At first glance, the question “Can you masturbate without lusting?” might sound like an odd question. For those who feel no guilt or shame about the matter, the question sounds ridiculous. For those who are utterly opposed to all masturbation, regardless of the internal dynamics that drive it, the question sounds irrelevant.
But for those whom lust is their primary concern when it comes to masturbation, the question is of immense importance.
In his book Sex, Men, and God, Doug Weiss says there are three types of men in the world (and, I assume, this goes for women, too):
1. Men who have never masturbated (Type A) – Weiss believes this group of men is the smallest camp of men in the Western world. After years of speaking at men’s conferences, he’s only met 14 men who claim to have never masturbated. In other cultures, Weiss adds, masturbation simply isn’t a cultural norm and is relatively uncommon.
2. Men who do not fantasize or lust during masturbation (Type B) – This type of person stays “connected” to himself during masturbation—they don’t escape into fantasy. For this person, the act is merely performing a bodily function. As such, there is little emotion attached to the experience, and typically no sense of guilt or shame.
3. Men who lust during masturbation (Type C) – These men are “disconnected” during the act of masturbation: their focus is on a mental image, an actual image, or an object.
Why the distinction matters
In his book, Weiss asks what happens when a Type B masturbator grows up and becomes a pastor, Christian counselor, or Bible teacher. If he universalizes his own experience, this man is likely to think there is nothing wrong with masturbation at all. If Type C men listen to a teacher like this, they either become very confused, or they are encouraged to believe that their lifestyle of fantasy-filled masturbation is okay.
Similarly, if a Type C masturbator becomes a spiritual leader he will be likely to say that all masturbation is sinful. Type B people are likely to hear this and either get defensive or start feeling a sense of false guilt and shame.
Is Type B Better?
In one sense, because Type B masturbation involves no lust, it would be easy to assume it involves no sin. This is true. But there is another critical question to ask.
What habits are you creating by repeated Type B masturbation? Are you becoming mastered by this habit (see 1 Corinthians 6:12)? If so, you might be reinforcing a false belief that your body is simply your own. Your body is for the Lord (6:13)—and your wife if you are married. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (6:19b-20).
Can you change how you masturbate?
Weiss says, in his 20+ years of professional experience counseling men around issues of sexual sin, Type C masturbators rarely ever become Type B masturbators. He welcomes men to attempt the change, but warns, “Be careful not to deceive yourself.”
What if you are married?
Weiss also reminds married men that when they took a vow of marriage, their sexuality became intimately tied to another person. He reminds men of the solemn command of 1 Corinthians 7:4, “The husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Regardless of your motive for masturbation, your wife has authority over your sexuality. “God is the first, your wife is the second and you are the third owner of your penis,” writes Weiss.
For Weiss, the issue of married men masturbating is about honesty. Does your wife know you do it and does she approve? He writes, “If you can’t be honest with your wife about your total sexual expression, then you probably need to evaluate the reason for your ongoing lies to your wife.” If you don’t talk to your wife about it, why? Are you still holding on to the belief that your sexuality is “me-sex” vs. “we-sex”?
What if your wife is the one you fantasize about?
Even if after a full disclosure to your wife she approves of you masturbating, is it wrong to “lust” after images of your wife?
Here Weiss offers some sage advice: Does the woman of your fantasies match the woman you are married to? Do you change aspects of your fantasy wife that don’t match who your real wife is? Does she act sexually different in your fantasies? Does she look different?
If so, you are reinforcing a chemical process in your brain to be turned on by your fantasy wife, and this will only frustrate you when your real wife doesn’t measure up.
I would add to this: Masturbating to fantasies of your wife, while preferable to other images, also trains your body and mind to be more me-centered in your sexuality. Even if you wife approves of your behavior, you should ask whether this activity really helps to move you more towards the images of Christ, who emptied himself and sacrificed all for the love of His bride, the church.
We could talk about exceptions to the norm, of course—prolonged illness or geographical distance between couples. But we also shouldn’t let conversation about so-called “exceptions” (even if we think they are legitimate) make us over overlook the overarching biblical principles that should inform our attitudes.
Ideally, fantasizing about your wife—a good thing—should be something that propels you towards intimacy with her, to where sex can be a consummation of love and self-giving.