Studies show that most teenagers masturbate. "It is beyond question that the majority of teenage boys masturbate at least occasionally," note Brenna and Stan Jones in their book How and When to Tell Your Kids about Sex (NavPress). The same can be said for girls. In fact, experts believe adolescents are far more likely to masturbate than to become sexually involved. Yet, while many Christian parents have made their peace with talking to their kids about sex and virginity, they often don't know how to address the more widespread phenomenon of masturbation.
Christian parents should be aware that the Bible has remarkably little to say about masturbation. Some point to Genesis:38:9-10 where Onan is struck down by God because he "spilled his semen on the ground." But in this instance, Onan was not masturbating but practicing a form of birth control known as coitus interruptus. His selfish and deliberate refusal to provide a family for his widowed sister-in-law was considered "wicked in the Lord's sight."
In his classic parenting book Preparing for Adolescence (Tyndale), Dr. James Dobson said, "It is my opinion that masturbation is not much of an issue with God. It's a normal part of adolescence—and Jesus did not mention it in the Bible." To those kids who do masturbate, Dobson says, "You should not struggle with guilt over it."
If you learn your child is masturbating, don't panic. Instead, use the opportunity to open a discussion about sex and sexual desire. Being careful not to make him or her feel guilty or more embarrassed, explain to your child that we all have sexual feelings—sometimes intense—and those feelings are a sign that your son or daughter is nearing adulthood.
While masturbation itself might not be a sin, it can involve other worrisome practices. First, masturbation is often accompanied by lust, which Jesus compared to the sin of adultery (Matt. 5:27, 28). Second, teens need to understand that God created sex to be shared by two married people. It's an act of love. Masturbation, however, is a solitary act, and therefore less than what God wants for us. Finally, help your teen understand that masturbation can sometimes become a consuming habit.
In their book Facing the Facts (NavPress), Stan and Brenna Jones remind adolescents that masturbation is only a small glimpse of what God has planned for their future sexual pleasure.
"Masturbation is surely not the full blessing God wants for our sexuality," they write. "Maybe one reason so many people have confused feelings about masturbation is that it falls short of what God intended for our bodies and feelings."
Writer, doctoral candidate
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