Not surprisingly, my article, “What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?” stirred up a certain amount of controversy. A reader’s comment on that article led to this follow-up article: “Can You Masturbate Without Lusting? What about Matthew 5:27-30?”
Recently a reader named Boluwade Kujero left a comment—or should I say, a guest editorial!—on the follow-up article. He took exception to my characterization of conservative Christianity’s stance on masturbation, and questioned various statements I made in the article and in its comments section. His comment is much too long to copy into this article. You can read it here.
To fully understand the current article and what it is responding to, I recommend that you read both earlier articles if you haven’t already, and then read Mr. Kujero’s comment.
Or just charge on ahead. Your call.
In response to his comment, this is the third installment in what has now become a series on masturbation.
Here are my main objections to conservative Christians’ usual position masturbation:
- They have made a strict law against masturbation when there is no such law in the Bible, thus laying a heavy burden, hard to bear, on people’s shoulders (see Matthew 23:4).
- They have made good and evil a matter of stark blacks and whites, overlooking or denying the shades of gray in between. They have tarred even mild wrongs with the same terribly black brush, causing unnecessary guilt and discouragement for many people.
In so doing, they have made the path toward salvation and spiritual life more burdensome and difficult—whereas Jesus Christ said:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
We humans are fantastically complex creatures. Conservative Christians have attempted to boil all that complexity down to simplistic formulas and non-Biblical teachings. Unfortunately, their human-made laws don’t work very well. In fact, they make life unnecessarily difficult for people who want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and cast their heavy burdens at Jesus’ feet.
Their hard-line, non-Biblical stance against masturbation is a perfect example.
Words, meanings, and “lust”
In responding to Mr. Kujero’s statements and questions, rather than dealing in detail with all of his analysis of specific words and their definitions, I will focus on the major substantive issues he raises. Words and definitions are, of course, important. But the purpose of words is to point to realities. And unfortunately, human words and languages are an imperfect means to do that. In every language particular words get used differently in different contexts. If you focus on words and definitions, it’s easy to pick holes in everything that anyone writes or says. But if you focus on the realities that the words are pointing to, the meaning and message will come through much more clearly.
Having said that, it is important to understand that the Greek word ἐπιθυμέω (epithymeō), commonly translated “lust” in the Matthew 5:27–30 passage and elsewhere, comes from words meaning “to burn with passion for, to ardently desire.” In Romans 13:9 it is used to translate the commandment, “You shall not covet” given in Exodus 20:17 as part of the Ten Commandments.
“Coveting” is not mere fantasizing about having something or someone that we know we can’t have. It is not dreaming pipe dreams and building castles in the air. Rather, it is a burning desire to actually get and have that something or someone for ourselves. It is the sort of burning desire that will cause us to actually try to get that something or someone if we can.
The Ten Commandments forbid coveting as the final commandment because coveting is the burning desire that leads us to commit all of the other sins listed in the Ten Commandments, such as killing, committing adultery, and stealing.
In short, if our inner thoughts don’t lead us to act upon what they desire whenever we can find or make an opportunity to do so, it is not coveting. It is mere fantasizing. And mere fantasizing is not breaking the commandment against coveting.
For the same reason, mere fantasizing about a woman is not lusting after her and committing adultery with her in one’s heart as Jesus describes it in Matthew 5:27–30. The word Jesus uses there makes it clear that he is speaking of a burning desire that will lead us to act upon it if we can. Specifically, the lust that he is speaking of is one that will drive us to commit adultery with the woman if we possibly can.
It is this desire, and the intention to act upon it if possible, that causes it to be “adultery in one’s heart.”
Adultery in the heart and gouging out eyes
One specific response to Mr. Kujero: He suggested that in the section in the previous article on masturbation titled “Lust comes from the heart, not from the eye or the hand,” I was saying that Jesus was speaking only hyperbolically, not literally, about committing adultery in one’s heart, and that I was dismissing the whole idea of committing adultery in one’s heart.
But that section does not say that adultery in one’s heart is merely metaphorical, nor was it meant to imply that. For those who commit adultery in their heart, it is a very real thing, and a serious issue.
In that section I said, rather, that Jesus was speaking hyperbolically and metaphorically when he told us to gouge out our eye or cut off our hand if it causes us to sin. He was not actually commanding us to physically maim ourselves. None of his disciples took his words literally, and physically maimed themselves. As explained in that section of the article, Jesus makes it clear elsewhere that sin does not come from one’s eye or hand, but from one’s heart. So the offending “eye” and “hand” he speaks of are not our physical eye and hand, but rather our mental “eye” of wrong thinking and our mental “hand” of evil intentions.
Since Jesus was talking about inner adultery, it only makes sense that the eye we must gouge out and hand we must cut off when they cause us to sin are our inner eye and hand, if and when they have become corrupted.
Fantasy vs. lust
I do understand that there is a difference between thoughts that just pop into our head and thoughts that we actively cultivate in our mind. This distinction certainly is important. We can’t control the thoughts that pop into our head. Having a bad thought occur to us does not make us guilty of it. But if we enjoy and actively cultivate a particular thought or desire, that’s a different story.
And yet, even more important than the distinction between passive and active thinking that Mr. Kujero makes is our intention and goal as we entertain particular thoughts and desires in our mind and heart.
As explained more fully in the article, “Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?” both our actions and our thoughts take on their spiritual character based on our intentions and goals as we engage in them.
In the case of premarital sex, if the people involved have the ultimate desire and goal to be in a committed, faithful, monogamous marriage, then their premarital sex is not so serious and damaging. But if they have no respect for marriage, and their desire and goal is to get as much sexual pleasure for themselves they can with as many different partners as possible, then their premarital sex is very serious and highly damaging both to their spiritual life and to their future prospects for a good and healthy marriage.
Similarly, our thoughts and fantasies are serious or minor depending on our intentions and goals.
Not all sexual thoughts are “lust” as the Bible uses that word. As explained above, “lust” as used in the New Testament is a synonym for “coveting” in the Old Testament. It is an active, burning desire and intention to act upon some thought or idea in our mind, such as stealing something that belongs to someone else or having sex with another man’s wife.
Fantasy is not the same as lust because people engaging in various fantasies, including sexual fantasies, often have no intention or goal of actually carrying them out in real life. Even if they may cultivate a fantasy of having sex with someone they know (which generally isn’t a good idea), they may be very clear in their mind that it would be immoral and sinful to actually have sex with that person.
We humans are complex creatures. We have many conflicts and contradictions in our thoughts, feelings, and desires. That’s part of being human.
And it is very possible for us to entertain and engage in forbidden fantasies in our minds, but forbid ourselves from acting upon those fantasies not only because it’s not possible or we’d get in trouble if we did, but because we believe that it would be morally and spiritually wrong, and contrary to God’s commandments.
That is the difference between fantasy and lust:
- Fantasy is engaging activities in our mind that may or may not be moral and ethical if we actually did them.
- Lust is actively desiring to do things that are immoral, unethical, evil, and sinful, so that we will go ahead and do them if we can.
Lust leads us to figure out and plan ways to carry out our wrong desires. Mere fantasy does not.
To the extent that conservative Christians make no distinction between fantasy and lust, they have misunderstood the meaning of lust as that word is used in the Bible. They have also ignored the critical element of having the goal and intention to act upon a sexual fantasy if the opportunity arises.
So yes, it is perfectly possible for someone to fantasize having sex with a person they know, and yet have no intention of actually having sex with that person because it would be against their moral code and their conscience.
Is it a good thing to indulge in fantasies about having sex with someone you know?
But as a mere fantasy, without the intention of acting on it, it is not lust as Jesus uses that word in Matthew 5:27–30.
Women have fantasies—and lust—too
Most of the prohibitions against lust, coveting, and adultery recorded in the Bible are addressed to men:
- “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” (Exodus 20:17)
- “Can fire be carried in the bosom without burning one’s clothes? Or can one walk on hot coals without scorching the feet? So is he who sleeps with his neighbor’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.” (Proverbs 6:27–29)
- “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
Accordingly, in much religious literature women are presented as innocent victims of men’s lust. And unfortunately, quite often they are.
But not always.
The reality is that women have sexual fantasies too. And many women have lust, as used in the Bible, too. And just as many women as men commit adultery. After all, who are all those men committing adultery with?
Does the Bible really mean to prohibit coveting, lust, and adultery only for men?
Although the language of the Bible primarily addresses men, in keeping with the custom of the cultures in which it was written, it also presents cases in which women are guilty of the same things.
The Bible even tells the story of a woman who was the sexual aggressor and a man who was her victim:
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”
But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. (Genesis 39:6–10)
Because Joseph spurned her sexual advances due to his own moral code, she turned on him, framed him for attempted rape, and got him thrown into prison. You can read the whole story in Genesis 39:1–20.
It is a fantasy to think that men are evil and women are innocent when it comes to all things sexual.
Women, too, are sexual beings. And women, too, have sexual fantasies and desires, some of which are healthy and good, and others of which are destructive and wrong.
Further, most women are quite well aware that they are objects of sexual desire for men. In fact, if it happens to be the right man who desires her, she will have no problem with it at all! As for the rest of those schmucks who drool over her, well, a woman learns to deal with them as well.
Is it evil for men to desire women, and fantasize about them?
I certainly hope not. If it were, the human race would die out within a generation. And I don’t think that’s what God wants.
It is normal, healthy, and natural for heterosexual men to sexually desire women, just as it is normal, healthy, and natural for heterosexual women to sexually desire men. It becomes unhealthy and destructive only when a man or woman presses sexual advances on an unwilling partner, or engages in adulterous or highly promiscuous sex.
And yes, it is quite possible for a man or woman to fantasize about having sex with an acquaintance or co-worker while having no intention of actually having sex with that person.
Is it good to do that?
Not if we continually engage in lurid, explicit sexual fantasies about particular people we know. This can easily develop into a destructive obsession that makes it impossible for us to have a good, healthy, and respectful friendship or business relationship with them.
But the reality is that we humans, both men and women, are going to fantasize about having sex with people we know. And if we leave it at that, recognize that it’s a mere fantasy, let it go, and get on with our life, it simply isn’t the sort of lust that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5:27–30.
What about married people?
If the person having the fantasies, desires, and lusts for other people is married, the situation is different.
The two previous articles deal mostly with masturbation and the accompanying sexual fantasies as an outlet for the normal sex drive of people who are not married and not in a sexually active relationship.
If a person is married or is in a committed, sexually active relationship, and is continually fantasizing about having sex with other people, then that marriage or relationship is in serious trouble. That’s especially true if it’s more than mere fantasy, but an active desire to have sex with other people.
Marriage is based on mutual love, commitment, faithfulness, and trust. And the love part includes sexual desire for one’s marital partner.
What is sex anyway?
Physically, sex is the closest two people can get to one another. That’s why it is an expression of the spiritual union of two people in marriage. A truly married couple is spiritually as close to one another as two people can get. And they express that spiritual closeness in the physical act of sexual intercourse.
The underlying reason that sex outside of marriage is frowned upon by the various religions of humanity is that spiritually speaking, sexual intercourse is the physical expression of the inner spiritual union that is the core reality of marriage. If two people are not united in their souls, then the physical act of sex is empty, hollow, and a false representation of a relationship that doesn’t actually exist between them.
By the same token, if two people are truly, spiritually married to one another, they will have no interest in sex with anyone but their marital partner. They feel a sense of oneness with their partner that they feel with no one else. In the normal course of events this spiritual oneness will express itself in a healthy and fulfilling sex life in which the two become physically one with each other as well.
Of course, no one is perfect. And no marriage is perfect, either. Even happily married people may occasionally drift off into thoughts and fantasies that are not quite legit—especially at times of great stress in their marriage.
But if a married man or woman regularly fantasizes about having sex with someone else, and especially if he or she is continually thinking about and desiring to have sex with someone else, then that marriage is on the rocks. Most likely, it is effectively over as a real marriage. If social or financial issues don’t get in the way, divorce will follow before long.
This is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” If a married man or woman is actively desiring sex with someone else, then he or she is committing adultery in his or her heart. And the act of adultery is likely to follow, destroying the marriage in the process.
In other words, Jesus was not talking about mere sexual fantasies that are nothing more than fleeting fancies. He was talking about an active, adulterous desire that if allowed to run its course will result in actual, physical adultery. If one or both married partners have that sort of lust, and they don’t turn back from it, their marriage is doomed.
But even within marriage, not all fantasy, and not all masturbation, flows from that sort of adulterous desire.
What if a married couple is temporarily separated because one of them is away on a trip? Is it wrong for them to fantasize about having sex with their husband or wife, and masturbate to that fantasy? If they masturbate while having phone sex with one another, is that “lustful” and wrong? I think not. It is simply an expression of their love and longing for their partner when she or he is not physically present.
Further, as pointed out in some of the articles by doctors and psychologists linked in the first article on masturbation under the heading, “Does masturbation damage your health?” when married couples are having sexual difficulties, sometimes fantasy and masturbation can help them to relax, overcome some of their personal issues with sex, and warm up to a healthy sexual relationship with their partner.
Even within marriage, fantasy and masturbation aren’t always driven by adulterous lust. Sometimes they are a normal and natural part of building and maintaining a healthy marriage relationship.
Masturbation does not always flow from lust
Conservative Christians commonly consider masturbation to be always sinful because they believe it is always an expression of lust. However, based on what has been presented so far in this article and in the previous two articles, I believe they are very much mistaken. Masturbation is not always an expression of the lust that is prohibited in the Bible. In other words, masturbation is not always driven by a burning desire to have adulterous or otherwise forbidden sex.
In fact, as the first article in this series points out, masturbation commonly serves as a healthy and harmless outlet for the normal sex drives of people who are not married and are not in a committed romantic and sexual relationship. In providing a healthy outlet for those drives, it commonly helps people to avoid falling into the sort of lust that the Bible condemns.
Ironically, as also pointed out in that article, conservative Christians who impose a blanket prohibition on masturbation—a prohibition that the Bible does not impose—are making it more likely that the people who listen to them will engage in fornication or even in adultery. With no acceptable outlet for their sex drives, those drives will build up in most men and women, and in many teenage boys and girls, until they will sleep with someone. And it probably won’t be under very good circumstances.
In fact, young people and adults alike often engage in masturbation precisely because they do not want to violate their religious and moral beliefs about sex and marriage. Far from lusting as the Bible uses that word, and committing adultery in their heart, they are actively seeking to preserve themselves sexually for marriage—or at least not to do too much damage to their future prospects for a good and healthy marriage.
Specifically, they are masturbating precisely so that their sex drives will not lead them to have promiscuous or adulterous sex.
Are they having sexual fantasies while they’re masturbating?
But as covered above, most often the fantasies people have while masturbating are not lust as the Bible uses that term. Most of the time they are mere fantasies, and nothing more. They are not driven by an intention or goal or burning desire to actually have sex with the people they’re fantasizing about.
Are they sometimes? Yes, absolutely. And if they are, then Jesus’ words apply to them. But are they usually? I don’t think so. People who have the sort of burning desire that Jesus was talking about will not be content with masturbation, but will find ways to have sex with an actual person regardless of any moral issues.
Further, the fantasies people have while masturbating aren’t necessarily about an actual person. People commonly create a fantasy partner in their mind’s eye that isn’t anyone they know or have ever seen, but rather is a vision of their ideal woman or man. This fantasy partner may be imagined more or less explicitly. But basically, it is their imagination of a hoped-for future partner.
In other words, the fantasies that many people have while masturbating are embodiments of their intention and goal to one day be in a loving, committed, faithful marriage relationship. They are the opposite of the adulterous lust that Jesus was talking about.
Yes, of course, some of the fantasies people have while masturbating are pretty bad.
But not all of them are.
And that’s the whole point.
While masturbation may flow from the sort of adulterous lust that the Bible prohibits, it doesn’t always flow from that sort of lust. Far from it.
Most of the time, for most of the people who engage in it, masturbation flows from the normal sexual drives and desires that normal people have. And the fantasies that accompany masturbation depend on the character of the person’s sexual and marital desires, intentions, and goals. If their ultimate goal is to be in a healthy, committed, faithful marriage, then masturbation—together with the usual sorts of sexual fantasies that men, women, and teenage boys and girls commonly have—can be a normal, healthy way of keeping themselves on track toward that goal.
In short, just as I said in the earlier articles, masturbation is not always sinful, nor does it always, or even usually, come from lust of the sort that Jesus condemns as “adultery in one’s heart.”
Though masturbation certainly can get out of hand for some people, most of the time, as most ordinary people engage in it, masturbation is a normal and healthy outlet for our normal and healthy human sex drives when they cannot be expressed and satisfied within a normal and healthy marriage or romantic relationship.
For further reading:
- What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?
- Can You Masturbate Without Lusting? What about Matthew 5:27-30?
- How Imagination and Fantasy Help our Spiritual Growth
- Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?
- What does the Bible Say about Pornography? Is Pornography Sinful?
- How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?
Thank you Mr Woofenden for your response.
Although my previous comment was posted to your article dealing with the question of the possibility of masturbation without lust, my arguments were narrowed on challenging your logic and interpretation of what constitutes lust, lust not just as a word in itself, but as used by the Lord in Matt. 5:28. My focusing on your characterization of lust rather than on the sinfulness or otherwise of masturbation was because your arguments for masturbation as something good appeared to be based on it, which characterization I find very disturbing. All other issues I touched on, including my remarks on masturbation itself, were by extension, as needed to show the inaccuracy and misleading nature of your characterization. To that effect, this response article fails to clear up things.
And by the way, that which you stated as my taking exception was rather an appeal to fairness. The substance of the question the reader you were replying with the article was “Can you masturbate without lusting?” as you rightly titled it, which question argues implicitly that lust causes masturbation. You however went on tackling a question that was not posed, an inversion of the original question – “Does masturbation cause lust”, tacking it as if that was the conservative Christian argument.
To be clear on my point of dissent, I will summarize your position on what constitutes lust (again, lust not just as a word, but as used by Christ in Matt.5:28) as follows:
Sexual desire (involuntary sexual feeling/urge/craving/impulse) towards an inappropriate person +
Willingness to fulfil the feeling PHYSICALLY with the SAME PERSON +
The sense of opportunity (actively or passively available) for the foregoing +
The sense of immunity from any consequence whatever.
Repeatedly, you have affirmed the foregoing 4 elements as necessary to characterizing lust, especially as you say it should be distinguished from “mere fantasy” as you call it. In other words, if any of these is missing as exactly stated, the thing cannot be lust as Jesus intended in Matt.5:28 to be specific, it is probably mere fantasy.
I however completely disagree with you from the point where you say willingness must be oriented toward PHYSICAL actualization for lust to be present. I see that element and every other after as superfluous. They only make for a verbose revision of the meaning of lust that undermines the force and spirit of Jesus’ words, which if adhered to, makes lust something that we are rarely prone to, which then begs the question why Jesus would be drawing our attention to such.
Let us consider a couple of scenarios that I know fall square within the meaning of lust as Jesus intended but which your verbose characterization exempts.
1. If someone were to feel sexual craving towards an inappropriate person and is willing to fulfil the craving physically with the same person, where the opportunity exists, notwithstanding knowing that consequences are assured, this scenario falls clearly within Jesus’ characterization of lust but escapes yours. People can be willing to actualize their sexual urge physically with an inappropriate person, damning the consequences. Hence, the sense of immunity from consequences is not necessary to facilitate a willingness and, by extension, not required for determining what constitutes lust.
2. If someone were to feel sexual craving towards an inappropriate person and is willing to fulfil the craving physically with the same person but the opportunity will never exist, even though there is a guaranteed sense of immunity from consequences, this also qualifies as lust by Jesus’ words but not by your expanded meaning. I think your word for this scenario would be “mere fantasy” since the opportunity to physically actualize will never be. Technically, any imagination that cannot be realized is validly a fantasy. That is truly one of the usages of the word fantasy. Within the context of morality however, that unrealism does not make it okay or harmless. Neither does it make it acceptable before the Almighty. Only God knows how much evil our world has experienced and will continue to experience from the acts of people seeking fulfilment of craving that can never be actualized. Unrealism is moreover not necessary to fantasy, it is only typical of it in a sense. Some fantasies are achievable, it is just the relatively high ideal or lofty conditions they are about that makes us call them fantasies. Unrealism also never stopped people from trying. Therefore, people can lust for things even if such can never be actualized. If still in doubt, ask Lucifer about his lust for the throne of God and his success with it so far. A man can lust for a woman he knows he can never have – a woman he will face no consequences for if he physically fulfils his sexual craving with. In the face of this reality, your requirement of opportunity to physically actualize also proves insignificant to the character of lust.
3. If someone were to feel sexual craving towards an inappropriate person but is not willing to fulfil the craving physically with the original person but rather with some other inappropriate person, even though the opportunity to physically fulfil it with the original person exists, and despite there being the knowledge of immunity from consequences, this would still be lust by Jesus’standard by not by yours. The truth is that people can transfer emotions and, for whatever reasons make sense to them, project a willingness to physically fulfil sexual craving with one person unto another, does their unwillingness to physically fulfilling their sexual craving with their original object of craving now pronounce them free of lust? Absolutely not! Lust does not need willingness to fulfill itself physically with its original object of craving to define it’s character. Lust could even project its craving physically unto itself in the form of masturbation. It could also project its cravings unto non personal things like an animal, a tree or some cold inanimate object. Your element of the person being sexually craved for being also the target of the willingness to physically fulfil the craving with falls here too. It simply is not required to determining lust.
4. If someone were to feel sexual craving towards an inappropriate person and is not willing to fulfil the craving physically with any person, animal or thing, but rather opts to fulfill the craving in his/her inner parts with active thoughts and mental images of the person of craving in sensuous sex with himself/herself, this would qualify for lust according to Jesus’words even though there is no physicality in the fulfilment, but it would pass as harmless fantasy by your characterization since it is not a physical fulfilment.Your stance that until we are lead to act PHYSICALLY on what we desire when we find the opportunity to do so that then are we lusting is wrong. This requirement makes lust something you cannot know you have until the opportunity presents itself. Most persons will never have that physical opportunity and therefore will never know. Does that now mean the person is not lusting? A person could try to visualize a physical opportunity ahead and say that he will not when in fact he will, and he could also say he will when in reality he will not. That is the deceitful nature of the human heart – it does not really know itself. The drunk is usually the last to know that he is drunk. One also cannot imagine all possible opportunities that could make one yield to a physical actualization, making whatever claims one makes regarding willingness to physically act or otherwise an ineffective way of judging if one has lust or not. So if one has to answer the question of physical opportunity before one can judge whether one is lusting then one would never know. Moreover, most us never get that far when we have fallen into lust, we are just out to ENJOY the thoughts and images for the moment. We would not even dare to think of considering a physically opportunity because we know it is wrong and fear the consequences. This does not make us free of lust; we are just playing safe. Only when we are far progressed in lust do we beginning to actively look out for the physical opportunity and the possibility of it with escape from the consequences. It does not mean that for as long as we have not reached this point we are not having lust. Lust begins with intent to enjoy some inappropriate thought, feeling, imagination, or combination, and may graduate to the point of seeking and fulfilling it physically. Many never reach the later points but that does not mean they are not already lusting.
The aforementioned scenarios, which are not exhaustive, are not academic but real life ones that I hope you can readily visualize examples.
So far, it should be mentioned that we have restricted ourselves to mere willingness and not the physical actualization of the willingness. In other words, the intent to do it, and not the actual doing it, is what has been our deliberation until now. If the intent to do already constitutes lust how much more the doing. Let us now situate this within the context of masturbation: if the willingness to masturbate as a fulfilment of my craving for sex with an inappropriate person constitutes lust, how much more my actual masturbation?
Now, even more pertinent is the question of when and where “doing” can happen. Can we only do things in the physical? Or can we also do them in the secrecy of our hearts? The passage of Scripture whose meaning we are trying to unravel answers in the affirmative. Concerning a man who looks at a woman with intent to lust after her, Jesus said he “HAS ALREADY committed adultery with her IN HIS HEART”. So, according to Jesus, intent to do IN THE HEART is, before God, ALREADY COMMITTING, not physically, but IN THE HEART. In other words, WHEN you intend, then you have done. Your intent is a doing even before you actually do. Intent is an exercise of the will. However, this intent that is a doing is not a doing in the physical world, but a doing IN THE HEART. That is the WHERE. I could accept your last two elements of opportunity and sense of immunity from consequence as necessary in this context. For the secrecy of the heart provides both the opportunity and immunity from consequence. I have the opportunity to curse a person in my heart without the fear of discovery. Same for lust. Like I said before, Jesus was not implying that a look with the intent to lust makes one guilty of PHYSICAL adultery, rather he implied that it is adultery of its own class, the class of the sins of the heart.
So when someone feels sexual craving for some inappropriate person and then follows through with a look at the person, with the intent to gratify himself/herself with him/her, not in the physical, but merely in his/her heart, by thoughts and mental images, that person HAS ALREADY COMMITTED lust. Looking could be physical as well as mental; one can look with the eye of the mind. Then by gratify I mean “to give pleasure to”, “to use to fulfil an urge”, or as you put it, “to enjoy”. This exercise of the will to enjoy a craving for something forbidden or a craving for something good in ways or proportions that are forbidden is what really characterizes lust. It needs not be directed at the original object of craving (though it usually is); it needs not be directed for physical actualization (it could); it needs not be based on a sense of physical opportunity (it might); it needs not be based on a sense of immunity from consequences (consequences could be defied), it needs only be for gratifying the craving. That is all! All other elements are not necessary to characterize lust.
So when you say it is okay for someone to have a sexual craving for an inappropriate person and then fulfill the feeling by sexually fantasizing about that same person, so long as one will not actualize the sexual fantasy physically with the person, if given the opportunity with the sense of immunity from consequences, what you are saying is that it is okay to ENJOY the thoughts and/or images of having sex with the inappropriate person. Fantasizing in this context cannot be without gratification. Is it possible to fantasize without deriving pleasure? Yes, rarely in usage, but possible in the sense of simple, dispassionate imagining, or portrayal of lofty things in the mind. I am not aware of anyone who will call imagining things that terrorizes one and fills one with dread fantasizing. But why is fantasizing without deriving pleasure not possible in this context? Simply because we are discussing it as it involves masturbation. For someone to be using a sexual fantasy of an inappropriate person to masturbate presumes the person is ENJOYING the fantasy or else the person would probably not be masturbating. If the intent to ENJOY is ALREADY a COMMITTING, how much more the actual ENJOYING via masturbation? For, in this context, the masturbation is a physical expression of the enjoyment. It is the physical fulfilment of the craving. It is a transferred fulfilment. Since God forbids one to have sex with someone one is not married to, but one feels like it now and has decided to enjoy it now, masturbation gives one a technical escape. One gets to keep the letter but shelve the burden of the spirit of the letter. One disregards the fact that since the intent to enjoy is lust then any physical expression of the intent has to be lust – lust in the sense of an immoral act to be specific. Some others even play smarter to avoid the same condemnation by tinkering in their fantasies with the image of the object of their sexual craving to satisfy the letter of God’s law. If the object of the craving is, for instance, married, and one is also married, one could imagine the object as still a single before marriage, do same with one’s image of oneself, and then engage in the mental sex romp from there. Or if one is married and the object is not, one could imagine only oneself as a single before one got married, and imagine the object of ones craving as the one to whom one then gets engaged and marries, the mental sex romp may now proceed from there. The options to Photoshop to comply with the letter of God’s law are endless. The bottom line is the same, it is the calculated subversion of the spirit of God’s law by over-involvement with the details as contained in letters. A true worshipper should judge that if God forbids me to have sex with someone I am not married to, then in spirit what he is disapproving of is not just physical sex outside marriage but anything and everything that I may use to give myself the feelings and pleasures of sex outside the context of it in marriage. If he is okay with me simulating the motions, and enjoying them with the same moaning, groaning and grunts that are experienced in the real thing, then is it the shell of physical contact with another person that he is then legislating so forcefully against? I think not!
Now, like I said before sir, I think your heart is right, but your communication of it is creating a flux and suggesting a license for indulgence in evil. I get this feeling from a few statements here and there in your articles. For instance, under the section “Fantasy vs. lust” you wrote:
”But if we enjoy and actively cultivate a particular thought or desire, that’s a different story.”
That came very close to my point. But this was after you had said:
”mere fantasizing about a woman is not lusting after her and committing adultery with her in one’s heart as Jesus describes it in Matthew 5:27–30.”
And after also saying:
”if our inner thoughts don’t lead us to act upon what they desire whenever we can find or make an opportunity to do so, it is not coveting.”
For me, you are not quite clear. What is mere fantasizing? Remember you are talking in the context of sexual fantasizing and masturbation. How do you sexually fantasize and masturbate without enjoying it so that it remains mere? Fantasy, generally, connotes pleasure. True, I can imagine a woman nude without taking pleasure, but in association with the act of masturbation it is very unlikely that I am not. So throwing the mere fantasy word around such act is careless, to say the least. When a word can easily lend itself to a misconception, I don’t think it is responsible to be using it freely and with force. You spent so much time emphasizing that it is not lust without taking care to de-abuse it of possible misconceptions. The times you should have de-abused it by emphasizing that enjoyment of the sexual fantasy thought or image is not included in your definition of mere fantasy, you missed them and only emphasize acting outwardly as the proof when “enjoyment” of the fantasy is also acting on the desire the fantasy represents, albeit acting inwardly in the secrecy of the heart. Many possibly have read you and gone away with the impression that they can now enjoy their sexual fantasies, after all it is mere fantasy as long as I have no intention to act it out PHYSICALLY. They will not see the enjoying part as acting on the desire, rather it’s all part of the mere fantasy. They then use such to induce masturbation as often as they want and revel in their new found license as God’s explicit law of liberty for relieving themselves of the sexual fire they wilfully started and fed..
Like apostle James said, we who are teachers are going to be judged more severely because we all err with our words. You are against the blanket rule of conservative Christianity that masturbation is sinful so am I. But I understand where they are coming from and how far they have come. Sometimes you don’t do things, not because it is explicitly stated as wrong, but because doing it is riddled with a lot of uncertainty about the morality of it and you want to avoid giving license to others by so doing. Pass that “no doing something” down centuries and you are likely to have a strict law against that something, cast as if it were God’s direct instruction, as the end result. You unwittingly have however become guilty of the same crime by throwing a blanket rule of good over it when also there is no explicit pronouncement of God to that effect in the Scriptures. You are not just saying that it is good from your viewpoint but that it is good in absolute terms as if there was a specific word of God saying so. You have made something that is grey exactly white. That is presumption. In my view, with all deference, they erred on the side of caution (not wanting to allow something that appears evil) you erred on the side of recklessness.
You cite Jesus’s promise of a lighter load to those who come to him as your motivation but you missed the methodology of Jesus. He did not reduce the nominal load as you assume, rather he increased it. We now no longer just carry the burden to be morally upright only in our physical conduct as was initially presumed, but he now makes us bear the yoke of moral rectitude in our internal conduct, which is several times more burdensome. It is no longer sufficient that our righteousness be like the Pharisees which consisted in outward conducts, it must exceed it by proceeding from morally upright inner motions which they did not find necessary. No longer is it okay to retaliate for a wrong done you, even if justifiably in a less than or exactly commensurate measure, neither are we approved to be passive, we must rather return good for such. Now, when we are cursed, he does not just say we should just not curse back or be silent, he actually says we should bless back in return. How lighter is that? Rather, the standard of morality for us is now higher. He clearly does not lighten our moral burden by cutting corners around God’s laws and he would not expect us to do same where there is doubt. We are not supposed to look for the easier way; we are supposed to err to the side with the higher moral burden. He, according to his promise, does lighten our load, not by reducing its weight but by giving us his strength by his Spirit. It is this that makes his yoke easy. A young child may definitely find a 20 pound load as heavy but with the strength of an adult it is light. That is Jesus’ methodology.
I personally believe that masturbation, in itself, is neither good nor bad; it takes the coloration of whatever powers it or is involved with it. If a man needed to submit seminal sample for medical purposes for instance, the natural way is to masturbate. I will not condemn the masturbation in that context as sinful. For the act in that context is not proceeding from lust but from a medical need. It is not that he saw a babe and his body was moved and then decided to follow it up with masturbation. I would only advice the person in such a situation to be careful of how he gets going with the masturbation so as not to use it as an opportunity for indulging in sinful fantasies. For one could engage purely the physics of touch in such a situation to achieve the aim and one could easily also add lustful thoughts to the mix. Where lustful thoughts somehow occur in such a situation it could be understood as a weakness of the moment. I will however not instruct a man to go ahead and masturbate to relieve sexual pressure with authority that it is good and God approved where God has not explicitly said so and where the probability to lust is very high. Do I know how and what he has been feeding his mind? How do you gauge sexual pressure and determine when it is acceptable to relieve it by masturbation as against exercising self control over it? Is it by count, frequency or intensity? Who knows if the sexual pressure built up is as a result of his reckless exposure to sexual stimulation rather than a simple biological urge? Will I instruct a man to eat every time he feels hungry and declare with authority to the man that the eating is good for him whenever he feels hungry when the hunger could be perceived rather than real, in which case it may be gluttony in disguise. For the feeling of hunger can be induced both by biology and psychology. You can feel hungry just by the stimulation of your senses of sight and smell even when your body is not really hungry. Or is every feeling of hunger now good and God approved?
With the over stimulation of our sexuality in the world we live in now, how do I know if the sexual urge a person is having is biological or otherwise? I would prefer to err on the side of caution and assume that since the urge has become so strong without the body doing a self-release via a wet dream, then it must be a result of over-stimulation. I personally wake up frequently with sexual urges that are clearly biological. Tempting as they sometimes are, they never overwhelm me. The urges that overwhelm me are usually those fired up by psychological and sociologically stimulation exclusively or in addition to the biological. Moreover, how long would I advise that the masturbation last? How much pleasure will I say is reasonably acceptable to God to enjoy from it? Or do I say it must be straight to business? How frequently will I say it is okay to masturbate in a day to relieve sexual pressure? Is it as often as it comes or do I place a limit? What things will I say are allowed to be used to masturbate? Is the hand enough? Will a simple sex toy do or a full size sex doll is permissible? Is a fruit or vegetable good? Or is it a warm compliant living animal? Or is anything of preference okay? I could go on with the unending shades of grey a blanket rule of good produces.
Based on experience and research information available to me, I could safely argue that, as practiced in our world today, masturbation is generally wrong. The bulk of the motivation for it is from lust caused by the over stimulation of our sexuality through sexualized materials (nude and non-nude) in songs, videos, pictures, books, internet, TV, real life, etc. People don’t just wake up and say something like “oh, it’s been 10 days now and I think my sexual gauge is full so I need to discharge, let me now masturbate to release the pressure” No, that is not generally how. Rather, people see or look at things that stimulate the urge, they do things that stimulate it, they hear or listen to things that feed the urge, then the urge grows and becomes unbearable and they then feel the pressure to express it. Masturbation is clearly the easiest way. I could therefore safely teach it as generally wrong with certain exceptions. When people seek clarity on these sorts of things (not explicitly permitted) most times it is not technical clarity they seek but practical clarity. In other words, clarity as it is being practised not as it is defined.
Forgive me for another epistolic post.
Thank you for your response. I have read only part of it so far, but I want to respond immediately to that part.
Your characterization of the definition of “lust” that I have presented in the articles is not correct. This causes the rest of what I’ve read of your response so far to be incorrect. Taking each of your four points in order:
Lust is a desire and willingness to do something evil if and when the opportunity arises or can be created. If we would act upon it if we could, it is lust. Lust is what leads us to do evil things. That’s why it is forbidden in the Ten Commandments (as “coveting”) and by the Lord in the New Testament.
If we would not act upon it even if we could, then it is still a bad thought, but it is not lust, nor is it coveting, as the Bible uses those terms. As I said in the articles, it is mere fantasy. Fantasy may turn into lust if we cherish it and begin to desire and intend to actually do it. But unless and until that happens, it is not lust.
Hello again Mr Lee,
Thank you for the prompt response with a strong repudiation of my distillation of your position on lust as understood by me. Given this, I think we now stand on a common ground in the matter of lust to a large extent, I would like to give you sufficient time to read, pause and ponder on my post so that you can respond adequately.
I should quickly clarify though in regard to point 1 that “involuntary” is not used by me directly in reference to lust but in reference to our base sexual desire. It is my way of qualifying the sexual “desire” so that it is understood as passive. You know desire can be something passive in the form of a feeling and can be something active in the form of an act. The experience of a base feeling is validly called desire and the exercise of the will to do something is also called desire.
By “involuntary” I meant for the “desire” to be understood as the feeling that is bodily, natural and biological. You call it sex drive. It is the body’s natural response to sexual stimulus. I mean the kind that you could suddenly feel if you saw something erotic that appealed to your preference, or you were touched in a sensuous way, or if you heard something sexually stimulating. We are not consciously responsible for it as an act of the will, it is just a base impulse or urge of the flesh like the feeling of hunger.or thirst It however gets confused sometimes because of the corrupted nature of our bodies and so it reacts towards people or things it should not just like our bodies can come up with the feeling of hunger when it should not. It is this base feeling that our wills act on or respond to in an inappropriate manner that makes for lust. I am sure you agree with me on this as explained. It was never a point of dissent between us.
Sex drive and lust are not the same thing. Our sex drive is normal, natural, and created by God for a purpose: the procreation of the human race. It turns into lust only when, as you say “our wills act on or respond to in an inappropriate manner.” And at that point it is not involuntary, but voluntary, because it is being driven in a particular direction by our will—in this case, our corrupted will.
On the other hand, if our will acts on or responds to it in an appropriate manner, ultimately directing it toward a healthy sex life within a faithful, monogamous marriage, then our sex drive is not lust at all. It is a bodily desire that partners with and serves in a healthy way our spiritual love for our wife or husband.
People who are not yet married can direct their sex drive either toward or away from marriage, as covered in the article, “Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?” If they direct it toward marriage, it is good and healthy. If they direct it away from marriage, it is evil and unhealthy, and becomes lust.
I have now read your entire long comment above. Though I could respond to further points in it, I think I have already sufficiently covered them in the three articles here on masturbation, and in my previous comment correcting your mischaracterization of what I am saying lust is, based on the meaning of the Greek and related Hebrew words as they are used in the Bible.
Could people come away from these articles with a wrong impression? Of course they could. You did. You thought I was saying many things that I wasn’t actually saying. And someone who wants to justify their misuse of masturbation is also going to hear what they want to hear. For those determined to do wrong, the Bible itself cannot turn them away from it. They will twist the words of the Bible itself to justify their wrong desires and their wrong actions.
But for those who sincerely want to move their life in a good and holy direction, I believe that what I have said in these three articles is helpful, good, and in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of the Bible. In short, I stand by what I have written here, nor do I accept your mischaracterization of many of the things I have said. I understand that you are sincere and want to help. And I appreciate that. But I think that you yourself are caught between conservative Christian teachings that utterly condemn masturbation without real biblical support, and your own recognition, which you have stated several times, that masturbation is not necessarily evil in every circumstance.
Hi Mr Lee
For me, I have gotten the clarification I needed from you to help my brother from your pointed responses to the 4 scenarios I posed. It was for his sake I posed them because the impression I came off getting from your article is what he also came off with going by his fierce arguments and thrust, which was why I researched and found your article.
As to how I got the impression, I will suggest you read the section “Masturbation, lust, and fantasy” in your previous article more patiently and you will likely see that in your attempt to critically differentiate fantasy from lust, you kept referring your reader to acts directed toward the person of fantasy and directed to the person physically as the real test of whether one is just fantasizing or rather lusting. Nothing under that section or in the whole of the article suggested that one could act inwardly on a fantasy or could also project it to someone else. It all looked as if lusting was characterized and differentiated from fantasy by those physical acts. You may also check under the section “Fantasy vs. lust” in this article for the same assumption.
In closing, I would say again, the fact that God has not forbidden a thing does not automatically mean he has allowed it. The Scriptures, as you have noted, says absolutely nothing about masturbation. Declaring it good therefore is as wrong as declaring it bad. It is supposed to be left to each man’s conscience as enlightened by God on a personal level.
I personally was never indoctrinated against it for almost a decade since I had been involved in it from about the age of 9. I never even knew other people did it as I thought it was my own special discovery. It was not until I was about 17 that I learned that there was a word for it. I was not to hear a denunciation of it until I was about 19 years. Despite all these I never could shrug off the feeling of guilt I felt about the immorality of it since I came to know that it was simulated sex. Where then could my conscience have gotten the sense of immorality? That was God forbidding it FOR ME through my conscience. No amount of articles I have read since then arguing for the propriety of it has ever been able to convince my conscience.The logic they espouse have just never been able to give me moral peace with it.
“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”
Rom. 14:22 (NIV)
“Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.” Rom. 14:16 (NIV)
Thank you for the time and cordial exchange of thoughts.
Of course, I would never suggest that you violate your conscience. For you, that would be violating God’s commandments. And yet, conscience is not actually a direct line from God, it is not infallible, and it can be faulty. I’ll return to that in a separate reply.
First, I suspect you are still misinterpreting what I said in those sections, based on your own views about masturbation, fantasy, and lust. The key point is not whether you do act upon it, nor whether it is an “internal action,” but whether you have the goal and intention of acting upon it in reality if an opportunity arises or you can create an opportunity. Quoting from the section of the previous article that you refer to:
You keep wanting to make a distinction between internal action and external action. That is not the distinction I am making. And for the most part, I think it’s a false distinction. Internal action is not action. Action is doing something. What we have is internal intent to act, or lack thereof. And if we have the internal intent to act, then we will act on it if the circumstances are right. This of course includes opportunity, but it also includes either a belief that we can get away with it or a willingness to take the risk, or even the almost certain consequences, of acting upon it.
To expand further upon this, in this material world we are often hindered from acting upon our goals and intentions by many external circumstances. We can therefore fool ourselves into thinking that we are morally clean when in fact it is only societal pressure that keeps us from acting in very immoral ways. But according to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), in the spiritual world those external, social bonds and hindrances are gradually taken away, so that unlike in the material world, whatever we think and intend, that is what we say and do. Everything we intend, we act upon. So the inner reality of action is the intention or will to act. And though the two can and commonly do get separated here on earth, in the spiritual world after we die that separation is erased, and our will or intention flows seamlessly into our actions. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said:
That is how it would be here on earth also if all social rules and restrictions were removed. Everything hidden inside of us would be out in the open. We would all act upon whatever we will, intend, and desire. But that is not the case here on earth so that we can go through the process of spiritual rebirth that Jesus taught about in his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1–21).
All of this is why I insist that it is our inner intention to act upon a particular thought or desire that is critical. When we are merely fantasizing, we have no such intention. But when we have the sort of burning lust or coveting that the Bible condemns, we do have the intention to act upon those thoughts and desires, and we will act upon them if we think we can. That is precisely why they are condemned.
We must have the ability to contemplate, think about, and fantasize things that would be evil if we acted upon them. This is necessary so that we can mull over in our minds the moral rights and wrongs, and the likely actual effects, of saying or doing particular things. This is part of our spiritual rebirth or “regeneration” process. We have been given a thinking, discerning mind and an active, creative imagination so that we have the capability of evaluating various things we might say and various courses of action in our mind before we act upon them. The ideal is that we recognize in our mind and imagination that something is wrong so that we don’t actually have to learn the hard way, by acting upon it and reaping the consequences. And the ideal is that we recognize in our mind and imagination that something is right so that we can direct ourselves to speak and act based on it.
So the idea that every fantasy about something that would be evil and damaging if we acted upon it is necessarily evil as a fantasy is mistaken and counterproductive. We were created by God with the ability to imagine and fantasize both good and evil behaviors so that we could turn these things over in our mind, evaluate them in our mind and heart, and come to conclusions within ourselves about what we believe to be good and evil, and what we will act upon.
This is not a simple process of fantasizing about killing our boss or having sex with a married woman, saying, “That’s bad,” and then never thinking or fantasizing about it again. Rather, it is an ongoing process in which our various desires, good and bad, continually show themselves in our thoughts and fantasies, and we evaluate them over an extended period of time. We humans do not change instantly. Our process of being spiritually born again is an extended one. It takes place over our entire lifetime. It is unrealistic to think that we are going to quickly overcome and defeat every unworthy thought and desire, and become instantly pure and clean. We must face our true thoughts and desires over and over again, examine them from every angle multiple times, and yes, sometimes act upon them in order to fully comprehend why an evil thing is evil, and why a good thing is good, and make the choice for the good over the evil.
Attempting to suppress every illicit fantasy the moment it occurs to us is therefore not only unrealistic, but actually damaging to our spiritual health and our emotional life. Our fantasies don’t just spring up out of nowhere. They come from thoughts and desires that are part of our unregenerate self. And we can never face and deal with them if we continually suppress them and pretend that they are not there. Facing them in our minds, in imagination and fantasy, is a way to let them out far enough for us to see them for what they are, evaluate them, and make that ultimate decision about which way we want to go, which involves whether we foster the intent to actually act upon them, or whether we recognize within our mind and heart that acting upon them would be wrong, and therefore forbid ourselves from acting upon them.
These are the greater issues involved in our fantasy life. And acting something out in fantasy or imagination within our minds simply is not the same as acting upon it in real life. One is theoretical. The other is actual.
The bridge between the two, once again, is intention to act. If we intend to act upon something if the opportunity arises, it is spiritually tantamount to actually acting upon it, even if the opportunity never does arise. That’s because in the spiritual world, there will be no disconnect between intention and action as there often is here on earth. There, whatever we intend, we do. And that is precisely why coveting and lust as used in the Bible are evil and condemned. They are condemned because they are an intention to act upon the evil things we desire.
Masturbation may be simulated sex (I’ll take that up in my next reply), but it is not actual sex with another human being. That is so even if as we do it we are fantasizing about sex with another human being.
The Bible forbids adultery. And it discourages extramarital sex. But by extramarital sex, it means sex with a partner. Masturbation is neither. Masturbation simply is not prohibited or discouraged in the Bible. That’s because it is not, in fact, a violation of marriage, nor is it the fornication or extramarital sex that the Bible discourages, which is always between two human beings.
Putting all of this together, the fantasies that we have while masturbating, if they remain fantasies with no intent to act upon them in real life, are not adultery, nor are they lust, nor are they coveting, nor are they fornication as the Bible uses those terms. They are us turning over in our minds situations that may or may not be illicit if we were to act upon them. And as such, they are part of our working out of our various desires, good or bad, within our mind and imagination as we determine what sort of person we want to be. This is not evil. It is an integral part of the way God has created us so that we may be reborn as spiritual people from our natural state of being materialistic, unspiritual people.
It is only if we masturbate while intending to actually carry out the things we are fantasizing that it becomes lust and coveting the neighbor’s wife, which the Bible condemns. If we are masturbating thinking, “If I can possibly get that woman into bed, I’m gonna do it!” then that is lust. But if we are masturbating thinking, “This feels good, but it would be absolutely wrong for me to do it in real life, and I’m not going to do it,” then it is mere fantasy.
Over time, as I said in the articles, it is good to move our fantasies from darker ones to lighter ones, from ones that would be illicit if carried out to ones that would be healthy and good if carried out. But as I also said in the articles, this is a two steps forward, one step back process. Our thoughts and desires are complex. It takes time to get them untangled and sorted out. Mechanically suppressing every fantasy that would be illicit if carried out in real life will simply delay our facing the true nature of our thoughts and desires, and going through the process of “regenerating” them from self-centered and greedy to focusing on loving others and loving God. Once again, this is a lifelong process—and one that cannot be short-circuited.
Finally, the idea that every fantasy we have while masturbating is evil and wrong is itself just plain wrong. For example, fantasizing about loving sex with a future partner in marriage is not evil, but good. It is preparing our mind and heart for that future marriage on all levels. It is not good to come to our marriage bed on the wedding night having never ever thought about sex. That is a prescription for awkwardness, embarrassment, and sexual problems in marriage. We humans are created by God as sexual creatures. Attempting to suppress all thoughts of sex until the wedding night is totally unrealistic, and actually damaging to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Masturbation is not forbidden in the Bible. And I don’t accept your tacit premise that because the Bible doesn’t actually condone or recommend we must look upon it with suspicion. I lean toward believing that things that are not forbidden are allowed, rather than toward believing things that are not explicitly allowed or commanded are forbidden. Obviously this requires thought and discernment. There are some things not explicitly forbidden in the Bible that truly are evil, such as pedophilia. But masturbation, I firmly believe, is in the category of things that are not forbidden because they are allowable and even good in their proper place.
And that is what these articles are all about. So I hope you will not go back to your friend and attempt to undo everything I have said in these articles. I think you are mistaken about masturbation, for reasons I will go into in a separate reply.
Now to take up this matter of conscience, masturbation, and sex. You recount your own experience in these words:
Perhaps it was God. But our conscience is not formed directly from God. Rather, it is formed from what we are taught and what is inculcated into us from the time of our infancy and childhood, what we read in the Bible and other sacred literature, what we hear from teachers and ministers, and so on. In other words, although conscience is for us God’s presence with us, it is formed largely through the mediation of other human beings.
Those other human beings are not God, nor are they infallible. And that is why our conscience, also, is not infallible, but can be faulty. We must still follow it as long as we sincerely believe that the things it is telling us are wrong are wrong. But it is very common for people’s conscience to tell them that particular things are wrong when they are not, in fact wrong or against God’s commandments.
From what you wrote as quoted just above, I gather that for ten years you masturbated with no sense that there was anything wrong with it, but that at the age of 19, when you heard masturbation denounced, and “came to know that it was simulated sex,” you then came to the conclusion that for you, at least, it was evil and forbidden.
I would suggest that that sense of masturbation as evil and forbidden did not come directly from God, nor did it even come from the Bible. As I’ve pointed out many times, and as you have also recognized, nowhere does the Bible condemn masturbation.
Rather, I believe that the messages you received in your late teens that masturbation is simulated sex, and is therefore immoral and forbidden, are from a general discomfort with sexuality that pervades nearly all human societies on earth. It appears that this discomfort with sexuality was part of your society as well, given the messages you received about it in relation to masturbation.
To be more specific, there is a general sense in most, if not all cultures that there is something animalistic, dirty, unspiritual, and perhaps even evil about sex—that sex is intrinsically these things, and that engaging in it lowers us to an unspiritual, animalistic, and perhaps even evil level.
This general sense of the dirtiness of sex is expressed in society in various ways.
One of those ways is that in almost every culture on earth, people are required to cover their genitals at least from puberty onward. Even in cultures that go largely naked, a loincloth or genital covering of some sort is almost always required of teenagers and adults. It is seen as shameful to go about in public with one’s genitals visible.
Another of those ways is the existence in many cultures of monastic or ascetic religious orders that practice celibacy and abstinence from sex as a religious practice and requirement. This asceticism, celibacy, and abstinence from sex is commonly seen as holier and more spiritual than being married and engaging in sexual relations.
In Christian cultures, there is a persistent idea and myth that sexuality was somehow involved in the fall of humankind—even though the Bible itself says no such thing. Although the Bible states that the sin of Adam and Eve was eating from the forbidden tree, there is a persistent idea that their actual sin was having sex, and that this is what caused their fall.
But the biblical fact of the matter is that it was their disobeying of God’s commandment that caused the fall, and it was only after they disobeyed God that shame and the aforementioned requirement of covering their genitals entered into the picture. In other words, the common, almost universal association of shame and a sense of dirtiness and evil with the genitals and with sex was not from God, but rather was a result of our disobedience against God and God’s commandments.
In the beginning, God created sex good, clean, pure, holy, and spiritual. We know this because in the first Creation story, in Genesis 1, the very first commandment God gives to the newly created male and female human beings is:
Obviously, the only means of obeying this commandment is for the men and women God created to engage in sexual intercourse. So from the beginning, God created sex, not dirty and animalistic, but clean and spiritual. That’s why Swedenborg says:
In other words, once again, far from being animalistic, dirty, unspiritual, and perhaps even evil, human marriage love and sexuality, including the physical act of sexual intercourse, is the highest, holiest, most heavenly and spiritual love, and expression of love, that God has created in human beings.
But that’s certainly not the overwhelming message that we get from society these days. And I would suggest that your rejection of masturbation after hearing it condemned and described as simulated sex at the age of nineteen is a direct result of society’s dethroning of sexuality from the highest and holiest love and expression created by God to something dirty and shameful, to be hidden away and engaged in as a guilty pleasure at best, and as an evil, bestial thing at worst.
I believe that this pervasive societal and religious attitude toward sex is utterly wrong and very damaging both emotionally and spiritually to the human population on earth and to individuals such as you who internalize it and come to think of natural, healthy sexual expression such as masturbation as something dirty and sinful, to be avoided, sublimated, and “spiritualized” away.
There is simply nothing intrinsically wrong with masturbation. The Bible does not forbid it. Physical and mental health professionals tell us that it is a normal, healthy part of our overall sex life. Masturbation is not evil, sinful, dirty, or any of those other things commonly said about it by religious authorities who themselves have internalized the general societal sense that sex is somehow animalistic, dirty, unspiritual, and perhaps even evil.
Can masturbation get corrupted?
Of course it can. Everything (except God himself) can get corrupted. Sex can get corrupted. Clergy can get corrupted. Politicians can get corrupted. Love can get corrupted.
But that doesn’t mean these things are intrinsically evil and wrong. Evil corrupts things that are good. Just because there are corrupt and dirty forms of masturbation, and of sex in general, that does not mean masturbation, and sex in general, are dirty, evil, and wrong in themselves.
So although as I said in my previous reply, I would never suggest that you violate your conscience, I do believe that your conscience in the matter of masturbation has been formed based on the generally dim view that society takes of sex and sexual pleasure. Your conscience on this matter was a response to messages delivered to you in your late teens that sexuality is suspect, and that masturbation in particular is “simulated sex” and a bad thing that should not be done.
I am truly sorry that, as you say of yourself, “No amount of articles I have read since then arguing for the propriety of it has ever been able to convince my conscience. The logic they espouse have just never been able to give me moral peace with it.” You were given a negative message about something the Bible does not condemn, by people who had internalized negative attitudes about human sexuality that have been pervasive in many cultures throughout the world ever since the Fall of Mankind.
If you are unable to shake those negative messages from your gut, that is truly unfortunate. Faulty and wrong messages delivered when we are young do go deep into our psyche, and as you say, they can be very difficult to shake.
However, perhaps at least rationally and intellectually you can come to recognize that those messages were based on negative attitudes toward sexuality that are a result of our fallen human nature, not of anything intrinsic to the sexuality that God created in us for the highest spiritual and divine purposes.
To offer one more metaphor, I would suggest that masturbation is to sex within marriage as bronze or silver is to gold. Gold represents the highest ideal of love and sexuality within marriage. But just because silver and bronze are not gold, that doesn’t mean they’re evil. It simply means they’re a lesser form of good.
No greater comfort, guilt and harm has been bestowed upon mankind than by his religion. Our creator instilled only faith, hope and love. Man, through his need to understand his existence, created religion. Do not fear God when nature takes its course. “God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh”. – Voltaire
Different strokes for different folks.
Live and let live.
Nature cannot be judged by man.
No one speaks for our creator.
As it concerns faith, we believe what we need to believe.
Your logic and conclusions about masterbation all come tumbling down when you add wet dreams to the equation.
How to overcome our fantasy imagination,, vain imaginations,, how to overcome it?
Hi Anushitha Paul,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.
In response, first I would encourage you not to be too hard on yourself. It is true that a lot of vain imaginations go through our heads, and we can’t always control them. However, the most important thing is what we do. The first thing, then is not to act upon any fantasies or imaginations that are not good.
The second thing is to make sure you have goals in life, and are working toward those goals. If our mind has something to focus on, less important things will be pushed to the side, even if they don’t go away altogether.
The third thing is to have some sort of job or work, whether paid or volunteer, that you devote much of your day to. When our hands and our mind are busy accomplishing something useful, there is not so much room for useless thoughts.
Finally, not all imagination and fantasy is bad. Even fantasizing about bad things gives us an opportunity to face them in our mind and heart so that we do not have to face them in our outward life. For more about this, please see:
How Imagination and Fantasy Help our Spiritual Growth
Ya’ll complicate the issue unnecessarily. If you’re not imposing upon anyone else while you masturbate, who cares what you’re thinking about when you do it? God certainly doesn’t. Scrutiny of self gratification has differed drastically since time began. It seems that man and religion can mess up just about anything. Do what comes naturally as long as it doesn’t harm others.
Thanks for your thoughts, which do provide a welcome counterbalance to all of the negativity about masturbation out there, and in many of the comments on these articles.
This sounds a lot more like satanism than it does following Christ. The satanic tenet is do what thou wilt as long as its not harming others. The Lord has called us to sharpen one another. To be frank, masturbation is not edifying anyone. How is fantasy any difference from lustful desire ? Its sad that people are trying to justify masturbation. Masturbation is selfish and is usually induced by things that are not of the Lord. Instead of having sex with your spouse you choose to do it with yourself. Instead of taking the time to cultivate your relationship with Christ one will masturbate. It is distracting , addicting and hinders one from being the person that God has designed us to be.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
I presume you (and perhaps Hoyle, whom I was responding to) are referring to Aleister Crowley‘s dictum, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” However, though conservative Christians commonly claim that Crowley was a Satanist, and though some Satanists do draw on Crowley’s teachings, Crowley himself was not, in fact, a Satanist. Rather, he formulated a rather philosophical modern version of paganism, generally known as “Thelema.” You can read more about Crowley and his views at these links. While I don’t agree with Crowely’s “Do what thou wilt” dictum, it is good to be accurate about what Crowley did and didn’t teach.
And he certainly didn’t teach the willful committing of evil and sin, which would indeed be Satanic. The very fact that you formulate it as “as long as it’s not harming others” takes it out of the realm of real Satanism. Satan not only doesn’t avoid harming others, but takes delight in harming others.
I also understand that you are opposed to masturbation. I would simply recommend that you read the three articles on masturbation in this series. The fact of the matter is that the Bible does not prohibit masturbation, nor does it say anything at all about masturbation. And though it may be your opinion that masturbation is selfish, there is no particular warrant for that in the Bible, which is the primary source of Christian faith and belief.
Of course, if a person is married and is regularly masturbating instead of having sexual relations with his or her spouse, that is not a good thing. Masturbation can be selfish. But most people who masturbate do so because sexual relations within a healthy, committed relationship are not available to them, either because they’re not married or because their spouse is unable or unwilling to have sexual relations. And as explained in the articles, rather than being selfish or immoral, masturbation, done in moderation, is a harmless and relatively healthful way of satisfying sexual drives and avoiding lust, for those people who cannot have normal, healthy sexual relationships within a loving, committed, and ideally married relationship.
So although I understand your opinions about masturbation, I both disagree with them and believe that they are just that: opinions, and not a part of genuine, biblical Christian belief.
Still, if that is the way you feel about masturbation, I would recommend that you yourself not masturbate in order to avoid violating your conscience.
Boluwade does raise an important and relevant point to the theological discussion of masturbation, namely, the pleasure aspect that’s attached to sexual self gratification. That is, even if we don’t practically seek them out, we are nevertheless actively indulging in and deriving pleasure from stimulating ourselves to fantasy images and scenarios that are in themselves illicit, and it’s hard to imagine God signing off on this.
For instance, I may fantasize about exacting revenge upon someone who has wronged me, and while I may take the high road and have no intention of actualizing this fantasy into a reality, it’s still a very negative behavior that I actively fantasize about in order to indulge in the accompanying pleasure. I think examples like this ultimately allude to a distinction between ‘wanting’ something and ‘desiring’ something, with ‘wanting’ being us trying or wishing to see something actualized into a reality, and ‘desiring’ referring more to something that incites a sense of pleasure upon contemplating an idea. I don’t want to hurt someone who has hurt me back, but I do admit that there’s a certain desire for it, so the question becomes, then, in the absence of laboring toward a ‘want,’ is it still appropriate to indulge in a ‘desire?’
While I’m not a behavioral psychologist, it does, on the surface, seem practically necessary for us to funnel our desires in some way, lest we keep them destructively pent up, and insofar as sexual desires are concerned, masturbation would seem to be in some way and to some degree a necessary, healthy way to do this. Speaking more spiritually, and as you pointed out in one of your earlier articles, the vast majority of us are unable to sublimate our sexual desires into something more constructive than masturbation, so it *might* just be that masturbation is low-end release mechanism for people who have not reached a certain point of spiritual development. The problem here is that this ‘point of spiritual development’ would seem to refer to nearly all of us, and the *bigger* problem is the can of worms it opens as to why God would create standards for us to meet, but create us in such a way that we simply can’t meet them, making our sexual health something we can only maintain through evil behaviors.
For the scenario you paint in your second paragraph, I find a distinguish by using the words “feeling” and “acting”. While I may “feeling” like exacting revenge upon someone who has wronged me, the feeling is an instinctive response of my fallen flesh not my active choice. It is the same way you will likely dock if you suddenly hear the sound of a gun shot. I personally do not see God holding us responsible for that instinctive feeling with in a sense is an action but it is an unconscious one. The feeling may simultaneously also spring up with thoughts and images suggesting how to fulfil the feeling. What I then do with them is what I believe God holds me responsible for. Do I now go on to contemplate the thoughts and images with relish even if I do not intend to act them out physically? Or do I reject them and bring them under control as God would expect? This is the critical divide for me. To say I fantasize means, to me, to contemplate with relish and that it now an active thing from your will. You are no longer talking of the instinctive response when you say you are fantasizing, you talking of a conscious thing you have chosen to do.
As regards God supposedly creating standards for us that we cannot meet, I do not believe he created us in such a way that we can’t meet them. Rather we have become degraded in our moral capacity by our fallen nature and so are unable to keep them naturally. He however offers us the capacity in the Spirit even now while we await our reformed bodies. Progressively, I have found myself, by the instruction, discipline and energy of the Spirit, not only hold thoughts captive and casting down imaginations, but also losing the base and instinctive reflexes of the flesh. There are things that are no sin in themselves but which he has taught and trained me to avoid because of their effect in weakening my moral capacity.Does the Scriptures not say “Walk by the Spirit and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh? The lack of power against these base instincts among us Christians these days is because we have lost the practise of living faith that presses and perseveres for grace by the Spirit through prayers and meditating in God’s word until it receives it to overcome pressure from our flesh, world and Satan. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane shows us that sometimes this grace cannot be accessed by mere saying a prayer. He was under intense agony of spirit to buckle but converted that despair and sorrow (or depression) into earnest prayers to the Father. Even that required three sessions of probably an hour each before the Father would release an angel to go and strengthen him. He is my model.
Hebrews 12:1 talks about the “sin that easily entangles”. Reading down to verse 4 we find that our inspiration, trust and focus must be Jesus in order for us not to faint and give up in resisting. True, our flesh builds us sinful pressures against us. so does the world and so does Satan. Most times it is impossible to know which is at work as they share the same cravings. But none exists that the Spirit cannot help us diffuse without injury to our health and without subverting God’s laws. I am a living proof of this.
Why do you think that masturbation is among a class of “evil behaviors” that we must resort to in satisfying our sex drives?
And why do you think it is wrong to experience pleasure from masturbating?
Do you think that masturbation is intrinsically wrong, and that deriving pleasure from it is intrinsically wrong?
I very much suspect that your discomfort with masturbation, and your idea that God has designed things badly such that we must resort to “evil behaviors” in our sexual life, is a result of the general societal attitude toward sex, and in particular the common religious attitude toward sex, as being something animalistic, unspiritual, dirty, and probably indelibly tinged with evil.
I would suggest that those attitudes are very much mistaken, and are the cause of much emotional and spiritual harm. For more on this, please see this comment in reply to Boluwade above. And see also this comment about masturbation, fantasy, and lust. It is likely that I’ll take some of the material from these comments and turn them into posts in their own right. But I’ll wait until I’ve posted another article or two on different subjects just to keep some variety in what I’m offering to my readers.
I read over the comments you linked me to, and I see that you’ve addressed to a great extent the meaning of lust as the intent to covet, the related difference between lust and fantasy, and the value that fantasy plays in the development of our moral character, but all of this still seems to skirt around the fundamental issue I brought up in my comment: that masturbation, despite being rooted in fantasy when it’s not rooted in lust, is still the act of deriving pleasure from images and ideas that are often evil, and unless I’m missing something, I don’t think I’ve seen you address the spiritual character of this kind of behavior.
To run a bit further with the example I mentioned in my article, if you can imagine someone sitting and pleasurably fantasizing about hurting someone who has hurt them- despite having no *intention* of doing so- then you can also see how this is still an act of pleasurably *indulging* in an impulse that I’m sure we’ve all at one time or another experienced. You may not be acting it out, you may have no intention of acting it out, but you are still *savoring* and *relishing* on the idea; that doesn’t strike me as acting in keeping with goodness, if not indulging in evil, and it’s in that regard that we can see how ‘thinking’ something can still be an act of ‘doing’ something (and I’m sure you’ll agree, as you yourself have mentioned how actively cultivating in your mind a destructive tendency that you intend to act upon is an evil thing to do).
My example is non-sexual, but I’m sure you can see a parallel between that and sexual scenarios; seeing an attractive woman on the street, feeling sexual impulses toward someone’s wife, then going home and savoring in the impulse by pleasuring ourselves to sexual fantasies about them. I agree that fantasy undeniably plays a valuable role in our lives, and that one of the worst things we can do is to suppress them, but let’s face it, when we’re masturbating to sexual fantasies, the last thing we’re doing is mulling over good and evil so as to decide what kind of person we want to be: we’re just having fun.
So when I referred to masturbation as ‘evil’ in my comment, I’m doing so within the context of what masturbation implies if my above comments are correct: if it is evil to pleasure ourselves to fantasy images of the illicit, but pleasuring ourselves to fantasy images of evil is the only way to maintain our sexual health, then it would imply a huge spiritual design flaw: that we have to indulge in evil for the sake of our health.
Somewhat relatedly, if you would be willing to address this as well, Boluwade has accounted for the fact that we are unable to meet God’s standards not on account of being created that way, but on account of sin having entered the world, thus corrupting our flesh. We were never perfect, but we were originally created good, and that good has since turned to evil on account of original sin. I understand that this is the orthodox position on the matter, but is there a parallel in Swedenborg’s account of original sin? We were once imperfect but sinless, whereas we are not both imperfect and inclined toward sin?
As covered in the articles, not all fantasies are created equal. Some are better, some are worse. And my general recommendation, stated in the conclusion of the second article on masturbation, is that over time we should move ourselves away from the worse ones, and toward the better ones.
The fallacy in the anti-masturbation argument based on the idea that it is inevitably associated with lust is that not all fantasies are evil or lustful. Some are benign and even positive. For example, as I’ve already said in the comments, I do not think it’s wrong or evil, but can be good and helpful, to fantasize about making love with an imagined future marital partner. I don’t want to go into all of the explicit details. But in general, there is a range of fantasies from dark and disturbing to light and delightful.
In short: I believe it’s just plain wrong to think that all sexual fantasizing is evil. And that it’s just plain wrong to think that masturbation is always accompanied by evil, lustful fantasies.
Human nature being what it is, of course, most actual human beings will be somewhere along the scale of light to dark. We’re not perfect. We don’t inhabit the pure light end of the spectrum in anything we think or do. But singling out sexual fantasies and labeling them all as evil, evil, evil, is very unrealistic, and betrays a corrupted view of sexuality.
Sexuality is not evil. It was created by God “very good” along with the rest of our human characteristics. And I continue to believe that the hard-line anti-masturbation stance that much of religion has taken is based on a completely unsatisfactory, one-sided and one-dimensional view of human sexuality that sees sex as a dangerous realm full of deadly pitfalls.
About original sin, please see this article: The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 2: Original Sin?
I thought your article was very well written. Fantasies are part of normal living. That is why video games are so popular. Fantasies can also be a part of the marriage relationship and can really add to and spice up a marriage. The distinction between fantasies and actions is an important understanding. Most marriages don’t break up because of fantasies, but rather because of actions of one or the other of the partners. Interesting to me how many conservative Christians can watch a war movie with all the blood and gore that is included and don’t give it a second thought, but if it were a sexually charged movie then it would be wrong? Murder and Adultery are both condemned in the Bible. I doubt very seriously whether thereare any men out there who haven’t or don’t masturbate. It is also common among women as well. Being Christian doesn’t castrate our natural desires and fantasies. God created sexual desire and said that it was Good!
Thank you for your great article.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. You make some great points! “Great” because I agree with you! 😉
About video games and fantasy, you might be interested in this article: Video Games, Virtual Reality, and Spiritual Reality.
This is a great, well written piece. Let me say you impress me by pointing out that words point to reality. We must be careful not get tripped up by words. The spirit of the law is more important in many cases than the letter of the law.
Ancient pagan schools of thought influenced early Christianity. With Augustine (died 430), sexual pessimism and hatred of pleasure gained the upper hand in church thinking. What many will call the “Christian view of sex and marriage” has many elements that are not authentically Christian.
Today, in the Western world, marriage is greatly delayed due to education requirements, and physical sexual maturation (aka puberty) occurs much earlier than in our grandparents’ day (possibly due to traces of hormones in meat and dairy products our children consume). The young people have “raging hormones” and suffer and endure much sexual tension in their teenage years. We can take the approach that tells them that masturbation is as bad or worse than fornication. Of course, such an approach invites the problems of fornication which are many and diverse (we all know the relevant statistics).
For me, the more humane and compassionate approach is for both parents to talk periodically with their teenage children about sex and why sex should be saved for marriage. During these conversations, parents can assure their children that they know what their children are experiencing and coping with as regards to sexual tension. Masturbation ought to be encouraged as a healthy and safe outlet for that sexual tension. (Unrelieved sexual tension can lead to many problems including impulsive and irresponsible behavior.) Sure, teenage boys and girls may very well (and actually do) fantasize while masturbating. Such fantasizing is just that – fantasy, and not lust. (Many parents avoid having such frank discussions with their children and that is part of the problem.) It is helpful to have locks on the children’s bedroom doors so that needed privacy can be maintained and awkward, embarrassing situations avoided. As well, with open discussions and locked bedroom doors, teenage children can be confident and comfortable that their parents understand and approve of their masturbating. Children ought not be burdened with fear or guilt or shame over their masturbation. Rather, they can freely enjoy masturbating as a necessary outlet for their built up sexual tension without any stress or fear or guilt. (Regularly masturbating can help teens when they begin to date by lessening their sexual tension and desire so that they can more easily resist the temptation to fornicate.)
We must remember that the Commandments call men to freedom – freedom from their own all too human self destructive tendencies. As well, on our blog, I have written that the true purpose of sexual morality is to promote and protect marriage and by extension the family. Stable marriages yield stable families and that promotes a harmonious society. The purpose of Christian sexual morality is not to attempt to desexualize persons as much as possible. Sex outside of marriage has so many very bitter fruits that such illicit sex must be avoided.
The message needs to be save sex for marriage as it is a very powerful and beautiful and positive thing within a loving marriage.
Encouraging a healthy attitude in one’s teenage children towards sex is a responsibility of parents. We must not allow the toxic culture to shape their attitude towards sex.
To a reader named Jett,
I don’t know if you intended to address your comment to one of my readers instead of to me. However, in response, I would suggest that you first read the four articles in this series:
If, after reading them, you still have questions, feel free to leave a new comment using the form at the end of the comments area, rather than responding to a previous comment. Thanks.
Jesus masterbated if not consciously then while sleeping which is commonly referred to as a wet dream. Masturbation is relative to one’s upbringing, culture, religion and age. It’s as natural as eating, sleeping and breathing. See Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and numerous current medical articles that discuss sex and maturation.
I have personally known several Christians who think about Jesus when they masturbate; not in a lustful way but while immersing themselves in God’s pure love of his only child.
Just to be clear, a wet dream is not masturbation. Masturbation involves stimulating one’s own erogenous zones to bring about sexual pleasure and release. In a wet dream, that’s not what’s happening (unless, of course, the person is masturbating in the dream!).
I do agree that masturbation is a perfectly normal and natural thing for people to do.
Still, since none of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life say anything at all about Jesus’ personal sexual experiences or practices, it is going beyond the evidence and into the realm of speculation to say that Jesus masturbated. Not everyone masturbates, and we have no solid basis on which to determine whether Jesus was among the group of people that do masturbate or among the (probably considerably smaller) group of people who do not masturbate.
What about enjoying the sensations of pleasuring one’s self, Like enjoying the sensations of scratching an itch without desiring anyone in your mind? I pleasure myself sometimes and honestly what i find myself focusing on is the sensations on the skin without having a particular person in mind (that is to actually have sex with). Is that sinful?
Hi E b,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. The same principles covered in these articles apply if you’re not thinking of anyone in particular while masturbation. It’s not fornication, and it’s certainly not adultery. It’s not forbidden in the Bible. And assuming it’s done reasonably and in moderation, like any other ordinary thing we humans do, there is no harm in it.
Hi E b,
I’ve pondered this idea quite often! I too don’t fantasize while masturbating. The only time I would say masturbation in this nature is sinful if masturbation becomes a barrier between one and their relationship with God. Here’s just one of many possible examples where this might happen: One stops praising the Heavenly Father because masturbation is seemingly fulfilling enough; such act is sinful.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts.
Of course, anything that puts a barrier between us and our relationship with God is problematic, if not outright sinful. No matter what we do in life, it is best to put the first priority on following God. Everything else that’s good follows from that.
Hello, I appreciate the research and study you have done on the topic of masterbation, pornography, etc…you mentioned that the problem with pornagraphy can be that it waste time: searching for a particular scene, actress, etc. my question is this: if my main goal is striving for a healthy relationship (marriage), and using pornagraphy as a means for sexual release, would bookmarking certain porn videos for the purpose of not taking forever to find videos a good idea or would it be naive: wanting a specific scene/actress in itself be consider lusting?
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. In answer to your question, the particulars of how you access pornography aren’t all that important, assuming you’re not getting it by theft, piracy, and so on. The primary thing is recognizing that pornography should be a temporary, limited way of dealing with your natural sexual drives until a healthier outlet is available, and that the healthiest is a committed, faithful, monogamous marriage.
A theme that I see as present both in this article and virtually all other articles is viewing the path of personal development in terms of a spectrum. We all start somewhere, and are moving toward something. As it relates to pornography, I have to wonder if the idea of viewing it as a limited, temporary medium of fulfillment is merely a self-deluded trap.
The genres (if you will) and sub-genres of pornography are overwhelming, but each variety of it has the same built in sexual subtext: a celebration of sexual immorality. In both the performers and the ‘storylines’ they act out, there’s this idea of abandoning inhibition so as to covet what you want in a purely materialistic expression of sexuality. In nearly every pornographic setting, we see people indulging in most of the things we have all at some point ‘felt’ but morally mitigate ourselves from ‘acting out,’ because we know they’re ultimately harmful.
Again, I’m not a psychologist, but it’s hard to imagine how watching and pleasuring yourself to this material wouldn’t just further exacerbating your feelings. You may have no intention of acting things out, and pornography may not necessarily push you to that point, but it’s hard to see how it just doesn’t set you deeper and deeper into whatever you’re feeling. If that’s the case, can you really use it as part of a larger process whereby you move toward the ideal of a loving marriage? And don’t we necessarily inflict the same thing on ourselves when we run back the ‘pornography in our minds’ indulging in fantasy?
At the same time, and as I mentioned, the feelings themselves, which are much more elaborately embodied in pornographic material, are mostly common to us, not to mention completely involuntary. They’re with us, and we need to find some way to interact with them, and the key word is ‘interact:’ I believe that forced suppression and turning away from them as though they don’t exist is just setting yourself up for disaster. So if pornography and the ‘mental pornography’ of fantasizing about them are similarly unhealthy, and most people can’t (as we discussed separately) sublimate their feelings into something constructive, then what are we to do? One possible solution that comes to mind is to simply be open with them. Talk about them with others. If there are no others, write them down. Do so without any feelings of guilt or shame, because being open means being open without fear of judgement- from yourself or others- and you’re merely tallying up what you see inside you. Then, you see what you’re feeling from the perspective of an observer, rather than someone who’s troubled and feeling overcome by emotions that simply don’t know what to do with. Even if your (Lee) attitude on pornography remains unchanged now or in the future, I think we can agree that this is a healthy way of dealing with sexual impulses regardless of however else you’re trying to address them.
On personal development, I think of it as a pathway rather than as a spectrum. We start somewhere along the spectrum running from evil to good, but we commonly travel a pathway along that spectrum. Of course, a spectrum is just a metaphor. The reality is more complex than a simple matter of moving from one color to another across a rainbow of colors. We are traveling through a multi-layered spiritual landscape, which has the various expanses of hell in its lower part, the world of spirits in the middle, and the various expanses of heaven in its upper part.
I know you have a hard time accepting my views on the gray area of pornography. And if you can satisfy your natural sexual drives through talking about them, more power to you! But in general, I am skeptical of the idea that our sex drive can be sublimated into something else. It is as natural as our need to eat and excrete, neither of which can be sublimated into some other activity. The consequences of not having sexual release are not as immediate and dire as the consequences of not eating or excreting. But over time, unexpressed sexual drives do build up, and if suppressed too long, tend to come out in unhealthy and destructive ways.
Just as our hunger is satisfied only by eating, our sexual drives are satisfied only by the sexual release of orgasm, together with ejaculation for a male. It is true that some people have low sexual drives for one reason or another, and rarely if ever feel the need or desire for the release of orgasm. But most healthy, post-adolescent males and females do feel that desire quite regularly. And for most, it will find an outlet that includes orgasm.
Yes, of course, people can go overboard and get into unhealthy and addictive sexual patterns and behaviors, just as people can go overboard with eating. In both cases, there are negative physiological and psychological effects. But for most teens and adults who don’t have a sexual partner, it’s just a matter of finding a way to satisfy their normal sexual drives according to their varying patterns and cycles. And masturbation is probably the most common, and generally the most healthful, way to do that.
As my main article on pornography says, pornography is a gray area. It’s not particularly a good thing. It is tinged with the evil of fornication and adultery. But depending upon how it is used, it is not necessarily a terribly evil thing either. Men, especially, commonly want and need visuals in satisfying their sexual drives. In the absence of a sexual partner, pornography provides those visuals. It’s not great. But assuming the person isn’t going for the more sordid types of pornography, it’s not terribly evil. It’s consensual (any pornography that isn’t made by consenting adults is rightly outlawed by every decent nation), and there is no actual physical sexual congress on the part of the person consuming the pornography. Not all pornography even involves actual sexual contact on the part of the models. A significant segment is simply photos or videos of solo women or solo men.
Ideally, there would be no need for pornography. People would marry in early adulthood, and teens would not be brought up in such a highly sexualized culture. My stance on pornography is aimed at the reality of the actual cultural situation we live in, and the reality that men, especially, simply are going to consume pornography. For those who are able to get along without it, that’s great. But for the rest, rather than just condemning it as evil, evil, evil, I think it is more practical, reasonable, and useful to recognize that it dwells in a gray area that can be worse or not so bad depending on what sort of pornography is being viewed and on the attitudes of the people viewing it.
And in general, once a person is in a healthy, mutual sexual relationship—ideally a faithful, monogamous marriage—the pornography should be left behind.
As for pornography exacerbating our sexual desires, that does happen with some people. But that whole premise of condemning pornography wholesale as making things worse is based on a general attitude that our sexual drives are somehow unhealthy and dirty. They’re not. In themselves they are normal and natural. And they drive us to be sexually active with a person of the opposite sex (if we’re heterosexual). Using pornography as a stand-in for an actual, physical human being is certainly not the ideal, and it does cause problems, all of which I cover in my main article on pornography. But it is, I believe, one of the milder and less harmful ways that men, especially, can satisfy their sexual drives without engaging in actual fornication and adultery.
I also have a couple of other, more specific questions that I wanted to set aside here, in a separate post.
You mentioned that not all fantasies are created equal, but distinguished among them primarily in terms of whether they represent an actual *intent* to act things out. Is that the only thing that separates a good from bad fantasies? Are all sexual fantasies that are unconnected to an intent to live them out equally neutral, or do some fantasies indulge in an image of sexual immortality that, while we don’t intend to act out, are just unto themselves unhealthy? I ask this because, again, I believe that there’s such a thing as ‘mental pornography’- porn than doesn’t necessarily ‘exist’ as an image or film, but exist as scenario’s that we conjure up and psycho/physically pleasure ourselves to, and the question of whether this is still pushing us down the spectrum of sexual immortality.
Relatedly, if sexual immortality is a spectrum, does it necessarily make sense to put rape at the far end of the evil spectrum? I understand the idea of a spectrum to be something in which the ‘colors’ progress into each other, so while each part is still distinct from the other, they essentially, progressively ‘bleed’ into each other. But if we were (for example) to put something like consensual casual sex or ‘hooking up’ at the light end of the dark spectrum, does it make sense to use everything in between to connect it with rape? The person who attends the most departed sex orgy imaginable may still be light years away from being a rapist. There’s something fundamentally different between someone who engages in consensual sexual depravity versus someone who rapes, which leads me to think that something like rape belongs on a spectrum of its own.
Or does the *truly* depraved spectrum of sexual immorality start with the person who- to even the slightest degree- values their pleasure over the will of the other? Does it go (and I’m being serious here) consensual swinger —> guy who slaps a girl’s backside?
The main distinction I’ve made in these articles is between fantasy and lust. Fantasy is mere daydreaming and imagining without any intent to act upon what we’re picturing in our head. Lust is an active desire to carry out particular acts and scenarios, leading us to do so if we are able to find or make a way to do so.
However, even within our fantasy life there is certainly a spectrum ranging from good to evil, and covering all of the ground in between. If a teenage girl or boy fantasizes about a future marriage relationship, and that fantasizing includes having a healthy sexual relationship with that future marriage partner, there is nothing wrong with that at all. It is a good and natural part of looking forward to the marriage relationship God created us for. But if a teenage girl or boy is continually fantasizing about sexual violence and predation, that is a very dark fantasy, and probably indicates some serious psychological issues, perhaps resulting from being sexually victimized or being exposed to physical and sexual abuse.
So yes, there are good fantasies and bad fantasies, and everything in between. However, it’s best not to get too absolute about it. Sometimes even the negative types of fantasies are part of people’s working out emotional and psychological issues. In that case, suppressing them would only make things worse by taking away that inner theater for facing fears and traumas. Personally, I have no use for horror films. But some people seem to need them as a way to dramatize and face their inner fears. (And . . . some people seem to go overboard and fill their heads with needless trauma at the movie theater.) In short, though there are good and bad fantasies, and every gray area in between, it’s best to allow for some nuance in our thinking about them, putting them in the context of the lives of the people having these fantasies, and seeking to understand how those fantasies function in their overall life. The human mind and heart are complex, and not easily amenable to simplistic, black-and-white analysis and prescription.
I’ll respond separately about the spectrum of sexual evil.
About the spectrum of sexual immorality:
There are multiple axes or polarities describing various aspects of sexual morality and immorality, making it more of a landscape or perhaps multiple landscapes than a spectrum in the usual sense. Here are some of the key axes:
Consensual vs. non-consensual
Non-adulterous vs. adulterous
Monogamous vs. polygamous
The first two are good vs. evil polarities. The third is a spiritual-minded vs. physical-minded polarity. The various combinations and permutations of these, plus other issues and factors, creates the complex landscape of sexual morality vs. immorality.
Swedenborg states that consent is essential to marriage. And this has been broadly recognized by most cultures throughout history. Even in Old Testament times and culture, rape was a punishable crime. And in most cultures today, mutual consent is seen, both legally and socially, as an essential aspect of any legitimate romantic or sexual relationship.
The primary remaining exceptions to this today are in cultures that still practice arranged marriage. Some of them allow the woman (or girl) to refuse. Others don’t. And some of them essentially have no age of consent, practicing child marriage, which in most cultures today would be considered statutory rape. Rape because children and teens up to the age of consent are not legally (or psychologically) of an age in which they are capable of consenting to adult sexual relations. They are not yet self-responsible adults. And statutory because even if they do give consent, that consent is legally invalid. That is why in most cultures today, sexual relations of adults with minors is placed on the non-consensual side of the consensual vs. non-consensual axis.
Rape is the general term used to describe non-consensual sex. Yes, it’s a spectrum, because politically correct attitudes aside, consent is sometimes murky, leading to a certain gray area in a certain number of cases. But the general rule is that if it’s non-consensual, it’s rape, and rape is evil and a crime. And though some have argued that rape is a crime of violence, not of sex, it seems obvious enough that it is a sexual crime, or a crime of sexual violence. That’s why rape is on the spectrum of sexual immorality. And since consent is essential to romantic love and marriage, rape resides in an extremely evil part of the landscape of sexual immorality.
The other key axis of sexual good vs. evil is the non-adulterous vs. adulterous polarity. This can also be considered a spectrum because there is a gray area where two people are promised or engaged to each other but not yet married. The Old Testament treats sexual intercourse with someone else during this period as tantamount to adultery (though it should be said that this applied primarily to women). Most cultures today don’t consider it adultery until there is a legal or church marriage.
Obviously, for Christians and Jews, adultery is a serious form of sexual immorality, and is evil, because it is a violation of one of the Ten Commandments, and thus a violation of one of God’s primary laws. There are similar laws prohibiting adultery in nearly all cultures throughout recorded history. Even in today’s liberal cultures, adultery is seen as a reasonable and legal grounds for divorce, although in some legal systems it is obscured under broad catch-all terms such as “irreconcilable differences.” If one of the partners has committed adultery, no judge will question the legitimacy of the suit for divorce.
Just as non-consensual sexual relations are evil by virtue of the fact that they are non-consensual, adulterous sexual relations are evil by virtue of the fact that they are adulterous. Sexual relations may be adulterous and consensual, and they are still evil. Sexual relations may be non-adulterous, but also not consensual, and they are still evil. Each of these puts sexual relations in the outright evil region of the landscape of sexual immorality, even if they may be in different areas of that landscape.
The monogamous vs. polygamous polarity is less a good vs. evil axis than a spiritual-minded vs. physical-minded axis. Many cultures throughout history have included polygamy as legal and culturally accepted. Even today, though the worldwide trend is strongly toward monogamy, some cultures still accept polygamous marriages legally and socially. That’s because polygamy is not so much evil as non-spiritual.
Spiritual marriage is a oneness of minds between partners. This can exist only in monogamous relationships. Polygamy prevents oneness of minds, and is based more on social, financial, and physical factors. That’s why it is a non-spiritual, physical-minded form of marriage.
This general principle also holds true in non-marital sexual relations involving sex with multiple partners. People who engage in sex with multiple partners are generally focused on the physical pleasure and social status (or otherwise) involved in having sex with many partners. They are not looking for a connection of minds, but for a mere connection of bodies.
While some people consider this evil, really, it’s more accurate to describe it as unspiritual. It reduces sexuality to the status of animal pleasure, or at least to the status of sex merely for procreation in the case of polygamous marriages. Sex for animal pleasure is not evil, nor, of course, is sex for procreation. But by itself, it is not a spiritual relationship.
That’s why sex with multiple partners, either within marriage (in polygamous cultures) or outside of marriage (in liberal cultures) is socially and legally accepted within the cultures where it is commonly practiced, even if it may be seen as less moral or less virtuous than sex with a single partner. In liberal countries today, you can’t be prosecuted merely for having multiple sexual partners. Although sex with multiple partners is commonly placed on the spectrum of sexual immorality, it does not necessarily occupy the evil region of the sexual landscape. Rather, it occupies an unspiritual, natural-minded region of the sexual landscape.
And all of this is why sexual immorality can’t be placed neatly along a single-axis spectrum, but requires two or three axes, at least, to clearly understand and categorize it in our mind, and in our social and legal systems.
Hi lee, finally someone has got it right, that masturbation isnt mentioned in the Word, and I personally believe that its part of our sexuality, and God gave us that sexuality.I must point out that even married folks,often are unable to enjoy sex in their marriages ,for various reasons and resort to masturbating …for example perhaps the wife becomes unaffectionate or has frigidity issues and loses all desire for sexual relations…then what is the only alternative for her husband ?..About these …conservative Christians….if they spent more time on preaching the gospel of Grace ,assuming they know what that is, than always going on about things sexual ,then more people will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus…..thanks for your God given wisdom …..
Thanks for stopping by, and for your good words. I’m glad the article is helpful to you. Yes, too many churches have gotten sidetracked into unbiblical moralism, especially on sexual issues, and it dilutes and sidetracks the healing message of the Bible.
Godspeed on your spiritual journey!
I’m not so sure that lust/covet imply intention. I think they simply mean strong desire, in which case intention may be present, but not necessarily. I went through Swedenborg’s conjugal love and his treatise on the gospel of matthew, and I don’t see anywhere he says that lust implies intention. And if lust implied intention, why didn’t the bible simply use the word intent instead of lust? I mean, surely there’s nothing healthy about a married man indulging in an intense fantasy involving his neighbor’s wife, even if he has no intention to approach his neighbor’s life, or even if he would pass up on a consequence-free opportunity with his neighbor’s wife.
Anyways, I’m sure swedenborg is okay with single people masturbating and fantasizing, since he thought having a mistress was permissible in some cases.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
Swedenborg’s view of sin is that it always involves evil intent, or it’s not sin. Evil is anything bad and harmful. Sin is intentionally doing things that we know are bad and harmful, and against God’s commandments.
However, my point about intent is more that “coveting your neighbor’s wife” and “looking at a woman with lust” is not mere fantasizing, but a strong desire that would lead to actual adultery if there were an opportunity, or an opportunity could be made. That includes a willingness to do it if there wouldn’t be any negative repercussions.
As I said in the above article, I agree that there’s nothing healthy about a married man fantasizing about having sex with his neighbor’s wife. If he’s fantasizing about someone else’s wife, and not about his own, then that marriage has a serious problem. Any man who is truly in love with his wife does not spend time daydreaming about having sex with other women, married or not. If a married man keeps fantasizing about other women, it’s probably just a matter of time until his fantasies become reality and he commits adultery.
Or it may be that he is in love with his wife, but she’s not in love with him, or has serious issues with him, and rejects him in bed and gives him no affection. Then he might also fall prey to fantasizing about having sex with other women because his wife is cold to him and has cut him off.
Either way, that marriage is in serious trouble. If there isn’t some major healing in the marriage, and a mutual recommitment to one another, it’s just a matter of time before the marriage comes to an end. Then the man’s fantasizing about having sex with someone other than his wife will likely become a reality, though maybe not with a married woman.
About Swedenborg’s lack of comment on masturbation, I suspect that the anti-masturbation mania was so strong in Swedenborg’s day that he simply couldn’t think of it as an acceptable means of sexual expression, nor write about it in that social climate even if he did think about it. However, in our day and age the anti-masturbation mania is fading. And I do believe that if a man can be satisfied by masturbating, that’s a better solution than taking a mistress.
Thanks for your reply Lee. I read this article a while ago and didn’t remember that you addressed fantasizing when one is married, so my bad for not reading all of it a second time.
So if fantasizing about other women while married is adultery of the heart, then why isn’t fantasizing about women when you’re single not fornication of the heart? What’s the distinction? Also, it seems like it would be quite difficult to go from fantasizing about lots of women when you are single to not fantasizing at all when you get married. I don’t think the event of getting married is some sort of magic switch that will turn off the habit or desire to fantasize about other women.
First, “fornication” in the Bible is also a stronger word than simple non-adulterous extramarital sex. See my comments here, here, and here for more on the biblical meaning of “fornication.” “Fornication” in the Bible is usually referring to very wrong types of sexual sin, rather than something like today’s simple unmarried sex between a boyfriend and a girlfriend.
But to answer your question, people who are married are in a relationship in which, from a legalistic angle, they are supposed to satisfy their sexual needs only with their married partner, and from a spiritual angle, should involve a oneness of hearts and minds that is expressed physically in the oneness of sexual intercourse. If either partner is regularly fantasizing about having sex with someone else, then at minimum the oneness of spiritual marriage is missing or seriously lacking in the marriage. Further, the realities of human sexual psychology being what they are, if a married man or woman is regularly fantasizing about having sex with someone other than his or her spouse, eventually it is likely to lead to actual, physical adultery. That’s why even if it does not rise to the level of “adultery in the heart” if such a fantasy flits through a married person’s mind, if it continues, and especially if a married person indulges in such fantasies with pleasure, it not only becomes “adultery in the heart,” but generally results in actual adultery.
The situation of an unmarried person is very different.
First, adultery is defined as sexual intercourse in which one or both of the participants is married to someone else. Assuming that a single person has sex with another single person, it is not adultery. And adultery is what the Commandment prohibits. Fornication is heavily discouraged, but it is not included in the letter of the Ten Commandments, nor is there a clear and unambiguous law against it in the Bible.
Second, as pointed out in the various articles here about masturbation and premarital sex, we humans are created as sexual beings by God. We can’t just flip a switch and turn off our sexual desires. They are a fundamental part of who we are. If we can’t satisfy them within a societally sanctioned relationship, preferably marriage, we’re going to satisfy them in some other way. And our mind is going to wander into sexual situations and fantasies. That’s just how we’re built.
Even within a marriage, it’s not a problem to have sexual fantasies as long as they involve healthy sexual relations with one’s spouse. Even for married people, it’s not sexual fantasy itself that’s the problem. It’s when sexual fantasies become focused outside of the marriage, and thereby become adulterous in nature.
But a single person, unless he or she is fantasizing about sex with a married man or woman, is not engaging in mental adultery by fantasizing about having sex. That’s just something the mind is going to do when one does not have a regular sexual partner.
The question is whether the fantasies lean toward a faithful, loving, monogamous relationship, or whether they lean toward casual sex with multiple partners and toward adulterous sex. The former is not “fornication of the heart” as the Bible could have used that term in parallel to “adultery of the heart.” It’s just the normal workings of the human mind and heart as it looks toward and hopes for a future loving marriage relationship. The latter is indeed “fornication of the heart,” and in the case of fantasizing about adulterous sex, it is “adultery of the heart,” and over time it tends to result in actually engaging in promiscuous and adulterous sex.
This is why (in agreement with your final point) even for unmarried people it is good not to let the mind run rampant on fantasizing about promiscuous and adulterous sex. As I advise in the series of articles on masturbation, it is best for single people to avoid negative and promiscuous fantasies, and to bend their fantasies toward healthy, loving monogamous sexual relations. Then those fantasies are not “fornication of the heart,” but just the normal, healthy workings of the human mind and heart as it looks toward marriage.
Meanwhile, unmarried but committed relationships do partake of some of the nature of a married relationship. If they continue long term, they will usually lead to marriage, or these days be considered nearly equal to marriage socially. Although it’s not technically or legally adultery to fantasize or even sleep with someone other than one’s boyfriend or girlfriend, it is a form of unfaithfulness, and commonly leads to the breakup of the relationship.
“It is the sort of burning desire that will cause us to actually try to get that something or someone if we can.”
What if someone lusts after someone whos not possible(for example someone who lives very far away)? Is it still lust or does it have to have the actually trying part? For example in Luke 17:22 I think its just about the desiring not that they actually tried maybe. Of course luke 17:22 is a completely different context but its the same greek word.
So what do you think?
The basic idea of the Greek word ἐπιθυμέω (epithymeo) is that of a very strong desire. It is not a mere fantasy or daydream, but something we intensely want. That intense desire will lead us to seek out and acquire or achieve that thing if it is possible.
If the thing sought is negative and forbidden, that Greek word is commonly translated “lust” or “covet.” If the the thing sought is positive and good, the word will more likely be translated “desire,” “long for.” It is used in the positive sense in Luke 17:22:
In other words, the word itself does not say anything about whether the object of desire is good or bad, and therefore whether the desire itself is good or bad. That depends upon the object of desire. The word itself is about the strength of the desire. The disciples, Jesus says, will strongly desire one of the days of the Son of Man (which is a good thing), but that desire, at that time, will remain unfulfilled.
Having a strong desire for something that cannot happen is still a strong desire. We would still achieve or acquire the object of our desire if we could. Only external forces prevent us from attaining it. That’s why such a desire is nearly the same as action, since we would act if we could.
If we retain such a desire to the end of our life, in the spiritual world, where many of this world’s external restraints are removed, we will go ahead and act upon it—or, if it truly is unattainable, we will attempt it anyway. Then, even if we never acted upon that desire here on earth, we will become culpable for it there (if it is a negative desire), because we will put all of our effort into doing what was forbidden or impossible here on earth. That’s why even unattainable desires, if we do not set them aside in our mind and heart, are as blameworthy as the desires that we do act upon. That’s what Jesus was teaching us in his saying about committing adultery with a woman in our heart.
Swedenborg describes the fate of people who had strong hidden desires here on earth that they never acted upon for various self-centered reasons such as a fear of loss of reputation, loss of profit, or legal penalties. In the spiritual world those fears are removed, and such people go ahead and act upon the desires that they had restrained themselves from acting upon in the physical world. They break out into all sorts of wicked behavior, even if they had outwardly been paragons of virtue during their life on earth. And then they descend into their eternal homes in hell.
That’s why, for a Christian, proper behavior is not enough. We must also examine our thoughts and desires, recognize that some of our thoughts and desires are evil and would be sins against God if we acted upon them, and replace them in our mind and heart with good thoughts and desires—which we will then act upon not just because it will benefit us, but because that is what God commands us to do, and it is the right and loving thing to do.
This sort of self-examination and correction of our thoughts and desires is not easy to do. But it is what Jesus Christ and the Christian religion command us to do.
It is also the meaning of Paul’s teachings about following the law of faith rather than the law of works. Among other things, Paul was saying that external obedience to the law is not enough. We must do it from an internal “faith,” or conviction, that following the Lord’s commandments is the good, right, and loving thing to do. Without this, our external obedience to religious or civil law means nothing to our spiritual and eternal life, even if it may make us a good citizen and a pious person here on earth. This is what Paul was really talking about when he said that we are justified by faith and not by the works of the law.
For an article related to your question (which, however, does not discuss “lust”), see:
What If I’m In Love with Someone I Can’t Have?
The basic message of that article: If you’re intensely longing for something, or someone, that’s impossible to attain, it would be best to lay that longing aside, and go for something or someone that actually is attainable. Otherwise you’ll waste your life pining away for something you can never have instead of seeking out something that you actually can have. That’s the damage done by “lust” or strong desire for unattainable things and relationships.
Okay, now I understand your point more clearly thanks!
The Greek word for lust, epithumeo, does not necessarily connote intent. Epithumeo is a general term for desire, so depending on the context, it could mean anything from desire to long for to intend lustfully. In the case of Matthew 5:27-28, Swedenborg’s interpretation is that it’s a “would if I could if there were no earthly consequences”, but Swedenborg is not infallible and could be wrong in his interpretation.
I would argue that it is wrong to fantasize about your friend’s wife, even if you would not commit adultery in real life. It is impossible to fantasize about your friend’s wife and take pleasure in it without having some underlying desire to have sex with your friend’s wife. The desire to have sex with your friend’s wife is intrinsically sinful, so any pleasure you derive from it is also sinful. By fantasizing about your friend’s wife, you are choosing to take delight in evil. Delighting in evil is what causes us to cling to evilness.
A counterpoint is that perhaps in your fantasy, you pretend that you’re in an alternate universe where your friend’s wife is single, but that’s just a form of mental gymnastics. Why insist on fantasizing about her and not someone else? The only explanation is that you are coveting your friend’s wife, which is missing the mark.
So for, all of this is in line with what Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-28, because lust does not have to imply intent like Swedenborg claims. It can just refer to desire and pleasure, separate from intent. When Jesus says “in his heart”, he’s referring to the will, which encompasses much more intent. It consists of desire, affection, pleasure, love, etc.
I think masturbation is fine and sexual fantasies are fine, as long as those sexual fantasies stem from heavenly desires. For example, if you imagine having sex with a woman, but that woman is not the wife/girlfriend of someone you personally know, then there’s nothing wrong with that, unless the sex you’re imagining is some casual, hedonistic escapade and not based in love and romance.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment.
I agree with you that when Jesus says “in his heart,” he’s referring to the will. However, though there certainly are other things in the will besides intent, essentially, our will is our intent. In ordinary terms, our will is what we want. And what we want is our intent. That is the drive from which everything we say and do comes.
Swedenborg does also connect Jesus’ words with the will. Specifically, he connects the “heart” with the intentions of our will. In True Christian Religion #313, after quoting Matthew 5:27–28, he says:
If Jesus had meant mere fantasy, he would not have used such a strong word as ἐπιθυμέω. And if he had meant mere fantasy, he would have said “in his head” rather than “in his heart.” When we desire something in our heart, that is an intent, which will result in our doing it if fears or obstacles don’t get in our way.
Having said that, I also agree with you that fantasizing about having sex with a friend’s wife is not a good idea, and most likely does amount to “lust in the heart.” In fact, in the above article I go even farther, and say that fantasizing about having sex with someone you know is not a good idea. But in that context, I mean nurturing and indulging in such fantasies. If such a fantasy flits through one’s head, but one does not grab onto it, indulge in it, and take pleasure in it, then it is a passing fantasy, which everyone is subject to. It is “lust in the head,” not “lust in the heart.”
If we day-do-day indulge with pleasure in fantasies about having sex with a friend’s wife, or with anyone we know who is married to or in a marriage-like relationship with someone else, it will not be long before our fantasy turns into a desire to actually experience what we are fantasizing about. Then we are committing adultery with that person in our heart. If fears or obstacles don’t get in our way, sooner or later we will act on that desire and intention to have adulterous sex.
If the person we know whom we are fantasizing about is not married, and neither are we, then having sex with that person would not be adultery, nor would fantasizing about it be adultery in the heart. But it’s still likely to lead us to have superficial sex with this or that person. And that is not a good pathway toward marriage. Marriage should start with an inner connection first, and express itself in the physical expression of sexual intercourse only after that inner connection is firmly made. Ideally, this would coincide with the time that the two get married.
All of this is why I suggest in this series of articles that if one is going to fantasize about having sex in connection with masturbation, it is best not to use someone one knows as the object of one’s fantasy. Of course, if one is in a sexually active relationship with that person, and especially if one is married to that person, this does not apply.
I really like this article, and I think you make a ton of excellent points that have helped to dispel some of my own thoughts regarding this topic. One question I did have for you was, if fantasy (being defined as thinking about something in your headspace, without actually having the intention of doing it in real life if given the opportunity) is not sinful, wouldn’t that mean that watching and/or using porn would not be wrong, as long as I have no intention of committing any sexually sinful acts? Help me understand how these two can work out. Thanks!
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. I’m glad this article helped you in your thinking.
On the question of pornography, there is no simple answer. Unlike pure fantasy, pornography involves other human beings in its production and distribution. It therefore falls into a gray area that can be mild or serious depending upon many different factors. For a detailed consideration, please see:
What does the Bible Say about Pornography? Is Pornography Sinful?
In the end, can anyone actually SIMPLIFY: are we ALLOWED or NOT to masturbate if we dont lust … in terms of being a bad action in God’s eye … like, YES or NO? couldn’t find this on these billion words of explanation =(
Ps: a simple conclusion in the end of these billion (and very cool, deep explained) explanations would resolve this understanding issue for some of us, including me.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.
In a word: Yes.
There are a few more billion words explaining this in the other articles about masturbation linked at the end of this one. I recommend that you read them.
Meanwhile, Godspeed on your spiritual journey.
The entire discussion about masturbating is, “much ado about nothing”. The human desire, need, and purpose for sex is all about continuing the species. The sexual urges and thoughts we experience appear randomly and more often than not when we don’t want to procreate. Men’s and women’s sexualities are quite different. Men respond to visual images more readily than women, whether they be on screen, in print or in the mind’s eye. The urge to masturbate is God-given. Why would it matter what we thinking about when masturbating? These are just fantasies that help us fulfill a natural need. These fantasies are primarily shaped by our culture, historical point in time, and religious upbringing. There are too many variables in place to believe that God only approves of some. Think about it. “God’s Checklist” – “Yes, you can think & fantasize about this, this and this. No, you shouldn’t be thinking about this, this or that when you masturbate”. lol
For once, I agree with you almost entirely! 😛
I would only say that some fantasies are rather grim, and not the best thing to have banging around in one’s head.
Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) thought that sex was always immoral as he thought people in the act couldn’t think of eachother as people but instead only as “tools for pleasure”, and IIRC he thought masturbation was bad as it “reduced one to an animal” or something like that.
I imagine both of those views were a bit misguided. Especially since Swedenborg says there’s marriage and making love in Heaven.
(BTW Kant never married and supposedly passwed away a virgin.)
Yeah, that’s a pretty negative and physical-minded view of sex. Millions of couples who love one another and express that love through lovemaking would disagree with him. And if he died a virgin, what did he really know about sexuality?
Dear Lee and Boluwade Kujero,
Although I do not know how you both experienced the interaction and exchange of your ideas and perspectives on the subject, I deeply, deeply appreciate the interaction and all that came from it. It has been very insightful for me in my own journey through finding my way through sexuality and aligning it with my spiritual dedication in my day-to-day physical life.
I think I see, understand and empathize the overall viewpoints presented by both of you.
I think you both think very similarly on the subject, apart from some specifics and semantics. I think that you Lee include a very important aspect into the discussion, which is the reality of where we find ourselves today and how we approach sexuality as a society both within and outside of spirituality, and that gives the subject such a beautiful softness and nuance. You truly meet humanity where its at in its development and this is, in any teaching, an essential part in the act of ‘teaching’ or just sharing with an audience.
I personally think that Lee you beautifully summed everything up in what you wrote here as a response to Boluwade:
“Over time, as I said in the articles, it is good to move our fantasies from darker ones to lighter ones, from ones that would be illicit if carried out to ones that would be healthy and good if carried out. But as I also said in the articles, this is a two steps forward, one step back process. Our thoughts and desires are complex. It takes time to get them untangled and sorted out. Mechanically suppressing every fantasy that would be illicit if carried out in real life will simply delay our facing the true nature of our thoughts and desires, and going through the process of “regenerating” them from self-centered and greedy to focusing on loving others and loving God. Once again, this is a lifelong process—and one that cannot be short-circuited.”
I think this was the ‘missing link’ so to speak for him and clarified the issue tremendously, which might have been less evident in earlier articles on this issue.
Yes, Boluwade’s points in my opinion are very valid in saying that we cannot just let loose with our fantasies, go crazy and wild as if all of this has no (spiritual) effect as long as we just don’t act on it, but the nuance Lee brought in so appropriately has to do with the reality of where we are at with this as humanity collectively. Yes, as we progress as human beings, especially on the spiritual path, we want to increase the alignment of our inner landscape with God/Love so that if the external limitations would fall away, we would externally act as Love. But there is a way to get there, and being too extreme or restricted in this causes more harm than good.
Anyway, thanks to you both for the honest sharing of your own understanding and conclusions on this subject. It has helped me a lot in my own understanding. And again, I think you truly are coming from the same place and to a great degree agree with each other. From my perspective, being outside of the actual interaction, I can see more similarities than differences between you two. Regardless of that, it is been deeply helpful and that’s all that matters.
Much love and blessings to you both, Niels