Young People Ask . . .
Why Is It So Hard to Avoid Masturbation?
“HABITS are like a soft bed—easy to get into but hard to get out of.” So goes one saying. And how true this is of masturbation! One man who practiced it from the age of 10 till he was 43 years old confessed: “This habit is more perturbing than the habit of smoking, which I gave up although it was not easy.”
A previous article showed why masturbation is harmful.* Why, though, do teenagers so easily get involved in this practice?
The Bloom of Youth
An adolescent enters a period of time called in the Bible “the bloom of youth,” when sexual desires become strong. (1 Corinthians 7:36) Since the body is beginning to prepare itself for parenthood, powerful hormones are released that affect the reproductive organs. During this period, a youth becomes aware that these organs are capable of producing pleasurable sensations. At times, curiosity and the novelty of these new, exciting sensations lead some youths to experimenting by deliberately manipulating these organs for additional pleasure or to relieve a high level of arousal.
Because of the changes taking place within his or her body, a youth can become sexually excited even when he or she is not necessarily thinking about sex. Among boys, for instance, the tensions produced by various worries, fears, or frustrations can affect their sensitive nervous systems and cause sexual arousal. A buildup of semen may in turn produce a nocturnal emission (wet dream), usually accompanied by an erotic dream, or cause a boy to awaken sexually excited. Similarly, some young girls may find themselves stimulated accidentally. And a young woman may have a heightened sexual desire just before or after her menstrual period.
If you have experienced such unwanted arousal, there is nothing wrong with you. This is a normal response of a youthful body. Such sensations, even if very intense, are not the same as masturbation, since they are largely involuntary. And as you grow older and pass on through this “bloom of youth,” the intensity of these new sensations will subside.
At times, though, the arousal results from more than just the action of one’s hormones. For instance, the Bible describes a young man who meets a promiscuous woman. She kisses him and says: “Do come, . . . let us enjoy each other with love expressions.” Then what happens? “All of a sudden he is going after her, like a bull that comes even to the slaughter.” (Proverbs 7:7-22) Obviously, this youth’s passions were aroused by what he saw, heard, and experienced—not merely by his hormones! Similarly, one young man admits: ‘The root of my whole problem with masturbation boiled down to what I put in my mind. I would watch TV programs that included immorality and in some cases watch programs on cable TV that would show nudity. Such scenes are so shocking that they stay with you. They would surface again in my mind, providing the mental fuel needed to engage in masturbation.’
So, often it is what one reads, watches, or listens to for entertainment, talks about, or meditates on, that makes it hard to avoid masturbation. Therefore, being careful about what you take into your mind is essential to break this habit. As a 25-year-old woman confessed: “I just couldn’t seem to stop the habit. However, I used to read romance novels, and this contributed to the problem.” Interestingly, it was not simply sexually unclean thoughts that led to her practice of masturbation. Indeed, her experience reveals perhaps the greatest reason why the habit is so hard to break.
An Emotional “Tranquilizer”
The young woman continues: “Usually I masturbated to release pressure, tension, or anxiety. That fleeting pleasure was like the drink the alcoholic takes to calm his nerves.” She is by no means unique. Researchers Suzanne and Irving Sarnoff write: “For some people masturbation may become a habit to which they turn for solace whenever they are rebuffed or feel apprehensive about something. Others, however, may withdraw in this way only occasionally, when they are under the most acute emotional stress.”
Dr. Sherwyn Woods adds: “A high proportion of masturbatory experiences are motivated less by erotic needs than by general anxiety, tension, and boredom for which it becomes a sought-for tranquilizer.” So when one is upset, depressed, lonely, or under much stress this habit becomes a convenient “tranquilizer” to blot out one’s troubles. (Compare Proverbs 31:6, 7.) Therefore, to avoid masturbation, you must recognize this as an immature way to deal with problems and be willing to . . .
‘Put Away the Traits of a Babe’
The apostle Paul wrote: “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) Masturbation is a childish way to react to problems. Once ingrained, these “traits of a babe” can persist in adulthood. As an example, at the age of nine, a boy on one occasion was confronted with a very difficult mathematical problem at school. He first resorted to masturbation to soothe his mind. After that he turned to the habit whenever he could when facing a knotty problem. Now, as an adult, he admits: “To this day, a very hard piece of brain work calls up in me the strongest impulse to masturbate. Without this, I can hardly work.”
While the previous case may be extreme, there is real danger in using this “tranquilizer” to try to sidestep emotionally difficult situations. But rather than mentally escaping through masturbation, show “thinking ability” and attack the problem itself. (Proverbs 1:4) When problems and frustrations seem overwhelming, learn to “throw all your anxiety upon [God], because he cares for you” and understands your plight, even if you feel that no other human does. (1 Peter 5:6, 7) Allow God to help you “to be made mighty in the man [or woman] you are inside with power through his spirit.” (Ephesians 3:16) Rather than weakly resorting to masturbation as a “tranquilizer,” “carry on as men [and women, not as babes], grow mighty.”—1 Corinthians 16:13.
The Sarnoffs in their book Masturbation and Adult Sexuality state: “Regardless of why or how people feel deficient, their decision to masturbate means they are not trying to repair the deficiency through purposeful social activity. . . . True, a person could adopt the general policy of trying both to resolve his problems and to masturbate whenever he experiences their tensions. But the temptation to favor the latter ‘solution’ is very great, since you always carry your body around with you. So it is best to focus on figuring out and implementing real solutions to your problems.” If one masturbates when faced with problems rather than working these out, the habit can become a real compulsion.
“A Very Strong Addiction”
After struggling with masturbation for over 15 years from the time he was 11 years old, one man confessed: “It is a very strong addiction—it is not something to take lightly. It can be just as habit forming as any drug or alcoholic beverage.” The book Your Growing Child by Penelope Leach explains: “The pleasure and relaxation he can get from masturbation has become compulsive because other aspects of his life are intolerable to him. Like a true addict, he must masturbate more and more, and by doing so he increasingly cuts himself off from alternative pleasures.”
The urge to resort to masturbation for sheer pleasure when things are not going well in one’s life can easily cause one to become a ‘senseless slave to various desires and pleasures.’ (Titus 3:3) Yet, the apostle Paul states: “I will not let myself be brought under authority by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) He was not going to let his desires become like a harsh master. On the contrary, Paul wrote: “I pummel my body [fleshly desires] and lead it as a slave.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) He got tough with himself! A similar effort will enable anyone to break free from masturbation—regardless of how hard that is to do.*
See September 8, 1987, issue of Awake!
A future article will discuss just how a person can fight to get free from this habit.
[Picture on page 18]
Watching immoral scenes can provide “mental fuel” for masturbation