masturbation, prayer, Sex

Frank Answers About Masturbation and Prayer

Question: I found your blog post about Pornography, so I’m thinking you might answer this question. I’m confused about masturbation. In health class we learned that it is a healthy release of sexual energy. But in church  youth meetings I’m told that it is a sin and we should pray for the strength not to do it. So I ask for forgiveness for masturbating and pray for strength to resist the urge, but then I do it again.  Do you think it is a sin?

Frank answers: I deal with any questions that are of interest to me and to others and for which I feel qualified to give an answer based on my knowledge or experience. Questions sent to me via the blog platform are anonymous, so I don’t know anything about you other than what you write. I’m assuming that you are a student (high school?) and probably male. You go to church and you’ve tried praying. So I assume that a relationship with God is important to you. I think you ask a question every religious adolescent wants the answer to, but is usually too embarrassed to ask. So thank you very much for your question.

You are not alone in asking this kind of question. Over the years of my pastoral ministry I’ve had a few boys ask me a similar question. Here’s a topic for discussion proposed by a 14-year old boy that I found on an internet discussion site that shows you are not alone in your concern.

I find it hard to pray after masturbation…I am not sure if you are having a similar problem….I really want to be praying to God but its hard knowing that I masturbate… It’s even harder knowing that I will do it again after praying so it does not help my spirit. I need to know how you deal with this situation and if possible to prove that masturbation is not a sin.”

So…for you and all the other guys out there who want to pray but can’t stop masturbating, I’ll try my best to answer this question—as a pastor and theologian. In doing so, I’m going to go out on a limb—not so much in answering whether masturbation is a sin (although I might be going out on a limb on that too!) as in giving you a different way to pray.

Let’s begin with the fact that most boys discover the pleasure of masturbating . Small children play with their genitals because it is pleasurable.  As puberty sets in the penis gets longer, the testicles drop, and fluids leak out.  For some boys the first experience of ejaculation of semen comes as wet dreams. For others rubbing the penis enlarges it as blood flows into it and this may result in ejaculation. Some learn about “jerking off” from their friends and experiment on their own to bring about this pleasurable eruption in their own body.

I realize that women also masturbate, although I have no experience of it. So this is written from a male perspective. However, my comments about what the Bible teaches about masturbation, about fantasizing while masturbating, and the prayer suggestion at the end of the post could apply to a girl as well as a boy.

I’m also assuming that the questioner is a youth, so I am addressing youth here, not older adults who masturbate. (Older adults who find this blog article might recommend it to youth.)

Lack of Knowledge

Let me also assure you that I had the same problem  myself when I was an adolescent. If you learned in health class that masturbation is a healthy sexual release, that’s more and better information than I received back in the late 1950s. We had no sex education or even a health class in high school. Even the medical books back then had information that has now been discredited. They said that masturbation could produce nearsightedness, pimples, and obsessive-compulsive behavior, among other things. (I know because I looked up “masturbation” in a medical book my mother had.) There had been a war against masturbation passed off as science during the late 19th/early 20th century and not until 1972 did the American Medical Association declare that “Masturbation is a normal part of adolescent sexual development and requires no medical management.” It still took time for this pronouncement to register in our society and for people to change their attitudes.

I didn’t hear anything about masturbation in my Church when I was a youth, but an encyclopedia I looked at in the public library told me that the Catholic Church considered masturbation a sin because it is “disordered sex.” The Church has taught that sex is for procreation, not self-gratification. In fact, masturbation was called “self-abuse.” I wasn’t a Catholic, but I thought this probably also applied to me. So I felt I was doomed in this world and the next but kept all this terror to myself. (We don’t like to discuss sex with our parents, do we?)

effects-of-masturbation

Like other young adolescents, maybe you made a solemn vow not to do it any more. But you do it. Maybe you wake up with a woodie (stiff penis). While the cause of nocturnal and morning erections is still being studied, it happens to all males who don’t have erectile dysfunction and is actually healthy for the penis.

Hardness-Factor

But you begin to stroke your engorged member and it feels good so you start wanking more vigorously and soon you are shooting a geyser of the hot sticky stuff all over yourself.

Now you think that you are guilty of two sins. You broke your vow to God to stop masturbating and you also masturbated.  If you are a Catholic youth, do you confess this sin to your priest? I wonder how the confessor handles your confession.

The Practice of Confession

We didn’t practice individual confession in my church when I was growing up, although Martin Luther had encouraged it in his Catechism. Later on when I was a pastor I made private confession available, especially during Holy Week and at youth retreats. I had some boys who came to confession and confessed that they masturbated and they were obviously troubled by it. Confession isn’t the time to get into discussions that challenge the confession, so I pronounced God’s forgiveness and told them they could come and talk with me about it. Then I gave them a hug and told them that God loved them.

Is Masturbation a Sin?

If we want to determine whether something is a sin we have to look in the Bible. A lot of people assume things are in the Bible that aren’t. If you look up the word “masturbation” in a Bible concordance (that’s an index of words in the Bible that tells you which verses use that word) you likely won’t find any references because the Bible never mentions it. Not even once. The Bible has a lot to say about sex, but it never mentions masturbation.

So why has it been taught that masturbation is a sin?

Because in the Bible semen was considered a life source (along with blood) and therefore one had to be careful about spilling it. Semen is called “seed.” Spilling one’s seed was considered a violation of semen’s purpose, which is making babies when joined to a woman’s egg. But the one reference to spilling one’s seed is the story of Onan in Genesis 38. He was supposed to provide children for his dead brother by inseminating his dead brother’s wife Tamar. That was the rule. It was called Levirate marriage. The purpose was to continue his dead brother’s lineage by producing blood offspring for him. But Onan spilled his seed rather than inseminating his sister-in-law. Perhaps he didn’t want his brother’s offspring dipping into the family inheritance. For this he was stoned to death. But this story can hardly be a blanket condemnation of masturbation.

In fact, seed gets spilled in nocturnal emissions (the wet dreams that boys have as they attain puberty). If you don’t discharge your semen through ejaculation, it will discharge involuntarily during your sleep (usually accompanied by an erotic dream).

boy-after-ejaculation

In the Old Testament the spilling of semen, along with the hemorrhaging of blood during the menstrual cycles of girls, made one ritually impure (Leviticus 15). But this was not sin in the moral sense. In Leviticus there are moral sins and ritual sins. Sins like discharging semen or mentrual blood made one ritually unclean, and until one was cleansed one couldn’t go into the tabernacle or temple to offer the appointed sacrifices. The way to deal with this ritual impurity was to take a bath — to clean oneself up — and to clean the stained bedding, with appropriate prayers.

But the Church early on decided that the ritual law was not applicable to Christians because many of the rituals related to the sacrificial cult and the sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ’s once-for-all atoning sacrifice on the cross. While Christians believed that the moral law based on the Ten Commandments was still applicable to Christians, the ritual law was no longer applicable. That included the purity laws, like dealing with spilled menstrual blood and semen.

So for Christians masturbation is not a sin in the ritual or religious sense—although it’s still a good idea to clean yourself up after an ejaculation, isn’t it? A shower can also be spiritually refreshing. You might remember that in Baptism God claimed you as his own child.  God’s promises are reliable. You are God’s child and a brother of Christ just as you are your parents’ child, and nothing can alter that fact.

Fantasy and Lust

Is there anything that might make masturbating a sinful act in the moral sense? Well, Jesus said about the commandment forbidding adultery, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28 NRSV). Lust is not what God had in mind when he created man and woman. It demeans the person we are lusting after even if it is only in our minds. Lust comes from the heart, from our inner desires, and it can consume us if we desire to own or possess another person sexuality for the purpose of gratifying our own desires. The problem is that we often masturbate because our minds are fantasizing about sex with some girl (or some boy). Or we begin to fantasize as we masturbate. So the real sin is not the masturbating, but the lust that goes with it—the desire to use someone sexually for our own gratification.

masturbation scene antonio's secret

But is all sexual fantasizing only lustful desire for a particular person? In my experience, I would say that it isn’t. In fact, just about everything in our minds about the past and the future is fantasy; only the present is reality. Fantasies about the past and the future, as well as the fantasies of our wild dreams and imaginations, can fuel our sexual desires and activities.

But what if no lustful fantasies about another actual person are included in masturbation? Is the act then sinful? While masturbation without having lustful fantasies is hard to imagine, there’s nothing in Scripture by which we can say that it is sinful in and of itself. In fact, if it is done merely as a hedge against the temptation to have sex with someone you shouldn’t be having sex with, and because the body requires sexual release, it could even be considered a healthy alternative to sexual intercourse.

So when it comes to sex our bodies do not cause us much trouble. It’s our minds that get messed up, and unfortunately religion and culture have often contributed to this. Because of religious and cultural views, often passed on in families, kids grow up ashamed of their bodies and what they do with them. This can linger for a lifetime even if intellectually you know better.

Intellectually you know that orgasm is a biological way of giving your body sexual release. From a sexual health point of view, masturbation is one of the safest sexual behaviors. As an adolescent your hormones are raging, you need release, so you stroke yourself, ejaculate, and get relief.

antonio's secret

Control of the Body

So in and of itself, I don’t think masturbation is a sin. But I do think there’s something to be said for practicing self-control in all areas of life, including sex. It’s a good spiritual discipline to control one’s body through diet and exercise and sexual abstinence. You know that ejaculation results in loss of energy. You can feel your body relax after ejaculation. So wanking in the morning before you go to school—or, if you’re an athlete, before a big game—might not be the best time to do it because ejaculation relaxes the body and lowers blood pressure.

But you can master sexual self-control even in masturbation. The boy in the above image is intent on getting the energy out of his body.  After he ejaculates he will feel depleted. But instead of jacking off whenever the urge strikes, hold off until a time when you can take your time and prolong the experience. You can get naked and self-pleasure by rubbing your body all over and not just your penis. You might try getting into  other positions than just laying on the bed or sitting in a chair. You can slowly built up to a really big organism, hold back when it seems like you’re ready to cum, and then finally ejaculate in a way that causes your body to tremble all over. By self-pleasuring you are putting energy into your body rather than just depleting it. (If you were having sex with someone the two of you would be giving and receiving energy.)

An Embodied Form of Prayer

You probably won’t stop masturbating and you shouldn’t put God to the test by asking for God’s help to control a natural biological urge that you will likely give in to anyway. So I suggest a different way of praying. (You brought up the subject of prayer).

In the process of masturbating you don’t want to only feed your lustful fantasies; you should also feed your holiness as a child of God. So in the moment of ecstasy, praise God for the vitality of your body. As your body subsides after ejaculation, don’t feel guilty for what you have done; feel grateful for the wonderful but mysterious gift of your sexuality. But you may also need to cleanse your mind of lustful fantasies that entered it while masturbating.

I suggest a prayer that uses your body—an embodied prayer. Stand up next to your bed just as you are—naked,  just as Adam and Eve stood naked and unashamed before God before their disobedient act of eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they were told not to eat. (It gave them knowledge they weren’t prepared to handle). So here’s the prayer form. It makes use of the Psalms which Christians have prayed since the time of Jesus. The psalms are wonderful because they deal with many human situations and attitudes.

Extend your arms upward with  your chest open (your heart turned to God) and offer praise to the God who knows you as you are because he has created you and redeems you through his Son Jesus Christ. Begin with Psalm 103:1, “Bless the  Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.”

naked praise

Then, still standing  with arms extended outward, palms facing up, from Psalm 136:1 say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his mercy endures forever.” Thank God for your life, your body, your health, your family and friends, the wonders of God’s creation.

If you had lustful fantasies while masturbating, or if your fantasies were lurid enough to be disturbing, kneel down and pray this verse from Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

naked man praying

Then, kneeling, pray for God’s guidance in all you do during the day. Close with the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father).

nude prayer stone_theprayer

Let me anticipate some of your questions. “Why would I do this?” you might ask. Because you’ve used your body for your pleasure; now use it also for God’s glory. St. Paul said, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? You were bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NRSV).

Why have such a formal prayer? Because our relationship with God is not casual; formality is required in St. Paul’s image of the slave serving the master (“you are not your own; you were bought with a price”).

But why pray naked? Because in our culture nudity has come to be associated primarily with sex. You are probably often fully or partially naked when masturbating. There is no shame in nakedness. In fact, it’s clothing that signifies shame. Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves because they were ashamed. Then, after they were expelled from the paradise garden, God made clothing of animal skins for them.

Without clothes we feel vulnerable because we cannot hide from God, like Adam and Eve tried to do when they disobeyed him. Without the protection of clothing we cannot cover our doubts or our fears or our shame.  But without covering we also stand more open to God even with our doubts and fears and shame exposed. Try praying naked and let this be a positive opportunity for spiritual growth. Praying naked reminds us that no creature is hidden from God. “…all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Hebrews 4:12-16; NRSV).

God’s blessing on you as you experiment with embodied prayer.

Pastor Frank Senn

boy nude yoga prayer

9 Comments

  1. Frank Senn

    This comment came via email from a college student.

    “I’m not sure what I am writing about, but have enjoyed your posts about porn, and masturbation. It’s strange. I found myself getting hard when reading your post about masturbation as you used language such as “stroking yourself” or “clean yourself up” — hell, I’m about to go jerk off right now! I suppose one reason for writing is just clearing up what you wrote–this is what I seemed to have gotten from it: masturbation feels good and is a good release, but praying afterward brings you back to reality and out of the fantasy world. Correct? I am in a relationship (with a man) and we are happily monogamous. That being said, fantasies seem just to me, and whatever I think of that gets me to my climax seems like a fair thing. Being Catholic, and knowing the things that have happened in the Catholic church, I struggle to think that priests do not masturbate. I mean, we all wake up with a hard cock, don’t we? Anyway, that’s beyond the point. I enjoy your blog for a few reasons, but regarding masturbation enjoy your openness about the issue…

    • Frank Senn

      I wrote back:

      “Dear N., Thanks for your comments. I’m happy that you found my blog and follow it sometimes. To take your comments in reverse order: I can’t respond about Catholic priests. I wouldn’t presume to know what others do (but, yes, they probably do). About fantasizing: I read in an article in Psychology Today that sexual fantasizing is the most common human sexual experience. Certainly fantasy plays no small part in masturbation. Until recently, sexual fantasy was considered mentally unhealthy just like masturbation was considered physically unhealthy. Now it seems that fantasy is considered a normal component of a healthy sex life. By saying that it is “just” perhaps you are rejecting the idea that you should feel guilty about it.

      “You got from my article that prayer brings you back to reality from fantasizing. I didn’t think of that, but it’s a good way to look at it. The next time you masturbate, I encourage you to experiment with the embodied prayer. If you try it and care to share, I’d be happy to hear about your experience with the prayer.”

      He responded by email:

      “I’ve never been so open with someone I don’t know, particularly a 72 year old pastor! That being said, for whatever reason it’s allowing me to say things I normally wouldn’t and I’m appreciative of your interest in my ideas/problems — and also enjoy what you have to say. I mean, I never thought I’d get an email from a 72 year old man to tell me to let him know how I feel after cumming and saying a prayer 🙂

      “I have not yet had the opportunity to masturbate yet today. I know I will be doing so pretty soon this evening. I will be in touch later about how exiting the fantasy world and returning to reality via prayer works for me.”

      He wrote back:

      “I centered myself in prayer after relieving myself and feel better. It felt nice doing the body postures and prayer immediately after cumming. I think I will continue doing it!”

  2. Ken Ely

    Not many comments have been added to this forum. Perhaps it’s because it is a scary subject to talk about for some men and boys.

    What I’m adding here is not so much spiritual or emotional in perspective as it is clinical. It’s a snippet from YOU: The Owner’s Manual, by Mehmet C. Oz, MD

    “While some previous studies have made researchers believe that frequent ejaculation could increase your risk for prostate cancer, one major study of thirty thousand men who ejaculated between thirteen and twenty times a month decreased their risk of cancer by 14 percent – and men who ejaculated more than twenty-one times a month decreased it by 43 percent. In addition, many sex therapists believe that masturbation can improve your health – by relieving stress, for instance.”

    On a personal note, I am 69 years old and married. My wife and I do not have sex as often as we once did, for multiple reasons. I have found that ‘use it or lose it’ is, indeed, a fact where my sex life is concerned. If I do not masturbate for long periods, my libido decreases and my erectile capacity declines. Occasional self-pleasuring keeps me fit for the main events, just like any other form of exercise or practice.
    “Try it; you’ll like it!”

    • Frank Senn

      Thank you for this, Ken. I wrote this article in answer to a question from a young guy, and hoped other young guys would find it, read it, and perhaps send a comment. (One obviously did.) But the guilt of masturbation can also be an issue for older guys who grew up formed by the views I described from the unenlightened time of our youth. It can also be an issue for married guys who assumed that once they were married, they should give up self-pleasuring. (I think some wives might also have this assumption.) But I have to admit that at some times in my married life (like during pregnancies, illnesses) mutual masturbation was also a form of expressing sexual intimacy and love. And there’s no reason older folks couldn’t also pray like I suggested. Thanks for enlightening and encouraging us.

  3. Kenneth E Ely

    Frank,
    I check this tread periodically to see whether anyone else has posted a comment or an opinion and I am disappointed that no one has contributed since my posting. I think masturbation is a very pertinent subject and remains a matter of moral and theological contention for Christians, especially Roman Catholics (I am an Anglican: we allow everything).
    Ken

    • Frank Senn

      There haven’t been a lot of page users on this topic lately, Ken. Maybe you should send a link to some guys and see what they think. Would anyone you know use the prayer form? What do you think about group or mutual masturbation?

  4. Ken Ely

    Frank,
    Mutual masturbation between spouses is certainly permissible and is part of godly sexual activity.
    (I believe solo masturbation is part of godly sexual activity, as well. It is a gift to be used joyfully and with gratitude. And I like the prayerful approach you have offered above.)
    Because masturbation is a sexual activity, mutual masturbation between two people not married can be argued as sexual activity outside marriage. Group masturbation can certainly be argued as sexual activity outside marriage.
    God’s plan for Man is for our sexual intercourse to be a communion between two people, a spiritual and physical communion – a becoming one flesh and one spirit. It is meant to reflect the communion that exists between the Three Persons of the Trinity. I believe that the third person in our fleshly sexual unions must be God for this reflection to be present and His intention to be fulfilled.
    It’s my opinion that sex in any manner that falls short of God’s intention for us cannot be as good, as gratifying, as fun, and as unifying as sex the way He intended it for us. Sex is a gift from God. Sexual intercourse is a gift we give to our partner, not something we take from our partner or use our partner for, for our pleasure. It is in the mutual giving that we mutually receive and in that reception we are in communion, fleshly and spiritually, with our partner and with God. Thus, I think sexual activity belongs solely to marriage and that this is God’s plan for our highest good and His greatest Glory.
    Please note that while I am offering a perspective on sexual activity and spiritual conformation here, I am not offering a definition of marriage. I have one but it is not the topic here.

    • Frank Senn

      I’ll say “Amen,” Ken. Since you use the generic term “partners” I guess mutual masturbation also applies to same-sex partners. I’ve heard that some boys participate in a “circle jerk,” or at least have jerked off with a friend. I never did. I’ve always thought that sexual activity should be a private expression with oneself or with one’s partner/spouse. But if anyone out there has done this and wants to comment on it (or anything else related to masturbation), the forum is open.

  5. Ken Ely

    Frank,
    My use of the term ‘partner’ was to avoid any definition of marriage; I embrace both same-sex and opposite-sex partners in the ‘partner’ category.
    Let me follow up on your comment about boys masturbating with friends. And I am going to write this from a purely heterosexual male perspective about heterosexual males; females, I have no doubt, experience the same transitions and engage in the same activities at the same age but, as you say, Frank, “I have no experience of that.”
    Adolescence is a time when boys form and explore the dynamics of strong peer group relationships. It is also a time when their body chemistry, morphology, and brain developments are undergoing rapid changes. They begin at this time to explore themselves in group contexts and, individually, sexually; and part of that exploration is masturbation. It is very natural for them to carry their sexual discoveries into their peer group explorations, to talk, compare notes, to see what is accepted and what is not and this often leads to masturbating together. In my opinion, it is normal and healthy – for early adolescents. If the activity continues with any frequency beyond the middle-to-late teens, it indicates to me a ‘hitch’ in self/social/emotional development. It’s like shitting your pants: for a 2-year-old, it’s expected; for an 18-year-old it’s a solecism.
    Sadly, being a ‘poly-random’ culture, we have no religious or social context or traditions to guide our boys through this developmental period as many ‘tribal’ cultures have. And I cannot speak to individuals who are homosexual in their orientation – well, I could; but it is too wide a field to gallop over in this thread.
    Ken

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