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Q. I am a 22 year old Christian man, and I have had this problem of masturbation for many years. I feel guilty and quite confused about it, because I want to stop, but some people tell me it is OK because everyone does it and the Bible doesn't forbid it.
A. Does something become OK because 'everybody' does it? If you look around a bit you will find that more and more people are doing what people used to consider wrong earlier. I don't think that people are all becoming more enlightened! The confusion and chaos that are coming out of this kind of change show that people are not getting enlightened but getting more and more immoral, unruly, self-centred, self-indulgent, etc. It is becoming unacceptable to tell someone not to do something because it is wrong. It is fashionable to say, "Just do it!" It is very dangerous to base our idea of right or wrong based on what 'everybody' does.
Why do people feel guilty even when others around them tell them they needn't? Some psychologists argue that it is society that places certain unrealistic and archaic rules of behaviour on people which unnecessarily make many people feel guilty. But why is it that when a small child tells a lie for the first time you can see the guilt on his face--even though nobody has taught him to feel like that? This is actually a demonstration of the fact that we are all born with a 'conscience' that speaks to us in our heart when we have done something wrong, or are about to do something wrong. (What happens often is that people deaden this conscience by repeatedly overriding its voice, and then later on people feel quite comfortable to do those things without any qualms.) Our conscience is a gift from God. When a man is born again by placing his faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to live in His heart, and one of the things He does is to make our conscience more sensitive to sin. In your case, your conscience seems to be doing its job well!
I agree with you that there is a lot of confusion among Christians on the subject of masturbation. Masturbation means to stimulate oneself sexually in order to feel the thrill. Some people argue that since it doesn't hurt anyone else, it is all right for oneself either to enjoy that thrill or to get a release from the pressure of temptation. Many justify this position by adding that the Bible does not prohibit it, and saying that "where the Bible is silent, we should also keep our silence." But you know, the Bible does not address all subjects explicitly, e.g., pornography. But what the Bible does teach explicitly helps us to make the right application in other areas also. This is the case with masturbation also.
When God created us male and female with sexual instincts, it was for men and women to get married, express their love for each other intimately and to have children. The Bible tells us that sexual relationships outside of marriage are sinful. While it is true that masturbation is not directly addressed in the Bible, just consider the following aspects. The Bible talks about men and women giving in to 'dishonourable passions' and 'unnatural relations' instead of confining themselves to 'natural relations' (Rom.1:26,27). Don't we need to understand that masturbation is not a natural act (in contrast to the natural relationship between a husband and wife), and therefore dishonourable? Add to this the idea that Job, the godliest man on earth in his days, considered that even 'looking' at a girl in a wrong way was wrong (Job.31:1), and that Jesus described looking at a woman with desire as amounting to adultery in the heart (Matt.5:28). Don't you agree that most acts of masturbation are triggered by impure desire towards someone of the opposite gender, or provocation from tantalising images or thoughts? Impurity is built in right there.
Some people may claim that they are not even thinking about someone else when they masturbate, but only releasing their pent up pressure. But where does this pressure come from? From provocations that have been piling up? Because of 'withdrawal symptoms' from a habit of masturbation?
When Jesus was speaking about false prophets He said that we could recognise them based on the fruits in their life and ministry. Applying the same principle, what fruits do we find in the life of those who indulge in masturbation? Guilt, shame, lack of self-esteem, lack of self-control, self-indulgence, insecure in their relationship with other people, etc.
Putting together what the Bible teaches about sexual impurity/immorality in general, the negative consequences in one's personality, and the voice of conscience in one's mind, can we not conclude that masturbation is a 'dishonourable passion' that is to be avoided?
How to overcome?
You can overcome. God definitely wants to help you. How quickly you can stop masturbation usually depends on how long you have been into it. The longer one has given in to any form of self-indulgence, the habit sort of gets written into one's system so that one step leads to another almost automatically. The first thing you can do is to understand for yourself the sequence that usually takes place in your case--what triggers the first thought, where it usually takes place, what you normally do when you begin to get excited, etc. You also need to understand what is going on in your mind and body in the whole process.
People are being fooled by the media through subtle tactics to think that sexual pleasure is the highest form of pleasure they can have, and that it would worth taking any steps or risks in order to satisfy themselves by fulfilling their fantasies. This is a blatant lie from the devil. There are two parts to sexual pleasure. The physical ecstasy one feels is simply the result of a chemical pain killer which the brain releases into the bloodstream at the time of the climax, which is irrespective of who one has sex with or how it is done. The other part is in the mind, and this is where one's imagination makes one believe what one likes to believe. When one realises after a sexual experience that it was not as great as one expected, one tries to have a more exciting experience next time. But this is like chasing a mirage, and follows the principle of diminishing returns.
From a physiological and psychological point of view, what happens is usually like this. You get provoked by something you see or feel. Then you begin to think about this provocation imaginatively, and you begin to get excited about it. At this point your brain sends signals to your body to get ready for sexual action. The body begins to release certain chemicals into your bloodstream that excite you physically. At this point your brain is getting focused on the sexual action coming up, and your ability to think rationally or to make a reasonable judgment about your activities goes down. You finally end up with masturbation. Guilt hits you immediately and you decide you are never again going to go this way, only to fall later on.
One secret that will open the door of victory is the knowledge that the place to focus on is the initial thought process. Once you allow yourself to get physically excited, your rational powers are no longer in full control of your actions, and it will be extremely difficult for you to stop yourself. But you can take control when the first thought gets into your mind, by diverting your attention to some other subject or by getting yourself into some other activity. Don't make the mistake of imagining that you will just play with the sexual thoughts in your imagination for a while and then stop! You will find out soon that you aren't able to stop!
The Bible says, "Flee from youthful lusts" (2Tim.2:22). In other words, don't stand around with them because they will soon become too strong to manage. Avoid going to places that usually tempt you. Don't pick up books or magazines that you know will provoke you. Keep away from TV programmes that arouse you. Don't visit web sites that show links to porn sites or enticing pictures or stories. Keep your curiosity under control and stop making that first click on the internet that will lead you away into a porn spree. You may even have to avoid certain 'legitimate' activities which you are unable to handle without getting provoked because you have become very weak. Jesus said it would be better to cut off even useful things from our life if they would cause us to end up in sin (Matt.5:29,30). Avoid being alone where you can be tempted, and develop friendship with those will influence you in a good way. Keep yourself occupied with good activities, including physical activities such as jogging or playing games that will use up excess energy, de-stress your mind and also keep you physically fit.
Cry out to God
Sexual desire is so strong that most people will find it impossible to overcome or keep it in control by themselves. They need God. When you cry out to God you are expressing your own inability, your dependence on God and your faith in His ability to save you. If you reach out to Him in this way, He will never leave you helpless. He may deliver you instantaneously by removing such tendencies from your mind altogether (which He does very rarely), or (usually) help you little by little by showing you what to do next, and helping you to do it (Php.2:12,13).
If you have fed yourself with sexually provocative thoughts and images in the past, it is all the more necessary now to fill your life with God's word and godly activities. Reading the Bible, listening to good sermons, participating in Bible study and prayer meetings, joining in worship meetings regularly, etc., will strengthen you inside to fight temptations.
If you have indulged yourself in masturbation, pornography and other such deviant practices for a long time it is likely that demons have got some easy access into your life, meaning that they are now able to cause you to fall easily. (The Bible warns about this kind of process with respect to keeping anger in our heart and refusing to forgive others - Eph.4:26,27;2Cor.2:10,11). In this case you may like to confess these sins specifically to God, forsake all such activities completely by orally stating that you have given them up and are not going to have anything more to do with them, and speaking out to the demons in Jesus' name that they will have no more power over you any more. If you have a mature Christian around who can pray with you on this subject, it would be very good. Try to keep someone as your accountability partner with whom you agree to keep him informed about your progress.
If you have ever thought that the pleasures of sex were great, wait till you begin to enjoy the pleasures of purity!
Psychologists have found a strong connection between addictions of various types and a longing for love. We all have a need to be loved. When our parents shower us with love and affection during the early years of our life, that is how we become stable in our psychological development. If, unfortunately, we have suffered neglect, abandonment or abuse from the parents instead, our need for love remains unfulfilled. It happens often that people who have suffered this lack try to obtain that same feeling from pleasures -- eating, drinking, sex, drugs, etc. If you recognise this in your life, what you can also understand is that the more you know the love of God for you -- unconditional, everlasting, never leaving you, always forgiving, always looking out for your best, etc. -- the less desire you will have for other pleasures that are temporary, unreliable and damaging.
You may like to read Men and 'dirty' thoughts and Dealing with temptation
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