Escaping the Prison of the Self

During college, I was part of a young men’s prayer group, and our leader, an Anglican priest, once gave us a copy of a letter C. S. Lewis sent in 1956 to Keith Masson, an American reader of his. The topic of the letter was masturbation. Here is an excerpt:

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself…. And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.

The true exercise of imagination, in my view, is (a) To help us to understand other people (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce, art. But it has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world—e.g. picturing all I’d do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.

This is a wise and humane letter, and when my fellow students and I received it from our mentor many years ago, it generated several lines of fruitful conversation. But rereading it now, I’m struck afresh by its particular vantage point: It is written with the assumption, it seems, that its recipient will one day marry. The harem that the lustful young man keeps in his imagination “works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.” I’m sure Lewis was right to take that approach, but it makes me wonder what he would have said to many of us who are celibate and not planning to be married. If we are going to avoid masturbation, we need a different incentive than the one Lewis offers, since few of us expect to “unite with a real woman” someday.

(It’s this kind of thing, by the way—a priest/mentor addressing a group of college-aged men on the assumption that they’re all straight and soon-to-be-engaged—that often contributes to the loneliness of celibate people in Christian circles. Pastoral guidance usually addresses itself to the majority—in this case, heterosexual young men who, all things being equal, will eventually get married. And no doubt that’s as it should be. But when the minority, such as gay-and-planning-on-celibacy Christians, don’t enter the minds of the mentors and priests dispensing pastoral guidance, that oversight can make them feel all the more marginalized.)

So let me take a stab at broadening Lewis and my priest friend’s perspective. Taking my cues from Lewis’ letter, I would argue that masturbation—or lust more generally—harms the celibate person too, not because it may hinder a future marital union but because it can also harm friendship. If the celibate person, no less than the husband or wife, is called to go out of himself in the love of friendship and siblinghood and in other bonds of kinship, then he also should want to guard his heart from constructing self-serving fantasies that have nothing to do with self-giving. Especially for gay Christians, keeping an imaginary cadre of men (or women, as the case may be) whom we can ogle at will is a habit that harms our ability to strengthen the ties of friendship. This is because friendship, as someone said to me recently, is more itself, not less, when it is unencumbered by lustful desire.

Moreover, if part of the rationale of Christian celibacy is to witness to the goodness of marriage precisely by refraining from sexual relations outside of marriage, then the sexual purity of the celibate—again, no less than that of the married—points to the beauty of a real man uniting with a real woman. (“By abstaining from temporary liaisons, the chaste and single reinforce the logic of marriage,” says my friend Chris Roberts.) Therefore, even if Lewis himself doesn’t spell this out, I can take his rationale for a soon-to-be-married person’s chastity as relevant for my vocational-celibate chastity, too.

Of course, spelling out the rationale for chastity does little to help with the actual practice of it. For that, the grace of God in Christ, as experienced in Christian community, is needed. But that’s another post for another day.

Wesley HillWesley Hill is an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010). He can be followed on Twitter: @WesleyHill.

38 thoughts on “Escaping the Prison of the Self

  1. Wesley, tough subject matter yet handled with intelligence and insight. Two things come to mind- when Jesus speaks about lustful intent in Matthew 5:27-30- and the pursuit or goal of sexual gratification as having an inherent selfishness to it. I don’t think there is enough talk about this in churches with regards to what it means to harness our spirituality and submit our passions. The talk is more focused on resistance or self control or saying ‘No’ or staying away from a culture that promotes the free expression of sexuality. So there has to be higher purpose or reason to consider masturbation as ‘me’ centered and counter productive for the spiritual life. It’s hard to communicate this to young people especially those who are not in their hearts following Christ but is worthy to discuss and stir up new thoughts in the minds of all of us, especially those of the faith who are desiring to follow Christ and wondering how to best honor Him. I am sure there are variations of thoughts on this but thank you for bravely sharing yours and as a result challenging us.

    • I am wondering about the “me” in regard to masturbation. I do not understand how it being about me, my indulgence is different that treating myself to, say, an ice cream Sunday. I must be missing the point.

      • Hi Lross;

        Unfortunately, I am not sure what direction you are going with your comment. Yes, I would agree eating ice cream would be different than masturbation if that is what you meant as well. I personally think this way because it seems as though we possess our sexuality, therefore it is something inherent within us the ‘me’ aspect of our self… whereas food passes through the body and is eliminated. That would be the distinction for me at least. Do you have any other thoughts on that?

  2. Rachel Held Evans had a blog post a while back on seven perspectives on Christian masturbation (, including one from Richard Beck, a psychologist, that sketches a slightly different understanding of the relationship between masturbation/lust.

    He suggested: “I think it is important to recognize how masturbation functions in the life of those who are single… how are we to manage our sex drive from the onset of puberty to wedding night? To say nothing of the sexual challenges involved in lifelong singleness. All that to say, masturbation may be a vital aspect in how single persons cultivate and achieve sexual chastity… I don’t think the physical act of masturbation should be moralized. The real issue in this conversation, the big elephant in the room, is Jesus’ prohibition against lust (cf. Matt. 5.27-28). Masturbation per se might not be a sin but what about the attendant lust? Can you masturbate to the point of orgasm without lust being a part of that experience?”

    Beck would agree with you that lust certainly harms the celibate person, but would argue that masturbation might actually help them. I’m curious what you make of this/how you’d respond?

    • One can masturbate without thinking about another person. Would thinking about it being a beautiful day be lusting after a beautiful day?

  3. Better marry than burn, I always say.

    Seriously though, while the point about masturbation in adults leading to a holding back of some of the incentive to go out there and get in the game may be valid, I think it’s also worth considering in the other direction: for teenagers, sexual awakening and exploration is often, in fact, the start of coming out of themselves.

    You don’t jump from childhood solipsistic “innocence” and naïveté to marriage (or a commitment to celibacy) overnight. There’s a process, and part of that process seems to “pass through” a stage of discovering and cultivating sexuality, period.

    Lewis would seem to be describing the danger of getting “stuck” there, as it were, satisfied in fantasy itself rather than a stage of fantasy whetting ones appetite for the reality.

  4. Very good post. As far as celibacy, or perhaps chastity, goes in general, in the Orthodox tradition even the married couple is expected to fast from sexual relations during, for instance, fast periods, nights before the liturgy, etc. So even in marriage, there is an expectation that the standard of chastity is to be upheld in those sorts of circumstances. And I think that also particularly bears out your second-to-last paragraph on how friendship is manifested during such times. Very poignant observation.

    Also, I remember your general point being made in Fr O’Callaghan’s book, ‘Feast of Friendship’, pp. 103-6. It’s something that’s especially stuck out for me in my own experience of things with people.

  5. I was really glad to see this post at SF. Sometimes, I feel like this blog — perhaps unwittingly, perhaps in an attempt to present our way of dealing with things in a good light — sort of sidelines questions about pornography and masturbation. The impression one might get (and I say this as a grad student myself) is that Spiritual Friendship is a group of privileged and intelligent young people who think that “base” sins like these are below them; they only deal with “respectable” temptations like having a long-term lover.

    As someone who has struggled with pornography and masturbation — and as someone who recognizes how common these struggles are, whether for gay people or straight people — I think it is important not to sideline these issues. The pornification of the modern world has put us where we are: a place where the attractiveness of body parts passes for the attractiveness of a person. It’s quite sad.

    And it’s quite dangerous to set up an ivory tower from which to look down upon such foolishness. But most of us don’t live in ivory towers, even if it feels more comfortable to pretend we do.

  6. Pingback: The Prison of My Person, The Shackles of My Skin

  7. This is a cute, esoteric discussion and all…but is it realistic? It sounds an awful lot like the end goal for the Christian celibate is asexuality. It would be laudable if it weren’t so ridiculous. Excluding the 1% or so of asexuals on the planet, we are all sexual beings. Sexual beings require sexual outlets. Those committed to lifelong celibacy have it hard enough without extra hurdles which try very hard (and almost always fail) to scrub oneself of one’s sexuality. Have we learned nothing from the Great Ex-Gay Experiment’s colossal failure? Perhaps trying to reach this magical level of Asexual Nirvana is actually counterproductive…

    • DJ I have been rehearsing celibacy for the past year, testing it out in my life to see if it will fit. Asexuality is not me so it has been a tough challenge to be chaste but not any less tough than the demands of marriage (and I have been married). Sacrificing needs and the self can be demanding in a relationship and sometimes needs are not met either- so celibacy and marriage can share that characteristic.
      One thing that has changed recently, for me is opening up and sharing more of myself by trying to be transparent and honest about what I feel and think on the inside without fear. I concluded that God sees my heart anyways so why not live with an open heart? So part of that has been admitting I still have same sex attractions although I am perceiving them and living them out differently by trying to bring those desires to light rather than hide them or stifle them. Part of that is sharing this with God in prayer and asking Him to lead me.
      Like you I am now realizing how much damage is done to someone who takes the position of ‘ex-ing’ out their gay. I have witnessed the bad fruit of that in others and myself. I made a practise of stifling every emotion that was connected to romance such as joy, touch, and passion. I grew up with a sense of shame surrounding my same sex orientation. My mother commented once that when I was about 14 or 15 I became sullen and silent- yet as a child I was naturally boisterous, outgoing and talked incessantly.
      Therefore during the years of suppressing my romantic feeling for girls as I developed during puberty I think a kind of ‘celibacy’ was enforced in my life. It was a discipline of denial and ‘No’ to same sex thoughts and expression. This continue through adulthood and I wonder if the resulting pain and dark emotions, and censoring myself are symptoms of trying to unsuccessfully erase genuine emotions of romance and affection- not a result of unmet sexual needs.
      I think this subject is not discussed enough because people are uncomfortable talking about sex period. And, I think we are leaping to conclusions if we say that only people who are asexual can be successfully celibate.

      • Hi, Kathy! Haven’t talked to you in awhile. Always lovely to converse with you 🙂

        When you say “I think we are leaping to conclusions if we say that only people who are asexual can be successfully celibate,” I hope that was just stream of consciousness thought from you, and not your interpretation of what I wrote above. If the latter, I should clarify myself and say that I was NOT trying to communicate that message. (As an aside, I do happen to believe that asexuals will be the MOST successful celibates,because there is some evidence that such is the case…after all, celibacy is not new, and there is a nice portion of the population that has hundreds of years of practice at it – Catholic priests – and from what I’ve gathered, not many of them are very “successful celibates”. But again, that wasn’t what I was communicating with my comment…)

        What I was getting at is that to deny one the sexual outlet of masturbation is an attempt to make a sexual being asexual. It is an attempt to scrub away all trappings of sexual desire into something “pristine” and “clean” and ultimately nonexistent, thus asexuality. This is tantamount to reparative therapy. Sometimes a sexual desire is just a sexual desire, and not some “mis-channeled, subconscious, unmet need” that needs to be transformed into something nonsexual, thus we need to take our sexual desire and transform them into “spiritual friendship.” This is, in no uncertain terms, the exact same fundamental thinking that belies ex-gay therapy, except instead of trying to channel evil homosexual desire into pristine heterosexual desire, the idea is slightly modified to turn evil homosexual desire into pristine friendship, or something like that. It is essentially all reparative therapy.

        In my view, those who are deciding to live celibate lives to keep their spiritual consciences clean have it hard enough without the needing to feel guilty about their sole sexual outlet: masturbation. And if not for a sexual outlet, at least as an outlet for natural body functioning (it’s not quite clear what this is all about, but even asexuals masturbate! and they tend to state things like “it’s to keep the pipes clean.”) So masturbation seems to have more than just one function. Let’s not assume that they are all evil. Some parts of masturbation are not necessarily sexual at all. But even if they were all sexual, I don’t think we should assume that even all sexual ends of masturbation are evil either.

      • Thanks for clarifying DJ and for getting into the topic in more detail. You are one of my favorites on the blogs and I always enjoy reading your comments although they have been less sanguine as of late. 🙂

        I get the logistics of masturbation but really do question that sex is strictly a bodily function. Denying oneself a sexual outlet does not make one asexual because sexual desire does not stop occurring in your life if you are not acting on it. An asexual person is not desiring sex in the first place. And that is a whole other topic because asexual people are also a sexual minority who are largely misunderstood.

        I understand there is a tension built in to sexual desire but it is a different experience when compared to hunger or thirst. We are stewards of our sexuality and we are making choices about how to master our bodies, urges and desires. By way of comparison eating and drinking is a necessity- sex is not. The body being represented as a temple in scripture is not a sanctimonious act but something for us to figure out and be in control of. Do we or do we not have a choice when it comes to our sexual behaviour? This is not however a helpful question to pose to those who are suffering because they have been denying their desires or repressing them or they have been living as ex-gay. Those ways are damaging if the person involved is not pro-actively transparent and honest about their desires. I would not judge anyone who is still in that position.

        I agree we should not attribute masturbation with any terms such as evil, yet working towards self discipline should not be discouraged either. I realize there is a difference of opinion on this even among Christians. But I have discovered through various conversations that encouraging someone to masturbate against their conscience, for the primary purpose of release, can cause a heightened sense of guilt if that person feels it is dishonoring God.

  8. Hey, Kathy. Sorry to be less sanguine 🙂 Firstly, I’m in the middle of a new semester, so I generally have to cut right to the chase (less time for long explanations). In this particular case though, I was probably responding more to what I see as “principalities and powers” that are damaging to peoples’ psyches more than I was responding to Wesley Hill himself. So it was probably a bit less personal and personable than I’m generally inclined to be.

    Moving on…I don’t think I said nor did I mean to imply that sex is only a bodily function. It’s so much more than that! But it is that at its core. Also, I recognize that denying oneself a sexual outlet does not make one an asexual per se, just like a gay person marrying someone of the opposite sex and claiming that they’re healed doesn’t make them straight. The question is about intent. Often times, I get the very uncomfortable feeling that Side B people are so squeamish about their sexual desires, that they must find some way to transform them into something else. But I do get that that’s not necessarily true of the population as a whole, I’ve just come across it enough times that I finally felt like I had to say something about it. There have been several commenters on SF that I’ve read lately who give off this very distinct vibe (i.e., that they are aiming for Asexual Nirvana).

    Even as you speak of “control,” I think this requires much more clarification because people reading along who are (in my estimation) aiming for Asexual Nirvana will see your comment about control as being innocent enough, but may take it to another level than you intend. For instance, I agree that sexuality – like all desires – requires some level of control and management. As you point out, there are some desires that are required for survival like hunger and thirst, but as Westerners, I’m sure we can all relate to having the desire even when we’re not necessarily hungry or thirsty. We eat and drink to excess, and must learn to keep the desire within proper bounds. Then you also have desires such as the desire for love, affection, hugs, etc. These are not survival desires, but they are highly associated with human thriving and healthiness. And then at the other end of the spectrum you have desires for going on vacation to relax, or going to the bar to have some fun and unwind. These obviously have nothing at all to do with survival, nor are they highly associated with human thriving in and of themselves. They are the type of desires that we all have, and they must obviously be controlled (e.g., if I go on too many vacations and never go to work, I’m in a lot of trouble!)

    It seems to me that a lot of Side B people want to make sex something that is at the non-essential end of the spectrum. Just something simple like the desire to go on vacation, or go to the bar. So even if you’re not intending to become asexual, controlling sex in the same way that you might attempt to control your desire to skip work and go on a long vacation is problematic at best. It seems to me that sex is much closer to the end of the spectrum where desires for love, hugs, and affection reside…desires that are not needed for survival, but do contribute greatly to human thriving. And I believe that sexual desires must be controlled in the same way that desires for love and affection must be controlled – within proper bounds.

    In short, when it comes to masturbation, my suggestions are really to help YOUR side out! Making people feel guilty, or feel like they are being bad or less than holy for having a sexual outlet is tantamount to making people feel bad for crying at a funeral. No, crying doesn’t take the pain away, but it relieves the sadness pressure. No, masturbating doesn’t take sexual desires away, but it relieves the sexual pressure. The end result is these folks are gonna be miserable, and the Gay Celibate Experiment (GCE) is gonna turn out about as piss-poorly as the Great Ex-Gay Experiment (GExG) has. So really, I’m trying to give the GCE a fighting chance here! Don’t counter me, it only works against your side 😉

    When you create a theology that makes people feel bad about masturbation, is it any wonder that so many have a “bad conscience” about it? Where do you suppose that comes from? When I first discovered masturbation, it was completely innocent. I didn’t even know what I was doing, and I wasn’t even thinking anything sexual, and I didn’t have a tinge of guilt about it until I figured out that what I was doing was called masturbation, and that Christians that I respected thought masturbation was bad. This heightened sense of guilt is very likely socially constructed, and constructed mostly by influential people who have a high “ick factor” and project that onto the masses.

    Of course, I agree with you, I would NEVER take someone who felt bad about masturbation and suggest that they should just do it anyway. But what I was speaking against was – again – the “principalities and powers” that are being propagated here which proscribe and ascribe guilt and shame to a process that is the sexual equivalent of crying, or eating a bon-bon after a sucky day. Should we create theologies which stigmatize those actions as well?

    Finally, keep in mind that my intention here is really to speak up for people who don’t have the courage or the know-how to speak up for themselves. I’m speaking for the kids reading along who do masturbate to relieve that tension, but feel like they’re being evil SIMPLY BECAUSE everyone in their sphere has always told them that they were if they masturbated. For that kid, I want them to know: “Hey, there’s NOTHING IN THE BIBLE THAT’S ANTI-MASTURBATION! If you see it, you’re projecting it. Don’t feel guilty, dude. It’s natural. And we all do it. Even the pastorman getting up in the pulpit every Sunday preaching against it. He does it too. Probably more than the rest of us…”

    And by now, it should also be clear that I’m largely speaking from a male perspective. Sex and the need for sexual outlets are often quite different for men and women (speaking from the law of averages, not about specific people, of course). So I’m not sure how much (or if) my message really translates for you ladies. But for us men, yeah, 90% of us do it – most of us regularly. The other 10% does it too, they’re just lying about it 🙂 I just feel sorry for the ones who do it and constantly feel guilty about it, because they think they’re not “measuring up” so to speak, when in fact they are, but the fakers and playa hatas have bamboozled them into thinking they aren’t. It’s just shame-based lies. Not helpful…

    • DJ boy what a rant, I am trying to ignore the sarcasm and making fun aspects of your comment but it is real hard to do.

      Being completely chaste is not being a priss rather it is mindfulness and awareness of one’s sexuality and striving to keep oneself in the proper state of being. This is true in marriage as well. I think a lot of young people stumble upon masturbation but that is not the point. If parents were more open about it themselves their children might feel more comfortable to bring up questions about it. There is such a vacuum in this conversation which has always bothered me. Adolescence is the best time for teaching young people about the best ways for sexual expression. Yet the irony is most parents haven’t got a clue because they are sexually broken themselves.

      You seem to think that guilt is only born out of someone telling you what is wrong or right maybe that is from a conservative upbringing?? I can remember the time I lied as a child and feeling guilty not because I was told it was bad but because I was hiding something from my parents. My parents never taught me the Ten Commandments or made Biblical teaching important in the home. Some things are just naturally going to make you feel guilty. Like eating too much, not fulfilling responsibilities, hurting someone etc… I did not want to get into a huge discussion about guilt yet sensitivity to guilt is a significant aspect to our development as Christians. God will convict us so that we will know the right choices to make ie; holiness.

      Shame has no place in our relationship with God. This is where I think the discussion does become harmful because so much emphasis is put on the morality of sexuality and not the reality of how our bodies actually function and how we should treat our bodies when it comes to sex. It has been made too difficult and too hard a burden right? Once again there is no arguing the damage done to the psyches of people who have had to deny their sexuality. I understand because I have experienced the suffering that has come from the denial of my sexuality identity but the suffering involved in resisting sexual temptation outside of marriage is a different kind of hardship. Self control is a fruit of the spirit. It becomes easier the more we rely on Jesus so help comes from Him not solely from our own effort and forcing ourselves in a puritanical manner. Waiting on the Lord rather than indulging the self would be the way I would position it.

      But for those who have already been damaged and are on the verge of self harm and are full of despair or shame obviously other steps and care need to be addressed in a compassionate way. Ultimately it is an individual choice and I don’t think that one person’s choice is any less valid except I would like to encourage those, who believe the same as I do, to know they are not alone, that’s all.

  9. To Kathy and DJ: I’ve read your exchanges several times and have become more confused with each reading. Maybe it is because I’m a straight female and was never involved with “ex” therapies or forced to choose between side A and side B. I was raised in the pre Vatican II Catholic Church and went to 12 years of Catholic School. I was taught in about the 2nd grade–before making my first confession–that masturbation was a mortal sin (ie straight to hell) against the commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery. After all, we had to be educated to know what were sins to make a “full confession.” I don’t remember it being called masturbation, though; they said “touching oneself in an impure manner.” So I remember my adolescent struggles with it. By about 17 masturbation won–aided by my skeptical irreverent Protestant mother who compared orgasms to sneezes. So I would have thought I could understand the debate here. Maybe the problem is unstated assumptions–unstated because everyone here knows, or think they know, what the words mean–eg “lust,” “celibate,”even “sexual”. I’m going to ask some specific questions without coming across, I hope for Kathy, sarcastic. What specifically is “lust”? Does it mean sexual fantasizing that has “immoral” content as opposed to sexual fantasizing that has “moral” content. Jordan mentions lust above and asks if one can masturbate without it. I guess that depends on what lust is. In the comment section of the Rachel Held Evans site that Jordan links to, Claudia quotes a Pastor Scotty Smith from Nashville saying that masturbation is not sinful if there is “no lust, no fantasizing, no lack of self control, no selfishness, no escape.” Claudia commented wryly that she’d love to hear from someone who has achieved that. So would I. Reading between your lines, DJ was that true of your early experience, which you called “innocent” and “not sexual?” Maybe with adolescent boys who usually are so physiologically arousable it can be “cleaning the pipes” without sexual content, but I assume–that word again–that that is not true for the 99% of us who are not asexual. I certainly have/require sexual fantasies, which I would define as explicit thoughts about people with sexual body parts having sex using these body parts (genitals, mouth, anus) with me or with each other. Usually there is a scenario involved; I’m told story lines are more common in women’s fantasies than in men’s. I do not fantasize about sunsets or flowers. Isn’t that why many side B’ers oppose masturbation?….because they will have fantasies they regard as immoral ie. “lustful”…as opposed to the moral sexual fantasies of having non-sodomitical intercourse with one’s opposite sexed spouse. Are side B’ers concerned that masturbation may not function for them as DJ describes it–a teakettle that allows them to blow off the steam of sexual energy and hence be less tempted to act on their same sex attractions. Maybe they are concerned that masturbation is more like a muscle; the more you use it, the bigger and stronger it gets. And worried that it would then be more difficult to avoid having gay sex with another person. Or is it that they view same sex fantasies as sinful in and of themselves? I know I was taught that sexual fantasies (if you “entertained” them rather than putting them out of your mind immediately) were mortal sins even with no external actions. Do some side B’ers believe this? If so, their anxiety to avoid masturbation makes sense to me. Otherwise I don’t get it.

    • that’s interesting Hypatia. I think people would answer your questions in a variety of ways. In a nutshell and simply said I believe touching yourself aka masturbation simply falls under the lust category whether it involves fantasy or not. I guess DJ disagrees with me because he appears to be saying there is some sort of spontaneous sexual behaviour which is unavoidable or necessary.

      • Hypatia,

        I think I’m with you. If I understood what more Side B people thought of the specific questions you asked, I might understand their masturbatory reticence.


        I was actually surprised to read that you thought masturbation without fantasy falls under the category of lust. That piece of information sort of changes our entire conversation, because we are starting on vastly different pages. I think Hypatia very astutely realized this, which is why I imagine she is trying to get us “back to the basics” as it were. Why exactly do you consider all autostimulation to be lust? Do wet dreams fall under the same category?

        “I guess DJ disagrees with me because he appears to be saying there is some sort of spontaneous sexual behaviour which is unavoidable or necessary.”

        I think this is a misstatement of my view. First of all, masturbation – like any behavior over which one has control – should not be “spontaneous.” That’s called compulsion. If you are compulsively masturbating, you are not likely in healthy territory. And I wouldn’t say “unavoidable” because that would again hint that we don’t have control over it. We do control it. You could suppress every desire to masturbate, just as we could suppress every desire to have a glass of wine, so in that sense it’s not “unavoidable”, but why would you do such a thing? Finally, “necessary.” I would say, again, that masturbation is not “necessary” per se…no more necessary than say affection or a hug.

      • Sighs are not allowed 😛 Not one bit! I’m learning interesting things here 🙂

        So this is a little confusing to me, because we have different definitions (at least I think we do). Is all lust sin? Or is some lust sanctioned? For example, if a man has a strong sexual desire for his wife, that means he lusts for her, right? Is that sin?

        I’m not sure wet dreams are terribly different than masturbation though. Wet dreams are usually accompanied by sexual content, and thus spring from latent sexual desire. So that would be lustful, no?

      • Haha I had to take a long break from conversing with you 😛 (exhaustion but more so because I had a busy day)

        Lust by definition is strong sexual attraction and for the Christian who is asked to take on the mind and nature of Christ lust is something that one needs to bridle. Therefore lust is part of human nature and part of sexual orientation both ‘hetero’ and ‘homosexual. So when one is lustful as a result of our ‘humanness’ just like we crave any physical temptation or urge we need to deal with that desire and submit it to God- not act on it as a reflex with the reasoning “we are only being human and cannot help ourselves. ”

        Does that help clarify my thoughts on it?

      • LOL. You are not the first person who has needed a break from me. I’m the youngest of three brothers. Agitation is pretty much my vocation 🙂

        OK, I’m starting to get where you’re coming from. I come from a very different perspective, but I’m more interested in seeing the world through your eyes here. The only thing I’m not quite getting is what you mean by “strong sexual attraction.” SHOULDN’T a husband have a strong sexual attraction for his wife? I mean, isn’t that sort of a prerequisite for procreation? Or is your view that procreation is *solely* about making babies, and should not involve attraction?

      • so what we are talking about is not IF we have lust, passion strong sexual desire but how we act it out in our lives (as well you can have lust for someone but have no interest in a relationship). So my question is are our bodies- with regards to lust- to be used as we want or do we as Christians look to God for direction?

      • Well I imagine that God’s decree to “be fruitful and multiply” would be some indication to at least part of what you’re asking. So if a man acts on his lust for his wife, you are saying that is acceptable, but if a man masturbates thinking about his wife, that would be sin? Am I following you correctly, or am I off?

      • I would ask is he putting his needs above or ahead of his wife’s needs and I would ask the same is he putting his needs ahead and above the Lord’s desire for Him?

        As well this is a pastoral question because I can easily see hundreds of scenarios you could present which could be examined along those lines but then again I thought we were talking about celibate persons in the beginning of this convo. 🙂

      • Well, it’s impossible to talk about the issue regarding celibates without defining the terms. So I’m using what I would consider the best scenario to help define the terms, because once you introduce celibacy into the mix, there’s a whole host of other assumptions that complicate the issue!

        So how would one go about determining if one is putting one’s own needs above God’s or the others? I mean, if two people wanna smash and they’re married, they smash. From what I read in Solomon (the sensual way he talks about his beloveds breasts and whatnot), this would seem like an appropriate thing to do. So that kind of strong desire has a very good place in marriage, because it is what drives all sexual activity (i.e., there is no sexual activity without strong sexual desire, which to you would be lust).

        So, growing up as an Evangelical Protestant, all lust was considered sin, but lust was conceptualized as an INAPPROPRIATE sexual desire (e.g., a desire for something that you cannot have, like another man’s wife), not just any sexual desire. Sexual desire for your spouse would not be considered lust (unless, as you say, it was quite selfish, and only concerned with seeing your partner as an object to please your desires alone, and not as someone who would also need to be pleased.)

        But you define lust as any sexual desire. So in your view, not all lust is sin, correct? There is a type of sexual desire (i.e., lust) that is not sinful? A kind of lust that is mutual, and concerned about the needs and desires of God and the partner?

      • Hello Kathy.

        It is quite possible to masturbate without thinking of sex. Masturbation is a sensual experience not unlike eating a favorite food is a sensual experience. Our sexual organs are capable of having more than one purpose, such as elimination of bodily processes. The act of masturbation is to relieve a buildup of fluid that accumulates. When married the fluid is eliminated through sexual intercourse.

  10. Kathy,

    Wow, I think you really misread me. Given what I said about my lack of time, I was hoping that fully articulating myself would have been interpreted as a sign of friendliness, as I was sacrificing some precious sleep time to electronically converse with someone I was fond of. Also, I am a very naturally silly person, and was trying to lighten the load a little by having some fun banter with you. What you read was sarcastic rant. I do apologize for that. It was not in any way my intent. I assumed (incorrectly it seems) that you had read me enough (on Julie’s blog) and that we had a sort of relationship that I could hang a little looser with you. I’m sorry to have been wrong about that. I will be more business-like from here on in to avoid further miscommunication.

    “Being completely chaste is not being a priss rather it is mindfulness and awareness of one’s sexuality and striving to keep oneself in the proper state of being.”

    What exactly is the “proper” state of being? In a related question (or perhaps for you it will have the same answer), what are celibate people supposed to do with sexual desire? I contend that subconsciously, some wish for their desire to be turned into non-desire (a sort of attempt to become asexual). You and I agree that not all Side B people take this approach. Here, you seem to be saying that the proper action for sexual desire is to perhaps ignore it and wait for Jesus to take it away? Or something along those lines? I’m not quite following. I would appreciate if you could expound further on that.

    “You seem to think that guilt is only born out of someone telling you what is wrong or right maybe that is from a conservative upbringing??”

    Again, you’re putting quite a few words in my mouth. I never said anything of the sort about guilt. I find guilt to be a wonderful thing usually – an exquisite tool, a barometer, that keeps us human, and keeps us moral. But like all feelings, it can be misplaced, and it can be thrust upon us. No, not all guilt is born out of someone telling us what is wrong. But then, some guilt is. And when it comes to morally neutral matters (like masturbation), I contend that such guilt is socially constructed.

    “Self control is a fruit of the spirit. It becomes easier the more we rely on Jesus so help comes from Him not solely from our own effort and forcing ourselves in a puritanical manner. Waiting on the Lord rather than indulging the self would be the way I would position it.”

    As an isolated statement, I would ordinarily say “Amen!” to that. However, in light of the conversation at hand, I find the implication to be somewhat disturbing. What it means as applied here is that anyone who masturbates is not practicing self-control, is being purely self-indulgent, and isn’t doing what the Lord wants. Here, I want you to imagine what it must be like to be a 16 year old boy with raging hormones reading along in our conversation. What message do you think he’s getting from your speech about masturbation? The message he’s getting, at the very least, is that masturbation is a base thing – not good, or at least “not good enough.”

    The question is …why? Why is masturbation bad, Kathy? Please understand, I don’t ask because I think all people should be masturbating. I honestly don’t give a flip if you masturbate or not. Or anyone else for that matter. But I do know that for men, sexual control is a lot more difficult…because testosterone. Masturbation for us is a fantastic means of relieving some of that pressure. So making young men feel guilty about that (especially considering that 100% of them do it) is inherently damaging.

    This is what bothers me about the sort of theological conclusions that many Side B people come to in order to stay consistent with their understanding of the Bible. It is a fundamentally limiting approach to life and living – an ever-growing list of what you CAN’T do in order to be good enough for God. Don’t have sex with people of the same sex, don’t get too close or you might want to have sex, don’t masturbate or you’ll be a self-indulgent fiend, don’t hug too long or… the list goes ever-on. So yes, I think the more the folks here at SF attempt to spread this sort of theology, the more likely the GCE is bound to fail across the board, with some individuals being quite well-adjusted, but most being locked into a prison-of-no-options that makes them miserable (which is precisely what happened with the GExG).

    Listen, I’m all about autonomy. I’m all about you being convicted that your masturbatory practices are no good for you, so you won’t indulge. I just want to offer another message for men out there reading along who have a much more difficult time with sexual desire and control than you might. I want to give them some options and let them know that they don’t have to feel guilty about relieving sexual pressure any more than they should feel guilty about crying at a funeral. (You may think this a weird analogy, but I can tell you as a man, that it is quite apt, considering the social pressure most of us were raised to never cry or show emotions other than anger. It’s no good to constrain men in these ways, and I think “masturbation is bad” falls in the same vein of social engineering.)

    In the end, my message is this: if you think masturbation is bad, then by all means, don’t do it. Refrain. But it’s probably best not to project that personal discomfort onto others, or come up with strange theologies to legitimize that feeling because theology carries the weight of moral force and social pressure. Best to just say “I don’t feel comfortable with this” or even “I think God may not want me to do this” and carry on not doing it. But looking for Biblical support for the proscription of masturbation is truly beyond the pale.

      • In light of Hypatia’s questions above, it dawns on me that the reason you and I may be on such vastly different pages here might be because I’ve stumbled across a bit of a “sacred cow” for you, so to speak. So my typical silliness and bravado may have come off as flippancy and disrespect. If that is the case, I apologize. No disrespect or personal attack intended.

  11. Hey, Kathy. That’s perfectly fine. I’m not at all upset or conflicted. Though, I imagine by your use of the term “in this vein” that I have probablyy upset you. I’m not exactly sure why that is, as I don’t particularly feel like I am coming off differently than I usually do in these types of conversations (of which you and I have had several). But clearly something in what I’m communicating has bothered you, so I’m sorry. As I said, I’m quite fond of you, so it is probably best that we not continue the discussion if it has the potential to cause an unnecessary schism between us.

    • I don’t know DJ this is not a difficult subject for me but I don’t want to get into a tit for tat over something I have already agreed that opinions can vary from person to person. I just think there is a good and viable side to celibacy and that includes full chastity not partial. So if we can leave it at that then I would be happy to.

      Take care my cavalier blogger friend 😛

      • I’m happy to! Opinions do indeed vary from person to person, and you certainly have your right to yours just as I do to mine 🙂

        Out of curiosity, are you a practicing Catholic?

      • Ahh, gotcha! Very cool! Would you say your sexual ethic is gleaned largely from Anglican teaching? If so, that would probably be why I completely misread your starting point in our conversation (I’m not particularly well-versed in Anglican theology)…grew up more of an Evangelical type myself. If you don’t feel like answering my nagging questions on lust, please don’t. I honestly won’t be offended. I’m just curious to see this from another angle, and yours is quite interesting to me. But I could see how you might interpret my questions as another opportunity to get into a tit-for-tat. So no offense taken if you’d rather not. I did help create that mess after all…

      • I’m good DJ, thanks for being gracious. I’ve answered the questions you wanted me to above and would offer you to contact me privately if you have any lingering thoughts about it- you should know by now how to contact me. And, if I don’t hear from you that’s ok I know you are busy :P. And hopefully someday I will take you up on that hot chocolate 😀

  12. Realizing that many months have passed since the exchanges on this post, I hope it isn’t too late to introduce another – allusion to “cleaning the pipes” in one of them – which is far more important than realized. In my work with 18-40 year old men (of various sexual orientations, but mostly gay/celibate) many of them regularly experience “wet dreams” which, in one way or another, have very “lusty” components, involving people known to them. As one who pays a lot of attention to the subconscious, attributing great significance to its revelations (soulfulness), I’m having great difficulty finding helpful conversations about this.

    On one level, physiological health may demand some form of “cleaning the pipes” for men who are not otherwise sexually active (in the sense of a relationship and/or masturbatory fantasy) but it would be dangerous to ignore the psycho-spiritual dimensions of this reality.

    Any interest in exploring this further, from a theological and psychological perspective, is most welcome.

  13. I realize this article is almost five years old now, but I it’s timely because the new movie “Welcome to Marwen” deals with such topics — not in a sexual way, but it’s about escape and fantasizing. (Mind you, I haven’t seen it yet, and indeed part of the reason I’m thinking about this is that I’m trying to decide if I should go. If you have seen it, please don’t ruin it.)

    Would any of the current readers of SF be interested in a discussion of C.S. Lewis and fantasy?

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