Masturbation—How Serious Is It?
“I’m wondering if masturbation is wrong in the eyes of God. Will it affect my physical and/or mental health in the future and if I ever get married?”—Fifteen-year-old Melissa.
THESE thoughts have plagued many youths. The reason? Masturbation is widespread. Reportedly, some 97 percent of males and more than 90 percent of females have masturbated by the age of 21. Furthermore, this practice has been blamed for all manner of ills—from warts and red eyelids to epilepsy and mental illness.
Twentieth-century medical researchers no longer make such alarming claims. Indeed, doctors today believe that no physical illness is caused by masturbation. Researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson add that “there is no established medical evidence that masturbation, regardless of frequency, leads to mental illness.” Nevertheless, there are other ill effects! And many Christian youths are rightly concerned about the practice. “When I gave in to [masturbation], I’d feel as if I were failing Jehovah God,” wrote one youth. “I got seriously depressed sometimes.”
Just what is masturbation? How serious is it, and why do so many youths find it to be a habit that is hard to break?
Why Youths Are Vulnerable
Masturbation is deliberate self-stimulation to produce sexual arousal. During the bloom of youth, sexual desires become strong. Powerful hormones are released that affect the reproductive organs. A youth thus becomes aware that these organs are capable of producing pleasurable sensations. And sometimes a youth may become sexually excited without even thinking about sex.
For instance, the tensions produced by various worries, fears, or frustrations can affect a boy’s sensitive nervous system and cause sexual arousal. A buildup of semen may in turn cause him to awaken sexually excited. Or it may produce a nocturnal emission, usually accompanied by an erotic dream. Similarly, some young girls may find themselves stimulated unintentionally. Many have a heightened sexual desire just before or after their menstrual period.
So if you have experienced such 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, the intensity of these new sensations will subside.
Curiosity and the novelty of these new sensations, though, lead some youths deliberately to manipulate, or play with, their sexual organs.
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 not simply because his hormones were at work but because of what he saw and heard.
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.’
Yes, often it is what one reads, watches, or listens to, as well as what one talks about or meditates on, that triggers masturbation. As one 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.”
This young woman’s experience reveals what is undoubtedly the greatest reason why the habit can be so hard to break. She continues: “Usually I masturbated to release pressure, tension, or anxiety. That fleeting pleasure was like the drink the alcoholic takes to calm his nerves.”
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.” Evidently, others similarly resort to the habit when upset, depressed, lonely, or under much stress; it becomes a “tranquilizer” to blot out their troubles.
What Does the Bible Say?
A youth asked: “Is masturbation an unforgivable sin?” Masturbation is not mentioned at all in the Bible.* The practice was common in the Greek-speaking world during Bible times, and several Greek words were used to describe the practice. But not one of these words is used in the Bible.
Since masturbation is not directly condemned in the Bible, does this mean it is harmless? Absolutely not! Though it is not classed with such gross sins as fornication, masturbation is surely an unclean habit. (Ephesians 4:19) The principles of God’s Word thus indicate that you “benefit yourself” by strongly resisting this unclean habit.—Isaiah 48:17.
Arousing “Sexual Appetite”
“Deaden, therefore, your body members,” urges the Bible, “as respects . . . sexual appetite.” (Colossians 3:5) “Sexual appetite” refers not to normal sexual feelings but to passion that is out of control. Such “sexual appetite” can thus lead to one’s indulging in gross acts, as described by Paul at Romans 1:26, 27.
But does not masturbation “deaden” these desires? No, on the contrary, as one youth confessed: “When you masturbate, you dwell mentally on wrong desires, and all that does is increase your appetite for them.” Often an immoral fantasy is used to increase the sexual pleasure. (Matthew 5:27, 28) Therefore, given the right circumstances, one could easily fall into immorality. This happened to one youth, who admits: “At one time, I felt that masturbation could relieve frustration without my getting involved with a female. Yet I developed an overpowering desire to do so.” He committed fornication. Not surprisingly, a nationwide study revealed that the majority of adolescents who masturbated were also committing fornication. They outnumbered those who were virgins by 50 percent!
Mentally and Emotionally Defiling
Masturbation also instills certain attitudes that are mentally corrupting. (Compare 2 Corinthians 11:3.) When masturbating, a person is immersed in his or her own bodily sensations—totally self-centered. Sex becomes separated from love and is relegated to a reflex that releases tension. But God intended that sexual desires be satisfied in sexual relations—an expression of love between a man and his wife.—Proverbs 5:15-19.
A masturbator may also tend to view the opposite sex as mere sex objects—tools for sexual satisfaction. Wrong attitudes taught by masturbation thus defile one’s “spirit,” or dominant mental inclination. In some cases, the problems caused by masturbation persist even after marriage! For good reason, God’s Word urges: “Beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit.”—2 Corinthians 7:1.
A Balanced View of Guilt
Many youths, though generally successful in overcoming this bad habit, occasionally give in to it. Fortunately, God is very merciful. “For you, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive,” said the psalmist. (Psalm 86:5) When a Christian succumbs to masturbation, his heart is often self-condemning. Yet, the Bible states that “God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20) God sees more than our sins. The greatness of his knowledge enables him to hear with sympathy our earnest pleas for forgiveness. As one young woman wrote: “I have felt guilty to an extent, but knowing what a loving God Jehovah is and that he can read my heart and know all my efforts and intentions keeps me from feeling too depressed when I fail on occasion.” If you fight the desire to masturbate, it is not likely that you will commit the serious sin of fornication.
The September 1, 1959, issue of The Watchtower stated: “We [may] find ourselves stumbling and falling many times over some bad habit that has bitten more deeply into our former pattern of life than we had realized. . . . Do not despair. Do not conclude you have committed the unforgivable sin. That is just how Satan would like you to reason. The fact that you feel grieved and vexed with yourself is proof in itself that you have not gone too far. Never weary of turning humbly and earnestly to God, seeking his forgiveness and cleansing and help. Go to him as a child goes to his father when in trouble, no matter how often on the same weakness, and Jehovah will graciously give you the help because of his undeserved kindness and, if you are sincere, he will give you the realization of a cleansed conscience.”
How can that “cleansed conscience” be attained?
God executed Onan for ‘wasting his semen on the earth.’ However, interrupted intercourse, not masturbation, was involved. Furthermore, Onan was executed because he selfishly failed to perform brother-in-law marriage in order to continue his deceased brother’s family line. (Genesis 38:1-10) What of the “emission of semen” mentioned at Leviticus 15:16-18? This apparently refers, not to masturbation, but to a nocturnal emission as well as to marital sexual relations.
Questions for Discussion
◻ What is masturbation, and what are some popular misconceptions regarding it?
◻ Why do youths often feel very strong sexual desire? Do you think this is wrong?
◻ What things can fuel the desire to masturbate?
◻ Does masturbation do a youth any harm?
◻ How serious a sin do you feel masturbation is? How does Jehovah view a youth who is putting up a fight against it, though perhaps having problems overcoming it?
[Blurb on page 200]
Some feel the urge to masturbate when under pressure or when tense, lonely, or depressed
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‘The root of my whole problem with masturbation boiled down to what I put in my mind’
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“When I gave in to [masturbation], I’d feel as if I were failing Jehovah God”
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Though masturbation may cause strong guilt feelings, sincere prayer for God’s forgiveness and hard work to resist the practice can give one a good conscience
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Erotic movies, books, and TV shows are often the ‘mental fuel’ for masturbation