I remember the time in seminary when one of our professors quipped, “Masturbation is the opposite of the weather. With the weather, everyone discusses it, but no one can actually do anything about it . With masturbation . . . well, you know the rest.”
So it’s a time to talk about it. It’s time to talk about it because of the impact of the Home sermon series & Radical Impact Project and how our church linked the rising use of porn with the increasing demand for underage girls in the sex trafficking industry.
It’s time to talk about it because I’ve seen its impact on singles and marrieds alike.
It’s time to talk about it because we understand the act in a toxic mix of humor, avoidance, and shame — but rarely do we discuss from a theological perspective.
Which takes us to Scripture’s earliest words regarding human sexuality:
For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother, cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
The two shall become one flesh. When a man and woman unite sexually, they create something that did not exist before. It’s not a series of isolated acts with disconnected partners as if we are nothing more than two-legged alley cats. In God’s design it’s a deeply spiritual experience in which body and soul, heart and spirit connect in vulnerability and pleasure.
And I suspect that the exchanging of bodily fluids in that intimate act in a sense puts a “seal” on that new creation. Seen from God’s perspective, sex forges a new bond and forever links you to that partner whether you realize it or not.
What does all this sex-as-spirituality talk have to do with masturbation?
Think about it. If sex creates something that did not exist before and forges an irrevocable bond with your partner and if bodily fluids seal that new creation, then in masturbation you are becoming one with . . . yourself.
It is the ultimate self-retreat. And leads towards self-obession. Which is why I’ve had counseling with wives who are at the same time desolate and confused: why does he have no interest in me but only interest in himself?
The theological answer is this: because he’s becoming one with himself.
The clinical answer looks like this:
Two brain chemicals play a powerful role in addiction. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that enables you to feel pleasurable emotions, and endorphins are chemicals released during stress and physical activity that allow you to recover and feel at ease. When you masturbate, the body releases dopamine to enable you to feel sexual pleasure, and frequently releases endorphins when you’re done masturbating. Over time, this frequent release of brain chemicals can become addictive. Because endorphins and dopamine can help you cope with stress, people experiencing extraordinary stress or mental health problems are especially likely to become addicted to the release of these chemicals that occurs with masturbation. Thus frequent masturbation can become an unhealthy coping mechanism that causes you to avoid – rather than address – your problems.
Whether it’s theological or clinical, the result is much the same: increasing isolation and compounding addiction. Not in every case, mind you, but in way more than you want to admit.
Masturbation is not boys will be boys.
It’s not everyone does it.
It’s not even I need a daily release.
Seen theologically, it is instead that which can often appeal to all of our worst instincts — instant pleasure and self-obsession — while undermining God’s inherently creative gift of sexual intimacy.