Thursday, August 04, 2005

Masturbation

I was listening to different versions of Phillip Jensen's talks on "Love, Sex and Marriage", when Phillip started speaking, unprompted, about masturbation. It's interesting that in all those churchy talks about singleness, dating/courtship, marriage or divorce, hardly anyone talks about the act which, as I am given to understand, is as universal as sunlight and as old as civilisation.

If we are to conform our minds more and more to God's, then we should be informed what his will is in all situations. So is masturbation wrong? I had a good friend who became a priest and is now a popular speaker at Catholic conventions. While in junior college, he was firmly against masturbation, convinced that it was impure and a temptation of the devil. In that context, he started the Big M club to help people give up this filthy habit. It flopped miserably.

What is the Creator's view on masturbation?

Phillip makes some very good points:
  • Masturbation is never mentioned in the Bible.
  • One of the words in the English language for masturbation is "onanism". That is a completely incorrect reading of Genesis 38 which contains the story of Onan. "Onan was not masturbating. The failure of Onan was a failure to fulfil his responsibility to the widow of his brother, for the responsibility in Israel was that if a man was to die childless, it was the responsibility of his brothers to provide a child for him by having sexual relations with his widow. Onan failed in that responsibility as did the father-in-law fail in that responsibility by giving the third son to fulfil the responsibility for the woman. Which is why she then tricked her father-in-law to doing it. She was more righteous than her father-in-law. You'll notice that the bible doesn't pull back from pretty degenerative, unseemly stories. Onan's failure was a sexual intercourse interruption, it has absolutely nothing to do with masturbation. But it was wrong in its failure in the responsibility of relationship. But it does help us also to see that the problem is not the sex act itself. That is where we've come off the rails a bit. We think of the sex act rather than the relationship. The sexual act is something we share with animals. What marks humans as different is the relationship in which we do that sexual act. The faithfulness, the love, the care that they exercise towards the partner, the use of sex to help that relationship – it's that which marks us out as different from animals."
  • Since masturbation is never condemned in the scriptures, even though the Bible is explicit about all other sexual perversions, even down to bestiality, (which is far less frequent than masturbation) masturbation is not mentioned. Therefore we should be wary of condemning that which God has not condemned.
  • Within marriage, it can be a way of caring for our partners – overcoming in periods of pregnancy, sickness, periods of long enforced absence. There are times in a relationship when masturbation can be used to handle the differing libido pressures of the partners. Within marriage, there is mutual masturbation which may be helpful because of medical reasons etc.
  • On our own as singles, it can be helpful for people waiting for the right partner to come along – it can be used for good in people's ways of relating for their future and for their present. To masturbate without any sexual feeling would be a little strange. However, the sexual dreams and desires that we can have while masturbating can either be degenerate and therefore unhelpful to us or can be wholesome, and therefore helpful to us. What is helpful is to use our imagination for good and not for evil, even and especially in sexual activity. This extends to the area of intercourse. What is going through he mind of a person who is in the activity of intercourse can be degenerate and wicked, or can be loving, kind and wonderful. It's important that what takes place in our mind is positive, not negative. When we need to masturbate, we don't need to think of a degenerate, immoral relationship in order to be aroused. We can think positively about relationships and love etc and faithful sex within a marriage context with our marriage partner. And it's important to do so.
  • One of the areas of difficulty in masturbation is lust. Before marriage and even while we are dating, we must be careful treat each other with absolute purity. This means that the sexual thoughts that accompany our masturbation should not be the lusts of our eyes (Matthew 5:27-30) or dreams of a certain person that we fancy, even our girlfriends/boyfriends.
But pornography is always wrong because pornography de-personalises. It uses and abuses, often with the mindset of sadism or masochism as the case may be. It's destructive of our relationship – placing our sexual feelings in a sinful context. But masturbation does not need to involve pornography.

The main point is: the physical activity isn't the central concern. The relationship and the manner in which you enjoy the physcial activity is. For example, the marriage between a widow and her brother-in-law was commanded by God in the Old Testament. It was incestuous, but it was using sex in order to have children for the deceased brother. Therefore it was the loving thing to do. So it's not the sex act that God was on about, it's the relationship in which we have that sex act. So within a faithful marriage, we can use our sexuality to help, encourage, love and care for each other.

In Pure Sex, Phillip and Tony note that God's purposes for sex are for companionship and procreation. So while masturbation cannot be a satisfactory alternative to sex, it can be a fairly neutral "coping mechanism" to be used by individuals in times of sexual pressure or frustration, provided of course this is done without committing lust.

It's not masturbation that's wrong, it's the context and mindset in which it happens.

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