“The M word.” “McDonald’s.” These are some of the words I’ve heard people use to refer to the act of sexual self-stimulation, otherwise known as masturbation.
My earliest memory of it was when I was around five or six years old. I must have discovered by accident that touching my private parts felt good at a very early age, and I was hooked on it since.
Even though I’d accepted Christ around the age of nine, no one taught me what the Bible said about it. To me, there was nothing wrong with masturbation because I couldn’t see any harm in doing it.
As I grew older, out of curiosity, I started to read up about the Christian view on masturbation. Most, if not all, of the articles spoke against the act, noting that it was accompanied by lust, brought about by sexual fantasy or pornography. I concluded that the main argument against masturbation was that it easily led one into the sin of lust, so I thought that as long as it didn’t result in lustful thoughts, there wasn’t anything to be worried about.
Though I did not fall deep into pornography—which I’m extremely thankful to God for, because that would have made it doubly addictive—I had developed the habit of sexual fantasizing. I tried to break the habit on a few occasions, but because I wasn’t quite convinced that it was that wrong, I’d return to it soon after.
In 2014, God began to break my bondage to sexual brokenness in several areas. One of them was masturbation. After one particular Sunday in April that year, my desire for the habit suddenly decreased significantly, without me doing anything about it. God allowed me to experience a period of supernatural freedom from that habit for a few months.
But after a while, the desire returned to the level it was before. However, having known what freedom from masturbation was like, I now realized that God was showing me that it wasn’t part of His will for me. I knew it was an act that could neither glorify God nor edify me—even if it wasn’t accompanied by the lust of sexual fantasy or pornography.
I am now on a journey of unlearning this habit, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
It can be an addiction
Through my years of struggling with sexual brokenness in this and other areas, I’ve discovered that sexual desire is like an appetite—the more I feed it, the more it grows. Masturbation had become addictive, and ruled over me as my master. I was no longer able to say “no” to it; instead, I helplessly obeyed its beckoning whenever the desire came.
This certainly isn’t a picture of the freedom and fullness of life Jesus intended for me to have (Galatians 5:1; John 10:10).
It can erode self-control
My habit of masturbation led me to think that sexual pleasure was within easy reach whenever I wanted it. It eroded my sense of self-control over my sexual desires. Why wait to experience sexual pleasure when I can have what I want immediately?
The Bible says, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). The danger of having no self-control was that it left me vulnerable to being attacked by unhealthy or ungodly forces.
The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of “self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7), and one of the fruit He produces is “self-control” (Galatians 5:23). How can I be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) if I don’t let Him empower me to have self-discipline or cultivate the fruit of self-control?
It can be a way of avoiding deeper issues
When I looked back on the times when I was drawn to masturbation, I realized that those were often the times when I had an underlying pain or discomfort I didn’t want to deal with, or when I was feeling lonely or deep sadness, and craved the comfort of sexual pleasure.
Other times, it was when I was feeling frustrated, stressed out or angst about something, and I wanted to numb myself with a sexual high, to momentarily forget about what was bothering me. And there were times when I was simply bored, and sought a moment of exhilaration.
But it was a vicious cycle. Whenever these issues weren’t addressed in a healthy way, they continued to build up and cause me more distress—which in turn drove me to masturbation and other unhealthy means to cope with the pain even more. But each time, the pleasure was temporary and I was left having to deal with a sense of guilt and emptiness afterward.
As part of my journey out of masturbation, I have to remind myself not to turn to it as a means of quick relief again. Instead, I’m learning to talk to God about what I’m feeling, so that I can process my thoughts and emotions with Him, asking Him for His perspective on what’s troubling me and then standing upon His truths.
Over time, the more I experience God’s reliable comfort for the underlying issues that bother me, the more I’m able to turn away from the false, short-lived comforts of masturbation and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
It misses the mark of God’s best for us
The Bible doesn’t call masturbation a sin, but I believe it’s one of those things that we are called to throw off because it can hinder us from running the race of faith well (Hebrews 12:1-2).
American author and speaker Dannah Gresh, in her book What Are You Waiting For?: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex, makes the case that God’s intended design for our sexuality is for us to know and be known, and to be deeply respected by the person with whom we are in a marriage covenant. Therefore, she believes masturbation misses the mark of God’s ideal purpose for our sexual desire.
I agree with her. In all my years of being caught up in the habit of masturbation, it taught my mind to think that sexual pleasure was all about taking instead of giving, and it trained my body to be accustomed to experiencing sexual pleasure in a certain way—mine. This way of living out my sexuality doesn’t help me to know and be known by another person.
I believe that God’s intent for a marriage covenant is for a man and a woman to be giving and submitting to each other out of love (Ephesians 5:21-32). This applies to their sexual union as well—husband and wife are to devote themselves to giving the other person sexual pleasure out of their love for each other. In their giving, they receive as well. However, if each person is focused on taking sexual pleasure from the other, the mutual joys of their sexual union would be diminished. That’s hardly a picture of mutual submission—it’s of one or both dominating over the other.
For this reason, I don’t believe masturbation bears out the will of God for my sexuality, even if my singleness were to be lifelong. When I miss God’s mark for my life, I also don’t experience God’s best in my life.
There is hope
You might be in a habit of masturbation and want to find freedom from it. There is hope, because God delights to bring restoration into our lives.
If you’ve been masturbating to (visual or emotional) pornography or sexual fantasy, reducing and eventually removing these two things in your life is a good start to decreasing the addictive power of the act.
I’ve found that the more I spend time with the Lord—worshipping Him in song, reading His Word, praying to Him, building relationships in a Christ-centered community, ministering to others, etc.—the more I’m able to turn away from the urge to masturbate. This, for me, is how I have learned and applied the wisdom of Galatians 5:16-17 in my life: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.”
If you, like me, have been using masturbation as a coping mechanism, I encourage you to examine the deeper issues you’ve been trying to avoid. Dealing with them may be uncomfortable, even painful, but I’ve seen for myself that it’s worth it because the cost of not addressing them healthily is even greater. God is there to examine these issues with you, and He will provide the comfort and help you need as you courageously take steps to seek His restoration.
I may stumble now and then, but I still hope to finally find total freedom from masturbation. Will you join me on this journey of experiencing God’s freedom in this area of your life?