Picking one’s nose. Peeling off a scab. Itching a rash. Biting one’s nails. All seem to be perfectly normal, even if not the most salubrious, habits. Then, how is it that masturbation didn’t make it onto the list?
On a biological level, a repeated stimulation of one’s body part as a means to soothe anxieties, relieve pain or create pleasure is as normal as normal comes. Babies rock back and forth. Toddlers suck their thumbs. Human beings are wired to touch their bodies and repeat touch where they find pleasure.
“As children grow, wise parents gently teach that touching some places of our bodies isn't appropriate to do in public. And they teach their kids not to pick their noses in public either,” said Judi Slattery, clinical psychologist.
Yet, while picking your nose has an embarrassing but non-moral stigma, masturbation carries with it a tremendous amount of guilt and shame because parents, churches, schools and society have worked overtime to label certain body parts as private. But, privacy from whom? The owner of said parts?
Masturbation has become a moral issue because it involves sexuality. Sexuality is what makes this debate tricky.
From a Judeo-Christian perspective, God is as concerned with the thoughts and intents of the heart as he is with action, sometimes more so. Therefore, the traditional viewpoint held by clergy is that masturbation is closely tied to lustful thoughts. It is a sin because, as you are engaging in the act, you are either fantasizing about a naked body or you are watching pornography and you are pleasuring yourself instead of engaging in intercourse – the way God designed it. At least, this is the party line.
The truth is that the Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about masturbation, although ministers frequently reference a Biblical character named Onan. “Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.” (Genesis 38:9-10) This “sin” resulted in Onan’s death, but a thorough understanding of his story may steer us away from condemning masturbation. What Onan committed sounds like “pulling out,” which is completely different from masturbation.
“Sexuality was created to draw us into relationships. The hormones that flow through a teenager's body awaken the desire to seek intimacy. The goal of masturbation is to bring pleasure to yourself, typically outside of relationship. For this reason, some believe that masturbation is selfish and misusing the gift of sex,” said Slattery, co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?
At the time of World War I, onanism was labeled “self-abuse” and described in medical texts as highly dangerous for young men.
“Girls and women aren’t even mentioned, as if "the fairer sex" couldn’t even possibly do something so dirty,” Alexandra Jamieson in MindBodyGreen.com.
It probably is that way, though, because a man’s anatomy makes masturbation more convenient.
However, as God is a God of logic and practicality as much as he is a God of righteousness, it stands to reason that if he made the human body to give off urges at the tender age of 12, then the desire, the feeling and even the “wet dream” were not shameful.
As it stands, here are 3 reasons that masturbation is not the devil’s invention.
1. Biological Response
For men, an erection is a hardening of the penis that occurs when sponge-like tissue inside the penis fills up with blood. This is what causes the penis to enlarge and stand away from the body. What religious folk seem to deny is that an erection can happen for a variety of reasons, many of which don’t always have to do with a man watching pornography.
A guy could be going to sleep, waking up, taking a stroll through the park on a windy day, sitting through a history lecture, catching a whiff of women’s perfume or innocently looking at a picture of his girlfriend. Overall, though, the erection is set off neurologically. Something he saw, felt, smelled, heard, or thought makes his nerves send chemical messages to the blood vessels in his penis. The arteries relax and open up to let more blood to flow in; at the same time, the veins close up. Once blood is in the penis, pressure traps it within the corpora cavernosa. The penis has no other recourse but to expand and hold the erection.
Women laugh at men for having these biological responses because they are blithely unaware that these responses are, many times, involuntary. Yet, Dr. Jordan Rullo, a certified sex therapist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, claims that women are stimulated, as well, except that no one would be the wiser. Nothing sticks out of their pants.
“Sexual arousal for both men and women can fall into two different categories: psychological and physiological, which operate independent of one another,” said Rullo.
There are times when women – and even men - can be psychologically sexually aroused and their genitals do not display any signs of physiological arousal (e.g. vaginal lubrication, blood flow to the genitals, warm tingly feelings). The reverse is also true. Your body can be stimulated and your mind not so much.
The reason that men have more frequent physical responses than women has to do with the degree of correlation between mind and body arousal.
According to Dr. Rullo, that correlation is less than 30 percent in women. In other words, a woman's mental arousal is not matching up with her physical arousal, or vice versa. The average correlation between mind and body arousal for men is more like 70 percent.
So, if a man sees a woman naked , 70 percent of the time he will be fully erect; meanwhile, only 30 percent of the time will a woman be turned on because a man is naked before her or even kissing her.
Physical arousal can dissipate on its own or through a release. This is where the merit of masturbation is found.
For men, this is a huge battlefield. Erections are very uncomfortable and may last a while without release. If they don’t go away on their own, they can go away after ejaculation, the release of semen through the urethra, the small hole at the tip of the penis.
For a boy, a teen or a single man, masturbation may be one way to force ejaculation and get back to the rest of his day or even for him to get to sleep. Otherwise, he may be stuck in a state of discomfort.
Another thing that many religious folk should consider is that an erection is positive and should be a sign that a man has a healthy arousal response.
A 2009 study from the University of British Columbia found that while most men can regulate their physical and mental sexual arousal to some degree, the men most able to do so are able to control their other emotions as well.
So, if a women is engaged to a man whose erections aren’t frequent or they don’t hold, it may mean that he has lower emotional intelligence. His passion, laughter, spontaneity and love responses may also be highly controlled.
For a single man or woman who has vowed to remain sexually abstinent until marriage or is separated from their spouse for a period of time, masturbation may be one method he or she may use to remain abstinent. From a Biblical perspective, fornication – sex outside of the bounds of marriage – is a sin. So, is adultery. Masturbation, however, is not listed as a Biblical sin.
Masturbation can provide a sexual outlet for people who are on their own, by moral choice or circumstance.
However, for many single men and women who are abstaining, loneliness can result in habitual masturbation. It can become a way of escape from boredom, self-pity, depression, pain, and stress.
Still, there are many other ways one can respond to these emotions: working out, dancing, hanging out with friends, prayer, reading and meditation.
Masturbation should not be one’s go-to response to remedy those emotions because the act – as it does bring pleasure - may become addictive, alienating you from community and interesting activities.
But, what about if a couple is separated because the husband has been deployed to Afghanistan for 13 months? What if a wife is sick and bed-ridden for 6 months? What if a wife is pregnant and not as sexually active because of it?
Is masturbation still not an option for a man who has a healthy sexual appetite? Should he succumb to the sexual advances of another woman just because his wife is temporarily unavailable?
“When I’m away on a trip, I’d rather my husband masturbate than find another women to relieve him,” said one Christian woman.
3. Cancer Prevention
Regular flushing of the system keeps semen healthy. If a man is abstinent, masturbation may be the best way to prevent the build-up of semen, which leads to the development of prostate cancer. It has been proven that cancer-causing chemicals can build up in the prostate if men do not ejaculate regularly.
Graham Giles, of the Cancer Council Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, studied how the prostate provides a fluid into semen during ejaculation that activates sperm and prevents them from sticking together.
The fluid has high concentrations of substances including potassium, zinc, fructose and citric acid, which are drawn from the bloodstream. Giles said fewer ejaculations may mean the carcinogens build up.
"It's a prostatic stagnation hypothesis. The more you flush the ducts out, the less there is to hang around and damage the cells that line them," he said.
So, if a man has made a decision to be celibate, he should also find a way to ejaculate, because a man’s body was built to release fluids. Another theory put forward by the researchers is that ejaculation may induce prostate glands to mature fully, making them less susceptible to carcinogens.
It stands to reason that celibacy only works health-wise for a man, if he finds a method of releasing. It could happen during nocturnal emissions or it could happen through masturbation.
Arguments Against Masturbating
Now, just because masturbation shouldn’t be seen as the guilt-ridden, shameful act it once was due to several of its merits, masturbation can also be the cause of some health and sexual problems, specifically for men. Here are 3 said problems.
1. Onset of Prostate Cancer
If a guy over-masturbates throughout his 20s, 30s, and 40s, it may result in elevated levels of the hormone testosterone. These abnormal levels lead to a greater risk for prostate cancer, concludes a study in the journal BJU International. Over-masturbation may also lead to increased libido.
On the other hand, the more sexual intercourse a man has, the lower his risk for prostate cancer—especially if he's over 50. So, there’s a big case for monogamous sex and young adult marriage here. Having sex with one partner regularly can reduce prostate cancer. That's according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
This proves that masturbation is a mere substitute for sex. In fact, lab tests have shown the biochemical content of a man's semen is different when he ejaculates during sex versus during masturbation. It's possible that intercourse fires up the prostate and helps clear out potential toxins in ways masturbation can't match.
So, in essence, the advice is: find a girl, make an honest woman out of her and have sex with her daily.
2. Penis Dysfunctions
Frequent or rough masturbation can cause minor skin irritation to the penis. Additionally, some men practice masturbation to the extreme that they may forcefully bend an erect penis, which can rupture the chambers that fill with blood, creating a penile fracture.
Dr. Tobias S. Köhler, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield, has seen men with penile fractures after vigorous masturbation.
"Afterward, the penis looks like an eggplant," he says. "It's purple and swollen." Most men need surgery to repair it.”
3. Losing Interest in What Matters – Like Sex
If you masturbate out of necessity, that’s one thing. But, if you intentionally stimulate yourself for the purposes of masturbation, this may lead you down the wrong road. Compulsive masturbation can disrupt your life in ways that one wouldn’t think.
Davy Rothbart wrote a feature for NY Magazine called, “He’s Just Not That Into Anyone,” saying that masturbation paired with pornography drives men away from normal, healthy sex lives.
“First I came across a post on Sanjay Gupta’s blog by Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor, who wrote that he noticed a distinct rise in the number of men approaching him with concerns about delayed ejaculation. Kerner went on to attribute much of the problem to a “rapid proliferation of Internet porn” which leads to “over-masturbation,” something I’m very familiar with. Then I read about a University of Kansas study that found that 25 percent of college-age men said they’d faked orgasms, which, I’ll admit, was oddly comforting to hear. But it wasn’t until I interviewed dozens of men with varying porn-watching habits (and a few very open-minded women) that some unexpected themes began to emerge.”
Rothbart interviewed Jonas*, a 34-year-old ad exec, who said that when watching videos on SpankWire or X Videos, he had a very strong, long-lasting erection, but that wasn’t the case for him when he was with a woman.
“I take a girl home from the bar…and I’ll be up for a minute while she’s going down on me, but once I put a condom on and we start going at it, it’s like the Challenger exploded—all the flags are at half-mast,” he said.
Rothbart also interviewed Stefan, a 43-year-old composer, who has no problem getting aroused when he has sex with his wife, but he uses preemptive measures for sex.
“In order to come, though, I’ve got to resort to playing scenes in my head that I’ve seen while viewing porn. Something is lost there. I’m no longer with my wife; I’m inside my own head,” said Stefan.
Not only could over-masturbation and visual stimulation affect the way one sees ordinary sex, the ordinary female form and capabilities and the way a man is accustomed to ejaculating, if he masturbates many times a day he could be missing work, sleeping in too late or finally resorts to being a recluse.