Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Fight the Habit of Masturbation?
“THE way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air,” wrote the Christian apostle Paul. (1 Corinthians 9:26) He compared the struggle to control his desires to being in a boxing match. A boxer whose blows hit only air will soon lose the fight. Therefore, to fight successfully against the habit of masturbation, a person must know how properly to direct his efforts, or “blows.”*
“Prepare Your Minds for Action”
The battle against masturbation is fought in our mind. Hence, the Bible recommends: “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled.” (1 Peter 1:13, New International Version) For instance, we may happen to notice something that is sexually stimulating. The mind is inclined to dwell on such thoughts and let passion develop. (Matthew 5:28) When that occurs, our bodies tend toward sexual activity. The longer our minds dwell on the wrong thought, the more this physical process escalates to higher phases of excitement. Eventually, the level of arousal may lead to masturbation. But the mind must exert itself and reject the immoral thought. If it does so, then the arousal soon dies down and any discomfort because of body tension fades.
Rejecting bad thoughts, though, is difficult, especially when one is alone at night. A 17-year-old youth thus explains what steps he takes: “First of all, I try to ‘change the subject’ so as to get my mind off the thoughts that cause the stimulation. Also, realizing that the urge is going to go away eventually makes it easier.” “Changing the subject” may require more than just mental effort. One young woman adds: “The best thing to do is get right out of bed and get busy with some type of work, or maybe have a little snack, so that your mind turns to other things.” Yes, force yourself to ‘continue considering whatever things are of serious concern, righteous, chaste, lovable, well spoken of, virtuous, and praiseworthy.’—Philippians 4:8.
When you have difficulty falling asleep, endeavor to imitate faithful King David, who wrote: “When I have remembered you [God] upon my lounge, during the night watches I meditate on you.” (Psalm 63:6) Forcing our minds to ponder on God and his qualities will often break the spell. “You lovers of Jehovah, hate what is bad,” wrote the psalmist. (Psalm 97:10) It is not easy to hate a practice that brings such momentary fleshly pleasure, but keep thinking of how God views this unclean habit. However, you must also . . .
Take Preventive Measures
“Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty,” wrote the inspired wise man. (Proverbs 22:3) According to the original Hebrew word, “shrewd” in this instance means “quickness, readiness of mind or understanding.” Such a person exercises forethought and knows what will make a situation worse. Therefore, if you find that certain activities, types of clothing, or foods have caused you to become sexually stimulated, then by all means avoid such.* Avoid like the plague any reading matter, TV programs, or movies with sensuous themes. Don’t keep looking at such things. “Make my eyes pass on from seeing what is worthless,” prayed the psalmist. (Psalm 119:37) Such sensuous sights will be stored in your mind and often resurface when you are alone.
Especially is it necessary to take steps to ‘conceal yourself’ from future problems at times when you may be emotionally hurt or down, perhaps depressed. “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty,” warns Proverbs 24:10. Knowing that during such times your resistance is lowered, or “scanty,” try to arrange your affairs as much as possible to avoid being alone for long periods of time. Plan a full schedule of upbuilding activities that will keep your mind involved in challenging undertakings, giving it less opportunity to gravitate to immoral thoughts. Then be especially careful about what you allow to fill your mind. A woman whose desires become more intense at certain times of the month should likewise use practical wisdom to cope with the added problems.
While applying the foregoing suggestions will help, most individuals who have successfully fought this bad habit found that the real solution was rooted in a strong spiritual offensive.
A Spiritual Offensive
A 27-year-old man who had struggled with the habit since he was 11 finally was able to gain the victory. How? First of all, he carefully avoided pornography. “Then it was a matter of going on the offensive by utilizing all my spiritual tools,” he explained. “I read the Bible, at least two chapters every single day without exception.” He has done this without fail for three years.
Other Christians who have had difficulty overcoming this habit have admitted that their waning personal study of God’s Word was definitely a contributing factor. “During one period, I had an especially strong desire to masturbate,” reported one Christian whose problem with masturbation continued after marriage. “There was pressure from my job and from so many other things that my personal study began to suffer. I saw the need to study more. This helped, and thankfully I overcame the desire with no relapse.”
“Having plenty to do in the work of the Lord,” such as in the work of teaching others the Bible, also helps. (1 Corinthians 15:58) One woman who overcame masturbation stated: “One thing that now really helps me to avoid this habit is that as a full-time evangelizer my mind and energies are all turned toward helping others to gain an approved relationship with God.”
Finally, to assist in maintaining self-control during the nighttime, one Christian advises: “Before going to bed, read something related to spiritual things. It is very important that the last thought of the day be a spiritual one. Prayer at this time is also extremely helpful.”
The Vital Role of Prayer
Yes, successfully fighting this bad habit requires “power beyond what is normal.” This comes from God. (2 Corinthians 4:7) By heartfelt prayers, you can beg God for this power. “Before him [God] pour out your heart,” wrote the psalmist. (Psalm 62:8) God promises that those who approach him with “freeness of speech” will find that he will give them “help at the right time.” (Hebrews 4:16) One young Christian woman who was troubled with this habit reported: “Prayer is an instant tower of strength. Praying at the time the desire arises definitely helps.” Also, upon rising and throughout the day, express your resolve to God and plead for his strengthening holy spirit.—Luke 11:13.
Earnest prayers will draw you closer to God, and then God becomes very real and a personal Helper. Reflecting on your friendship with God and desiring to maintain “freeness of speech” is essential. However, at times a person will hold back from prayer either out of shame or because he finds the sexual arousal so pleasing that he does not want to stop. That is when such feelings must be resisted. The Bible says: “Persevere in prayer.” By supplicating God—begging for help at that moment—a person will usually find that the wrong impulse will fade.—Romans 12:12.
Help From Others
If your personal efforts are not successful and you really want to win, then speak to someone who can help, such as a parent or a person who is spiritually qualified. One young man who was losing his struggle with masturbation reached the point of total despair. “I talked privately with my father one evening about it,” he revealed. “It took everything I had to tell him. I cried as I told him, I was so ashamed. But I’ll never forget what he said. With a reassuring smile on his face, he said: ‘You make me so proud of you.’ He knew what I had to go through to get to that point. No words could have lifted my spirits and determination more.
“My father then showed me a few scriptures to help me see that I was not ‘too far gone,’” continued the youth, “and then some more scriptures to be sure I understood the seriousness of my wrong course. He said to ‘keep the slate clean’ until a certain time, and we would discuss it again then. He told me not to let it crush me if I relapsed, just go a longer period of time without giving in the next time.” After overcoming the problem fully, the young man added: “Having someone else aware of my problem and helping me was the greatest benefit.”
Seeking the help of an elder in the Christian congregation has also been a great help to many. Women who may feel uncomfortable discussing such intimate problems with a male have often found it helpful to confide in a mature Christian woman. (Titus 2:3, 4) The helpful knowledge of these individuals will reinforce your own efforts to wage a successful fight against masturbation. How true is the Bible proverb: “A man [or woman] of knowledge is reinforcing power. For by skillful direction you will carry on your war, and in the multitude of counselors there is salvation”!—Proverbs 24:5, 6.
Dealing With a Relapse
After working hard to overcome the habit, one youth suffered a relapse. He admitted: “It was like a crushing weight on me. I felt so unworthy. I then rationalized: ‘I’m too far gone. I don’t have Jehovah’s favor anyhow, so why be tough on myself?’” However, a relapse does not mean that one has lost the fight. One 19-year-old girl who struggled with the habit for five years explained: “At first it happened about every night, but then I began relying on Jehovah more, and with the help of his spirit I now only fail maybe six times a year. I feel very bad afterward, but each time I fail, when the next temptation comes, I’m much stronger.” So gradually she is winning her fight.
When a relapse occurs, analyze what led up to it. One youth, when she had a relapse, admitted: “I pray for forgiveness, and I review what I have been reading or thinking about. Almost always I can pinpoint the reason I slipped. This way I can stop doing that and correct it.” By keeping a check on the frequency of any relapses, an individual can monitor his or her progress.
The Rewards of a Good Fight
When he finally overcame masturbation, one young man said: “It was as if a huge weight had been lifted.” Another Christian youth reported: “Since overcoming the problem, I can keep a clean conscience before Jehovah, and that is something that I wouldn’t trade for anything!”
Yes, a good conscience, an improved sense of personal worth, a better use of your time and emotional energies, a less likely chance of committing sexual immorality, and a closer relationship with God are all rewards of a good fight against masturbation. “I now experience a great joy because I feel ‘in control’ of myself after such a long struggle with myself,” stated one young woman who had considered herself “addicted” to masturbation. “I now know the importance of hating what Jehovah hates. The biggest help was to reflect on my relationship with him. I saw how foolish it would be to let masturbation ruin the most worthwhile relationship I’ve ever had. Believe me, the victory over this habit is well worth the effort put forth.” In this way, too, one should follow the counsel of the apostle Paul at 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, which says, in part: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”
The September 8 and November 8, 1987, issues of Awake! showed why the habit is so hard to break but why Christians should resist it.
The Encyclopædia Britannica (1946), when discussing what can allay sexual desire, mentions: “Avoidance of a diet rich in meats and spices, and especially of intoxicating beverages, is important.” Alcoholic drinks can lower one’s inhibitions and make self-control harder.
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To fight the habit of masturbation successfully requires that one (1) reject erotic thoughts, (2) go on the spiritual offensive through good study habits, (3) pray to God for help at the right time, and (4) in some cases, talk to a mature Christian about the problem