Masturbation, desire, want … good or bad?

Photo by Paul Kelly

Photo by Paul Kelly

Here is an exchange between a reader and I on the issue of masturbation … one of the MOST contentious topics in the intersection of sexual health and religion.

Reader: “I agree that education about sexuality is important, that we need to teach younger generations about the implications of love and sexuality and as Christians, the importance of the context that God designed it to reside. I am angry, however, as of late about the doctrines that are rising up advocating sexual self-gratification. Calling it good, normal, or even going so far as calling it an act of worship is offensive to me. Perhaps my “dogmatic” upbringing is responsible for this, but I strongly feel that masturbation can not be used to bring glory to anyone, especially God.  I heavily believe that the act of sexuality is meant to be a means of showing someone else of your great love to them. Masturbation is a completely selfish act that draws you in like an addiction. It reflects itself in our relationships today as well, whereas much council is more focused on “What can I get from this experience?” “Why isn’t this person making ME happy?” I see masturbation as a reflection of this extremely self-centered, narcissistic movement.”

TSS:  “Thank you for your comment.  I appreciate your honesty and can see I have struck a cord.  Completely understandable.  Far too many people have been hurt by the misuse of all forms of body pleasures – sex, substances, materialism, money, power, etc.  Sexuality has been fraught by silence and condemnation in the church creating remarkable vulnerability for anyone (Christian or not) to absorb the market driven message of sex.  Advertisers say – “sex sells – ‘it’ is for your pleasure without regard for other, community, God; people can be used for your pleasure; you can’t help it and you are not responsible for the effects.”

“From my clinical experience, I would say the vast majority of people have deep sexual wounds from all kinds of self-serving, secretive, abusive, irresponsible and/or ignorant sexual experiences and from the shame and self-condemnation they have absorbed living with these dark painful secrets.”

“Masturbation in and of itself is no more evil or the cause of an addiction as wine is evil or the cause of alcoholism.  I realize that what I am proposing is controversial and quite a departure from the ‘behavior’ oriented sexual ethic instituted since the beginning of the organized Christian church (“Don’t do this or that behavior”).  However, I contend that this ‘behavior’ focused sexual ethic is no more Christian than the idea that women shouldn’t lead men or priests should be celibate. God created a desire in us for pleasure and we see in Jesus ministry a celebration of pleasure both with wine (Jn 2:1-11) and with sensuality of the body used to anoint, worship and love (Luke 7:36-50).  The issue is the intent in and experience through the act of pleasure.  The pleasure in both of these stories illustrates examples of how pleasure is directed toward an honoring of the individual people, the relationships between people and a relationship with and before God.  The act of pleasure is not the culprit or issue – it is the attitude of the heart, intent of the behavior, and effect of the behavior on self and others that determines if the behavior was self-serving and used to hurt others or is used to honor and express gratefulness in the gifts of pleasure and even become expressions of worship.”

“Children seek pleasurable genital touch in-utero and from the moment they discover their genitals when they are naked or when their diapers are off.  This pleasurable touch is instinctual and is no more or less good than the pleasure a child might seek rubbing the corner of her blanket or the soft inside of the ear of his favorite stuffed animal.  Is this addiction?  Is this touch inherently bad? No.  We must look at the intent and their developmental age/stage. And we must teach them, at each stage, to notice what is pleasurable, learn all gifts are from their loving God and creator, learn about intent, effect and the responsibility we bear in all our words and all our behaviors. We need to model and teach that we all have a responsibility to use our life, gifts and desires to honor ourselves, our relationships, our community and our God.”

“My dear friend – this is not a “doctrine advocating self-sexual gratification” without regard to other or God.  This is an idea very much seeped in self-control.  Any behavior I might desire to do that would only serve me while also hurting me, others and/or turns my back on God would be avoided.  These experiences while momentarily pleasurable ultimately leave you feeling isolated, ashamed and empty.  Our sexuality is too wonderful a gift to cover in shame or pain. People who masturbate in secret to porn or images where they are using another without regard for the other and where their back is turned to God, may appear to be acting in self-serving narcissistic ways.  But don’t kid yourself, they are simultaneously wounding themselves – while also denigrating the intended gift in sexual pleasure.  Just as Aaron’s son’s were turned to ash when they did not prepare their hearts and bodies to enter into the presence of God, people all over this country are destroying their gift of sexual desire and sexual expression while causing immeasurable pain to themselves and others … inside and outside of marriage.”

“Let me contrast this empty expression of sexual pleasure with a story of masturbation that honors self, other and God.  I had a client a while ago, a woman in her 40’s who had lost her husband to cancer two years prior.  She had two children 10 and 12.  She was working very hard at two jobs to keep life stable and calm for her grieving family.  All her energy went into her home, her kids and her work and often it felt like this new life required more resources than she had.  After about two years she began to notice how much she missed the companionship and loving touch she had known in her marriage.  As stress dropped to more manageable levels and her depression lifted, she began to feel her body’s desire for touch and the release of orgasm.  However, she was not ready to date and did not feel she could even find the time until her boys were older.  She decided to begin a nourishing and prayerful ritual in her bathtub each night before she went to bed as a way to honor her hard work, express gratefulness to God for their continued sustenance and health and to wash away stress and hardship. This ritual included many pleasures – warm water, lavender bath salts, candle-light, soft music, contemplative prayer and often masturbation.  She described this evening ritual as helping her stay connected to her life, God, her body, and her hopes for the future.  This was not addiction.  While nourishing herself (mind/body/soul) it was not entirely self-serving either.  This ritual honored her commitment to her children, it invited God’s presence and elicited gratefulness.  She was single and wanted to remain that way for now – and this was a way to celebrate the life she was living.”

“It is not the behavior of masturbation that is evil, nor is it the feeling of desire.  It is how it is expressed that determines if it fulfills God’s intention to nourish and bless us while inviting us into communion with the ultimate Lover.”

About Tina Schermer Sellers, PhD

Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers is a recognized scholar in the integration of spirituality into a multitude of areas represented in family and career life. As a behavioral scientist, licensed family therapist, medical family therapist, and certified sex therapist, she specializes in helping to craft relationships, organizations and lives that flourish. In the area of sexuality, Tina has spent a career helping people discover what culture has failed to teach them about their bodies, their hearts, their capacity for intimacy and their erotic potential.
This entry was posted in God, parenting, Sex, Sex Ed, Sex, God, and The Church, sexual health, sexuality, spirituality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Masturbation, desire, want … good or bad?

  1. High Priestess Moon says:

    This is the most well written, heart warming, soul wrenching and identifying response to such a question I have ever read! This is amazing. Your words were factual, statistical, spiritual and logical! Although not a member of the Church, I used to be. I have wanted to find a way to approach this very topic with women who ARE in the church and show them respect. This nailed it!

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I would love to hear your musings!

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