Because my job is to talk to women about sex, there are few questions that I haven't heard and haven't answered. However, there is one common question that I don't like to answer. It involves the "M" word—masturbation.
One of the reasons I dread this question is because there is no clear answer. I could take the easy road and just say, "If in doubt, don't do it." The fact is that many Christian women masturbate and feel horribly guilty about it. I've met women who feel more shame about masturbation than they do about having an adulterous affair. Yet the Bible is silent on the issue of masturbation and says a whole lot about adultery.
Masturbation is a complicated issue that doesn't lend to a clear black and white answer. I want to be realistic about the struggle without giving freedom that God perhaps hasn't given.
Let's start with the basics
At a purely biological level, masturbation isn't that much different than other things we do with our bodies—like picking our noses. Toddlers do both. They are wired to touch their bodies everywhere and repeat touching where they find pleasure. Little boys and girls quickly discover that their "private parts" feel really good to touch. 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.
But why does picking your nose have an embarrassing but non-moral stigma, while masturbation has become laden with tremendous guilt and shame? While there is nothing inherently wrong with touching yourself to experience pleasure, masturbation becomes a moral issue because it involves sexuality. Sexuality has intrinsic moral implications. Does that mean that masturbation is always immoral? I don't think so. Here are a few questions that can help you evaluate the issue given your personal circumstances.
1) What are you thinking about?
While masturbation itself isn't immoral, the sexual fantasies that usually go with it may be. Most women only masturbate when they are thinking about or looking at something sexual. Sexual fantasies about someone you are not married to are, as Jesus stated, "adultery of the heart."
"But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman [or man] with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28)
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Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?