What if the Right Woman has the Wrong Feet?

Big Feet!This article is a response to a Spiritual Conundrum recently submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Jared. We’ll get to his query in a minute.

But first, the question in the title is not the question Jared asked. Rather, it is the question I am asking Jared, and others who have a foot fetish—which is what Jared did ask about.

I ask this question because for those who have a foot fetish, their answer will say a lot about whether their foot fetish is a serious problem or just one of the particular harmless idiosyncrasies we humans have, or is somewhere in between.

But first, let’s let Jared ask his question.

Foot fetishes, pornography, masturbation, and lust

Jared writes:

Hi Lee!

I recently found your website, and I read your thoughts on masturbation, pornography, and lust / adultery. This is something I have struggled with since I was little, and I was hoping I could hear your thoughts about this.

I have a foot fetish, and it’s something I’ve had since I was young. I don’t watch pornography (like people having sex), but I do watch videos or look at pictures of girls posing their feet, wearing nail polish or jewelry. These can be easily found on non pornography sites like YouTube, and Instagram. It’s also incredibly easy to find pictures of girls including their feet on Facebook.

My entire life I’ve been told about “lust” and how it’s a sin, and how you were supposed to wait for your wife for all of those feelings. Throughout my teenage years I beat myself up over it to the point of depression. I’m just now learning that the Bible truly says nothing about masturbation, and it’s actually a huge stress reliever and an output, and in moderation is healthy and natural.

But I’ve had very mixed feelings about the “visual aid” part of this. I still want to wait for my wife, but obviously there are still strong sexual desires I have. Throughout using these videos, I’ve learned what colors of nail polish are attractive to me, what poses are most attractive, even the length of toes I find attractive. Part of me is worried that I am becoming too selective with my preferences, and that’s the only harmful thing I can see out of using this. But God has given me these specific desires for a reason, right? Is it wrong to explore those?

So, I’m not sure how to feel between using these videos / pictures or not. After finding your thoughts on these things, I’m starting to understand the actual biblical definition of lust and Jesus’ words about them and adultery. Pornography obviously is on that scale of evils you talked about, as it involves people committing fornication and adultery. But, here’s my question. Is it an evil to use these videos or pictures as an aid during masturbation? And what about using your imagination, a picture of your girlfriend, or a Facebook picture (Things that aren’t porn and don’t involve fornication or adultry, but are still exciting)?

Thank you for your time, I hope you understand where I’m coming from. Thanks again!

First, Jared, I’m glad the articles here have helped you better understand, and relax about, such hot-button issues as masturbation, lust, pornography, and so on.

For those just tuning in, here are some of the articles Jared is referring to:

Whatever our individual variations on it may be, our sex drive is something God built into us—and for very good reasons. Yes, our sexual drives can and sometimes do go very wrong. But there is nothing wrong with feeling sexual desire—and our sexual desires are going to find one outlet or another whether we like it or not. Perhaps the main point of these articles is that when the ideal situation isn’t available to us for one reason or another, our job is to keep our heart, thoughts, and gonads generally headed in the right direction.

Foot porn?

First, let’s deal with Jared’s final round of questions, relating to pornography and foot fetishes.

It’s true that pictures of girls’ and women’s feet are very common on non-pornographic websites and in magazines and other media as well.

However, it’s also true that these women and girls probably aren’t showing their feet so that guys with foot fetishes can get their rocks off.

This means that using photos of female feet as an aid to masturbation also exists in a gray area. Even though pornography does commonly involve fornication and adultery, at least those involved in “legitimate” pornography are well aware that men (and women) are going to use their sexualized photos and videos for sexual gratification. For women and girls who post pictures and videos that include their feet, or who appear in non-pornographic videos and photo shoots, the idea that someone is going to get sexual gratification from looking at their feet can feel like a violation.

Does this mean that using pictures and videos of female feet as an aid to sexual fantasy and masturbation is horribly bad and wrong?

Not necessarily. As discussed in the above articles, we humans commonly live in a gray area when it comes to our sexuality and sexual expression. Few, if any, people are able to keep their sexuality entirely pure all the time. And pragmatically speaking, we humans are sexually attracted to one another in various ways. We are sexual beings. It is not possible to erase that fact from our culture or our individual lives.

So although using pictures and videos of girls’ and women’s feet for sexual gratification isn’t entirely innocent, it is also part of that general gray area of the continuum of sexuality that most people commonly live in.

The bigger issue, as covered in the articles linked above, is what direction we’re going with all of this.

Are foot fetishes evil?

Now let’s deal with Jared’s first round of questions.

First, saying that God gave you those particular desires may be putting it a little too strongly.

Yes, God built a desire for sex and intimacy right into our basic nature as human beings. However, the particular variations and directions our sexual desires take is highly complex. Psychologists don’t agree on what causes some people to find feet sexually stimulating. But many theories hold that human and cultural factors have a heavy influence on this particular sexual variation.

That doesn’t necessarily mean foot fetishes are bad or wrong. Just that they may have human origins rather than divine ones.

As for whether having a foot fetish is bad or evil, from a Christian perspective, this is on the same footing as whether masturbation or even pornography is evil or sinful. The fact of the matter is that as with masturbation and pornography, the Bible doesn’t say one word about foot fetishes, or about any other kind of body fetish. It’s simply not something that the Bible is particularly concerned with. So those pastors and priests who shout about the evils of body fetishes have very little basis for all that shouting.

What the Bible does talk about is not making or worshiping idols.

Of course, in the context of Bible times, that meant literally making a statue of some fish or bird or animal that one then worshiped as a god. But it’s not hard to make the jump from literal idol-worship to having something other than God in our life that we focus on inordinately so that it becomes the most important, driving factor in our life. Some common idols that we moderns worship are money, fame, physical pleasure, power, and popularity.

It’s not that money, fame, physical pleasure, power, popularity, and other things that people make idols of are necessarily wrong in themselves. It’s when we make them the most important thing in our life—more important than loving and following God, and more important than loving and serving our neighbor—that they go out of bounds and become evil and even sinful.

The same principle applies to a foot fetish. By itself it may be nothing more than a pleasant quirk in a guy’s (or girl’s) character and inclinations. Different people find pleasure in different things. Nothing wrong with that, as long as nobody’s getting hurt in the process.

Where a foot fetish begins to verge over the line is when it becomes so much of a focus, and so consuming, that other more important things get pushed to the side.

Things such as real human love and relationships.

That’s where my question to Jared and others with a foot fetish comes in.

What if the right woman has the wrong feet?

Though being sexually attracted to feet may be less common than being sexually attracted to breasts or pelvises or penises, feet are a part of the human body, just as those other parts are. And we humans are sexually attracted to one another’s bodies, and to the various parts that make up those bodies. So aside from it being “unusual,” there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with finding a woman’s (or man’s) feet sexually attractive.

However, feet really aren’t the most important part of a person. Neither are breasts or pelvises or penises. In fact, the body as a whole isn’t the most important part of a person—and it’s certainly not the most important factor in finding true love and a lasting marriage and sexual relationship.

Secular psychologists sometimes say that the brain is the most important sexual organ. What this means from a spiritual perspective is that our romantic and marriage relationships are, first of all, a connection of minds. In a healthy sexual relationship, no body part comes first. Rather, a sense of inner oneness between the two people is the real relationship, and physical sexual intimacy is an expression of that inner oneness.

Yes, of course our sexual attraction to another person’s physical body and physical characteristics may prompt us to connect with that person and pursue a possible romantic relationship with her or him. But as an example, any man who decides what woman he’s going to marry based primarily on her cup size is an idiot, and is probably in for a very rocky and short-lived marriage.

Hence my question for those with a foot fetish: What if the right woman (or man) has the wrong feet?

If you find someone who is a good match for you in character and values, and whom you have feelings for, but whose feet are too fat or too skinny, or have the wrong toe length or the wrong nail polish, or in any other way don’t fit the particular type of foot that turns you on, what do you do?

If you were dating a woman and the two of you were mutually attracted to each other, but then you saw her feet for the first time and she had the wrong feet, would that be curtains for the relationship as far as you’re concerned? Or would the growing mental and emotional connection building between the two of you override those “wrong feet” in your mind, and in your feelings toward her?

Your answer to these questions will determine for you whether your foot fetish has become an idol that you worship, or whether it is just one of many relatively harmless variations on human sexuality and sexual desire.

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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30 comments on “What if the Right Woman has the Wrong Feet?
  1. persedeplume says:

    I loved the video. 🙂 I’m still up in the air about all the other stuff.

  2. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    This article actually skims along the lines of a question I’ve been wanting to ask you regarding the relationship between sexuality and our spiritual conditions, and I guess this is as good as place as any to ask it.

    It concerns the attraction we seem to have toward a kind of ‘wrongness’ in our sexual behaviors. One of the most prevalent themes in our sexual idiosyncrasies (and the pornography we model upon/market toward them) is the idea of being ‘bad.’ Men will often fantasize about the idea of the ‘bad girl.’ A great number of Halloween costumes marketed toward women are sexualized versions of archetypes seen as otherwise wholesome and conservative, and the fetish of the ‘naughty schoolgirl’ goes back almost as far as I can remember. While there are certainly male representations of the ‘bad boy’ that are intended to be desirable in their own way, I think it’s apparent that the most prevalent trends are built on what men wish to see from women.

    In any case, my question is: is it healthy to embrace these trends in our personal lives? The cultural aspect of it- with all its empty (and often misogynistic) sexual commercialization- is it’s own, but these themes also play out in the lives of people in healthy, committed relationships, where both people are willing participants. Married couples for whatever reason will often involve themselves in a kind of role playing where these themes of bad and wrong play themselves out. In fact it’s a commonly suggested experiment for couples experiencing problems with sexual intimacy.

    On the one hand, it’s easy to surmise that this aspect of our sexual psychology is rooted in the repressive aspects of our culture, and so it makes sense that we would feel titillated by a sense of taboo. At the same time, the idea that we would feel attraction toward evil and wrongness seems linked with our fallen natures, and it’s for that reason that I feel cause for pause when asking whether these are just natural, healthy parts of our psychology that we ought to healthily incorporate into our lives. After all, inherited tendencies toward evil *is* a natural part of our psychology, and if these tendency toward sexual taboo is a part of that, how ought we deal with it?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      This is, of course, a complicated question. But for the sake of brevity in responding by comment, I would say that there are two major factors in our societal and personal attraction to “bad boys” and “bad girls”:

      1. Our inherited tendencies toward evil—as you mention
      2. Our desire for freedom and self-determination chafing against often arbitrary social rules

      As for the first, that is covered fairly fully in the article, “Why is Evil Sexier than Good?” Rather than taking time and space with it here, I’ll simply recommend that you read that article.

      The second is, if anything, thornier and more complicated than the first, because it sets powerful internal human drives, some of which are good, against social norms and expectations, some of which are not so good.

      Our desire for freedom and self-determination is quite strong, and is a good and healthy part of our God-given psychology. God wants us to build up a strong sense of self, and of personal integrity and inner-directedness, because these are foundations on which a strong spiritual life can be built. Our sense of self does have to be modified in the course of our spiritual rebirth. But if we have a weak sense of self and simply follow the crowd, God doesn’t have a lot to work with in bringing about our “regeneration,” or spiritual rebirth.

      This is one of the psychological and spiritual reasons that we commonly admire people who buck society and social mores, and follow their own standards rather than society’s standards. That admiration commonly applies to people who buck societal sexual mores and taboos as well.

      Of course, it’s a double-edged sword. Not all societal mores and taboos are bad. Some of them are in place for very good reasons, and we flout them at our peril. But sometimes societal attitudes toward sex, in particular, are either outdated or just plane destructive. Witness the overwhelming negativity toward masturbation that has existed in Western society for many centuries, when in fact, as covered in various articles here, masturbation practiced reasonably and in moderation can be a good and healthy part of our overall sex life. People who flout wrong societal attitudes commonly lead society toward better and healthier sexual attitudes and practices.

      The trick, of course, is figuring out which attitudes and practices that society condemns really are harmful, or just not very good, and which ones are harmless and even good. And that tends to happen through trial and error rather than through rational contemplation of various sexual acts and practices.

      And especially since sexual relations are usually quite personal, and for most people fairly private, I generally think it’s best to let people explore their sexual desires, drives, and fantasies, only with a general injunction to do so in a way that respects and honors one’s sexual partner physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If a particular practice feels demeaning and bad to one’s partner, that should override any fantasies or desires one may have toward it. First and foremost in any healthy marital and sexual relationship is a love for the other person and a desire to give him or her happiness. This applies to sexual relations just as it does to everything else in the relationship.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        Thanks for your reply. I agree, questions like this are complicated from both theological and psychological perspectives, and to answer them within the context of addressing our spiritual health seems to necessitate an understanding of both. I also don’t think every fetish or attraction toward taboo or social wrongness is necessarily rooted in our inherited tendency toward evil. It makes perfect sense that many people who are raised in morally restrictive, repressive environments wind up reacting against them later in life, and I don’t think that always has some relationship to, as you describe in the title of your earlier article, the fact that we find evil sexy.

        But whatever the reasons and complex interplays at work behind our sexual psychologies, I can see at least three possible ways of dealing with some of our more ‘exotic’ sexual inclinations:

        1. Ignore and repress them.
        2. Sublimate them into something constructive.
        3. Identify healthy modes of expressing them.

        Going through the list, repression seems like the absolute worst and most destructive way to handle any kind of urge- sexual or otherwise- so I think we can agree to eliminate that right off the bat. Sublimation certainly seems like a lofty way to handle urges that may ultimately be or reflect something unhealthy, but I’m not sure most of us have the spiritual presence of mind to do so successfully (and I think often what we think is sublimation is just disguised repression anyway). Which leaves us with finding healthy outlets for them, and I think that’s where most reflective people will find themselves.

        And that’s something that’s certainly encouraged in most therapeutic circles. As I mentioned earlier, married couples are often encouraged to participate in a kind of role playing, where they craft some kind of make-believe means of living out their sexual fantasies, whatever they may be. Some people fantasize about simultaneous sexual partners, and there are ways to simulate that experience without the material folly of inviting other people into the bedroom. So it can be done, but one thing I’m still wondering after what I’ve written and reading what you wrote is: are we *embracing* evils by living them out in so-called ‘healthy’ modes of expressing them?

        The simple reality is that our tendency toward evil- our fallen nature- is an indelible part of part of us; it’s not going anywhere, and the sexual expressions thereof alone are too numerous to mention. The simple fact is we need to find some way to deal with it, and my own belief is that sublimation is ultimately what we ought to aspire toward. Even sexual urges that have no relationship to our fallen natures but rather our rejection of social repressiveness are things I think we ought to sublimate away, because a sexual identify defined through reacting *against* something is still not where you want to be.

        One thing I’ve learned from this blog and Swedenborg’s writings in general is that our spiritual makeup is not about being a black and white ‘one thing or the other,’ but rather it’s about trajectories: it’s what your current status says about the direction you’re headed. In that respect, if our fantasies and urges are rooted in something spiritually evil, or psychologically destructive (which are two sides of the same coin), then maybe a case can be made for healthily living them out if your orientation is ultimately toward a place beyond them?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          A few further thoughts in response:

          First, I wouldn’t altogether count out “repressing” particular sexual desires and fantasies.

          Though many sexual fantasies aren’t actually prohibited in the Bible (or the relevant sacred books of a culture) despite traditional religious taboos against them, some are clearly prohibited. For Christians, and people of most other cultures, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is a definite rule laid down by God. This means that sexual fantasies that would involve actually committing adultery, such as married people engaging in a threesome (regardless of mutual consent) is a violation of divine law, and simply shouldn’t be done. At least, not by people in monogamous religions such as Christianity. (And even many polygamous religions have a taboo against a man having sex with more than one woman at a time.)

          In other words, sexual fantasies that would involve committing adultery are in a category of actions to which we should say, “Although I desire this, I will not do it because it is against God’s commandments.” That could be called “repression” if we want, but from a religious perspective, in traditional terms, it is “shunning evils as sins.” And that is something we are supposed to do.

          We humans will always be tainted by evil. However, particular evil desires and actions do not have to remain part of our dominant and effective character. It is possible to gradually push particular evil desires far into the periphery of our psyche, so that they no longer have any significant hold on us, but are replaced by good desires. Doing this is what spiritual rebirth is all about.

          And for most people, the primary way of doing this is simply not acting on them when we feel the urge. If we consistently don’t allow them to flow into action, they will gradually wither on the vine internally, and be replaced by other, better impulses that we do express in our actions. For an alcoholic in recovery, the primary directive is simply not to take a drink.

          In other words, if acting on a particular sexual fantasy would involve engaging in acts that are clearly prohibited as evil and as sins against God, then “repressing” or “shunning” them is the proper course of action.

          However, this, of course, is an area where false, human-invented religious doctrine rears its ugly head and causes all sorts of problems.

          In several places in the Gospels Jesus says, in effect, “That’s not God’s teaching; that is mere human doctrine that you have substituted for divine commandments.” And unfortunately, many human-invented doctrines are false—which in practical terms, means they don’t work.

          Two examples of this are believing either that sex is inherently evil, and the result of the Fall, or that sex is intended by God solely for procreation. The fact of the matter is that sex is an original, built-in part of humans, created by God from the beginning, as expressed in God’s commandment to humans on the sixth day of Creation, before the Fall, to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). And as for sex being solely for procreation, if that were the case God would have given humans one mating season per year as is true of most other mammals, rather than giving us year ’round fertility and sexual desire.

          Such false doctrines about sex have the effect of unnaturally suppressing a natural and spiritual element that God has built right into human beings: our sexuality. And when human-invented religious doctrine attempts to suppress what God has created, it causes immense damage.

          Connecting this back to the earlier point about “repressing” or shunning the expression of sexual fantasies, if our religion teaches us that sex in general is questionable and even evil, then we are put in the position of “shunning” something that can’t effectively be shunned because it is part of our basic, God-created, character as human beings.

          This is where learning the truth becomes critical to healthy spiritual, emotional, and physical life. False doctrines do real damage. Learning that they are false, and learning what is true, has the effect, as Jesus said, of setting us free.

          This is why here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life we do our best to smash false human doctrines that aren’t actually taught in the Bible, not only about sex, but about many other things, such as faith, salvation, and being born again.

          There are, of course, some sexual fantasies that aren’t actually prohibited in the Bible, but that inhabit a gray area in between evil and good.

          An example of this is domination / submission fantasies. If engaged in by married couples through mutual interest and consent, they don’t actually violate any of the commandments. But it’s clear enough from the Bible that such an arrangement is not God’s ideal for human marriage. (See: “What are the Roles of Men and Women toward Each Other and in Society?” and related articles here.) Having one partner dominate the other represents a fallen state of human relationships. However, because it has been a common social pattern ever since the Fall, it falls short of actual evil, and instead, as I just said, inhabits that gray area between good and evil, provided that it is desired and agreed upon by both partners. (And yes, some women, and even some men, do want to be dominated by their partner. See: “What Do Women Really Want?”)

          In an instance such as this, in which acting upon a particular sexual fantasy isn’t actually prohibited by the Bible (or the sacred books of a given culture), but also isn’t the ideal, it’s best, I think, to allow ourselves freedom to explore those fantasies within the boundaries of mutual consent. It may be something that persists long-term with a particular couple, who continue to have a generally good and mutually loving relationship overall. Or it may be that engaging in such fantasies is what we need in order to ultimately realize that this pattern of relationship falls short of the ideal, and make the decision to move away from that pattern and into a better (in this case, more equal) form of relationship.

          In other words, when it comes to many sexual fantasies that aren’t outright prohibited, but that do inhabit that gray area between the ideal and actual evil, if we feel attracted to them as couples it is probably best for us to explore them within the bounds of the moral code that the Bible does give us, and learn through experience whether this is something that is moving us in a good direction or a bad one.

          We humans can’t always think things out properly, because our minds have been muddled by many false doctrines and beliefs. Oftentimes we must learn through experience whether a particular type of sexual fantasy is good and healthy or not so good and rather unhealthy.

          Of course, for that to work, we must have an ideal of healthy, faithful, monogamous, and mutually loving marriage that we put higher than any particular sexual desire or fantasy we may have. This is where a desire and commitment to move away from adulterous and evil sexual desires and toward true spiritual marriage provides the sail and the rudder that we need to keep our romantic and sexual life and relationships moving in the right direction.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          Thanks for your additional thoughts. As I always, I appreciate the time and effort you invest in presenting them here in such a detailed response to my questions, and I hope that I’m not taxing your energies further by continuing the discussion in an equally detailed way. That said, we’ve touched upon a few things here, and so I’m going to break this up into a couple of parts just to ensure it flows smoothly.

          In regards to experimenting in order to determine if something is good or evil, I wonder: isn’t that the very meaning behind The Fall, as you described in your earlier article where you describe the meaning behind eating from the Tree of Knowledge? The idea of experimenting and trying to determine for ourselves what is good and evil? You emphasize that this must be done within the moral code of The Bible, so does that mean there is room for ‘experimentation’ when coming to moral conclusions? A part of me is reluctant to to accept the idea, because it suggests that God does not give us all we need in order to make moral determinations, and that have to enter blindly into dubious moral scenarios.

          Shifting gears a bit, your remarks about common cultural evils following The Fall is especially important, and strikes at the core of the questions I’ve been asking. The question is made more complicated by its relationship to evolutionary theory- which is not evil or a product of evil- of which theorists would place and attempt to explain the attraction to sexual submissiveness and dominance, as you described. This again complicates things quite a bit because it might necessitate attributing evolution to our fallen states.

          And other culturally common sexual fetishes, like the sexually burgeoning school girl, who pop culture figures like Britney Spears helped to popularized, are often explained in more psycho/sociological terms. Like I said in an earlier post, it would make sense that we some would feel intense sexual attraction to the idea of the otherwise ‘good girl’ acting like a ‘total slut,’ as is just the psychological nature of the way we deal with morally constrictive environments. It’s not an attraction to evil, it’s an act of rebellion against what many find to be uptight conservatism, and so it’s hard for me to see how that’s necessarily evil.

          At the same time, that same form of sexual attraction can be rooted in a desire to see goodness perverted. The sexual defilement of something that is otherwise good and pure, and that most *definitely* strikes me as evil and has its basis in The Fall of mankind.

          All of this plays into asking the same question about what we find sexually desirable and what we choose to either adopt or shun: are we *embracing* our embedded evils by living some of these things out? The simple fact is, either through society, our spiritual fall, or a combination of both, we have these urges. Now what are we going to do about them?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          There’s enough here for many posts, but I’ll try to contain myself! 😉

          Yes, our need to experiment to find out for ourselves whether something is good or evil is a result of the Fall.

          Before that, humans knew by an inner perception from God what was good and evil. After the Fall, that inner perception was largely lost, and replaced by learning from external sources and the building of conscience based on that external learning. It was lost precisely because we no longer listened to God internally, but instead turned to our senses and the external world for our learning and understanding. This is the spiritual meaning of Eve ignoring God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but instead seeing the tree as “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6). That “pleasing to the eye” speaks volumes.

          So the long and the short of it is that because we humans have become materialistic and physically-oriented, we no longer “instinctively” know what’s right and wrong. We have to be taught by external means, and quite often, we have to try it out for ourselves to satisfy ourselves that what we’ve been taught is right—or perhaps wrong, since as I said in my earlier comment, there is much doctrinal error in today’s religions.

          So it’s not that God did not give us all we needed to make moral determinations. It’s that we started ignoring the guidance God was giving us, and wanting to figure it out for ourselves instead. And that’s still our basic nature today.

          About evolutionary theory, it accounts for the physical and materially-oriented part of our human make-up, including our animal-level emotions and desires, but not for the spiritual part. The spiritual part interacts with the evolutionary part, but is itself distinct from the evolutionary part. And we humans can choose whether to make our evolutionary, animal part primary or our spiritual part, which is more directly from God, primary.

          Also, though Swedenborg didn’t have access to the theory of evolution, since he lived before Darwin, reading his interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis in light of evolutionary theory yields an interesting idea about the interaction between evolution and the origins of humanity.

          In a nutshell, humans developed like any other animal. But at some point that proto-human animal had developed mental capacities sufficient to understand and respond to spiritual thought and spiritual sources. At that point, what had previously been a mere animal became truly human because God created a spiritual being within the human animal as a superstructure built upon the physical foundation that was put in place through evolution.

          This would mean that in the “internal historical” sense of the Bible, which tells the story of the spiritual development and journey of humanity as a whole, Genesis 1 and 2 occur, not when proto-humans first emerged as a species, but rather when humans first became spiritually aware. So if we wish to date the time in human evolution and development that the events of Genesis 1 and 2 took place, we should look for when humans first began to show evidence of having the concepts of God, spirit, the afterlife, and so on. Though I’m no expert on paleontology, my sense is that archaeologists generally consider burial of the dead to be a turning point in human development, and as being a sign that humans now had a concept of the afterlife.

          About schoolgirl type fetishes, on the positive side, this is probably simply an expression of the time of our life—puberty—when we first begin to experience romantic and sexual feelings and desires. In itself it’s not evil. But if a middle-aged man wants to sleep with teenage girls, it probably indicates that his sexuality is at least partially frozen in adolescence instead of having developed to maturity. And that is complex subject all its own.

          However, if, for example, a married couple likes to play at being adolescents, that may simply be a desire to return to the early innocence of the first awakenings of sexual and romantic feelings in them, and may be quite harmless and even good. Swedenborg describes married couples in the highest heavens looking from a distance like little children playing together.

          What are we going to do about our urges?

          That’s what I talk about in the whole series of articles about masturbation, pornography, and now foot fetishes. And the short answer is:

          1. We do not violate the actual commandments in the Ten Commandments in our sex life. In addition to not committing adultery, this also means, for example, not lying to or being dishonest with our partner.
          2. We hold onto an ideal of faithful, loving, monogamous marriage, and always orient and move ourselves toward that ideal, and away from adultery and promiscuity, while recognizing that this is a journey, and not something that we achieve all at once.
        • Rami says:

          Hi again Lee,

          I wanted to clarify that I refer to ‘repression’ of sexual urges as the idea of failing to interact with them- to bottle up intense sexual energy in the hopes that it will go away. Because generally speaking, it doesn’t go away, and human beings- despite their best efforts and best of intentions eventually break and succumb to those energies in destructive and often scandalous ways.

          Our sexual drives are intense, and our specific sexual fetishes can be overwhelming. When it comes to urges that are evil, all that negative energy has to go somewhere, and that’s why I nodded to the idea of sublimation- to redirect that energy into something constructive. While I feel the higher levels of sublimation are beyond the development of most people, not every act of sublimation has to be some kind of act where you’re levitating off the ground into a zen-like state of bliss. Sublimation can be as simple as going for a walk, or focusing on work, or anything that invests your focus into something other than the evil energies that are beginning to overwhelm us, and I think most of us have some kind of experience with this.

          So I don’t want to create the impression that I think simply shunning evil is a bad way to go. On the contrary, sublimation *is* the act of shunning, and is just one way in which to do it. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t avoid interacting with those feelings, whether you channel that energy elsewhere, or whether you simply try to get a handle on them by deconstructing them and figuring out what they really mean, demystifying them in the process (because oftentimes our sexual fetishes have nothing to do with sex per se).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Yes, our sexual drive is intense, and it will express itself.

          But that doesn’t mean that corruptions of our sexual drives must express themselves. Only that our sexual drives must express themselves, and they can do so in either good or evil ways, or somewhere in that gray area in between.

          Further, evil never becomes good. Instead, evil is pushed to the side and good takes its place. So if the idea of “sublimation” is that an evil desire is turned into a good action instead, that idea is false and misleading. What happens, rather, is that the evil desire, which is a corruption of good—in this case, of our good and healthy sexual drives—is thwarted and pushed aside so that better and more healthy sexual desires and actions can replace that corruption.

          To put it in traditional religious terms, sexual evil comes from hell, whereas sexual good comes from God. Hell never leads us to sexual good, nor does God ever lead us to sexual evil. In the sexual realm as in every other realm, turning toward God means turning away from hell.

          Some ascetic sects and practices within various religions include the notion that sex is intrinsically dirty, evil, and unspiritual, and can be “sublimated” into something entirely different and non-sexual.

          That idea is false.

          And the rampant sexual misconduct coming to light within the religions (not just Christianity) that include such asceticism, and an ideal of celibacy, demonstrates its falsity.

          Sexual desire can never healthily be “sublimated” into something non-sexual. Sexual desire is an expression of a core element of our humanity, which is a desire to unite spiritually with a partner. That, in turn, is an expression of a core element of God, which is the union of divine love and divine wisdom. So attempting to “sublimate” our sexual desires into, for example, intense meditation on the glories of God is doomed to failure. At best will result in a joyless, loveless life entirely contrary to the atmosphere of love and joy that reigns in heaven. At worst it will result in the rampant sexual misconduct rife within those churches and religions that practice such asceticism and celibacy.

          Now, it is true that evil in general, and sexual evil in particular, can be overwhelming. And it is true that we can and often do succumb to those evil desires. We’re human beings, born into tendencies toward all kinds of evil. The whole purpose of regeneration is to turn that around. And it is a lifelong process. So the fact that a desire to sleep with someone else’s spouse, or to have sex with adolescents, may for some people be overwhelming and result in their committing adultery or statutory rape does not mean that we therefore should simply open the gates to adultery and allowing full-grown adults to have sex with minors. Rather, it means that we humans, both as individuals and as a society, have an awful lot of work to do to get ourselves back to a healthy, spiritually-based sexuality.

          And further, though that may sometimes involve exploring in our fantasies things that would be evil and immoral if acted upon, that does not mean we are required to act upon them in order to further our regeneration. The very reason we have a fantasy life is to make it possible for us to explore the ramifications of our various desires, and to reject before acting upon them those that are evil and highly immoral. (See: “How Imagination and Fantasy Help our Spiritual Growth.”)

          But of course, we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. So sometimes we do engage in sexual actions that are evil and highly immoral. And then, ideally, we eventually learn through experience both that they are evil and immoral and why they are evil and immoral.

          On the other side of the coin, there are also many ways to act upon sexual fantasies that do not actually break any of the basic laws given to us in the Ten Commandments. For example, acting upon a foot fetish in a committed relationship in which both partners enjoy sexual footplay does not break any of the Ten Commandments or other moral and ethical rules given to us in the Bible. As I said in the above article, as long as it doesn’t become an idol, pushing aside the more important spiritual aspects of the marriage relationship and becoming the primary focus of our relationship with our partner, it is simply one of the many harmless variations in our human sexual life.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          Thanks for your breakdown on sublimation as it relates to our inborn behavior. After having read it, I’d say I’m on the same page with you, in that you can’t run evil impulses through a kind of water purifying filter where it comes out as positive and good on the other side. Evil is evil, and the only thing it gets ‘sublimated’ into is just more evil. I think what I was in effect talking about, then, are the psychological and physiological effects that come from our attempts to shun evil, in whatever constructive and counter-productive ways we do it. Anxiety, invasive thoughts, restlessness, etc; *those* things, I believe, we *can* sublimate into something constructive through the basic daily practices I described, like taking a walk or focusing on work.

          This aspect of our discussion was also interesting because it alludes to a question about spiritual ‘energies.’ Some people believe that our impulses are essentially neutral, because the good and bad ones are ultimately the same thing- energy. If it’s all just some kind of amorphous stream of energy that takes good and bad shape, then it might be possible to transfer it into something positive. But if energy does exist in inherently good and evil states, then no, no good can come from evil, and I’d be inclined to agree with that latter assessment.

          On the topic of evolution, I’m not sure if you’ve ever dealt with it in any formal way here on this blog, but human evolution definitely one of the most difficult and even downright perplexing things people of all faiths have tried to reconcile with their understanding of human spirituality. You remark that we have the choice whether to embrace or accept the animal, evolutionary part of ourselves, or the human, spiritual part of ourselves. However, don’t a lot of *positive* behaviors fit into evolutionary theory? People have couched all kinds of behaviors we would consider spiritually negative into evolutionary theory: avarice, a materialistic sexual imperative, etc. But things like charity, forgiveness, and compassion are also traced back into evolutionary theory (albeit for material, a-spiritual reasons).

          As someone like me who’s dualist- in that I believe there’s a spiritual duality to everything that exists in the physical world (Swedenborgians might call that ‘correspondence’ ;), is it possible to harmonize the full spectrum of our evolutionary heritage with a spiritual way of seeing the world? Or is the choice we have to make one between either embracing or shedding our evolutionary side?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          About the “energies,” I believe the fire behind the smoke of the idea that the energy that flows into us is neutral, and can go in either direction, is that God keeps us continually in balance between good and evil spiritual influences. So although the energies that flow in actually are intrinsically good or evil, we feel their overall effect as neutral because the good and the evil influences are in balance with one another. This is necessary to preserve our spiritual freedom, and to make whatever direction we do go in ours rather than being imposed upon us by a preponderance of either good or evil influences impinging upon us.

          Another aspect of this, though, is that in its ultimate origin, all power, or energy, is good, because it all flows from God. Evil has no power or energy of its own. All of its power is borrowed from the original good energy that flows from God. However, evil takes that energy and twists it back against itself so that it becomes a force for evil instead of for good. Thus evil is always secondary or derivative; it is never primary.

          Another way of saying this is that evil has no reality of its own, as good does. Evil has only a borrowed reality that it distorts into its own form. This is another way in which divine energy can go either toward good, which is its own intrinsic state, or toward evil, which is what happens when humans take it and twist it into something different than its intrinsic state. It then, of course, is no longer divine, but human and evil because we humans have turned it into something contrary to its own nature. Our ability to do this is possible because of the way God created us to be able to have an existence “as if from ourselves” even though ultimately our existence is all and continually from God. Some aspects of this are taken up in the article, “God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?

          So although I don’t accept the popular New Age idea that all energy is neutral, it does conceal some greater truths that are worth knowing and understanding.

          And as far as dealing with evil, unfortunately, once we twist the inflowing divine energy into evil, that particular energy cannot be turned back into good. It has been corrupted, and the only way to deal with it is to cut it off and push it to the side. The good that then ensues is not a result of evil being “sublimated” or turned into good. Rather, it is a result of the inflowing good energy no longer being corrupted, but flowing pure once again.

          To use a somewhat faulty example, in cleaning up a polluted river, we don’t normally attempt to clean up the water that is already polluted. Rather, we attempt to cut off the sources of pollution that are entering the river. Once we do that, the polluted water is flushed out of the river as it completes its journey to the sea, and is replaced by new water flowing down pure from the mountains.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          I would say that evolution is difficult for many religions to reconcile with their beliefs because their beliefs originated many centuries before Darwin, and therefore could not draw on evolution as a metaphor for greater spiritual truth.

          This points to an ongoing difficulty that religions, especially at their more conservative and fundamentalist ends, commonly have: sorting out the universal from the cultural. Time after time, on issue after issue, the conservative and fundamentalist wings of Christianity and other religions point to their sacred scriptures and condemn various things such as premarital sex or homosexuality because of laws that were given in a particular cultural context, but which are read as being universal laws. It is a tricky business to sort out the temporal from the eternal, and to see the deeper, spiritual and eternal meaning within the particular time-bound events and codes of law that form the literal meaning of the various Scriptures of humanity. This is the subject of my article, “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”

          Swedenborg also did not have access to the theory of evolution, so neither do his theological works draw upon it as a metaphor for deeper spiritual realities. But now that we do have access to it, there are many rich possibilities for drawing spiritual insight based on it. However, that is a huge topic all its own.

          To respond to your more specific angle on it, yes, I do think that what has developed under evolution can have a good spiritual significance as well as an evil one. Much of our modern life is highly unnatural and contrary not only to the spiritual order that we were created for, but also the natural, biological order that we were created for. Respecting and learning from our biological background and environment can lead to many improvements in our physical life and health that provide a better foundation for a healthy spiritual life.

          However, although nature, and especially life, developed in a way that was powered by spiritual realities, and through correspondences with spiritual realities, it also has a certain amount of inertia and resistance to those spiritual realities in that it is not in itself spiritual and alive, but physical and dead. It doesn’t naturally live and breathe, but must have life and breath imposed upon it from the spiritual realm. In other words, though the nature, and the physical universe as a whole, reflects and expresses spiritual realities, it also tends to resist them and inclines to revert back to and remain in its own natural, non-living, non-responsive state.

          So there is a certain sense in which material things do have an inherent tendency toward what in the human realm would be called evil. They naturally resist spiritual life and want to be in their own non-living state. This is also reflected in our physical body tending to resist what our spirit wants it to do, and instead to revert back to amoral and animalistic drives and desires.

          That’s a longish way of saying that the interaction between spirit and matter, and its relationship to good and evil, is immensely complex, and not easy to sort out and clarify in our minds. However, the effort to do so is worthwhile because it gives us a clearer view of the nature and circumstances of our own life, both animal and spiritual.

  3. Jared says:

    Hi Lee, thank you very much for your reply! I’m finally starting to understand this, I really appreciate your time!

    After reading your post, I had to ask myself that question. Yes, if I was far into a relationship and loved her for who she is, it wouldn’t matter. But is it wrong to be attracted to someone who does have the right feet, as long as I’m seeing them for who they are as well?

    Also, do you think by focusing on such specific details it’s harmful? Should I not be so picky when viewing pictures or videos I find arousing? Or should I stop viewing them entirely and just use my imagination?

    Thanks again, I really really appreciate it!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jared,

      Glad the article was helpful to you!

      About your questions, my general suggestion is that as long as you recognize that there is a difference between fantasy and reality, having particular relatively harmless fantasies isn’t a big issue.

      But as I said in the article, if you start making choices and judgments about a real, flesh-and-blood woman based primarily on whether she has the right feet to fit into your fantasy life, that’s where you could start creating problems for yourself and your potential real life relationships.

      • Jared says:

        Hi again Lee, I wasn’t sure if I should submit this as a new question, but I figured this way would be more appropriate.

        I’m actually on a 63 day streak of abstinence from masturbation, and I’ve only looked at porn (or call it what you will in my case) a few times during it. I’ve been getting a lot of benefits from this, I have increased confidence and I have less anxiety, conversations flow smoothly, and I can hold strong eye contact. I feel happier and joyful, I even genuinely smile more, and my mind is clear. I even notice I’m getting more attention from women. I have actually just started dating a girl, and I believe this streak is helping me. She’s absolutely amazing and she’s wife material, so I really want this to work out.

        However, I’ve realized that masturbation has a huge effect on me especially paired with visual aid / porn. I tend to feel guilty afterwards and I lose these senses of confidence and drive, and I end up feeling anxious and guilty, unable to hold eye contact, and mentally a bit slower. I am honestly too scared to relapse back into masturbating, especially with porn. I’ve struggled with quitting in the past, about 4 years ago I made it to 380 days before relapsing out of stress from life, and my longest streaks since then have averaged at about 2 weeks. Every time I have tried to quit, I get these positive benefits but I am soon overtaken by sexual frustration, and I binge for a day or two, and end up feeling depressed, guilty, and anxious.

        Obviously binging isn’t healthy and you could abuse anything if you do it too much, and I’m wondering if I was relying too much on masturbation and porn and idolizing it when I felt anxiety or became uncomfortable instead of going to God. That paired with the fact that I’ve been taught my whole life that “lust” (sexual desire or fantasy) is wrong, is possibly why I felt so much guilt and anxiety. I’ve been looking a lot into anti porn groups and the harmful effects of overexposure to it, and I definitely have those symptoms. You’re supposed to reach about 90 days of complete abstinence to heal the brain from all the crazy extra chemicals and repair your reward circuit. However, I am reaching a point where I am becoming frustrated again, but I am scared I will have the negative effects again and I would ultimately lose the confidence with this girl if I relapse.

        Deep down I want to only have eyes for my wife and to love and respect her, and I should be that man now. I want to be able to say that I waited for her and only had eyes for her, but in this day and age it’s very very hard. Visual aid and porn are just finger swipes away.

        I’ve reached out to my old youth pastor and started mentoring with him. I have brought up masturbation and porn, but he is very adamant that lust means fantasizing about a girl. I didn’t go into details about what I’m into though since it’s a bit embarrassing. We are planning to research it a bit more.

        I read about David and Bathsheba last night thinking I’d find some answers about lust, but she was married and they commit adultery – that was the sin. It never said anything about David looking at her bathing and it being wrong, it even says she was very beautiful. So again, I’m confused. It lead to him committing those acts in the first place, but for me, it’s not like I want to have sex with every woman I see. It’s just exciting and, like you said, fantasy.

        I’m very confused and torn right now, and I’m praying maybe you can help me make sense of my thoughts? I want to have the benefits of confidence, but I’m starting to get sexually frustrated. If I masturbate without fantasy and just focus on the sensation, I might lose the benefits. If I masturbate with fantasy / porn, I know how I’ve felt in the past, and I don’t want to feel that again. Perhaps I just need to limit my intake and not idolize it when I’m feeling stressed. I’m also realizing I may be idolizing this streak above the power of God, and not trusting in him alone. I also know that deep down I crave that feeling of intimacy and love, and that one day I’ll be able to have that with my wife, but I also feel like I should wait for her out of respect and not fantasize about other girls, or train myself to only like a specific thing, etc. I know that porn isn’t real love or connection, it’s just the shallow part of sexual desire, and perhaps that’s why I feel lonely and guilty after watching it.

        So, how can I go about this? If I need to cut out porn, whether it’s because it’s harming my brain from over exposure / training my mind to like specific things, or because I should wait for my wife, how can I feel confident and not guilty after masturbating without fantasy? And if my porn use is honestly okay, how do I get rid of these feelings I have of anxiety and guilt and loneliness? Do you even think I should masturbate or watch porn / visual aid, or should I try to continue this streak?

        Sorry, I know this was a bit of a ramble. Thank you so much for your time though, it means a lot. I’m praying you can help!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jared,

          Thanks for continuing the conversation—and my apologies for my rather brief and sketchy reply to your earlier comment. At the time I saw your comment come in I was at the airport on my way to over a week out of the country without Internet access. Rather than making you wait, I just shot off a quick reply on my phone before boarding the airplane. I’m back home now, so I can offer you a fuller, and I hope more helpful, response.

          To look at the positive first, your longing for and ideal of a loving, faithful marriage relationship with a woman is the most important thing. Without that, none of the rest really matters. If you continue to hold that ideal in your heart, you will in time achieve it, even if you may have to travel over a rocky road to get there. Whatever else you may do, don’t let go of your goal to achieve a loving, faithful, monogamous marriage with a woman you can love and share your whole life with.

          Further, your desire to lay pornography aside is also ultimately a good one. Pornography is at best a stop-gap measure to tide a guy over until he can have a real relationship with a real woman. And at worst, yes, it can become an addiction with real deleterious effects on the mind and body. My general sense is that the various anti-porn groups exaggerate its harmful effects, and assume that it has those same effects for everyone, even those who use it in moderation. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire—and it certainly is possible to go off the deep end with pornography and cause real damage to oneself and one’s real-life relationships.

          My first suggestion, then, is to see pornography for what it is: a gray area. It is not a black-and-white thing, as many conservative Christians seem to think. Rather, it is mild or serious depending upon the attitudes and engagement of the people using it. Some people view pornography during a certain period of their lives and then go on to healthy, loving relationships, leaving the porn behind. Others get hooked on it and it seriously messes up their love life.

          As for whether you personally should use pornography or not, I can’t tell you that, or make that decision for you. You’ll have to make that decision for yourself, based on your own beliefs, character, and experience. In many ways it’s similar to alcohol: some people can drink moderately all their lives, enjoy it, and not have a problem. Others can’t touch the stuff, or they’ll spiral down into alcoholism and a destroyed life. It’s the same with pornography. And you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not to use it based on your own personality type and your own response to it.

          I presume that you’ve read the article here on pornography. In case you haven’t here’s another link to it: “What does the Bible Say about Pornography? Is Pornography Sinful?” This covers many of these issues in much more detail.

          Now I’m going to get a little more pointed. And you’ll have to make up your own mind which way you want to go with it.

          You say:

          That paired with the fact that I’ve been taught my whole life that “lust” (sexual desire or fantasy) is wrong, is possibly why I felt so much guilt and anxiety.


          I’ve reached out to my old youth pastor and started mentoring with him. I have brought up masturbation and porn, but he is very adamant that lust means fantasizing about a girl.

          In my view, the possibility you raise is correct: your problem with masturbation and porn has less to do with those things in themselves than it does with the fact that you’ve been taught all your life that they’re evil and sinful. This has become so ingrained in your mind that it has become a part of your conscience. As a result, when you engage in masturbation and view porn, you experience the pangs of conscience, or more specifically, of violating your conscience. And that—not the masturbation or porn itself—causes the guilt, anxiety, loss of confidence, downcast eyes, and awkwardness with women that you experience when you masturbate or view porn.

          Not to put too fine a point on it, but if your old youth pastor thinks “lust means fantasizing about a girl” then he is just plain ignorant. He does not understand the Bible, nor what the Greek and Hebrew words traditionally translated as “lust” and “coveting” mean. For the real meaning of “lust” in the Bible, please see my article, “Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?

          Here is the brief version, from the article:

          • 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.

          Merely thinking about a girl and even fantasizing about having sex with her is not “lust” as the Bible uses that term. It is only lust if you seek to actually have sex with the girl because you have a burning desire to do so. But please read (or re-read) that article for a fuller explanation of this, including some material on the original Greek and Hebrew words.

          My sense is that you are not feeling lust as that word is used in the Bible. My sense is that you are fantasizing about girls in various ways, but that you are not actively seeking to actually, physically do these things with any real, flesh-and-blood girls. My sense is that if you were presented with an opportunity to act out your fantasies right now, you would back away from it not only because it would be against your conscience, but also because even while fantasizing about these things you have intention of actually doing them. And my sense is that even once you are married, if you realized that your foot fetish was a serious obstacle and problem in the relationship, you would give it up (perhaps not easily) to fulfill your greater longing and ideal of a healthy, loving marriage with a woman.

          In short, I do not believe that your foot fetish and your related fantasies are lust. And I believe that if you continue mentoring with your old youth pastor, you will only be confirmed in the wrong, unbiblical view of lust that has already caused you so much trouble.

          From my perspective, your youth pastor and the church you grew up in have caused more damage to you than the actual masturbation and viewing of porn that you have engaged in. They have taught you falsehoods about what the Bible says. This falsehood has caused you to have a false conscience that condemns you for things that simply aren’t as black and evil as you’ve been taught.

          I would encourage you to read (or re-read) all of the articles here that are linked toward the beginning of the main article above (after I quote the spiritual conundrum you submitted), plus one more that I didn’t link there that completes that series on masturbation: “How Imagination and Fantasy Help our Spiritual Growth.”

          It’s not that pornography is good. And masturbation, though not evil or sinful (it’s never forbidden in the Bible), is distinctly lesser than loving sexual intercourse within a faithful, monogamous marriage—which is the ideal. Rather, masturbation and even pornography, in moderation, are ways to deal with our God-given sex drive within a rather sexually messed up world without falling into real evils that the Bible does condemn such as adultery and sexual promiscuity.

          And yes, the ideal would be to pass from an innocent youth right into a loving, lasting marriage as soon as we hit adulthood. And a few couples are lucky enough to experience that ideal. But for most, the reality in this mixed-up world is very different. And that’s where we have to make personal decisions about that gray area in between the ideal and the reality of our lives.

          All of this means that you have a decision to make.

          If you decide to continue mentoring with your old youth pastor, he’s going to deny and contradict everything I have written here about sex, masturbation, and pornography. And if you listen to what he says, you are going to continue to engage in what will probably be a losing battle against your sex drive, and continue to feel terrible anxiety and guilt whenever your sexual frustration mounts up to the point where you break your abstinence streak and indulge once again. (Because, I hate to say it, but that is going to happen. People with a normal sex drive can only suppress it for so long before it builds up enough to burst the dam.)

          After all, God is the one who gave you that sex drive in the first place. It’s a major evangelical Christian fallacy that “going to God” can somehow overcome the sex drive that God built into us. We can’t pray away our sex drive.

          The other possibility is to accept what I’m saying here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life, and begin to rebuild your conscience in a more healthy way.

          If you decide to do this, it will not be easy. The childhood messages we receive become deeply embedded in our mind. They can be difficult to root out, and sometimes impossible to root out entirely. It is unlikely that you will ever be able to masturbate or view porn without feeling some pangs about it. The message that they are evil and sinful has been too deeply embedded in your consciousness. However, you can use your rational mind to begin to counteract those messages, and start seeing masturbation and pornography more like the reality, which is that of gray areas in a world that is not black and white, but has many shades and hues, from brightest white to deepest black, and everything in between.

          To put it simply and bluntly: You are going to have to choose between what you were taught growing up and what your old youth pastor will continue to teach you on the one hand, and what I’m teaching here on this website on the other hand. Which one you choose will determine which direction your sex life and your future married life goes.

          If you choose the path of complete suppression of your sex drive until you are married, that can cause just as many problems as overindulging your sex drive prior to marriage. Sexually repressed men and women commonly have problems in bed even after they’re married. They have a hard time shaking the implication and feeling endemic in traditional and conservative Christianity that sex itself is somehow just a little bit dirty and borderline sinful. They have a hard time fully engaging in loving sexual intercourse with their partner because they have this lingering feeling, based on all the sexual taboos ingrained in them during childhood and youth, that sex must be kept very strictly within bounds lest it break loose and become a rampaging devil burning out their souls in hell.

          Your old pastor and the church you grew up in may say that sex within marriage is a wonderful, beautiful thing. But behind all their extra-biblical taboos against things like masturbation and pornography is a feeling that sex is dangerous, and a playground and hook for the Devil to get hold of us and drag us down into hell. And with that feeling about sex, I don’t see how anyone could fully engage in and enjoy making love even within a loving marriage. There will always be a lingering feeling that if we let this thing get even the slightest bit out of bounds—such as (gasp!) using a position other than missionary position—then it could all quickly go off the rails and send us straight down that broad road to hell.

          That is not at all how the Bible presents sex. The Bible is actually quite pragmatic about sex, including even premarital sex. For more on this, see the article, “Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?

          And on the positive side, the very first commandment God gives to the male and female humans he created is, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). That is just before “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). In other words, human sexuality is one of the “very good” things that God created right from the very beginning.

          Obviously, I hope you’ll choose the more nuanced and realistic viewpoint I present here. (And obviously I have a great disdain for traditional Christianity’s views on sexuality.) But I can’t make that decision for you. You’ll have to make it for yourself based on your own thoughts and experience, and based on your own evaluation of what I am saying and what your old youth pastor and church are saying.

          Meanwhile, I would be happy to continue the conversation here if you have further questions or want further thoughts and input from my perspective.

        • Jared says:

          Thank you so much for your reply Lee. I’m glad I’m able to talk to someone about this. It seriously means a lot, again thank you so much for your time! Not sure how to reply to your most recent reply but I’m hoping you’ll still get this.

          To get rather specific, the “porn” or visual aid I do look at isn’t necessarily fantasy, as in acts specifically – rather, just what I find attractive. It isn’t anyone doing anything taboo either, it’s honestly pretty innocent compared to what else is out there. It’s normally just a video of a girl posing her feet for a few minutes, or just a picture of a girl barefoot. I’m not really sitting there thinking about what things I would do, but rather just how attractive and exciting it is. I could say that yes, I do fantasize about one day being able to open up to my wife about this. Being able to massage, pamper, play with, and kiss her feet are what I fantasize about I suppose, but not out of selfishness, it’s the physical representation and expression of love like you were saying. If she wasn’t enjoying it, I wouldn’t either. Deep down that’s the desire, to one day be open and intimate about this detail in my life, and hopefully she could love and respect that, and of course I’d pamper her and massage her and hopefully make her really happy. And in that way I fantasize sometimes when watching videos or looking at pictures about kissing or touching or being intimate, but only because someday I want that with my wife, not just with any woman. Since I’m aiming to be in a loving relationship full of expression and intimacy and not watch videos of girls’ feet for the rest of my life, that make’s it okay?

          When I am regularly masturbating and watching these things, I would masturbate once every 2 to 3 days on average and spend about 20 minutes watching videos every time. Since it’s rather on the innocent side of just looking at feet, and it’s not as intense as say, bdsm or actual intercourse, do you think that I was viewing it too much? Should I try to cut down to just the weekends instead? Should I hold off on these visual aids for awhile to recover? – do you even think I have an “addiction”? Porn addictions from what I’ve read usually follow a trail that leads to more perverse and exciting things, yet I’ve always stuck with just plainly videos and pictures of feet. The thought of watching the more intense things, even just two people having sex, kind of weirds me out. I don’t have any desire to watch those things. So is what I’m watching even considered porn at this point since it’s rather on the innocent side? (I know you said this is something I need to figure out for myself, but I hope I can get your opinions and perspective on it.)

          My mentor has mentioned that, if possible, masturbation without “lust” (or sexual desire in this context) is the only way masturbation can’t be sinful. But the only thing holding me back from masturbation without fantasy is my fear that I would continue to have the guilt and anxiety, and this girl may pick up on that. I’m also afraid that if I add visual aid / porn along with masturbation and someday open up to my future girlfriend about it, she would be hurt or feel betrayed and feel that I don’t have a sense of self control. I’m also worried this guilt is because for some reason, “lusting” is wrong, and that’s the Holy Spirit convicting me.

          So, to kind of go over this rambling and organize it into 7 questions;

          How do I know if this guilt is the Holy Spirit trying to tell me something?

          If I’m watching these things to temporarily satisfy a desire until I am married, is that being selfish? Shouldn’t I be focusing on only having eyes for my wife now before I’m married so porn isn’t a temptation in the future?

          Is what I’m watching even really porn, and do you think I fall under the category of an “porn” addict (am I watching it to much)?

          Is it wrong to masturbate when you’re stressed? Should I be going to God instead?

          Do you think it’s wise to limit myself to controlled masturbation (without visual aids or fantasy or anything, just focusing on the sensation) if videos still causes me to feel guilty and ashamed?

          It’s inevitable that I can’t go forever without masturbating. How can I learn to accept this and overcome the anxiety and guilt that follows, with or without visual aid and fantasy?

          And finally, my mentor was talking about how just because you aren’t married now doesn’t give you a free pass to lust after any girl you want until then. If God has a wife for me, would it be committing adultery by looking at these things, and “fantasizing” about women who are meant to be with someone else someday?

          Again thank you so much Lee, I really appreciate it. I apologies for these ramblings but a lot is coming to the surface right now. I know these are long reads but I hope you understand where I’m coming from.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jared,

          Masturbating to pictures of girls’ feet for twenty minutes or so two or three times a week is not a porn addiction or a sex addiction or any kind of addiction. Addictions take over a person’s life, and if allowed to run their course, consume and destroy the person’s entire existence. What you describe is a very moderate practice that “consumes” only about an hour a week of your life. That’s not an addiction.

          As for whether viewing pictures and videos of bare female feet is consuming porn, that would vary from culture to culture and from person to person. Some cultures require women to cover their entire bodies because any part of a woman’s body, if uncovered, is considered highly sexual. Others require only that the genitals be covered, and the entire rest of a woman’s body can be bare with no sense of indecency. So how do we define “porn”? In fact, it’s so difficult to define pornography that in 1964, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said, in “defining” pornography, “I know it when I see it.” So I’m sorry, but I really can’t tell you whether viewing images of girls’ bare feet is porn to you. However, I tend to agree with you that compared to what a lot of men view, it is quite mild.

          Determining what comes from the Holy Spirit and what doesn’t can be quite tricky. Many people with many crazy ideas think that those ideas were imparted to them by the Holy Spirit. However, a practical test is whether a particular belief or idea that seems to be from the Holy Spirit leads toward long-term good, both physical and spiritual, or toward long-term pain and suffering. I would suggest that all the angst you’ve been through and continue to go through regarding masturbation is not good or healthful for you physically or spiritually. The teaching you imbibed from childhood about the evils of “lust,” masturbation, and so on have consumed your mind over a relatively harmless fantasy and practice that is, practically speaking, a rather small part of your overall day and week. That doesn’t sound to me like the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

          The idea of saving yourself for marriage is good and noble. But isn’t that what you’re doing? You’re not actually having sex with anyone, are you? You’re not actually kissing and massaging anyone’s feet, are you? You’re just fantasizing about these things, and hoping you can actually do these things when you find and marry the right woman for you. And from what you have expressed, I feel confident that you will value that woman for who she is, and not just for what kind of feet she has.

          That, at any rate, is certainly my suggestion and advice for you. If any woman gets the idea that you’re mainly interested in her for her feet, she’s going to have a problem with that. But if she knows that you love her for who she is, and that giving loving attention to her feet is one of the ways you would like to express that love for her, then that’s something that many (though perhaps not all) women can accept and appreciate.

          But back to your question, although it would be nice to be able to live the ideal life, that just isn’t the situation most of us find ourselves in. And since our life is non-ideal, including in the sexual realm, generally the best we can do is find a relatively harmless way to express our sexual drives until we can find and marry someone with whom to share and express that part of ourselves. It seems to me that this is exactly what you’re doing. So no, I don’t think you’re being selfish. I think you’re doing what you need to do in an imperfect world to save yourself for your future wife.

          And as I just said, I certainly don’t think you’re a “porn addict.” If you were, you’d be spending hours a day at it. From what you say, you’re nowhere near the realm of porn addiction. Rather, you’re satisfying a normal sex drive at a completely normal rate of a few times a week, and your use of images and videos of girls’ feet is largely associated with that normal, healthy sexual release. Unless there’s a whole lot more that you’re not telling me about, I think you’re miles away from the danger zone of the unhealthy and compulsive overconsumption of sexualized imagery that characterizes porn addiction.

          About masturbating when you’re stressed, I suspect that’s more a factor of “falling off the wagon” from your self-imposed abstinence from any sexual activity. That falling off the wagon tends to happen when you’re stressed and your “resistance” is therefore low. But the whole thing is predicated on the belief that it’s wrong and sinful to masturbate, which I believe is false. Under normal circumstances, masturbation would not be something you do when you’re stressed, but something you do when your sexual desire begins to build up and needs to be released. Usually this manifests as thinking a lot about things that are sexy to you, and feeling sexual desire building up inside you. That’s just how we’re built.

          About feeling guilty and ashamed at any fantasies or visual aids, as I said in my previous reply to you, that’s a tough one. That guilt and shame has been drilled into you from a young age. It may be very hard to shake it, and you may never be able to shake it entirely. But as I also said, you can at least use your rational mind to re-train your conscience as best you can toward a more sound and healthy attitude toward your sexuality and your need to express it in some way. The reality is that when it comes to sex, men like visuals. I think you’ll have a tough time trying to banish all fantasy and all visuals from your sex life. And if you do succeed in doing that, you’ll then have to reverse course when you get married, and allow yourself all the things you’ve forbidden yourself up to that point. It’s more a recipe for confusion than a recipe for a future healthy sex life with your future wife.

          Speaking of which, I would hope that any woman you married would be pragmatic and sensible enough to realize that you’re a normal man with normal sex drives, and that making love with her in you marriage will not be the first time you’ve ever had sexual ideas and fantasies enter your head. Conservative Christian churches and preachers do both women and men a disservice when they paint girls as innocent, naive, sexless beings until boys come along and get them all sexed up. The fact of the matter is that girls and women are just as sexual as boys and men, even if they may approach sexuality from a different angle. I can assure you that whatever woman you marry, she’ll have had sexual thoughts and fantasies of her own for many years, even if they may be different in quality and feel than yours are.

          And finally, once again, if your mentor thinks that having sexual fantasies about a girl or woman is “lusting after her in your heart,” then he is simply ignorant of what the Bible means when it speaks of “lust,” and of “coveting” (the Old Testament version of the same thing). In trivializing the meaning of “lust” in the Bible, he is binding heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on your shoulders. Jesus condemned adultery in the heart because that’s what leads to actual adultery, which is having physical, sexual intercourse with a woman who is married, or when you are married to someone else, or both. The “lust in the heart” that Jesus speaks of is something that will prompt us to commit adultery if we can find or make the opportunity to do so.

          Do you actively desire and intend to have sex, or engage in sexual foot play, with an actual woman whenever you can get or make the opportunity to do so? Everything you’re saying to me is that you want to wait for marriage. Therefore what you’re feeling and engaging simply is not lust, nor is it adultery in your heart. Once again, please read the article, “Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?

          I’m not saying you should abandon all morality and just give in to whatever sexual thoughts might occur to you. But I don’t think you’re in any danger of doing that anyway. You seem to have a great longing for a future healthy, loving marriage, and you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. I don’t think you’re in any serious danger of getting sucked into an unhealthy, all-consuming sexual vortex any time soon. This sort of thinking is mere scare tactics used by “Christian” preachers who have serious, unhealthy problems when it comes to sex.

          Quite honestly, my opinion is that you should get far away from your old youth pastor and his scriptural ignorance and bad advice. He is only going to cause you more pain and anguish. Attempting to follow his prescriptions will put you right back onto a collision course with the natural, healthy sex drives that God built into you. My opinion is that he understands neither the Bible nor human sexuality, and is therefore not competent to mentor you in those areas.

          But once again, that will have to be your choice.

          I think I’ve answered all the questions you asked. If I’ve missed anything important, or you have further questions, feel free to continue the conversation.

        • Jared says:

          Hey Lee, it’s me again. First of all, I’m sorry to pester you about this. I’m still struggling with this, going back and forth between staying away from it all and then crashing back into it. Usually I’ll make it for a week or two, and end up binging for a day watching videos or scrolling through pictures for an hour or two.

          At this point, I’m trying to learn to accept it and push past the anxiety and the guilt this causes, but it’s very difficult.

          Can you give me any advice on how I could overcome this? How should I begin reconstructing my mind and letting go of this fear and anxiety?

          Again I’m sorry to bother you about this. Thank you for your time.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jared,

          Good to hear from you again. I hope life is treating you well.

          First, let’s deal with the practical side of things. The cycle you are describing of staying away from any sexual expression (masturbation, etc.) for a week or two, then bingeing for a day, is the almost inevitable result of attempting to suppress something that cannot be suppressed indefinitely: your natural sexual drive.

          My practical suggestion on this is that you cease trying to suppress it.

          You mentioned in one of your previous comments that you would ordinarily masturbate once every two or three days, and spend about twenty minutes watching videos each time. This, as I mentioned before, seems quite normal and reasonable as a way to satisfy your sexual drives. I would suggest that you return to that practice to avoid the unhealthy suppress-and-binge cycle that you otherwise get caught up in. It’s better to spend about an hour a week indulging yourself than to try to stop yourself altogether and then waste a whole day bingeing, and feeling guilty about it the whole time.

          About reconstructing your mind, the first step is to make a clear decision on what you believe about sex, fantasy, masturbation, and marriage.

          You have previously detailed how you were torn between what you were hearing from your old youth pastor and what you were reading on this blog. This scripture comes to mind:

          Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21)

          You can’t keep limping between two opinions. It will tear you apart. Sooner or later you are going to have to make up your mind what you believe. Will you believe what your old youth pastor has been telling you: that fantasy and masturbation are lust, and therefore terribly evil and putting you in danger of hell? Or will you believe what I am telling you: that fantasy and masturbation are a normal and healthy way of satisfying your natural, God-given sexual drives until you can find and marry a woman with whom you can have a good and healthy sexual relationship?

          Quite simply, then, the first step in reconstructing your mind and letting go of your fear and anxiety is to decide what you believe, and begin following it.

          It seems to me that you have already tried following your old youth pastor’s advice, and it keeps on failing. I would suggest, then, that it’s time to recognize that he is simply wrong about these things, and to stop limping between his advice and mine. I would not so humbly suggest that you make the choice to believe and try what I am suggesting here. If it also turns out to be a failure, you can always make a different decision.

          If you’re with me on this, and want to go down this path and leave behind what your old youth pastor has been telling you, I would be happy to continue the conversation with you. If, on the other hand, you decide to follow what your old youth pastor is advising, then coming here and asking for my advice will only confuse you.

          In short, you have a decision to make.

          If you decide to go in the direction I am suggesting, the first thing to do is to stop trying to suppress your sex drive. Allow yourself to express it every two or three days, as you previously mentioned, and get off the suppress-and-binge cycle that’s been bedeviling you.

          Once this pattern is established, you can begin charting a course from where you are now to a future healthy sexual relationship within a faithful, loving, monogamous marriage. If you decide to take this path, I would be happy to guide you along the way, at your request.

        • Jared says:

          Thanks for your reply Lee!

          I’m willing to take this path, but I have a lot of fear behind it. I agree that this cycle needs to break between trying to stay away and then full on binging, and it should all be in moderation. I recently just got out of a streak and the days after were a bit hard, I had trouble looking people in the eyes and talking, lost a bit of motivation, and had a general anxiety and awkwardness. I think a lot of it stems from knowing my friends and family believe that lust / masturbation is a sin, and that in a way I’m failing that standard, even if I see how it isn’t lust. I’m also a bit worried about dating, that the excess shame will carry into that and I won’t have confidence and / or have guilt around girls I may be interested in. And again with waiting for a wife, I know I’d have guilt admitting that I’ve fantasized about many girls. Do you have any guidance on how to begin letting go of these fears?

          I’m by no means expecting you to solve all my problems or be my personal therapist and I’m sorry for continuously requesting advice. I’m really grateful for you and the time you’ve taken to respond!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jared,

          Are you still living with your parents at this time in your life, or are you living on your own now?

        • Jared says:

          I’m currently still living at home with my parents but trying to move out.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jared,

          Then moving out on your own will be your first step toward being able to live your own life in your own way without all of the guilty feelings whenever you do anything that your family and current friends don’t approve of. Though I don’t know anything about your particular situation, if possible I would suggest moving far enough away that you can make a new circle of friends that is not so conservative and old-fashioned about sex and about life in general. It’s hard to move forward in life when you’re still surrounded by people who represent your previous stage of life.

          If there is some place you would really love to go to and live in and experience for a while, start making plans to do so. There’s nothing like a complete change of scenery to help start a new phase of your life. And it’s not as hard to do as people think it is.

    • Rami says:

      Hi Lee,

      It seems that pornography and masturbation are two topics that seem to pop up everywhere you go on this blog! About those two issues, I wanted to ask you: is it among the non-essential issues that Swedenborgians can disagree with each other over without one feeling that is subscribing to an essentially flawed theology? I don’t think you hold a fundamentally different attitude on the nature and meaning of human sexuality than those Swedenborgians who disagree with you on the issue of pornography. I think the difference lies in whether pornography and the act of indulging in it is an affront to that understanding of sexuality. In that regard, is it possible to be wrong on this issue without calling into question your larger theology?

      • Lee says:

        Hi Rami,

        Unfortunately, traditional Christianity has gotten so far off-track on sexuality and marriage, and these things are so fundamental to our very humanity, that there are legions of people out there whose attitudes toward sex, masturbation, and so on is seriously out of whack to the point where they are bedeviled with anxiety and shame over something that should instead by an area of pleasure and joy. What washes up on the shores of Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life is the wreckage and refugees from a “Christian” regime gone seriously wrong. That’s why the issue of masturbation just keeps coming up here over and over again.

        But to answer your question, pornography really isn’t an issue that touches on the fundamentals of theology. I do think that a flawed theology will tend to lead to flawed views on everything related to human sexuality. But no, disagreement about pornography does not constitute a insuperable barrier to agreement on the key issues of theology—which have to do with the nature of God and the life that leads to heaven, and which, in practical terms for us humans, boil down to the two Great Commandments given by Jesus: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we can at least agree that these two commandments are the heart of theology, then there can be many disagreements on lesser issues such as pornography without severing the bond of spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood.

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee,

          My great concern with pornography is of the feelings of the viewer it indulges and possibly helps to further cultivate. For instance, there’s an entire genre of hardcore pornography dedicated to people committing audultery. There are many men who find highly desirable depictions of women cheating on their husbands. The desecration factor is something many who enjoy this porn find especially arousing- the idea of a wife desecrating her martial bed and marriage in general with another man or even many men.

          Now, there’s nothing wrong with passively *having* these desires, and even then, ones attraction toward this type of sexual evil often has nothing to do with sexuality per se, as sex is often a prism by which deeper and asexual desires are refracted. And for someone to view this content would, in a sense, be using a healthier alternative to dealing with those feelings than if they were to live them out (assuming they wanted to or weren’t able to control the urge to).

          But at the same time, to view this pornography is to feed and indulge in some profoundly ugly, evil desires by watching something profoundly ugly and evil. And while we can’t exactly go down the list, I think most forms of porn meet different flavors of that same criteria.

          This leads me to believe that even if porn isn’t the level of evil that its conservative critics say it is, it’s still way off to the evil side of a grey area, and the consumption of it far more than a mere tie over until we can or are prepared to commit to a monogamous relationship.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Yes, pornography has many shades of gray, and at the dark end of the spectrum it does go off into the blackest of blacks.

          That’s why I recommend both in the pornography article and in the masturbation articles that people move away from worse forms of fantasy and pornography toward more benign ones. It’s all part of the overarching recommendation of having a goal of being in a loving, faithful, monogamous marriage, and of having one’s primary sexual outlet within that marriage whenever that becomes possible.

          There is a big difference between viewing pornography that depicts adulterous relationships, rape, incest, and so on, and viewing pornography that depicts two people engaging in mutually consensual sex, or depicts women (or men) displaying their bodies in sexual poses and movements. And though I’m not for legally prohibiting any pornography made by consenting adults that doesn’t break any other laws, I do think that people who are drawn to the darker, blacker side of pornography have some serious work to do on themselves. And that may not be their fault. Far too many people have had damaging messages about sex inculcated into them from a young age, or have had traumatizing sexual experiences that make it difficult for them to have a healthy approach to sexuality.

          Meanwhile, as with anything, it doesn’t make sense to paint the entirety of pornography with the brush of the worst and blackest end of the pornography spectrum. There are many people who use pornography, but who shudder at and avoid the seamier and more immoral types of porn because they find it horrible and disgusting. There are many people who just want sexually stimulating photos and videos of beautiful people, and of beautiful people making love. And on the pornography spectrum, that’s a fairly light shade of gray.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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