one's suffering, sex today provides the most commonly used relief from stress. Pickstone clearly demonstrates how we often describe sex in metaphors of natural, and even supernatural phenomena: The earth moves, oceans swell, and storms rage. Moreover, Pickstone argues, we find in both sexual and religious passion the same transcendence of self that constitutes a spiritual experience. Barriers break down as we are transported to another reality of ecstasy and heightened experience. Using diverse and accessible examples, Pickstone charts the seismic shifts in consciousness that have taken place over the last century and a half in a book that may challenge and change the way we think about the world and ourselves. CHARLES PICKSTONE is an Anglican priest who has led congregations in San Rafael, California, and England, where he now lives.

14. Excellent Book: Whole and Holy Sexuality," by Kraft, William F., PhD., Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR 1998. "Masturbation is a common form of genital gratification. By age twenty-one, most men have masturbated. Women masturbate less; however, the percentage gap between male and female masturbation is narrowing. Increasingly more people feel little or no compunction about masturbating. This was not always the case.

In the "old days" (not very long ago), many people were taught that masturbation is one of the worst sins. It was suggested that masturbation was a cause of mental and physical illness, even that surgical intervention could be a treatment for masturbation. It seems masturbation evoked more guilt than dishonesty or injustice. In those days it was common to overemphasize sexual sins. Masturbation--even the mere thought of it--guaranteed a one-way ticket to hell. Sexuality was treated as an "enemy" or as exclusively a means for procreation rather than a gift and opportunity from God for spiritual and psychological growth.

Because of the negative assessment of sexuality, the approach to sexual feelings was to ignore or repress them. As we have seen, however, denial increases tension rather than purges it, resulting in frustration, anxiety, and guilt. Individuals, acting sincerely, tried to silence the potentially redemptive message of their uncomfortable feelings. Consequently, they escaped self-confrontation by overindulgence (eating, drinking, working), irritable behavior (toward authorities, peers, or subjects), or acting out (with others and/or self in fantasy and/or reality). When masturbation (acting out) was the coping mechanism for repressed or non-integrated sexuality, a circular and frustrating pattern would emerge: masturbation to relieve tension, followed by guilt, followed by tension, which led again to masturbation and so on and on.

The "new ways" are expression and guiltlessness. Many health specialists consider masturbation a sensible source of pleasure, a convenient tension reducer, a productive way to realize body awareness and potential-in general, a healthy practice. Satisfying "my own" needs, insisting that "my body is mine," and having "good" feelings are conventional justifications. Since discomfort is assumed to indicate something wrong, the practices of suppression, mortification, and sublimation are judged masochistic, old-fashioned, or simply naive and dumb.

From a wholistic perspective, I personally support neither the new nor the old position. I contend that masturbation is seldom unhealthy in and of itself. Unlike many professionals, however, I do not believe masturbation should be recommended. Psychologically, masturbation is neither a one-way ticket to hell or to heaven. Masturbation is an earthly matter, neither unhealthy nor healthy. It is a conventional way of reducing tension, evoking pleasure, and acquiring a degree of normal maintenance.

Sociologically, masturbation is "normal" in that most people at some time in their lives practice it more or less. It falls within the parameters of "normal" and often expected behavior. Psychologically, masturbation can be considered "normal" because it can temporarily reduce tension that may make life easier immediately (though not better) and help one to cope in the short run. Nevertheless, although masturbation can be considered "normal" in this sense, I contend it is not healthy because it impedes spiritual growth

To understand the dynamics of masturbation, it is important to look at the life of one who masturbates. The act should be seen in light of a total process. One element of this context is age. For example, adolescents usually feel more strongly than children and adults the urgency and confusion of new genital desires. Also, they experience peer and cultural pressure to satisfy them. An adult who has repressed his or her genital feelings may masturbate for reasons like those of an adolescent: urgency, novelty, pleasure, curiosity, environmental pressure.

Frequency and intensity are also important factors. Masturbating once a month differs from doing it once a day in terms of psychosocial and spiritual impact. Compulsive masturbation involves a significant part of one's life. In contrast, some people generally abstain from masturbation but periodically "act-out" for a relatively short time. Others follow a cyclic pattern: they allow tension to build up periodically relieve it and wait for is to increase again

Here's one adolescent's reflection on masturbation: "I'm not real guilty about it, but I'm not proud of it either. Most of the guys do it at some time or another. There are some guys who don't masturbate so I guess it can be done. I masturbate when I'm especially horny, or when I'm bored and have a lot of time. It relieves the tension, but I have to admit that the tension always returns Masturbating doesn't seem to get you where.

Intensity of involvement is significant also. The amount of time, as well as quantity and quality of self-investment, determine the impact masturbation has on one's life. Someone who masturbates daily for an hour with intense fantasy as the primary source of intimacy will differ significantly from a person who masturbates infrequently and has healthy experiences of intimacy.

Masturbation is particularly seductive because it is an easy and accessible way to reduce tension and to explore genital feelings and fantasies without interpersonal vulnerability, responsibility, and accountability. It seems we have a license to masturbate almost whenever we feel like it. We need not worry about other people or social consequences; it can be kept to oneself

Part of masturbation's lure is the safe secrecy lure; one does not have to risk rejection, embarrassment, or failure; it gives the illusion of being open, and perfect. Instead of engaging in mature relationships, the individual can create a world of make-believe people where anything is possible and there are no limits.

A subtle attraction of masturbation is that the initial choice often emerges from non-genital experiences: boredom, anxiety and especially loneliness may pressure us to masturbate. Masturbation can numb the discomfort of emptiness and incompleteness and promise some semblance of being one with self and other. But these rewards are short-lived. The frustrating irony is that the escape from loneliness actually impedes the attainment of the true goal: intimacy." (pp. 102-104)

15. A Note of Explanation. This article was written mainly for Christians. It remains the most frequently accessed article on this web site. Most of the email is highly favorable. Non-Christians and moral relativists do write me less frequently. A typical email in the latter category is the following: "You really are making a fuss about nothing! I used to think that masturbating was a stupid, strange thing to do, so I stopped. Then I grew up and realized that there is nothing WRONG with doing this, nothing wrong at all. You enjoy your life. But I promise you, mine will feel better!" I have no quarrel with this writer--but he does not state his basis for his beliefs nor cite the moral authority by which he lives his life. To me the the fundamental issue for the non-Christian is establishing a relationship with God. Apart from such a relationship a person can not please God in the first place. To the person who has established a personal relationship with the living God, everything matters, and "the unexamined life is not worth living."

16. Excerpt from the book A Plea for Purity: The desecration of love is one of the greatest tragedies of our time. Increasingly, love is understood as nothing more than selfish desire, and the satisfaction of this desire is seen as fulfillment. People talk about sexual liberation but remain trapped in bondage to their sexual desires; they talk about true love but live in self-absorbed estrangement. Our age is a loveless age: relationships and hearts are broken everywhere, millions of human lives are discarded almost before they have begun, thousands of children are abused or abandoned, and fear and mistrust abound even in supposedly healthy marriages. Love has been reduced to base sex. Because of this, it is nothing more than a delusion for many - short-lived intimacy followed by gnawing emptiness and anguish.

How can we rediscover the real meaning of love? So many things in the world today take away our belief in lasting and unconditional love. So much of what has to do with "love" these days really has to do with the excitement and passion of lust. We live in a sex-obsessed, sex-crazed society, and everything reeks of it - advertising, literature, fashion, and entertainment. Marriage has been the first casualty: its significance has become so distorted that its true meaning has been lost.

Of course, no honest person can lay the blame for all of this at the door of the media or of some vague force in society. Certainly, the media has confused thousands of people and left them hardened. But it is we - each one of us -whose souls are burdened by the sin of our own lust, whose marriages have fallen apart, whose children have gone astray. We cannot ignore our own misdeeds; we must take responsibility for our own actions, for every instance where we have accepted the spirit of impurity and let evil into our own hearts. We have mocked and twisted the image of God and separated ourselves from our creator. We must learn to listen again to the deepest cries of our hearts, and repent and turn back to God.

Thirty years have passed since the beginning of the sexual revolution, and its devastating aftermath should be obvious to anyone: widespread promiscuity; rising rates of teen pregnancy and suicide; tens of millions of abortions; the spread of sexually transmitted diseases; the erosion of the family and home life; and the rise of a violent new generation. "We have sown the wind, and reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7).

Our time grossly overestimates the importance of sex. Whether on book stands, in convenience stores, or at supermarket counters, its significance is exaggerated in a thoroughly unhealthy way. Love between man and woman is no longer regarded as sacred or noble; it has become a commodity seen only in an animal sense, as an uncontrollable impulse that must be satisfied.

As a tool of the sexual revolution, modern sex education more than anything else is responsible for all this. Sex education was supposed to bring us freedom, enlightened attitudes, responsibility, and safety. Isn't it obvious by now that it has been a failure? Haven't we seen by now that knowledge is no safeguard, and that sex education as taught in most schools has only increased sexual activity?

True education for the sexual life instills reverence. Most parents have very little, if any, idea of what their children are taught in sex education classes. Sex education has never been a simple presentation of biological facts. In many curricula students are graphically taught (sometimes by way of films) about various sexual practices, including masturbation, and about "safe" sex. In others, sexual perversions are openly and explicitly discussed and presented as normal ways of finding sexual "fulfillment." in some school districts an appreciation and understanding for the homosexual lifestyle is encouraged: it is, our children are told, a perfectly acceptable alternative to heterosexual marriage. Some schools even have students pair off to discuss topics such as foreplay and orgasm. Antibiotics and abortion are presented as positive safety nets in case contraception and safe sex practices fail. Abstinence, if not entirely ignored, is mentioned only in passing. As William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, writes:

"There is a coarseness, a callousness, a cynicism, a banality, and a vulgarity to our time. There are too many signs of a civilization gone rotten. And the worst of it has to do with our children: we live in a culture that at times seems almost dedicated to the corruption of the young, to ensuring the loss of their innocence before their time."

Sex education is little more than "safe" sex training. Initially, it was instituted as an attempt to bank the fires of teenage sexuality; instead, it has only fanned the flames. Most people seem to take it for granted that teenagers will and should express themselves sexually. Our era is one of millions of abortions, of countless unwed mothers on public support, and of epidemic sexually transmitted diseases. Clearly, the idea that accurate knowledge fosters responsible behavior is nothing less than a grand myth.

In general, much of what is taught today in the name of sex education is a horror, and as Christians we must protest against it. It is often little more than the formalized training of irreverence, impurity, and rebellion against the plan of God.

True education for the sexual life takes place best between parent and child in an environment of reverence and trust. To educate anyone about sex through anonymous images and impersonal information will only awaken the sexual impulse of a child prematurely and, in his mind, separate sex from love and commitment.

Obviously we should not be afraid to talk freely with our own children about sexual matters, especially as they approach adolescence. Otherwise they will learn about these things first from their peers, and rarely in a reverent atmosphere. All the same, there is a danger in giving a child too many biological facts about sex. Often, a factual approach to sex robs it of its divine mystery.

To the Christian parent, sex education means guiding the sexual conscience of his or her children to sense their own dignity and the dignity of others. It means helping them to understand that selfish pleasure, whether it "hurts" anybody else or not, is contrary to love (Gal. 5:13). It means teaching them that, separated from God, sexual intercourse or any other sexual activity burdens the conscience and undermines honest relationships. It means opening their eyes to see the deep emptiness that leads people - and could lead them too - into sexual sin.

A child can acquire a healthy attitude to his body and to sex quite naturally, simply by being taught that his body, as the temple of the Spirit, is holy, and that any defilement of it is sin. I will never forget the deep impression it made on me as a young teen when my father took me for a walk with him and told me about the struggle for a pure life and the importance of keeping myself pure for the woman I might find and marry some day. He said to me, "if you are able to live a pure life now, it will be easier for the rest of your life. But if you give in now to personal impurity, it will become harder and harder to withstand temptation, even once you marry.

Parents who want to protect their children from impurity should remember that the discipline of work - whether through chores, exercise, or through other activities - is one of the best safeguards. Children who have been taught to stick to a task and see it through will be better equipped to deal with sexual temptations than children who have been pampered and catered to.

Any misuse of sex cuts us off from our true selves and from each other. Young people underestimate the power of the demonic forces they allow into their lives when they give in to impurity. Take masturbation, for example. As children grow into young men and women, their sexual desire increases, and often their most immediate urge is to seek sexual gratification through masturbation. Increasingly, parents, educators, and ministers of our day claim that masturbation is healthy and natural; many see it as just another form of stress release. And the sexual activity it often leads to, even among children who have barely reached puberty, is considered by some to be normal.

Why are we parents and educators so afraid to speak the truth - to warn our children not only of the dangers of promiscuity but also of masturbation? (Proverbs 5:1ff) Aren't both illnesses of the soul? Don't both desecrate and betray the image of God, and undermine the marriage bond? Masturbation can never bring true satisfaction. It is a solitary act. It is self-stimulation, self-gratification, self-abuse - it closes us within a dream world and separates us from genuine relationships. When it becomes habitual (which it often does), it aggravates isolation and loneliness, and it intensifies feelings of futility and frustration. At its worst, as a breach in the bond of unity and love for which sex is created, it is comparable to adultery. I have counseled many young people who are enslaved by masturbation: they earnestly desire to be freed from their habit, but they fall into it again and again.

A person who struggles with masturbation is often too ashamed to talk about it with anyone. Yet it is important to realize that because shameful acts work in secrecy, their power can only be broken when they are brought to light. Certainly sharing one's burdens and inner feelings with a mentor or pastor can be painful, but this is the only recourse for anyone who wants to become truly free.

People may struggle with masturbation right to the end of their lives. I have counseled men in their eighties who still have not found freedom from it. The question arises whether there is anything one can do to be rid of this curse. My advice to those enslaved to masturbation is to seek strength through prayer. You will not conquer your addiction by will power alone. Before you go to bed at night, turn your thoughts to God and read something of an inner, spiritual nature. Even then the temptation to masturbate can arise. When that happens, find something to take your mind off it - get out of bed and take a walk, or do some household chore. often a simple activity provides the best means to overcome these strong temptations.

Frequently enslavement to masturbation is connected to another form of bondage: pornography. Very few people will admit an addiction to pornography, but the fact that it is a steadily growing billion-dollar industry shows how widespread it is, also among "Christians."

Many people claim that pornography should not be criminalized because it is "victimless." Yet anything that encourages impurity, even in the form of solitary sexual arousal, is a crime because it degrades the human body, which was created in God's image as a temple of the soul (1 Corinthians 6: 19). The so-called lines typically drawn between pornography, masturbation, one-night stands, and prostitution are actually an illusion. All of them are means used to attain sexual satisfaction without the "burden" of commitment. All reduce the mystery of sex to a technique for satisfying lust. And all of them are shameful - the secrecy of those who indulge in them betrays that fact more clearly than anything else (Romans 13:12-13).

Prayer and confession can free us from the burden of impurity. No one can free himself from impurity or any other sin in his own strength. Freedom comes through the attitude of inner poverty, through continually turning to God. The struggle against temptation is in everyone and will always be there, but through prayer and confession, sin can be overcome.

Whenever we let down our guard in the struggle for purity - whenever we allow passion and lust to overcome us - we are in danger of throwing ourselves completely away. Then we will not be able to drive away the evil spirits we have allowed to enter, and the intervention of Christ himself will be needed to bring freedom. Without this, there will be only deepening hopelessness and despair.

In the most extreme instances the desperation brought on by a secret life of impurity ends in suicide. This can only be described as a rebellion against God, a statement that says, "I'm beyond hope - my problems are too big - even for God to handle." Suicide denies that God's grace is greater than our weakness. If we find ourselves in the abyss of despair, the only answer is to seek God and ask for his compassion and mercy. Even when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, God wants to give us new hope and courage, no matter how deeply we feel we have betrayed him. God is always ready to forgive every sin (1 John 1:9); we only need to be humble enough to ask him. When someone is tempted by thoughts of suicide, the most important thing we can do is to show him love - to remind him that each of us was created by and for God, and that each of us has a purpose to fulfill.

To turn from sin and to realize that we are created for God is always a revelation and a joy. If we faithfully face God in our lifetime here on earth, we will recognize the magnitude of our wonderful task, the task of receiving his love and sharing it with others. There is no calling more wonderful. --Johann Christoph Arnold, A Plea for Purity: Sex, Marriage and God, The Plough Publishing Company Farmington, PA 15437, 1998

"Sabotage also happens when we give our strength away. Taking a bribe, letting yourself be bought off, accepting flattery in exchange for some sort of loyalty, is sabotage. Refusing to confront an issue because if you keep quiet you'll get a promotion or be made an elder or keep your job corrupts you down deep. Masturbation is sabotage. It is an inherently selfish act that tears you down. I've spoken with many men whose addiction to masturbation has eroded their sense of strength. So does sexual involvement with a woman you are not married to." --John Eldredge, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul," Thos. Nelson, Nashville, 2001.

17. Masturbation: The History of the Great Terror, by Jean Stengers and Anne Van Neck, Palgrave, NY, 2001 (a very good history of the subject written from a secular point of view).

18. Not Even a Hint, by Josh Harris Multnomah Press, 2003. "Lust isn't just a guy problem-it's a human problem. And unless we're willing to honestly confront it, lust will destroy our relationships and our lives. Joshua Harris, author of the runaway bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye, isn't afraid to tackle a subject many keep quiet. In Not Even a Hint, he calls a generation bombarded with pornography and images of sexual sin back to God's standards and the freedom and joy of holiness. Straightforward about sexual sin without being graphic, this 'PG-rated' book will speak to the person deeply entrenched in lust, as well as to those just flirting with temptation. Honestly sharing his own struggles, Harris exposes the tactics of lust in the heart and shows how to create a personal and practical plan for fighting back. Men and women will find hope in God's grace and learn the secrets to lasting change." (from the author's web site).

19.The Struggle, by Steve Gerali, (2003, NavPress, Colorado Springs) is a very good, thorough analysis of all aspects of masturbation. The author is an experienced youth minister and professor. Recommended.

20. A Christian View of Masturbation (Grantley Morris)

21. A NOTE ABOUT SELF-STIMULANT SEX (MASTURBATION) from True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis, by Daniel R. Heimbach, (Crossway Books, 2004).

Readers may notice, in covering biblical prohibitions in the area of sex, that we have said nothing about any prohibition referring directly to masturbation, the practice by which a person brings himself or herself to orgasm without anyone else involved. This is because even though the Bible lists many prohibitions relating to sex, it says nothing about self-stimulated sex per se.

In the past, some Christians have tied connecting masturbation with God's anger against Onan because "whenever he went into his brother's wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother" (Gen. 38:9). But Onan did not simulate himself. Rather, he had sex with a woman and withdrew on reaching orgasm, so the reason God got angry seems to have had more to do with getting enjoyment from sex with a woman without keeping promises owed :0 his brother than with how Onan went about avoiding his duties.

Because the Bible says nothing directly about self-stimulated sex, many have decided the practice must be moral or should at least be treated as something morally neutral--neither right nor wrong but simply allowed when better forms of sex are not available. But I do not think this is correct, and I disagree mainly because the very nature of masturbation conflicts with biblical thinking on sexual morality in some very important ways.

Of course, we should not make up demands that restrict sex beyond what God requires. Jesus was terribly critical of religious teachers who "tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger [they offer nothing helpful]" (Matt. 23:4). But, while we should respect this important warning, we must also be careful to stand and defend all that God requires. I believe that, even though there is no specific prohibition in the Bible against self-stimulated sex, we are not left to merely do as we please because God has a lot to say about resisting passions of the flesh, and all morally worthy sex has to conform with the seven positive principles addressed in chapter 7.

For example, in scripture we are told to "make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Rom. 13:14); to "not be conformed to this world" but rather to "be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom. 12:2); and "to abstain from the passions of the flesh" because they "wage war against your soul" (1 Pet. 2:11). Furthermore, those who belong to Christ "have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:24), and are urged to "walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other" (vv. 16-17).

Also, I believe it is quite clear that solitary, non-relational, shallow, self-focused, nonproductive, one-dimensional, single-gender, self-stimulated sex opposes every positive moral characteristic revealed to be essential in God's design for sex.

God made sex to be relational, but solitary, self-stimulated sex is never relational. God made sex to be something exclusive, but while solitary self-stimulated sex is exclusive physically, it is not exclusive to another person and it encourages thoughts to wander in ways that are not exclusive at all. God made sex to be profound, but solitary self-stimulation is shallow. God made sex to be fruitful, but solitary self-stimulation treats sex like a commodity rather than a capacity for production. God made sex to be selflessly God-centered, but solitary self-stimulation is self-centered and self-satisfying. God made sex to be multidimensional, but solitary self-stimulation separates physical sex from everything else.

Perhaps most seriously, God made sex to be a joining of complementary sexual differences, but solitary, self-stimulated sex never involves corresponding sexual union. Male passions are aroused by a male himself, and female passions are aroused by a female herself. Solitary, self-stimulated sex is not only non-relational, but is also by nature an act of same-sex arousal and same-sex fulfillment. You are always the same gender as yourself, and imagining a heterosexual relationship does not make the reality heterosexual. Of course, imagining a heterosexual relationship is better than imagining a homosexual relationship, but the reality only actually involves one gender.

Self-stimulated sex may be less seriously outside God's design for sex than, say, physical adultery, or prostitution, or even sexual immodesty. But I believe we still must conclude that it is outside the biblical pattern and is therefore wrong. It is not a sort of behavior that merely falls short of the best but is nevertheless morally acceptable. It cannot be reconciled with God's order to "make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Rom. 13:14), and it truly conflicts with every moral essential in God's view of sex. So, even though there is nothing in the Bible directly prohibiting self-stimulated sex, I believe it is something we must avoid in order to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1).

 A Relevant Quote By C. S. Lewis

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. Do read Charles Williams' Descent into Hell and study the character of Mr. Wentworth.

And it not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination. The true exercise of imagination in my view, is (a) To help us understand other people, (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce art. But is has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions, etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world--e.g., picturing all I'd do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.

(From a letter to a Mr. Masson dated March 6, 1956 in the Wade Collection at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL)

A Postscript

The Ghost, the Lizard, and the Angel

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. "Shut up, I tell you!" he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

"Off so soon?" said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

"Yes. I'm off," said the Ghost. "Thanks for all your hospitality. But it's no good, you see. I told this little chap," (here he indicated the lizard), "that he'd have to be quiet if he came which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won't do here: I realize that. But he won't stop. I shall just have to go home."

"Would you like me to make him quiet?" said the flaming Spirit---an angel, as I now understood.

"Of course I would," said the Ghost.

"Then I will kill him," said the Angel, taking a step forward.

"Oh---ah---look out! You're burning me. Keep away," said the Ghost, retreating.

"Don't you want him killed?"

"You didn't say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that."

"It's the only way," said the Angel whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. "Shall I kill it?"

"Well, that's a further question. I'm quite open to consider it, but it's a new point, isn't it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here---well, it's so damned embarrassing."

"May I kill it?"

"Well, there's time to discuss that later.

"There is no time. May I kill it?"

"Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please---really---don't bother. Look! It's gone to sleep of its own accord. I'm sure it'll be all right now. Thanks ever so much."

"May I kill it?"

"Honestly, I don't think there's the slightest necessity for that. I'm sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it."

"The gradual process is of no use at all."

"Don't you think so? Well, I'll think over what you've said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I'd let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I'm not feeling frightfully well today. It would be silly to do it now. I'd need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps."

"There is no other day. All days are present now."

"Get back! You're burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You'd kill me if you did."

"It is not so."

"Why, you're hurting me now."

"I never said I wouldn't hurt you. I said it wouldn't kill you."

"Oh, I know. You think I'm a coward. But it isn't that. Really it isn't. I say! Let me run back by tonight's bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I'll come again the first moment I can."

"This moment contains all moments."

"Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn't you kill the damned thing without asking me before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had."

"I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?"

The Angel's hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

"Be careful," it said. "He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you'll be without me for ever and ever. It's not natural. How could you live? You'd be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn't understand. He's only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn't for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren't they better than nothing? And I'll be so good. I admit I've sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won't do it again. I'll give you nothing but really nice dreams all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent...."

"Have I your permission?" said the Angel to the Ghost.

"I know it will kill me."

"It won't. But supposing it did?"

"You're right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature."

"Then I may?"

"Damn and blast you! Go on can't you? Get it over. Do what you like," bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, "God help me. God help me."

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.

"Ow! That's done for me," gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialised while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man---an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinnying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.

The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse's neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other's nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse's back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I even knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see there they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.

(From C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 1946)

May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly;
and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24)

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Originated March 5, 1991. Postscript added August 9, 1995. Revised, April 11, 1998, March 17, 1999, June 14, 2000. July 9, 2001, August 23, 2001. January 15, 2002. April 15, 2002. October 4, 2003. December 23, 2003. January 15, 2004. May 22, 2004. January 17, 2005. March 8, 2007.