Why Avoid Self-Abuse?
Helpful facts that young people want to know
THERE are many ways in which a person can abuse himself—such as by overeating or not getting enough sleep. But “self-abuse” is used in a more specific way (according to dictionaries) to refer to misuse of one’s sexual organs by masturbation.
This practice is one that is not hard to fall into. But it can prove difficult to break. And it may affect not only young men but also young women. What attitude should we take toward this practice? Does it really merit the name “self-abuse”?
First of all we need to decide what is going to be our guide. Will we rely on what the majority of doctors say? From a physical standpoint they claim that occasional masturbation is harmless. Like most psychiatrists, they say that damage comes only if the practicer has feelings of guilt that cause mental and emotional disturbance, these in turn producing physical upset. So, many condone the practice.
Doctors and psychiatrists are, of course, imperfect humans and are subject to error. As an example, an article entitled “Emotional Control Means Longer Life” quotes psychiatrist Dr. Richard Nies as saying: “For more than 60 years it was thought the way to be most human was to be able to express oneself without inhibitions . . . Today psychologists suspect the validity of this approach. Now it is believed more constructive to teach ways of rational control rather than to let your emotions run freely.”—Long Beach, Calif., Independent Press Telegram, March 12, 1969.
So human views are subject to change. But there is a source of counsel that young people can turn to that is stable and free from error or misjudgment. That is God’s Word, and if we want, not just “longer life,” but everlasting life in God’s favor we should seek his wisdom and counsel in preference to that of dying men. He can do for us and for our happiness what men could never do.
The real question then is, not how much physical harm could result from masturbation, but whether spiritual harm unavoidably results or not. Can anyone rightly engage in the practice without feeling guilt before his Creator?
True, the words “masturbation” and “self-abuse” do not appear in the Bible. But what do you understand from the inspired counsel of the apostle Paul at Colossians 3:5? To those not wanting to lose God’s approval, he says: “Deaden [Do not excite], therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness.” Unlike fornication, masturbation is something a person may do by himself or herself. But does that keep it from being unclean? Or is it just as much a giving in to, and being dominated by, “sexual appetite”?
Then, too, the apostle writes of those who “gave themselves over to loose conduct to work uncleanness of every sort with greediness.” (Eph. 4:19) In his letter to the Colossians, quoted earlier, Paul mentioned “covetousness,” and in this text “greediness.” Really, does not masturbation express both of these undesirable qualities? How? Well, is it not an expression of desiring something that does not rightly belong to one? God has provided marriage as the sole arrangement in which to satisfy sexual desires. But the person who practices masturbation is, in effect, trying to obtain that satisfaction without paying the price. The price is the assuming and shouldering of the responsibilities and obligations that go along with marriage. In this connection note that, when the apostle counseled persons who were ‘inflamed with passion,’ he did not tell them to seek relief through the unnatural means of masturbation but through God’s provision of marriage.—1 Cor. 7:2, 9.
Actually, masturbation may endanger your future happiness in marriage. If a person is used to satisfying his or her passions through masturbation, this develops the habit of thinking only of one’s own pleasure and satisfaction. But in marriage, there is need, especially on the part of the man, to show concern for the other person’s pleasure and satisfaction as well. Otherwise, marital relations deteriorate and there is distress and disillusionment. This very thing, of husbands thinking of their own satisfaction and disregarding their wives’ needs, is one of the greatest problems in marriage. Much of it undoubtedly stems from a premarital masturbation habit.
But what if one is too young to make marriage advisable? While postponing marriage, would not masturbation protect one against some worse violation of God’s law, such as fornication or homosexuality? It might seem so. But is that sound reasoning?
No. Masturbation weakens a healthy conscience and love for what is right. And they are your greatest protection in this regard. Weakly giving in to sexual desires by masturbation would certainly not give you strength when faced with a situation tempting you to commit fornication—or even homosexuality. Just the opposite, it cultivates wrong thinking and wrong desire.
Like drug addiction, masturbation can become something that one resorts to every time he or she feels pressure and tension of any kind and lacks the strength or will to face up to and overcome the problems causing such tension. So it can produce a vicious cycle, eventually making a person its slave. But God says we should control our bodies, not let them control us.—1 Thess. 4:4, 5.
OVERCOMING WITH SELF-CONTROL
It goes without saying that what you think about has a lot to do with the way you feel and the things you do. So what do you really want? Do you want to feel disturbed by sexual desire most of the time, perhaps slipping into the practice of masturbation or unable to free yourself from it if already addicted? Then all you have to do is to let your mind dwell on sexual matters. But if you want to keep such sexual urge from cutting into your enjoyment of life and your really accomplishing worthwhile things, then exercise self-control and turn your mind to other matters.
When pictures, reading matter or other things containing sexually stimulating material come your way, do not weakly give in. If you let your mind dwell on such things or engage in conversation that revolves around them, you will pay the consequences in an upset feeling and the building up of pressure within yourself. That is because the longer you look at or talk about such things the deeper your heart becomes involved. And your heart is a major factor in moving you to act.
But what if, under even ordinary circumstances, you feel passion building up within you? How can you find relief? Not by resorting to self-abuse, but by getting your mind, heart and body onto another track. You can do some work, physical exercise, play a game or go for a walk. Find someone to talk to who has your respect, even call someone like that on the phone if necessary. Reading—even aloud—the Bible or publications explaining the Bible is one of the finest helps. And, above all, take the problem to your heavenly Father, Jehovah God, in prayer.
There are, of course, many additional things of a simple and sensible nature that one can do to help to avoid or reduce sexual tension. See that your clothing does not unnecessarily cause friction of the sexual organs. Before retiring, try to see that what you read or talk about has a calming effect rather than the opposite. So, too, with any eating you do at this time. In sleeping you may find it helpful to sleep on your side rather than on your back or face down. And especially important is good masculine or feminine hygiene. Lack of cleanliness can produce irritation of the genital organs and pull one’s attention in that direction. You can go to one of your parents for information on such hygiene.
Proper hygiene calls for certain handling of the sex organs, and one might feel this would be a temptation to misuse them. But because your motive is right—with the aim of avoiding sexual tension—you may well find that such care will instead help you to take a more healthful view toward these organs, keeping them in proper focus and appreciating that they were never meant to ‘take you over’ and rule your whole life.
If you are now fighting the practice of self-abuse, remember: You are certainly not the first or the only one who has faced this problem. Others have conquered and so can you, gaining the blessing and clean feeling of a right standing with God.
So, do not isolate yourself because of this problem. Being with others, provided, of course, that they are wholesome persons, is a protection for you. If you sleep in a room alone and you find that you seem to feel special stress in this direction at night, you may be able to arrange matters to share a room with another member of your family as a protection.
True, because of refusing to give in to the temptation to let passion take over, you may spend a sleepless night occasionally. But what of it? You will probably find that the following night you will be sufficiently tired to drop right off to sleep.
Even though you find yourself having a hard struggle to break a masturbation habit, never feel that Jehovah God and his Son Christ Jesus have given up on you. If you sincerely keep working to overcome it, they will kindly and patiently help you to build up the needed strength and bring you off victorious.—Phil. 4:6, 7.