The "M" Word (yes, I stole that title)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
So this post is tough for me. This is something that I have had on the back of my mind for many years now but I have only recently (the last 24 hours) spent a decent amount of time thinking about it and researching it. (In comparison, when I came out about my pornography addiction in my post "'It is Finished'", I had thought specifically word-for-word [joke-for-joke] what I would say for at least a week before I wrote it, and even then I waited five days to actually post it.) This post is also tough to write about because not only is it a controversial issue, it is extremely taboo. Christians will do ANYTHING to not talk about The "M" Word.

Note: Due to something that I recently read (I will get to that later), and my firm belief that these subjects should NOT be taboo or secretive, I will from now on speak of the topic openly. No more euphemisms or beating around the bush, I am going to speak my mind as it is. So note that this topic is not for sensitive ears, but I will try to keep this PG-13 topic as PG as possible. And I know that there will be some people that say I went too far, that I said too much, that I made this too personal. Well, you may be right, but this is the level of frankness that is needed to solve this issue (or at least to try to understand it). So feel free to close this browser window at any time, no one is forcing you to read about my personal life.

EDIT: After reading over the entire post, I realize that it is indeed very personal and it probably shouldn't be the topic of public debate. (Public not being the same as open... it should be a topic of open debate, but possibly not a topic for public debate.) In fact, I understand that I probably shouldn't be posting this. But I categorically refuse to be silent about these topics that are ruining people's lives. If Christians (especially pastors) were vocal about these issues, there would be much less of a problem. So, be doubled warned: personal information is ahead. Oh, and know that I have tried to make this post as gender-neutral friendly as possible, even though with the topic it can be rather hard to do so.

Moving on...

The subject I am reluctant to name is masturbation. Recently I had a great talk with a friend as we shared our testimonies. As I alluded to in my "It is Finished" post, I no longer give my testimony without explaining my pornography addiction, which has directly shaped my spiritual life for the past two years. So it makes sense to share it along with the rest of my testimony.

As our conversation was coming to a close, he asked me: "Have you ever read the book Porn-Again Christian?" I said no, and we explained it was a book by pastor Mark Driscoll that was so controversial he cannot find a publisher to publish it. (They don't have to read much past the book's subtitle: "A frank discussion on pornography and masturbation".) Because he could not find a publisher, Driscoll has published the book under a Creative Commons license, which means you have permission to download a copy of the book for free, print it yourself, and share it as you see fit. Go here to read the book online (has hyperlinks for the bible verses, which is nice), download a copy to print, or order a self-published version of the book ($5.64).

Anywho, my friend gave me a copy of the printed out version of the book, and I went home and read most of it it in two hours (it is only 50 pages long). One of the things that sets this book apart is that it lives up to it's subtitle. The language is very frank, often using phrases that are often suited for the locker room. I think that he did this because he doesn't want to be a snuffy professor, an educated theologian, an essay writer. He wants to be "one of the guys", he wants to make a personal connection by using slang. The talk isn't trashy, it isn't perverted, it is just open and frank. It was in this idea that I write this post. Yes, this post is personal and taboo, but all of it is true, and none of it is spoken to get a rise out of you.

But getting back to the book: it starts off with the theoretical (IE: why we are to fear the Lord, and what that has to do with this topic), and then goes to the practical (what stuff is and isn't a sin). For me, most of it was "ya, ya, I know that already", but one of the chapters rekindled a problem that I have been trying to solve.

See, even though I gave up my pornography addiction about five years ago, I have continued to be involved with masturbation. In the past I have done a little research and found some good arguments for and against the topic, but nothing solid, nothing that tipped the scale either way. So since then I have continued this practice without solving for myself the theological side of it. I just thought "as long as I don't lust, it isn't a sin."

But now I am revisiting the topic. For me, there are two questions to answer:
1) Is masturbation inherently a sin or unnatural?
2) If it isn't a sin/unnatural, is it OK to do it as long as you don't lust?

For the first question, most arguments saying it is a sin center around the idea that sex is intended to be done with a partner, not alone. This argument says that "[sexual pleasure] should be for bonding between a man and his wife." (link)

My main rebuttal to this is best put by Mark Driscoll: "Though the practice is as old as the Scriptures, the Bible's silence on the matter should cause us to avoid calling something a sin that God does not." (Page 20) In other words: "Don't put words in God's mouth calling it a sin when he doesn't." In this instance, Mark Driscoll says that "we must examine the issue" and decide for ourselves. This is not an argument that says "The Bible doesn't say it is a sin, therefore it is not a sin," the argument says "the Bible doesn't say, let's figure it out ourselves." (And that is what this post is for.)

My other rebuttal to masturbation = sin is admittedly selfish: "But I want what is mine," meaning: if I have the tools to get something done, and I enjoy doing it, then why not do it? And what about if I never get married? Even Paul says "It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am" (link). And what about homosexuals, who aren't allowed (by religious law) to receive their gratification the way that they want to, and it wouldn't be very biblical for a homosexual to marry simply to have sex, IE: marry without love... are homosexuals bound to live their lives without having an orgasm? (Then again, this logic is flawed: having an orgasm isn't a right, it is a gift from God that not everyone will experience.)

So in the end, I am not convinced that masturbation = sin. I see plenty of evidence for the idea that sex is for married folk, but I see a lack of evidence when talking about self-gratification.

So if masturbation isn't a sin, is it OK to do it if you don't lust? Actually the real question is: is it possible to masturbate without lusting? For a long time I thought I could (and I thought I was), but now that I look back, I am not so sure. John Piper so eloquently said "I cannot imagine sexual orgasm in the loins without sexual image in the mind." (link) The more I go through life, the more I see things his way. I am starting to see that I was only kidding myself when I said I wasn't lusting these last five years. In reality, as Piper said, it is downright near impossible to masturbate without thinking any sexual thoughts.

I will put it another way. A few months ago I posted about the similarities of lust addiction and alcohol addiction. At the time I was thinking about how similar the two addictions are. I would start by thinking "just as a recovering alcoholic can never have a drink again, so a person recovering from a lust addiction can never lust again." I then took it to the next level thinking "recovering alcoholics shouldn't even enter a bar for the rest of their lives as to not tempt themselves..." But so then shouldn't a person recovering from a lust addiction never masturbate again as to not tempt themselves? Why do something that brings me anywhere near the evil that invaded my life for 10 years?

So I agree with Driskoll when he says "It is most certainly possible that a man could masturbate without violating these simple biblical principles, but [it is] highly unlikely." (Page 21)

Moving from the theology to the practical... (This is where it gets rather personal... as I said, I am going to be as honest and open as possible [or as Driscoll called it "frank"], so this section might be TMI.)

In thinking about if I should stop or not, I asked myself: "If you say you aren't lusting, then why are you doing it?" I don't think I do it out of compulsion, meaning I don't do it for no reason. It does have benefits to it. I often use it as a way to relax, a way to unwind. The sexual tension that builds up makes my entire body tense. Seeing as I don't always want to be tense, I want to be able to find something that relaxes me.

Most people (including me) find hot showers to be something that relaxes their tense muscles (to clarify: a hot shower doesn't relieve sexual tension, it relieves tense muscles). To not masturbate would be like for the rest of your life you can only take cold showers. And I don't mean "Oh, the hot water heater is broken" kind of cold, I mean "I have been working at UPS in 30 degree temperature outside for 8 hours, and I get home and all I want to do is warm up and relax with a nice warm shower... what? THERE IS NO HOT WATER?!?!?!?" (sadly, this is a true story) If I were to find something that would be a good substitute to help relieve my sexual tension, then I could make a switch, but so far I haven't found that type of release any other way.

But this is a catch-22. As Mark Driscoll puts it:

...[M]asturbating does temporarily relieve sexual urges and frustrations, but also causes greater and more frequent biological urges for additional ejaculations. Practically, as the body emits semen it then quickly produces more so that supply can keep up with demand. So, a man who masturbates to ejaculation will find himself masturbating with increasing frequency as his body continues to demand more frequent relief, thus negating his original goal of masturbating to relieve sexual frustration. (Page 21, 22)

But moving past the sexual release, it is the best feeling that my body receives. Even before the orgasm, the sensation is pleasurable (foreplay is more than for "getting in the mood"). To not receive that pleasure would be like telling me when I was a kid "no more back scratches from mommy." Oh the humanity! But seriously: that would suck!

Our bodies are built to receive pleasure when certain parts of our bodies are stimulated. (Getting back into the theology...) God designed our bodies to always receive this pleasure, not just when we are married. He might want us to only feel it when we are married, but the opportunity for the physical pleasure is always there... is that proof that we can enjoy this pleasure by ourselves, or is this an example of something that we have to give up for the glory of God?

And I will say, when I would outright lust (IE: look at pornography), I knew it was wrong. There was something (IE: the holy spirit) inside of me SCREAMING that it was wrong. With masturbation, there is some guilt that I have, but it is very small, just a whisper compared to the screaming before. But just as over time your ears will grow more accustomed to hearing a whisper, and thus it sounds louder, so this feeling of guilt (or is it a fear that I am doing something wrong?) has not grown louder, but more audible. Is this the third arm of the trinity speaking to me telling me to stop, is it just my religious side getting worried about things that shouldn't be worried about, or is the guilt that I feel not about the masturbation but about the lust that goes along with it?

So where are we? After 2025+ words and 4 hours of writing and researching [now over 3000 words and an additional 2+ hours of editing], what have we decided? To put it most bluntly: parts of me would be fine giving up masturbation (the part that feels the guilt and shame of breaking my 5-year-old promise to God), but other parts would crave that release (such as the muscles that I can already feeling tense up). To put it another way (this is the first time I am thinking of it in these terms): my spirit says to stop, but my body wants to keep doing it. When you put it THAT way it sounds like an easy decision. (Maybe I should have just put that sentence at the top of this post and gotten over it...)

What are your thoughts? I know that the majority of readers here are married, and I want a married person's opinion for a single guy like me. What should I do, what questions do I need to ask, what answers do I need to look for, where do I go from here? Feel free to leave a reply below (anonymously if you want to) or send me an e-mail with your thoughts. Calling on the phone also works, but talking out loud about such topics is still rather awkward. But however it may be, give me your input, and as always please continue to pray for me as I search out God's truth.

EDIT: So after I wrote the above post I thought about it some more while trying to fall asleep, and I made a random connection: I was thinking how much my life is like Jonah's. Jonah was determined to defy God's orders, so he tried to sail as far away as he could. But God wouldn't be undermined so easily, go God sent a storm to derail Jonah... think about it, God used a huge natural disaster to get one person to go where he wanted. Next God used a large fish to transport Jonah to where he needed to go. After Jonah preached his message to the Ninevites, his faith wavered again, and God sent a plant to shelter Jonah, and finally God sent a worm to kill the plant to teach Jonah one final lesson.

God went from a natural disaster to a large fish to a plant to a worm, all to get the attention of a single man. In our lives, doesn't God work from big to small? Doesn't he get the log out of our own eye before he tries to get the splinter out? (I know, that metaphor doesn't really fit, but it works.) Doesn't it make sense that God would say "Matthew, first we are going to take care of your lust problem... I know that you will continue to sin through masturbation, but there are bigger problems in your life, we will address that issue later."

The more I think about it, the more I soul search, the more I think: God is now addressing the issue.

To sum it all up, I feel a calling from God to stop masturbating. I don't think that it is inherently a sin, but it is not something that I should be doing because of my past lusting problems. Please pray for me while I struggle with the spiritual decision and the physical withdrawal.


PS: My boss said that as long as I am working on this post at work I have to do what he says. (He only knows I am writing a long post, he doesn't know what it is about.) So, here you go Bryan: "Just call me muffins!" (don't ask)

PPS: You know, if I were to find myself a wife this entire issue would be moot... or at least more moot.

PPPS: Final word count (including this post script): 3068


Matt said...

HOLY CRAP!!! That's a long post! I look forward to reading it though... when I have time ;-)

Anonymous said...

This is a very good post. I agree with much of what you said, and I especially encourage your continued pursuit of closing on something solid with this issue. Your process of treating this topic seriously and looking for advice to build your belief system is excellent.

There is one thing I can add from a married perspective, which doesn't apply to you in my opinion, but you asked for it and it will help complete the arguments on the topic. If, in a married situation, masturbation causes you to be less sexually active with your spouse then they desire, then masturbation can be getting in the way of your relationship in a negative way. That is, if you use-up your sexual interest/energy with masturbation and then aren't "in the mood" when your spouse is, you have done a disservice to your spouse, especially if you do this without open and honest communication about it. Masturbation that is hidden from your spouse, if it takes the place of sexual encounters with your spouse, is probably a symptom of problems in your sexual relationship that need to be resolved. In my opinion, most things that are hidden from your spouse can be symptoms of something that needs to be resolved, but I personally have a large need for and belief in intimacy, unity, companionship.

With your permission, I would like to ask our pastor to read and comment on this post. He has mentioned this topic several times and seems to have a solid theoretical argument about it. I am also interested in his advice and basis for this topic.

A recent sermon from our Pastor mentioned this topic, but it wasn't the primary focus of the talk. Nonetheless, you might like to hear it; it focuses more on having moral margins in your life that leave space between you and moral boundaries (mostly including sexual/relational advice).

Now that I look for the sermon, it isn't posted on the website yet, but here's the link to the list of sermons. It should appear at the end of the Miracle of Margin series near the top when it is posted.

Katanna said...

As an open discussion, I appreciate any feedback, especially from a pastor... I would love to hear what your pastor thinks.


Matt said...

I do not have a good answer either. This is one of those topics on which the Bible is frustratingly silent.

I certainly agree with Anon. If masturbation is a way to avoid sexual intimacy with your spouse (deliberately or inadvertently), then it is a sin just as much as any avoidance of intimacy would be.

I really appreciate your frank discussion of this topic and the honesty to say "the Bible doesn't say." There are many things that we call sin that the Bible doesn't and it's important to make that distinction. For me, I just decided that it was a selfish habit that did not glorify God in my life. It was as simple as that. Not easy, but simple.