Breaking Free of Self-Abuse—Why? How?
MASTURBATION was once quietly discussed only in private circles, as “secret sin” or “solitary vice.” Today it is fast becoming a common household word. Dictionaries describe it as ‘the act of rubbing one’s genital organs until excitement is climaxed by orgasm, but without intercourse.’ The modern “sexual revolution” with its “new morality” is largely responsible for making the practice popular, as the following sampling of current opinion shows.
A headline in the Chicago Daily News reads: “Masturbation Not Physically Harmful.” Beneath the bold half-inch-high letters it tells how a university professor of health urges teachers and youth counselors to help “dissipate the fears and anxieties” about the practice. It is also reported that a “prominent sex expert,” during a sex-education class in school, told the students to “go ahead and masturbate.” A pamphlet widely distributed in the classrooms of France recommends masturbation, saying it “can fill the emptiness of an hour’s class or a boring evening.”
Many religious leaders also encourage the practice. For example, a report overwhelmingly adopted by the General Assembly of the 3.1 million members of the United Presbyterian Church says, in part: “We find no evidence for any theological, psychological or medical strictures against masturbation per se. . . . There is even some argument for the positive values of masturbation.” In a film that the Methodists produced they too claim that masturbation ‘is a valuable alternative to intercourse.’ This movie shows explicitly how both males and females can masturbate.
Medical authorities generally take the same position. As one doctor says: “I stress the normalcy of masturbation, its universality, and its harmlessness.”
A MOST COMMON PRACTICE
In this age of promiscuity one must agree with the doctors about the general “universality” of masturbation. Look at the statistics: “Every serious statistical study that we have shows clearly that . . . at least ninety-five per cent of boys and young men between thirteen and twenty-five years of age pass through periods of habitual masturbation of varying lengths,” says one authority on the subject. As for girls, this source says that “forty to fifty per cent are found to actually masturbate.”
Some people say that these figures prove “normalcy,” and that the “absence of masturbation in a healthy youth is a matter of concern.”
Now what do you think? Do you agree that because it is a very common thing, almost a ‘universal’ practice, that this makes masturbation a natural, normal function of the body? Lying and stealing are exceptionally common today, as is the use of tobacco. Yet you would not say that this makes them natural and proper, would you? The “common” cold is quite universal but this certainly does not make it normal or natural, does it?
Then what about the claim that masturbation is harmless? Are the synonyms that have been used in the past—such as “self-defilement” and “self-abuse”—no longer valid? What are the facts?
WHAT ARE THE HABIT’S EFFECTS?
In the nineteenth century, and until relatively recently, it was thought that masturbation would ruin one’s physical health, causing such things as pasty complexion, exhaustion, insomnia, tuberculosis, sterility, feeblemindedness, deformity of the genitals and other physical harm. However, today it is well established that masturbation does not cause these things. Only in extreme cases where males masturbate excessively are they infertile or have semen of poor quality. One authority sums up the medical opinion, saying: “There is no scientific evidence that masturbation is biologically harmful.”
If not biologically harmful, what about the mental, emotional and moral health of the masturbator?
Quite significantly, the doctors who assure us that there is no physical harm nevertheless are obliged to discuss the mental and emotional damage caused by the practice. Says the Encyclopedia Americana: “The most modern attitude toward masturbation is that the deleterious effects so often observed . . . come not from any injury to the body but from the guilty feelings of those who abuse themselves and from the tendency it has to remove them from the true relations with their fellows.”
Of course, the claim is made that such feelings of guilt exist only because individuals from childhood have been trained to view masturbation as indecent. Many say these guilt feelings are unwarranted. But is that the case?
Most persons will acknowledge that, actually, few parents take the time or interest to discuss masturbation with their children. So, then, why is it that the young boy (or girl) who engages in masturbation for the first time nevertheless feels a sense of guilt, of self-accusation? Why is it that by far the majority who engage in the practice do so in a secret, furtive way?
Because masturbation is unnatural. Granted, small children have little concept of the sexual relationship of male and female. But with adolescence comes an inner awareness that tells the male his satisfaction of sexual desire is to be found in the female, and vice versa. Masturbation (like homosexuality) ignores or bypasses that natural arrangement. It is one form of leaving “the natural use of the female” for “one contrary to nature.” The vestige of God-given conscience that is inherent in all humans, therefore, makes itself heard in disapproving of such practice, causing an internal sense of guilt.—Compare Romans 1:26, 27; 2:14, 15.
So, while many psychiatrists and doctors make it appear that guilt feelings about masturbation are attributable entirely to one’s ‘social indoctrination and upbringing,’ the opposite may well be the case. That is, it is more likely that, where there is an absence of such feeling of guilt, this is due to the individual’s previously having been influenced by others to believe that the practice of masturbation is really “all right,” “normal,” even “beneficial.” In reality modern propaganda tries to stifle or undermine God-given conscience.
Because the practice is one “contrary to nature,” the masturbator pays a mental penalty. The habitual practice cripples his social and emotional development, hinders his attaining a healthful outlook and attitude toward the other sex and toward people in general. It can ‘turn the person inward’ upon himself, making him introverted. Or it can, and frequently does, lead into homosexuality, in which the person, not satisfied with his lonely sexual activity, seeks a partner for mutual sex play. Though speaking of the ‘normality’ of masturbation, medical and psychiatric authorities are obliged to recognize the frequency with which habitual masturbation becomes a real hindrance to a happy and contented marriage later in life. The facts show that it is not uncommon for the practice to persist after marriage to the point where the masturbator feels obliged to seek psychiatric help. Why so, if the practice is “normal,” “natural” and “beneficial”?
However, to view the matter with greater insight, it is helpful to understand certain things about the way we humans are formed—physically, mentally and emotionally.
HOW WE ARE MADE
During adolescence, as the boy or girl develops sexually into an adult, many changes take place in the body. Hormones, secreted by the pituitary gland, gonads and other glands, are at work causing these changes. For a boy, this causes his testicles to begin producing sperm cells. These pass into a tube and from there into internal storage vessels known as the seminal vesicles, alongside the bladder. When these storage vessels are full, the sexual interest of the male may be more susceptible to stimulation.
It is natural therefore for a healthy, normal male to feel a measure of sexual ‘drive.’ The marriage arrangement provides the means for satisfying such sexual desire. But what of those not married? Is masturbation the only means—short of fornication—for relieving the pressure of such desire? And if masturbation is not indulged in, will the buildup of semen have some damaging effect?
The answer to these questions is, No. There are other ways to reduce or relieve sexual pressure. One is “sublimation”—that is, redirecting the pressure toward various physical and mental activities. Thus the growing boy and young man can keep busy and happy working hard in various projects and personal hobbies.
What of the buildup of semen in the body? There is no danger of this reaching the point of causing any physical damage. And, in reality, sexual interest is governed far more by what the individual entertains in his mind. Then, too, the male body normally reduces the amount of semen through periodic nocturnal or nighttime emissions during sleep. Less than 5 percent of nineteen-year-old boys, for example, are said not to experience these. (Though one does not have such emissions, this does not necessarily indicate any sexual deformity.) What occurs with the average male is that, during the night as the bladder fills with urine, pressure develops on the adjoining seminal vesicles. This may periodically trigger an involuntary emission of semen during one’s sleep.
Explaining why such nocturnal emissions are called “wet dreams,” and are often accompanied by irrational, strange and absurd dreaming, sociology professor Herbert J. Miles writes:
“The increasing need for emptying the bladder causes the person to move gradually out of sleep where the conscious mind is at rest toward active mental consciousness, that is waking. During this gradual shift from sleep toward waking the mind is in a kind of ‘twilight zone’ in which the subconscious mind is operating. Ideas and thoughts are mixed, confused, and may move swiftly from one idea, experience, or act to another. These fumbled, topsy-turvy, indiscriminate ideas may involve sexual thoughts or activities that would not be tolerated if the conscious mind were directing thought.”—Sexual Understanding Before Marriage, pp. 160, 161.
There is no need, then, for the individual to feel guilty because of such emissions or the dreams contributing to them—unless he knows that he had been letting his thoughts dwell immorally or in an unhealthy way on sexual matters.
But, is not masturbation more effective and satisfying in relieving sexual tension than these nocturnal emissions?
No; for instead of a simple and immediate release of tension, the masturbator finds that his whole nervous system is thrown into a high state of excitement as tension is built up due to the self-stimulation. Afterward this may leave him with a feeling of nervous frustration and dissatisfaction. Yet he soon has a compelling desire to repeat the act. It is a vicious cycle that is hard to break and that gives no genuine satisfaction.
That masturbation is abnormal and unnatural is also indicated by the fact that abnormal, mentally deranged people are notorious masturbators. Somewhat similarly, The Bremerton Sun (Washington) states that many mentally disturbed priests and nuns are chronic masturbators.
THE CHRISTIAN’S VIEW OF MASTURBATION
It is general knowledge that today people of the world, including a large percentage of churchgoers, being “past all moral sense,” encourage and recommend the unnatural practice of masturbation. (Eph. 4:19) In striking contrast, true Christians seek to learn and follow what God’s Word the Bible says on matters of sex and morals. True, the words “masturbation” and “self-abuse” are not in the Bible. The Mosaic law speaks of “emission of semen,” but as Bible commentators point out, the reference is to involuntary nocturnal emissions, not self-induced ejaculations. (Lev. 15:16) However, there are Bible principles that adequately cover the subject of masturbation.
For example, Colossians 3:5, 6 says: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these things the wrath of God is coming.” As we have seen, masturbation is indeed a “hurtful desire.” It is also “uncleanness,” for it is an immoral practice, and this explains why the masturbator generally is ashamed of himself and hides his repugnant act from the sight of others.
The Christian apostle Paul’s counsel is right to the point: “God called us, not with allowance for uncleanness, but in connection with sanctification.” And again he writes: “Therefore, since we have these promises, beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.”—1 Thess. 4:7; 2 Cor. 7:1.
What about the “sexual appetite” of the masturbator? Is it ‘deadened’? Or does he constantly feed and enliven his sexual craving, yes, even to the point of “planning ahead for the desires of the flesh,” contrary to the Bible’s advice?—Rom. 13:14.
The scripture mentions that “covetousness, which is idolatry,” should also be ‘deadened.’ This would apply here, for the masturbator’s affection is diverted away from the Creator and is bestowed upon a coveted object, in this case his genitals, which take on undue importance. This practice then could border on idolatry, as in the ancient practice of phallic worship so hated by God. Instead of being devoted ‘whole-souled to Jehovah’ (Col. 3:23), the person can become a slave to his fleshly sexual impulses, desires and appetite and make these the object of his devotion. “Such men,” the apostle says, “are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own base passions,” “their appetites are their god.”—Rom. 16:18; Phil. 3:19, An American Translation.
“Autoerotism” literally means self-love or erotic love of oneself. It is another term that fittingly applies to masturbation, for the persistent practice causes a person’s thoughts to be turned inward so that he becomes self-centered and selfish, with problems in trying to relate himself to others. For this reason some psychologists have labeled self-gratifying masturbation as narcissism, after the Greek mythological god Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, to his destruction. Did not the Bible warn that “men will be lovers of themselves” in these “last days”?—2 Tim. 3:1, 2.
Cultivating singleness as “eunuchs on account of the kingdom of the heavens” has many advantages in this time of the end. (Matt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:32-38) But let no one think that resorting to masturbation is the way to do this. Rather, self-control is the key to making a success of singleness. ‘Without self-control, let them marry,’ is still the best advice.—1 Cor. 7:9.
‘But won’t suppressing sexual emotions damage my personality and wreck my nervous system?’ someone may ask. Answers the book Why Wait Till Marriage?: “There is no evidence that self-control hurts your sex life. . . . It is the fellow or the girl who goes around with his emotions all unbuttoned who is in the greatest danger. The self-controlled person can bear to wait.” And this is no great problem if one has God’s spirit, for the fruitage of the spirit includes “self-control.” With self-control the Christian can avoid all forms of self-abuse, and in turn reap many dividends—mental, emotional and spiritual benefits that are far more satisfying than the death-dealing “works of the flesh.”—Gal. 5:19-23.
But how does this habit that bothers the conscience of so many people ever get a hold on them in the first place?
PREVENTION AND CURE
If one understands the cause, it is easier to implement the prevention and cure of a bad habit. Did you know, for example, that mothers and fathers who stroke the genitals of their fretful babies to keep them quiet are unwittingly encouraging them to become masturbators later on? Boys and girls may start to play with their private parts during puberty and, not receiving any counsel against this, the first thing they know they are “hooked” on the habit. And if some know nothing about such self-abuse before entering high school, the chances are they will learn of it from either fellow students or the teachers themselves.
Investigations indicate that a high percentage of masturbation is not due so much from a buildup in erotic pressure as from the same kinds of tension and anxiety that cause insomnia. Youths and many older people who are tense with emotional difficulties resort to masturbation as an escape route from their physical and emotional discomforts—a sort of pacifier or tranquilizer, they think, to take their minds off their worries. So, too, persons suffering from boredom, unemployed persons and prisoners, especially if they have been on drugs, often masturbate.
By avoiding these things that cause and encourage the practice, a person goes a long way toward preventing the tenacious habit from getting started in the first place. But what can the thousands of persons who now have the habit do to break it?
Many things are suggested. Avoid keeping company either with pornographic literature or with those who have loose morals. Stay busy working hard, physically and mentally. Do not let problems build up tensions, which cause anxieties that depress the mind. This is not too difficult if one follows the Bible’s counsel at Matthew 6:25, 33 and at Philippians 4:8. Never be a “loner,” seeking to isolate yourself. So, at nighttime arrange to share a bedroom with other members of the family. Sleep on the side, not on the back or stomach. These are a few suggestions for arranging the daily routine.
However, one can never hope to break the habit without having a heartfelt desire to quit. As long as “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes” are stronger than one’s desire to please Jehovah, it is difficult to stop. (1 John 2:16; compare James 1:14, 15.) Once having a genuine desire to break free of the undesirable habit, arm yourself further with these all-important weapons—willpower, determination and self-control—if you hope to win the battle. Then, too, prayer cannot be overlooked, for Jehovah promises to help those asking for help in handling all our problems.—Phil. 4:13; Col. 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:7.
Some persons find it most difficult to discontinue the habit abruptly. So, when they occasionally relapse—usually in a state of semiconscious sleep—they develop deep feelings of guilt and of being unworthy of Jehovah’s mercy. For these reasons it is not only helpful but often advisable to seek the aid and encouragement of a Christian elder. When a girl has the problem she may want to approach either an elder or a mature, respected Christian sister for help.—Titus 2:2-4.
Another motivating force to help one to break the habit may be the desire to be of greater service in the Christian congregation. If a man is “reaching out” for such privilege he should note that one of the requirements for Christian eldership is ‘self-control.’ (1 Tim. 3:1; Titus 1:8) If a man regularly and habitually masturbates, could he measure up to such standards? True, one who already occupies such position may have a temporary bout with the problem and, if he fights it and gains the victory, he need not feel disqualified. But the habitual practicer of masturbation, lacking self-control, is in danger of succumbing to still more serious wrongs. He is hardly in position to serve as ‘an example to the flock.’ (1 Pet. 5:2, 3) Desire to be of loving service to God and one’s brother, then, can also aid one to free oneself from the practice of self-abuse.