“Where exactly in the Bible does it say a man can’t fire off some knuckle children in the privacy of his own neighbor’s living room, while his neighbor is at work because I don’t have a DVD player? Well I don’t know where it says it because the Bible is way too long to read.” –Peter Griffin, Family Guy

Hmm. What would be the best way to begin a discussion on a topic many in the church would find controversial? I know: start with a quote from Family Guy. That won’t get us started on the wrong foot. Brilliant!

Not merely controversial, but downright avoided. Would you feel more comfortable if I referred to this topic as autoeroticism? Frankly, it doesn’t matter what you call it, it is what it is. Masturbation, a topic the Bible is silent on. (Don’t talk to me about Onan unless you want the background of cultura/familyl practices of the day. Too late:

Be honest with yourself: how much guilt and anxiety have you expended wondering whether this behavior is “right” or “wrong”? … A quick review of Christian literature over the past three decades reveals that pastors, theologians, and Christian authors have very diverse opinions on the matter. A major factor in this range of opinion is Scripture’s silence on the subject. We do find Old Testament laws (Leviticus 15, for example) requiring a person who experienced a “discharge” of semen to be ceremonially unclean until evening (the ceremonial laws were, in part, a sobering external reminder of how their hearts were to be set apart when they approached God in worship). Another passage (Genesis 38:1–10) references a man named Onan’s refusal to consummate his marriage to his deceased brother’s wife. According to Hebrew custom, if a man died before having children, his brother was expected to marry the widow and have children by her to carry on the deceased brother’s family line. Onan selfishly didn’t want to split his inheritance between two households (that of his brother’s wife and that of his own wife). Therefore, he attempted to resolve his conflict by practicing coitus interruptus—withdrawal of the penis from the vagina prior to ejaculation—and “spilled his seed on the ground” in an effort to prevent having children by her. So neither of these passages is really about masturbation. In fact, no Scripture directly deals with the topic. This is where an inside-out way of thinking proves helpful toward creating a “theology of masturbation.”)

At best, we can say that masturbation isn’t high on God’s priority list. So why am I bothering to bring this up? First, to wrap up our series on sex (since I define autoeroticism as sex with my favorite person). Second, because people for some reason feel comfortable asking and sharing with me personal questions. Either that, or I have some sort of strange reputation with folks. (I am hardly a master of my domain, which I guess makes me a masturbation guru. Who knows?). Anyway, time and time again, folks come up to mean earnestly wanting to be Scripturally obedient to what God would have them do in this area of their life. Well-intentioned people who have had guilt heaped upon them, typically by the church, who as we’ve discussed, does wonders at teaching on sex. Torturing themselves because of their secret shame, left to wrestle with questions like “is it wrong?” and, having already assumed an answer, “how do I break the habit?”

We may feel trapped in a cycle: we mess up, wrestle with the guilt, are good for a while, then mess up again. Does any of this sound familiar? We fall into patterns of habituation (some would say “addicted” to describe the feeling of out of control behavior). We become preoccupied with the “sin,” whatever it may be, focused solely on it not on the totality of how it plays out in our lives. No, suddenly it is THE issue in our lives, to where even the struggle with it becomes a preoccupation. We develop rituals around it. I’m not saying we light candles and set moods, but there are habits and learned behaviors that form around it. Then comes a moment of weakness, a loss of will power or what have you. Followed by heaping bowlfuls of guilt and shame (and the dogging resignation of being trapped by this behavior).

The thing about this or any other sexual sin is that we tend to make that the biggest sin in our lives. It blinds us to the other sins in our life, the other sins which undergird that one: discontent, pride, lust (note that it comes in third on my list here). We can’t focus on trying NOT to do something. Instead, we need to focus on the good, on training ourselves in doing something else.

The problem of masturbation, if you will, is that it is typically characterized by lustful fantasies (or porn, which can be its own addiction) and isolation. Back to our discussion about habits, constant (however you define this) masturbation leads to habits of arousal that can eventually creep into the marriage bed. After all, it forms us into being individualistic and can create an unreality to our sex lives (or worse a substitute for reality). In other words, we’re back to our primary questions: how does it form us and into what does it form us? Masturbation teaches us that sex can happen outside of a relationship, teaches us that immediate gratification is a part of sex, and teaches us that the whole point is pleasure without the work.

You also need to look at why we do it. An unhealthy way to comfort oneself, go to sleep, or deal with fantasies, loneliness, or pain – none of which will deal with the inner longing for intimacy. For some, solo orgasms represents a legitimate way of dealing with sexual urges and hormonal buildup. But for crying out loud, those of you torturing yourselves over this sin, there are probably bigger sins in your life to be worrying about. Seriously, balance that against sleeping with someone you aren’t married to or cheating on your wife when you find yourself “burning with desire.” However, if you still need guilt, remember this:

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