There were some people who were … let’s say disgruntled … by my podcast episode last week where I shared my views on solo masturbation. Many argued that there’s no reason single people can’t masturbate. So, I thought I’d write a post in response and expand upon the ideas I shared. Of course, you’re welcome to believe as you wish, but at least then you know my reasons, instead of having to guess at them.
There are three basic reasons why I think it’s a bad idea. One theological, one physiological, and lastly, one psychological.
Theological reasons against masturbation
So, let’s get this one out of the way first, because it’s likely to cause the most arguments. As people are thrilled to point out, there are no verses in the Bible dealing with masturbation directly. Yeah, I’m perfectly willing to admit that. I find it a strange argument, since Christianity is rife with things that are not directly spoken of in the Bible. Some I believe are correct, like the Trinity, some I believe are incorrect, like child baptism, keeping Sunday instead of a Saturday Sabbath, and ordination (just to step on everyone’s toes equally). Something being spoken of directly, or not, in the Bible doesn’t seem to be a case for doing or not doing something.
Instead, what I think we should do is look at the aggregate and see what that points to. And so, in the Bible I see healthy sexuality as something that is shared, shared only with one’s spouse, and must be carefully guarded in order for it not to become a sin.
Some will argue that masturbation is God’s way of providing release for men (in particular), but then in the same argument they’ll typically cite that if you don’t, you’ll have nocturnal emissions, which to me seems to be the natural “safety valve” if one is needed. So, that’s not much of an argument in my books.
Some will say that God always provides a way out of temptation, and masturbation must be it. However, that doesn’t seem to be in line with the Biblical teaching of self-control, of character building, of strengthening your will and relying on God’s perfect will power when ours falls short.
Ultimately, I believe our sexual experience is a precious thing, and intimate thing, and something that is intended to be shared with our spouse, and them alone. When you exercise your sexuality without your spouse, you cheapen it, you dilute it. You make the experience with your spouse less special. Less unique. But, that’s my opinion based partially on the physiological reason.
Physiological reasons against masturbation
I was sent a paper this week from a reader, who shall remain anonymous, who was defending masturbation. In this paper, he wrote this:
Yes, sharing sexual activity with your spouse is first and foremost about the emotional and spiritual connection. It isn’t just physical. There IS a bond that occurs when you have sex with someone, even if you aren’t married to them! (1 Cor 6:16) It is called “pair bonding” and it fuses your soul together with someone. This is why sex isn’t to be taken lightly.
But that is if you are engaged in the sex act with another person.
This is a separate act from masturbation. Masturbation is about feeling the relaxing and enjoyable feelings of an orgasm. It is also about experiencing sexual release when you feel the need. […] This doesn’t take anything away from your marriage or the sexual relationship you have with your spouse. What you share with your spouse isn’t just a physical experience. What you share with your spouse transcends the physical experience. It includes the physical in the process, but it is more than just physical. It is a joining together of your bodies and your spirits. In masturbation, you aren’t joining to anyone. They are two completely different experiences.
The only way masturbation would take something away from the marriage would be if you were only masturbating and never coming together with your spouse.
He’s right, “sex is about more than just the physical act”. However, sex includes a lot of physical stuff that goes on. While you may or may not be able to “pair bond” with an activity, masturbation does still release the same chemical cocktail including oxytocin and dopamine. The dopamine in particular helps rewire your brain. Now, when you’re having sex with your spouse, it helps teach your brain that sex with your spouse is good and you want to do it again. However, the same happens when you masturbate. You train your brain that this is good and fun. It also comes with a lot less work involved. After all, you don’t need to think about anyone else, you don’t have to be concerned about their pleasure, you can stop as soon as you’ve had an orgasm and enjoy your orgasm high.
So, your brain sees this and recognizes that you can get this dopamine and oxytocin with a lot less expenditure of resources.
For single people, they get used to this. There’s no one else to worry about, there’s nothing to compare it to, and so many get years of training their brain to be used to having sex on their own. As a result, we have a lot (and I mean a lot!) of sexually selfish newlyweds. Don’t tell me they don’t exist, because I get emails from their spouses regularly.
There’s also the concern that you can train yourself to only be able to orgasm from your own methods of self-induced orgasm. More and more men are finding when they get married that they can’t orgasm from sex. For some, they’re just unused to a partner. For others, they’re used to a firmer grip than a vagina can realistically offer. For others they say “it’s too wet”. I get emails from all these types, and from their new wives who are devastated, thinking they are the problem. Now, women often have the same struggle, but since the female rate of orgasm from intercourse is so low, it’s hard to say what’s from masturbation, and what’s from other influences, or even just natural.
Now, physiological patterns can be overcome with time. People do it. They learn to enjoy sex; they learn to appreciate their spouse. Honestly, it usually doesn’t take that long learn (though it can). The bigger risks, I think, are the psychological reasons.
Psychological reasons against masturbation
As I mentioned before, one of the largest issues is learning to be selfish as a sexual being. When you masturbate, you train your mind to think “I can have this whenever I want, as often as I want”.
Now, many people say that married people shouldn’t masturbate, but it’s okay for single people. Let’s think through this. You spend, potentially, years as a single person, learning that orgasm is on-demand, as it were, and then suddenly you get married, and you’re supposed to suddenly stop. Except your body has been used to a steady supply of dopamine, a highly addictive hormone that tells your brain that you just did something exciting and good. And now, all of a sudden, you are required to wait until the other person wants to have sex too.
And it just doesn’t work. I have literally communicated with hundreds of spouses who find out years later that their husband or wife has been hiding a masturbation addiction for years. The top 2 posts on this blog for the last year are Why Do Married Men Masturbate and My Husband Admitted to Masturbating, How Do I Get Over The Hurt?. Together, over 95,000 people last year read those posts. My podcast episode Why Do Married Men Masturbate was the most listened to in the first day, almost 200 people, and I don’t think most of them were thinking “Oh, I wonder what he’s going to say”. Most listened because they were hurting, they were struggling, they had questions, they’re ashamed, they’re feeling guilty.
For many singles, who are used to masturbating, when they get married, they can’t give it up. It’s too hard, especially if their marriages are struggling, and most marriages are, unfortunately. Ultimately, masturbating becomes an easy exit. It’s a release of the tension in the relationship, it’s just easier to masturbate than to deal with the issues at hand. You get your dopamine fix, some oxytocin, and you feel okay, for a while anyways.
Sadly, I also sometimes see spouses who prefer their husbands or wives masturbate. Why? Because it takes the pressure off of them. They aren’t interested in being their spouse’s sexual outlet. They don’t want that intimate of a relationship. It’s a bother, or they don’t want to deal with their hangups, their baggage, their pain. So, they tell their spouse to go “help themselves” and leave them alone. It hurts too much to dig into those old wounds.
And many listen. They resign themselves to that, because that’s what their spouse wants. They give up and just say “yes dear”, and off they go. Now, it’s marginally better than having your spouse tell you to go have an affair, but not by much. It still is the same message. I don’t care enough about you to be your sexual partner, go be your own partner. It’s reminiscent of being told as a kid “Go play by yourself, I don’t want you as a partner”. Except, it hurts more, because this is from someone who promised to always be your partner, until death, and because sexuality is such an intimate and private thing. This stabs at our core. It’s sexual, and emotional, abandonment. And worse than that, it’s manipulative, because they trick their spouses into believing that masturbating is ultimately selfless, because it puts less strain on them, when in fact, it’s a synthetic, a bad copy, a counterfeit to what marriage and sexuality should be.
Look at the comments on the podcast episode. It’s full of people who have given up. They aren’t trying, they aren’t fighting for their marriages, they’ve just decided that masturbation is how they’re going to survive until they, or their wife, die. Not only that, but they’re angry that I suggested there might be something better. They’re, not happy, but content, to stick with masturbation as a replacement for a healthy sexual relationship.
But, if you could take masturbation out of the picture, suddenly there’s new incentive to fix the relationship. For couples that come to me for coaching, those that struggle with this issue, I ask if they’re willing to institute a new rule in their house. We call it the “In me or on me” rule. In short, the husband (I’ve only gotten husbands addicted to masturbating so far), is only allowed to ejaculate in his wife, or on her. That may sound crude, but it works. The caveat is that she has to be available (within reason), whenever he’s feeling the need to orgasm. I mean, he can’t interrupt dinner with the family to go get his fix, or pull her out of church, or something like that.
But, what happens is amazing. Suddenly, orgasm is not on-demand, it’s fairly readily available, but not as quick as just jumping into the bathroom for a minute. He has to wait occasionally. He learns he has some willpower after all. As well, his wife is always present, which means that he now is “pair-bonding” with her, even when it’s not “sex”. Lastly, many wives realize…it’s kind of arousing, and so the next time he wants to masturbate, she asks for sex instead. After all, she wants to feel good too. I’ve had couples go from sexless marriage to frequent sex, almost overnight. It’s absolutely awesome to see unfold. These men never want to go back to masturbation again. It’s not worth going back. The wives, are ecstatic as well. They suddenly have a husband who’s putting all his sexual attention on her, and they know their husband’s aren’t going anywhere else to get their sexual needs met.
As my reader wrote in his paper, “Masturbation is about feeling the relaxing and enjoyable feelings of an orgasm.” It’s only about making me feel good when I want it. It’s a very selfish habit and addiction. But, masturbation and sex, as he says, “are two completely different experiences”, and I agree. They will have two completely different effects on your marriage as well.
So I’m going to continue telling people not to masturbate
Because, I believe it’s based on solid biblical principles (even if not a direct, specific verse), because of how it affects your brain, your body, and because I’ve seen too many marriages hurt by the practice, and I’ve seen too many healed by stopping. I’ve even had interactions with couples who say they don’t mind that their spouse masturbates, but by the end of our conversations, they’ve realized that it’s been making them selfish, that it’s been detracting from their relationship. They go on to find a new level of relationship they weren’t able to get to before, because they weren’t 100% focused on each other sexually before.
So, if you are masturbating, I challenge you to stop. I challenge you to put all your sexual energy into what matters. I challenge you to stop being selfish.
If you have questions about masturbation in marriage, you might be interested in these:
- Is masturbation a sin?
- Is Mutual Masturbation OK for Married Christians?
- Mutual Masturbation Survey Results
- If masturbation is sinful, what do you do if you don’t orgasm during sex?
- What Is Your Opinion Of Solo Masturbation Due To Separation?
- Is masturbation for medical reasons okay?
- Why do married men masturbate?
- What do you do if you suspect your spouse of secretly masturbating?
- My Husband Admitted To Masturbating, How Do I Get Over The Hurt?
- Why does my low-drive spouse masturbate?