I’m a constant failure when it comes to Christian discipleship. I have been forward for prayer so many times about stopping masturbating, repented and asked God to help me, but then I go back to it – I just can’t sleep until I do. Is it dreadfully wrong to masturbate? I’m single, very active in my church, but feel like such a hypocrite. Maybe I should pull back from church?
Masturbation is a tricky one because nowhere in scripture are we told if it is right or wrong. So we need to apply scriptural principles. Sometimes if we can separate out the various ingredients that create the cocktail of masturbation, how we should respond becomes clear. Some of those key ingredients, I would suggest, are: sexual arousal and release, fantasy (including pornography) and addiction.
An addiction is when we are hooked on a behaviour. This becomes intrusive and affects our focus on other important areas of life; we cannot stop it. God does not want us to be mastered by anything in this way, but rather to be free and to live life to the full. If you have become addicted to masturbation, then it will require a process to break that addiction. This is unlikely to be achieved through one act of repentance.
If you want to break free from masturbation as an addiction, I recommend you take a multi-faceted approach. If you are using pornography, block your access to the porn with some software designed for this (log on to covenanteyes.com or xxxchurch.com or integrity.com). These websites offer a service which tracks your web use and sends a report of all the sites visited to an ‘accountability friend’. It is set up with tailor-made specification for each person and your accountability partner holds the key words and access.
In addition, pay attention to your emotional desires and how you try to meet them with your choice of addiction. Maybe there is an underlying loneliness or sense of isolation that you can gradually address? Perhaps there is a sense of shame or inadequacy – here your understanding of acceptance needs to be built through memorising scripture, some good discipleship, mentoring or counselling. As you strengthen your emotional life, slowly you will find the pull to masturbate is not so great.
You will also need to be practical. Notice what times of day and what circumstances lead you to masturbate and find alternative routines that will help you avoid and also replace what masturbation has been giving you.
The next big question to ask is: What is going on in your mind when you masturbate? If you are using pornography, or imagining other people, you are reducing them to sexual objects, which dehumanises them. God has made us with our sexuality and our personalities as integrated parts of a whole. When we separate this out, we lose what is most satisfying and enriching and degrade humanity. However, some people are able to masturbate without such fantasies and purely focus on their own sexual feelings. I believe this becomes a different matter and can, in certain circumstances, not be a problem – if it is used as an occasional release of sexual tension without mastering us as an addiction.
The final component of masturbation I listed above is simply sexual arousal and release. I don’t believe God frowns on these two things. I believe he created our sexuality and understands our bodily rhythms. If you can use masturbation purely to bring physical release of tension with some sexual enjoyment thrown in, without that being addictive or fantasising about another person without their consent – and without using pornography – then personally I don’t have a problem with it. It is clearly helping you to sleep, which indicates that your body needs some release of tension.
It would be a tragedy if you withdrew from church as a result of this issue. Church is God’s healing community; a place where we can have redemptive relationships to heal our inner deficits, first through the purest relationship with God, and secondly through relationships with his disciples as they seek to reflect God’s heart, albeit through a mirror dimly.
Discipleship is a journey. Redemption is a process, with grace holding it together. Aim for God’s best for you because you are loved, not because you are condemned, and take time to actualise this.
This is the final column in the ‘Dear Maggie’ series and Maggie is no longer able to respond to your questions. If you need further help, ask your GP to refer you to a psychosexual therapist or find one privately.