The Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation has a series of “minibooks” (usually no more than 30 pages) dedicated to specific counseling related topics. This week we are reviewing “It’s All About Me: The Problem of Masturbation.”
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Winston Smith has been counseling for more than 15 years and is the author of a variety of CCEF resources related to marriage and sexuality. His minibook “It’s All About Me” attempts to tackle the questions “What’s the harm of masturbation?” and “What can I do to stop?”
Smith’s goal is to help the chronic masturbator examine his or her internal world – the world of imagination. This, Smith says, is where the problem and solution starts.
Old Arguments Against Masturbation
Some of the church’s arguments against the practice of masturbation focused on the physical act itself. This line of argument stretches Scripture to the breaking point.
About 250 years ago, masturbation was known as the sin of “onanism,” stemming from the story in Genesis 38. When Onan’s brother died he was culturally obligated to have sex his sister-in-law so she would not die a childless widow and leave his brother with no heir. During their intercourse he chose to pull out of her and spill his semen on the ground instead. The story says nothing about the solo act of masturbation but about the Onan’s stubborn disregard for his brother’s family.
There are no cases of solo masturbation mentioned in the Bible. The only place where a form of masturbation is mentioned is in the love poem, the Song of Solomon, where the two lovers poetically describe acts of mutual masturbation during love-making (2:3,6; 4:12). So as far as the Bible is concerned, there is silence on whether the physical act of masturbation is sinful.
Why the Fantasies Behind Masturbation are Wrong
In “It’s All About Me,” Winston Smith addresses the subject of masturbation from a different angle: from the perspective of fantasy.
He has readers examine their own sexual fantasies and ask, “How do the people populating my fantasies relate to me? What are their attitudes in my fantasies? How do they behave towards me in my fantasy world?” Much of the time, the fantasies are less about those people as much as they are about the person who is fantasizing. In your sexual fantasies, you take center stage. The plot and characters revolve around you. It is the world where all the characters are you-centered and play to your desires for pleasure, power, or control.
Smith calls this habit of fantasy “playing god.” “No matter how widely your fantasies may vary,” Smith writes, “in every instance you play god with people. You reduce those made in the image of the true God to mindless robots who serve your whims.”
In the typical biblical counseling fashion, Smith’s goal is to help readers to understand the “idols of the heart” (Ezekiel 14:1-8). In this case, masturbation becomes the way we eroticize self-idolatry: We are turned on by a fantasy world where we are gods.
Like it or not, our fantasies and the activities of our heart reflect the truth about who we really are. “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19). This, Smith says, is the real harm masturbation fantasies cause: they train the mind to be self-focused, pleasure-seeking, and escapist. This runs contrary to the attitudes of love and service that are modeled for us in the life of Christ (Philippians 2:6-8).
In other words, what makes the fantasies behind masturbation wrong is that they are attitudes that run in the opposite direction of Christlike love: a love that was willing to lose its life for others.
Creating New Habits of Love
Smith talks about how we can build a new internal world based not on selfishness but love. He talks about the necessary steps of confession to God, repentance, and accountability to others. But for Smith, repentance from masturbation is not merely about turning from a mere physical habit as much as it is about building new habits of love.
Repenting of lustful fantasies means we turn from our internal worlds of selfishness and turn towards Jesus who can teach us to love as He loves. Smith writes:
The Bible says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:10–12). God has shown us perfect love in Christ, so we learn how to love from him. If you want to learn how to love, then become a lifelong student of Jesus.
This isn’t just about kicking a bad habit. God promises that, as you live a life of love by trusting in Christ, God’s love will become visible through you. What could be more meaningful than making God’s love visible to others? This same passage helps us to see how special that love is: God’s love is sacrificial. He puts our needs first even though it costs him a high price. Your basic compass heading for love is to do what is best for others even if it costs you. Your initial sacrifice will be your own comfort and lusts. When you are tempted to escape, look around and notice what others need in that moment and serve them.
I highly recommend this quick and cheap resource for your church. It is an ideal discussion-starter for youth groups or men’s groups who are dealing with this subject and don’t want a massive book to read.