Questions From Readers
● From time to time letters are received from persons who want to know what the Christian viewpoint is toward masturbation. Parents ask about the counsel they are given by doctors to tell their children there is nothing wrong with the practice. Young men ask if the psychologists are right in justifying it on the basis of its being practiced universally. Wives ask what their attitude should be toward unbelieving husbands who practice self-abuse as well as about the advice they receive to resort to this practice when their sexual relations with their husbands do not prove to be fully satisfying.
Typical of modern medical and psychological opinion are the following two quotations: “Medical and psychological science have by now proved beyond all doubt that no harm can come from masturbation itself. The harm comes when fear and anxiety about it grow too intense.” (Parents’ Magazine, January, 1959) “Many physicians now believe that exaggerated claims as to the evils of masturbation have done more harm . . . than the practice itself.”—Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 14, page 592, 1956 edition.
Does the foregoing harmonize with the Bible? No, it does not. It is but another instance of the worldly wisdom that “is foolishness with God.” Having rejected ‘the word of Jehovah, what wisdom could they have?’ On the other hand, we can accept the Bible’s position with complete confidence, for no one knows the human heart better than does its Author, and his viewpoint of the subject is based on the premise that “the heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it? I, Jehovah, am searching the heart, examining the deepest emotions, even to give to each one according to his ways, according to the fruitage of his dealings.”—Jer. 17:9, 10, margin.
Before considering the Bible’s testimony on the subject of masturbation it may be well to dispose of a misapplication of Scripture that some have made in reference thereto. Judah commanded his son Onan to perform levirate marriage toward the wife of his brother, whom Jehovah had slain because of his wickedness. “But Onan knew that the offspring would not become his, and it actually took place that when he did have relations with his brother’s wife he wasted his semen on the ground so as not to give offspring to his brother. Now what he did was evil in the eyes of Jehovah; hence he put him also to death.” Clearly here the question is not of masturbation but of a refusal to comply with the law of levirate marriage so that his brother’s name would not die out. Onan was put to death, not for self-abuse, but for failure to do his duty toward his brother’s wife.—Gen. 38:8-10.
To appreciate the problem of masturbation properly it seems well to begin by noting the fundamentals involved. Jehovah God put a strong attraction in the sexes for each other. This has been so strong that the human race has continued with procreation in spite of the many problems and burdens that marriage and the rearing of children bring with them. Perfect man and woman had full control of their sexual desire. This is apparent from the fact that Adam and Eve did not have relations while in the garden of Eden. The exercise of the procreative function was not so strong a desire for them that they could not wait. No, they had much to learn about their other duties, caring for the garden, exercising dominion over the lower animals, and, in particular, getting acquainted with their Creator, as he visited them in the “breezy part of the day.” That this must have been the case appears from the fact that had Adam and Eve cohabited in Eden Eve certainly would have been pregnant before the fall into sin and Cain would not have been conceived in sin, whereas we are assured that because of Adam’s transgression all men are sinners.—Gen. 3:8; Rom. 5:12.
Because our first parents yielded to selfishness they have transmitted to their offspring “the inclination of the heart of man” that “is bad from his youth up.” Perfect self-control was no longer possible, and in particular regarding the mating instinct. Greatly aggravating the problem in our day is the stress on sex by selfish men and women, as in the advertising of products and in offering entertainment.—Gen. 8:21.
The body’s mechanism is such that it builds up tensions in regard to sexual desire. One of the normal ways in which the male body finds relief from this is in a nocturnal emission of semen. This is referred to at Deuteronomy 23:10, 11, where it is shown that it was considered as making a man ceremonially unclean until the close of day. Without doubt this view of matters had a wholesome effect upon a Jew, as an emission thus led to an inconvenience, whereas otherwise, being usually associated with an erotic dream, it might have been welcomed as a pleasure.
Of course, the purpose of God in creating man thus was not to cause him to dream but for the purpose of multiplying the race by means of sexual intercourse. God having endowed man with this capacity, He has the right to circumscribe its use as well as the wisdom to indicate what is best. According to his Word, such sex relationship may be enjoyed with only one person of the opposite sex, one’s Scripturally married mate. All sex relations between unmarried persons are condemned as fornication and sex relations between married persons and those not their mates as adultery. For dedicated Christians the penalty for either of these is disfellowshiping from the congregation or at least a period of probation if there is heartfelt repentance.
But what about single persons who for one reason or another cannot find pleasurable relief from this tension in the honorable marriage bed? (Heb. 13:4) Among the many who find themselves in this position are those too young to marry or financially unable to do so, the deserted, the unscripturally divorced, widows and widowers, those having mates off at sea, in hospitals or in mental institutions. How can the problem of all these be solved? By masturbation? By fondling one’s sex organs or by letting the mind dwell on the pleasures of sex so as to gain relief by what is also known as an “orgasm”? Not for Christians!
True, modern physicians and psychologists are practically agreed that self-abuse when practiced in moderation does little if any harm physically. But as Christians our concern is not primarily with the physical but with the moral and spiritual aspects of it. Self-abuse, unless recognized as something unclean and to be striven against, can easily lead to such practices as fornication, adultery, sodomy and Lesbianism, not to say anything of depriving one’s mate of the marriage due.—Jas. 1:14, 15.
We should therefore not be surprised to find that God’s Word condemns self-abuse and that Scriptural principles rule it out, even though it is not specifically named anywhere in the Bible. Note the many references: It certainly is included in the “uncleanness” mentioned at 2 Corinthians 12:21 and Galatians 5:19; in the “uncleanness, sexual appetite,” referred to at Colossians 3:5; in “the desires incidental to youth,” from which Paul counseled Timothy to flee, as well as in the “covetous sexual appetite such as also those nations have which do not know God.” (2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Thess. 4:5) Self-abuse is further included in Peter’s references to “loose conduct, lusts,” “the corruption that is in the world through lust,” and “the desires of the flesh.” (1 Pet. 4:3; 2 Pet. 1:4; 2:18) The disciple James warns us against self-abuse under the term “sensual pleasure,” even as does the apostle John when he speaks of “the desire of the flesh,” which is a part of this old wicked world so soon to end because of its wickedness. Paul’s words, “Having come to be past all moral sense, they give themselves over to loose conduct to work uncleanness of every kind with greediness,” certainly include self-abuse, for it is an uncleanness that is greedy.—Jas. 4:1; 1 John 2:16; Eph. 4:19.
Note also Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:27, 28: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Since self-abuse is almost invariably associated with such kind of thoughts, how strongly Jesus’ words condemn it! And note here the high standard of morality set by the Son of God. What folly, then, to look to men under the influence of the “god of this system of things,” Satan the Devil, to instruct us as to our standards of morality!—2 Cor. 4:4.
Therefore even though masturbation or self-abuse is not something for which a person may be disfellowshiped from the Christian congregation, its secret nature limiting it to his private relationship with Jehovah, the Christian will nevertheless work to do away with the practice. The overcoming of it starts in the mind. We must take a definite stand against it. We must resolve in our minds that it is displeasing to Jehovah for it is unclean in his sight, and that even though it may be a source of physical pleasure to us it definitely interferes with our giving Jehovah exclusive devotion. Remember, we must not only love righteousness but also hate wickedness, and wickedness includes everything that is unclean. It will also help us to wean ourselves away from it if we view it as a sign of weakness, childishness and immaturity, and an enslaving bad habit.—Ex. 20:5; Lev. 19:2; Ps. 45:7.
To help us to overcome this vice we must make a concerted effort to keep our “minds fixed on things above,” on things that are spiritually upbuilding and strengthening. In times of trial turn to Jehovah in prayer. Work off excess energy by wholesome physical activity and proper study. Think on new truths learned, on plans for ministerial activities, on the next talk or demonstration to be given. We must meditate on the goodness of Jehovah and the blessings he has in store for us in his new world. (See “Cultivating Right Desires,” in The Watchtower, July 1, 1957, pages 404 to 410.) Memorize and keep trying to heed Paul’s counsel at Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.”
We can make the task of overcoming easier for ourselves by being alert to circumstances that are conducive to our falling and avoiding them if at all possible. By all means stay away from sexy stage plays and moving pictures. Be selective about the television programs you watch. Never read pornographic literature. Flee “necking” and especially “petting” as you would the plague! As for dancing, that would depend upon the type of dancing, the individual you danced with as well as yourself. It may prove to be a means of wholesome relaxation and then again it may prove to be the worst thing for you.
As the apostle Paul shows, athletes exercise self-control for the sake of winning a temporary, perishable crown. Cannot we exercise self-control to win the crown of everlasting life? By cultivating self-control in eating, drinking, talking, reading and all other activities of life we will be helped to exercise self-control in the matter of sex. Conversely, to the extent that we make progress in controlling our sex impulses to that extent it will be easier to exercise self-control in other matters. In this connection it might be observed that there is reason to believe that love of ease, indulgence in rich foods and alcoholic beverages tend to strengthen sexual desire. Under the heading of “Anaphrodisaics” The Encyclopædia Britannica (1946 edition) states: “Avoidance of a diet rich in meats and spices, and especially in intoxicating beverages, is important.”—1 Cor. 9:24-27.
It may be that overcoming self-abuse presents an extremely disturbing problem. If so, then those who are Scripturally free to do so should heed Paul’s counsel: “If they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion.” Paul’s further words are also pertinent here: “But if anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virginity, if that is past the bloom of youth, and this is the way it should take place, let him do what he wants; he does not sin. Let them marry.”—1 Cor. 7:9, 36.
True, for those unable to solve their problem in this way the Scriptural position presents a difficult task. However, let all such remember that keeping integrity is not easy. Our brothers behind the Iron Curtain have one kind of test; those in more favorable circumstances have another type of pressure brought upon them. If progress seems slow, let all such remember that there is value in keeping up the fight. So long as you are waging a good fight against self-abuse it is not likely that you will get disfellowshiped for having committed adultery or fornication. And for your comfort note the following, taken from The Watchtower, February 15, 1954, page 123:
“A further problem sometimes arises when we 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. Then we are inclined to feel very discouraged and quite unworthy of further handling the precious Kingdom interests and unfit to speak the pure message of truth. What should be done if you find yourself in such an unhappy state? 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.”
Worldly-wise men without faith in God and in the Bible may feel loathe to condemn masturbation and insist that the practice does no harm. However, dedicated Christians will gladly accept the Scriptural position and will therefore strive to be holy even as Jehovah God is holy.