It feels great to masturbate. But is it okay?

Posted by on Sep 28, 2013 in Blog: Doing sex God’s way

It feels great to masturbate. But is it okay?

I keep getting asked about masturbation – so, I’m taking time out from gender to tackle the “M” activity.

Masturbation, jerking off, shooting the cream, Mrs Palmer and her 5 daughters – call it what you may, solo sex is just that – self stimulation of the genitals to ejaculation and orgasm. We don’t have clear statistics, but some therapists tell us that 90% of men say that they masturbate and the other 10% are lying. The statistics are even harder to come by for girls.

Why is something so common so feared?

Historically masturbation has been seen as a display of “loss”: a loss of self-control over a man’s own nature and thereby an undermining of masculinity[1]; a loss of essential energy and creative potential. This loss of semen in nocturnal emission and masturbation is bemoaned in a condition known as the semen loss or Dhat syndrome[2]; and Biblically, a turning away from divine guidance in the story of Onan[3] (from where comes the term ‘Onanism’). Although this story needs to be interpreted with care since it is about disobeying God or at the most coitus interruptus and not masturbation at all.

The fear of ‘loss’ and the consequences on general and mental health in particular led to a search for a ‘cure’ for the condition. These have taken the forms of food, medicines and even surgical equipment.

Over the ages, a range of torture inducing equipment was developed and used to subdue the urge[4] to masturbate.

In 1837, a health food enthusiast Sylvester Graham preached sermons about the dangers of masturbation and soon invented a cracker to help ward off those dangers. If you ate your cracker in the morning, the blandness of the cracker was supposed to lower your lust all day so that you would not have “vital fluid” expending urges. Similarly, Dr John Henry Kellogg believed that spicy and sweet foods would increase the libido. When the cornflakes were invented by accident, Kellogg immediately latched on to its possibility as a sex-reducing staple food because of its lack of spiciness or exoticness and general lack of flavour.

The next time you reach for a Graham cracker or a bowl of cornflakes, know that they were both used as a cure for masturbation!

The internet is rife with web sites that offer herbal cures for masturbation habits and nocturnal emissions (wet dreams). There is no empirical evidence that any of these work other than at a purely psychological level.

So, what’s the big deal?

It is a great tension release after all, and it doesn’t harm anyone. Or does it?

Masturbation per se is just the rubbing of the genitals for self-pleasure. Men and women do it because the orgasm that follows releases feel good chemicals in the brain. Dopamine and Endorphins give a thrilling brain buzz and Oxytocin causes the feelings of relaxation and euphoria.

Here’s the catch: it is near impossible to masturbate without some form of erotic thoughts, often complex fantasies. Therapists have long recognised the power of the images associated with the act of masturbation. In time past this combination of thought and action has been used for reconditioning sexual attraction[5]; and the management of desire and orgasmic problems[6]. This is no longer a common therapeutic practice.

Are there downsides to masturbation?

Well there are a couple of things to consider:

(i) Masturbation puts sexual pleasure under a person’s own control.

So what I hear you ask? After all who knows better than me what makes me feel good? That is true. However if you are in a couple relationship, this can take away from the shared act of sensuality and make it an act of selfishness.

The Bible clearly tells us that our bodies belong to each other, the husbands to the wife and vice versa.

1 Corinthians 7:4 “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”

So I would recommend that once you’ve found out what makes you sizzle – tell your partner. Then you can both turn the heat up on your lovemaking.

So your partner doesn’t understand your penis and how and where it’s best turned on. If your partners a female – it’s because she doesn’t have a penis. She will probably tell you that you can’t find your way to her clitoris even with a road map. This is why communication is more important than self-pleasuring – go on tell your partner.

In this context, there are two problems with masturbation.

First: you get used to using sex for your own pleasure, not someone else’s.  This can get you into a habit of being sexually selfish.

And secondly: if you get into a habit of masturbating whenever you’re sexually aroused, you’re getting into a habit of not exercising self-control.  Self-control is one of the gifts of the Spirit (Gal 5:23).  God wants us to learn to control our body, not indulge in passionate lust (1 Thess 4:3-5).  Being sexually aroused doesn’t have to lead to orgasm.  We don’t have to masturbate.  We can do something to distract ourselves, or channel our sexual energy into some other productive activity.

We have discussed how important self-control is in terms of training in trustworthiness. This continues into marriage. Your wife is not always going to feel like sex when we want it. If we’re used to controlling ourselves, we’ll be able to manage not being satisfied.  But if we’re used to quickly masturbating and satisfying ourselves, then we’ll pressure her for sex. Or watch porn. Both of which will erode our wife’s trust in us and undercut our marriage relationship.

(ii) A person can bond to a fantasy

Oxytocin causes a person to bond with the object of orgasm, usually whatever or whoever they are fantasising about. This is scary if the masturbation accompanies pornography. It could lead to compulsive porn use and affect real life lovemaking. In today’s world of high tech and big porn, there is retail industry that plays on the hunger for sexual satiation by providing mass market stimulation of sexual images, videos and erotic literature[7]. Quick masturbatory self-gratification is available at the click of a button or the swipe of a credit card, available accessible and anonymous.

And of course, if we fantasise about a real person, then we fall foul of Jesus’ famous warning in Matt 5:28: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

So like many good things in sex, masturbation comes with a user warning. Be careful how and when you practice it and always look for other relational ways of intimacy.



[1] Steve Garlick (2012), Masculinity, Pornography, and the History of Masturbation, SEXUALITY & CULTURE Volume 16, Number 3 306-32

[2] Violeta Menéndez, Antonio Fernández-Suárez, José Placer, María García-Linares, Sandra Tarragon and Elisenda Liso (2012) Dhat syndrome, an emergent condition within urology in Spain, WORLD JOURNAL OF UROLOGY, downloaded on 29th September 2012 from http://www.springerlink.com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/content/uk6654457m7t6774/fulltext.pdf

[3] Genesis 38:8-10

[4] http://www.ranker.com/list/top-10-most-brutal-anti-masturbation-devices/robert-wabash?page=1

[5] John N. Marquis (1970) Orgasmic reconditioning: Changing sexual object choice through controlling masturbation fantasies, Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 1, 4, 263–271

[6] K. D. Nairne, D. R. Hemsley (1983) The use of directed masturbation training in the treatment of primary anorgasmia, 22, 4, 283–294.

[7] Steve Garlick (2012) above