Today we’re talking about masturbation. Masturbation is another word for sexual self-stimulation. So instead of somebody else stimulating you with their body in the context of a relationship, it's contained. It's you on your own, stimulating yourself with your own body.
If I’m an expert in anything, it’s masturbation…and not just because I've had years of experience, even though that sounds weird! I say I’m an expert because of my research. When I was a teenager, some people told me, “Masturbation is fine. It’s perfectly normal–just don't do it too much.” And other people told me, “Masturbation is from the devil! Cut it out of your life.” So I was like, okay, who should I believe? That’s why in grad school, while I was doing my own research on sexual development and Christ-like sexuality, I looked at all the theology, all the psychology, spiritual formation, and brain science on the topic. I examined all the arguments for masturbation and against masturbation.
And this is what I found: it's not black and white. This issue is complex and Christians disagree about it. There's no one Bible verse that talks about masturbation and sets the record straight. And yet I believe it’s relatively straightforward. So I have good news for you today. If you're confused about masturbation and you're wondering, “Is it always sinful? Can it be healthy?” today you will learn 10 things:
MYTH #1: “Masturbation is always evil.” This is just not true. When I was in college beginning to get free from masturbation, I experienced this. I'd be at the gym working out, doing an ab exercise, and begin to feel my body get sexually excited.
There was no fantasy involved, there was no lust involved. I was just doing my reps and by the end of it I would ejaculate in my pants. I know that's pretty graphic for some of you, but it illustrates my point: masturbation is not always evil. Although I was technically intentionally stimulating myself, there was no lust involved and I believe there was no sin involved.
MYTH #2: “Masturbation is always good.” For me personally, masturbation led to objectification, addiction, and even erectile dysfunction. When I first discovered it, I remember I was swimming in a pool and I had this strange feeling come over my body. It was stimulating. It was kind of exciting and it was strange too. So when I got in the bed that night, I explored it and ejaculated for the first time.
I felt a vague sense of guilt and shame. I found out it was masturbation. I didn’t tell my parents, but I called my aunt–you know, that cool aunt who can answer your questions and give you advice with a little bit of distance. So I called her and she said, “Masturbation is totally fine. It's normal. Just don't do it too much.” And for me as a 13 year old boy, that opened the gates for me to objectify all the girls that I thought were pretty. And eventually that was a gateway to porn addiction. Later on, when I got married, even though I had had a lot of recovery in a lot of freedom from porn, at that time, my body was still conditioned sexually to respond to myself, so I experienced erectile dysfunction for a few months.
MYTH #3: “Masturbation is just as bad as porn.” Now at a level of motivation in your heart, this might be true. If you're lusting after somebody and seeking to sexually use them, then masturbation and “porn plus masturbation” can be pretty much the same, but the consequences are far different. Porn is much more highly addictive and it causes more damage in your brain than just masturbation by itself with your own imagination.
In relationships, porn is much more damaging as well. If you're married to somebody and you struggle with masturbation, that's not going to create the same feeling of betrayal as struggling with pornography. It does much more damage to your relationships.
At a global level, if you're just masturbating in your room by yourself, that's not contributing to human trafficking or sexual exploitation directly. If you're involved in porn and you're consuming pornography, you are actually directly contributing to the industry and the system that supports sexual slavery.
There are global social implications to using porn. There are not those implications with masturbation, so they're not the same. While the motivation might be the same, the consequences for using porn while you masturbate aren't much higher.
MYTH #4: “Masturbation is a basic human need.” The argument kind of goes like this: “If I'm physically hungry and I feed myself food, that's not selfish or sinful. I'm just satisfying a basic human need. So if I'm sexually hungry and I feed myself sexually through masturbation, that's not sinful or selfish; that's just satisfying my basic human need.” But hunger for food and hunger for sex are not the same. If you go two months without eating any physical food, you will be in danger of losing your life. If you go two months without any sexual stimulation, you might feel like like this is unbearable, but your body knows what to do if you go that long.
If you go 60 days or more without masturbating, eventually your body will provide some kind of release, whether that's a wet dream or whether it's an “abgasm" while you're working out, like I talked about before, or whether it's just through your urine. I'm telling you: your body knows what to do.
That hunger for sex that we think everybody needs is actually usually a hunger for intimacy. Hunger for closeness, for connection in relationships. Anybody can live without sex, but nobody can live without intimacy and close relationships. That's what we're designed for as humans. That's God's design for sex and for sexuality: to lead us into intimacy. So yes, there is a basic human need–for intimacy, not masturbation.
MYTH #5: “I can stop anytime I want!” That's what I thought in high school: “I know I masturbate a lot, but I can stop whenever I want, right?”
Wrong. If you think you can stop whenever you want, just based on your own willpower, try going two months without sexually stimulating yourself and see what happens. See if you can do it. Let me know. Email [email protected] and I would love to hear your story.
MYTH #6: “I will be fine once I get married!” We have this notion of marriage as a sexual outlet: “Once I get married, then all of my sexual desires will be satisfied and I'll have an outlet for all my urges and I'll have a release for all my sexual desires.” No you will not! That's not how a relationship works. When I got married, I didn't realize that if you have babies, there will be months with zero sexual stimulation with no outlet for an orgasm. You are going to feel the urge to masturbate as a married person. I don't know if anyone's ever told you that before, but it will come up. Marriage will not solve the problem.
So let me set the record straight about these six myths. Masturbation is not always evil. It's not always good either. It's not just as bad as porn (in terms of the consequences). And it's not a basic human need. You can't stop anytime you want and marriage is not going to solve it. So I've deconstructed a lot for you. Now what can you hold on to? I want to give you three truths.
TRUTH #1: Masturbation is isolated. It requires no relationship. There is no intimacy involved. You're by yourself, you're on your own, and that is a setup for addiction. Isolation fuels addiction. Intimacy fuels freedom. And intimacy is what sex and sexuality are all about. Isolation is what the enemy wants. It feeds secrecy, it feeds lies, it feeds depression and anxiety and ultimately self-hatred.
TRUTH #2: Masturbation is immediate. It requires no work. There's no delay involved. It's immediate gratification. You can have it anytime you want, whenever you want, and in my opinion, this is also super dangerous because if you want to learn how to become an adult, I think the number one skill you need is delayed gratification. Masturbation conditions you to get what you want immediately; that keeps you like a little kid. Sexual behavior has become your pacifier.
TRUTH #3: Masturbation is immature. if you can have it whenever you want, however you want for whatever reason you want, and it's the same thing that you've been doing since were a nine year old boy or a 13 year old boy, masturbation is sexually stunting your development. It is keeping you from becoming the man you were created to be. And that is why I'm so passionate about helping Christian men who want to be free from their unwanted sexual behavior, which usually involves masturbation.
Here is my number one tip: outgrow it! This is what I want you to do. If masturbation is isolating and immediate and immature, I want you to outgrow it like a pacifier. See this as something that your life will be better without. And when you don't need it anymore, you will be a better human being. You will be a more Christ-like person. You will be free to do more of what God has created you to do.
If you're unsure about whether your particular version of masturbation is on the healthy side or the unhealthy side, try taking my free quiz: The Masturbation Meter: