When I was in college, I had two friends who met weekly to hold each other accountable. They met in the student center. Not exactly the best place to have privacy.
But they were resourceful, so they came up with code words to use when talking about those challenges that were more sensitive or embarrassing.
One code I remember was that instead of saying masturbation they’d substitute McDonald’s. I can only imagine what those sitting nearby thought overhearing their conversation:
“So, how’d your week go?”
“Not so good. I ended up going to McDonald’s three times.”
“That’s too bad, but thanks for your honesty. I’ll be praying you can avoid McDonald’s next week.”
As humorous as this was, I remember appreciating what these guys were trying to do. Er, trying not to do.
The Bible never overtly declares masturbation a sin, but traditionally Christianity has disapproved of it because it works contrary to God’s design for sex.
Where sex is designed to bring husband and wife together as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), masturbation uses the sexual function in isolation. Where sex is designed to be a physical expression of mutual self-giving love within marriage, masturbation is a person using his or her own body for self-centered gratification. And where sex is designed with the potential to produce new life, masturbation has no life-giving potential. In other words, although Scripture doesn’t overtly state masturbation is sin, you’d have a difficult time making the case that masturbation is something the Bible blesses.
In addition, in real life, lust usually accompanies masturbation—either through fantasy or pornography, and Scripture is clear that lust is sinful.
Where love sees a whole person, lust uses a person’s body, or a part of a person’s body, as an object for selfish sexual gratification.
Jesus said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
Looking beyond Scripture, in my years of walking with men and women seeking relational health, I’ve found that in a real way, masturbation trains people toward a life they don’t want.
- Masturbation trains a person to move toward isolation when needing connection, comfort, courage, or well-being.
- Masturbation trains a person to make sex all about him or herself.
- Masturbation trains a person to enjoy sexual pleasure “on demand.”
- Masturbation releases pleasurable chemicals into the brain and body—chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. These chemicals serve as a very real “reward,” so that without realizing it, a person who returns to masturbation is conditioned over time to seek it out as a way to respond to the normal difficulties of life: stress, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, disappointment, etc.
Whether you’re married, celibate, or single with hopes of marrying, can you think of any context in which training yourself in these ways would be helpful to you, your health, or your relationships?
So far, I’ve written about why I think it’s worthwhile to abstain from masturbation. But what about how? How does a person learn to abstain? There’s no one road map, but here’s a place to begin:
- Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle. As I said earlier, this can become a difficult habit to break, and beating yourself up won’t help you to stop. I love what the late John White wrote about it in his book Eros Redeemed:
“By all means ask God to help you, but do not focus too much on this one thing. Focus on positive virtues like loving your neighbor as yourself. Or if you focus on sin, think of someone you may have hurt this week—by your sarcasm, your coldness, your forgetfulness, your laziness, your lack of tact and courtesy. Then confess these and set them right…. Thank him, too, for the day when you will be master of your sexual drives. Though it tarry, it will come, if you let God be master in other areas of your life.”
- Look deeper than the behavior. As I wrote above, habitual masturbation can be a way you’ve learned to cope with normal pains and difficulties in life. As you discover what you’re trying to medicate with sexual pleasure, you can then begin practicing healthier ways to respond to the troubles that come with life in a fallen world.
- Turn to Jesus. This may sound cliché, but it’s actually very important. Masturbation is a turning inward, it’s posturing yourself toward yourself as a way to feel better, cope with life, escape, or be in control. Turning to Jesus means turning instead toward your Maker and Savior. And He is well aware of your struggle and is always with you.
- Similarly, turn to trusted friends for support, prayer, and accountability. Preferably, meet with one or two trusted friends in private where you can talk freely and code-free, and where you can pray for each other. In addition to accountability, though, practice bringing your real needs to God and others, rather than remaining in isolation.
Regeneration is here to help.
This might be a sensitive question, but if you have experience gaining freedom from this or a another habit, what other advice would you give?