Mental Masturbation

Mental Masturbation June 5, 2013

Last week Rachel Held Evans invited a few bloggers to respond to a question as part of her year long series on sexuality. In her email to our group she shared Interestingly, when I surveyed my readers the #1 question they had as it relates to sexuality is this:

Is masturbation an acceptable component to healthy sexuality?”

Rachel has received thoughtful and faithful responses from most of the group but I messed around and didn’t get in a response in time for her post that went live yesterday. I started on the question from a myriad of different angles and couldn’t quite hone in on the one thing I most wanted to say.  Here though are some of my thoughts – I would really love to hear from you as well.

First thought – I guess first and foremost I am troubled by the word “acceptable” in this question. It worries me on a few layers

a. Why oh why are we so hyper focused on sexual behavior in the church?  Really, aren’t there bigger things to worry about (such as poverty, hunger, war, human trafficking, domestic violence, creation care, immigration reform and about a dozen other justice issues)?

b. The whole question just sounds as ridiculous to me as if I were to ask my pastor if brushing my teeth is an acceptable part of oral health or eating vegetables an acceptable part of a healthy diet.

c. A sad and slightly hilarious image flashed in my mind of Christians furtively wanking off then weeping tearful prayers of forgiveness.  Achieving relief through physical then the mental masturbation.

In fact it really worries me that the church spends so much time fretting over sex that they may create the very dysfunction they hope to avoid.  Jenell Williams Paris wrote in her post for RHE “When we ignore it, trying to be more angel than human, what is repressed often returns in distorted and harmful forms.”

Then after I was done being perturbed by the weirdness of the question I began to answer it. Yes. Then I asked L what she thought, and with a look of confusion and tone of duh she said. “well yeah.”  There are so many reasons why yes is our answer.  We are created, as best we understand, to not only enjoy orgasms but to need them. It’s an essential  aspect of many people’s health, right up there with brushing your teeth. Even WebMD has plenty to say on the topic and it’s role in our physical and mental health.

“It relieves stress and keeps everything about your body—your heart rate, blood pressure, reproductive system, brain chemistry—in very good shape. It’s appropriate, and a valid option in a relationship, when one’s partner is unavailable due to physical separation, fatigue, recovery from childbirth, or illness. It also helps balance discrepancies in frequency desires. Since there is no formula bestowed during a marriage ceremony that magically aligns two people to have the same level of sexual interest, masturbation is a good thread to weave through a relationship’s tapestry.

Many couples have a “higher frequency partner” and a “lower frequency partner.” This desire discrepancy puzzles many couples. They struggle with having sex when they don’t really want to. Some wrestle with deeply held feelings that they should be everything their partner desires sexually. Masturbation helps with an imbalance and helps couples avoid being coerced up or down in frequency by their partner. It’s an aid to a relationship over the long haul.”

As a woman who’s intimate partner is a woman I can not say enough about the health of knowing thyself.  By knowing my own body and what brings me pleasure I not only can communicate with my partner what feels good but I also understand her body all the better. Much of the conversations I encounter about masturbation seem to focus on either men or singles.  Masturbation can be a healthy and even erotic component to a loving and committed relationship.  Rather than feeling as if there is something I am not fulfilling for my partner I find it arousing and encouraging to know how healthy her appetite is even when I may not be on the same page (and with two women, there are likely a few weeks each year when we are not going to be on the same page).  Sexual needs indeed vary. Many factors can affect our sexual appetite, from stress, illness and aging to family, career and social commitments. Whatever the cause, differences in sexual desire between partners can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation or resentment.  A little “alone-time” can actually make us a stronger couple.

Another important issue percolated up in my mind as I considered how I would respond. I particularly agree with some of RHE’s respondents who lifted up the necessity to discuss the issue of pornography and human sex trafficking when we talk about masturbation. These practices are explicitly counter to compassionate living in relationship with other humans.  If our masturbation depends on the porn industry that treats human bodies as objects to be used rather than fully actualized humans then it is unacceptable and outside God’s intentions for us.

Which leads me to the reason why this is a religious question after all. I believe that God cares deeply how we do what we do in the world. I believe God cares less about what we do and far more about how we do it.  What I believe determines if an act is acceptable or not depends on what is in our hearts, our intentions as we do what we do.  I believe that God cares how we eat food (in ways that extend compassion and justice to others and the planet). I believe God cares little what we purchase and a great deal how we purchase (with intentionality that considers economics justice, living wages and sustainable care for creation).  And I believe God cares less what words we use but how we use our words (are the words used to harm or heal).  So too must I acknowledge that I believe that God cares about how we engage our sexuality – with respect for ourselves and others, in ways that do not pull us away from relationship, in ways that open our hearts and give of our selves in loving and whole ways. Sex is part of our humanity.  Sex is a gift from our Creator who built in us millions of exceptionally well placed nerve endings.  Sex can be good, real good.  And yes, sex can be bad, even down right evil when it robs anyone of their basic humanity.

My final realization as I worked on this question is that I’ve never really blogged about sex.  Sure I’ve written about sexuality at a very high level as we work through what it means to be gay and Christian. But like many gay Christian writers, it seems that we sometimes paint a nearly platonic picture of our lives as gay Christians to help the straights get over their issues with “the yuck factor”. See I know all too well that society has trained folks to try and picture two women in the act of sex together and to avoid with a deep aversion picturing two men together. I really don’t want my bedroom behavior to be what flashes in your mind when you first realize I am gay any more than you want me running porn clips of your and your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend (I promise that gives me a case of yuck-factor willies if I linger too long). It is true that being a lesbian is about more than sex.  My orientation is about love to be sure. But avoiding the reality that my relationship is in fact a sexual relationship reduces me and my lover to asexual cuddle buddies – and that is as inaccurate for me as it is for you and your partner.    So consider this an invitation to have an honest conversation about sex.  This might be a good time to review the comment covenant for all of us, but let’s talk about sex baby…


PS  thanks for the great writing prompt Rachel!


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20 responses to “Mental Masturbation”

  1. You said “A sad and slightly hilarious image flashed in my mind of Christians furtively wanking off then weeping tearful prayers of forgiveness”
    That was definitely me at age 11/12 and, based on questions asked by teens on ‘answers’ type sites, is the reality still for many young people.
    That’s why I’m glad RHE is asking the question and you and others are answering. Through prayer and my Bible and seeking help – very cautiously and mostly anonymously – from others, I reached the place where I could wank w/o the regret. I can easily imagine, if I’d concluded masturbation was a sin I could not escape, turning away from faith.
    I wish parents would speak openly with children.

  2. OK Kimberly, I read your “Washed and Waiting”, and realize how twisted your theology is. Satan comes as a false righteous angel of light, decieving to the uttermost. I’ll remember you in my prayers. Tom

    • Well Serious Q I did not write “Washed and Waiting” but ok. I too will remember you in my prayers Tom that the viel of fear and ignorance will be lifted from your heart so you may experience the radical love and extravagant welcome of God who we know through the liberating grace of Jesus.

  3. “A sad and slightly hilarious image flashed in my mind of Christians furtively wanking off then weeping tearful prayers of forgiveness.”

    That actually happened to me many times when I was Christian. I remember sobbing and begging for forgiveness, thinking that the Devil had deceived me…now I wonder why. What was it that made me think that sex is something awful?

    “In fact it really worries me that the church spends so much time fretting over sex that they may create the very dysfunction they hope to avoid. Jenell Williams Paris wrote in her post for RHE “When we ignore it, trying to be more angel than human, what is repressed often returns in distorted and harmful forms.””


  4. Kimberly, as someone who is in the “MInstry”, plesae show me contextual scriptures that, give a clear undrstanding, where LGBT sexual relationships, are in the Will of God. My own understanding from scripture is that, yes numerous lifestyles were, called out and redeemed by the blood of Christ. To me, it means we are to no longer walk, live in them. I’ve reconsiled this, as those lives, are to be relationnally sexually celibate, just as straight singles should be relationally sexually celibate. I’ll appreciate hearing your response, thank you. Tom

    • Serious Q,

      Thank you for your serious question. As you might can tell this particular post is not about the particular question you pose. I invite you to read more of my posts to see if the answer you seek is there.


  5. oh dear god, kimberly… this is the first someone else has written on this topic that i agree with 100% without exception to a single turn of phrase. and, yes, you hit my nail on the head that even the wording belies pre-prejudicial admonisment (i made up that phrase). in fact, it was the subject of masturbation and wet dreams that was the lynch pin that threw me into my visionquest. NO ONE tells MY son that such things are mortal sins and gets away with that pantload of crap… 🙂
    thomas aquinas wasn’t jesus. hard to believe, catlickers, but it’s true. he wasn’t.

  6. “The body is not for fornication (including lesbian sex and masturbation) but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” As to point A, as individuals we can do a little about poverty, et al., but about how we use our bodies, we have complete control.

    • I weep for your heart that believes that we are not called to address the deep suffering that poverty brings the neighbors we are called to love as ourselves. And yes, we do have control over our bodies and masturbation is one way we experience that control in healthy and whole ways.

  7. Thank you for writing about this. I absolutely agree with you that human sexuality and its expression with self or with another in multiple ways is a natural part of living and how God created us to be. Spirituality and sexuality are NOT mutually exclusive. Our bodies are a part of who and what we are as we express our spiritual beliefs – including sexual activity. After all, we were created as sexual beings. It would be weird NOT to express those feelings in physical ways and masturbation is a healthy alternative. I tell that to my Confirmation youth directly! For those who want the biblical input: God created us (including our sexuality) and called it good. Period. As long as we don’t hurt ourselves or someone else, or demean/abuse them, then we shouldn’t worry about it. I also agree that the church needs to stop fixating on what people do sexually (other than to affirm that we ARE sexual beings and created that way) and put our focus on the larger issues of injustice, poverty, climate, etc. that REALLY need some attention before it is too late!

  8. Ironically, I think it is the unhealthy view of sex which RHE’s prompt intends to fight which gives rise to dysfunctional sexual behavior, perhaps even creating a portion of the market for sex slavery (<– I prefer that term over "trafficking"). In a forthcoming post of my own, I discuss the fragmentation of sexuality from self and from companionship. For a variety of reasons, some strictly focused on relationships and some more concerned with broader issues like porn or sex slavery.

    On a different note, I was reading a variety of psychological articles the other day regarding porn, and psychologists seem to agree that some porn can be ethical (i.e. depictions of voluntary, loving sex) and even healthy for couples to watch together in effort to balance libidos and increase intimacy. I really don't know what to think about that. Any thoughts?

  9. i wrote about this myself and had the most fun writing I’ve had in a long time. Of course, I let my juvenile side out to play and employed some euphemisms (how many times can you say “masturbation” without sounding weird?). I’m pretty sure i giggled through the entire post. But, I said pretty much the same thing you did: God created us as sexual beings and meant for sex to be a part of a fully lived life. So, as long as it doesn’t compromise your love for God or your neighbor, I say have at it.

  10. Demonizing the Divinely created body will create perversions; this is evident throughout human history! Silence, shame and fear do not honor our bodies or their natural sexual needs. Rethink “natural.” Love between two people is Divine expression. Only rule here, “First, Do No Harm to Self or Others.” Silence is violence. Love, Live, Laugh! Repression of Love creates perversion, it is the child of silence.

    • No argument can win the people who think that sex can be used for recreation. They justify all sorts of things. Once it is recreation, there is no limit in its combinations and styles. Fort those who believe that sex is a sacred gift of God and the boundaries built by the Church or religion are to be maintained, the philosophy is different. The permissiveness will bring about great chaos in the society. God who is all powerful watches us and He will interfere at the right time.

      • Love is genderless, sex isn’t. However we cut it, no matter ho eloquent we make it, sex outside of marriage which an only be between a man and a woman is a sin, its not Gods plan for us. I am not homophobic, bigoted or intolerant. I to some measure know what this would mean for someone with a same sex orientation. Sex was important n scripture and sexual purity was important clear warnings against fornication adultery and homosexual activity are clear for all to see. Today sex is important, for a load ofereasons.Promiscuity when young , STDs, early pregnancy, ruined lives and relationships, serial monogamy produces its own problems. Of course the church and ts leaders probably more in the states than in the UK) needs to get its act together and Christians should stop asking stupid questions like ‘can you be gay and christian’ (of course you can and being ‘gay’ doesnt mean you are having se any more than hetero does)

        • We have freedom of thought and expression. Each goes according to a mental desire or target. Continence or suffering is not in the dictionary of people like Kimberly. They may condemn Jesus for his crucifixion suffering. We cant do anything because all have freedom to say anything.

          • Your comment is condescending, presumptions, simple minded and smacks of a superiority complex – none of which are fruits of the spirit. You do not know me or my relationship to Christ but thanks for playing the predicable role for which you were cast in this scene of our shared drama.