Masturbation: A Religious Obsession

masturbationBeing raised in fundamentalist circles, I grew up with the all too common teachings of sexual purity. I remember many youth group meetings where guys and gals were split up into separate groups to talk about the issues we were each supposed to be dealing with: Boys were taught about the evils of masturbation, fantasizing, and pornography, and girls were taught that they were responsible to dress modestly so they didn’t cause boys to lust over them.
But what they didn’t teach us is that girls masturbate too, that girls also fantasize and have sexual desires. This was a presented to us as a GUY’S issue, not a girl’s issue, because men were portrayed as naturally more sexual than women (not true). Men were normal for having sexual urges, but women’s sexuality wasn’t even addressed because it wasn’t supposed to even exist. A sexually minded woman was unusual and sinful!
Because of this, I considered myself especially deviant for having these urges. Girls weren’t even supposed to think that way, otherwise they’d talk to use about it, right? But I did, so I thought I must be a sex-obsessed freak.
The messages I received were very clear. Good Christian girls keep their minds and bodies pure for marriage. They don’t think about or engage in any kind of sexual activity. An ideal Christian girl was essentially devoid of sexual desires until she got married. Giving in to these urges was considered a great weakness and one of the worst spiritual failings you could possibly have, so of course I couldn’t talk about my “deviance” to anyone else! So I hid my shame, as so many other Christian girls like me did. If we did talk about it, it was in hushed tones behind closed doors and with tears as we confided about our secret “struggle”.
I remember being disgusted with myself when I masturbated. I felt so guilty and ashamed, for a few moments after almost hating myself for not having enough self-control to deny myself. I’d occasionally fantasize or masturbate, like any normal person after puberty, but I would feel awful about it. I thought there was something wrong with me. This shame and guilt stayed with me until well into adulthood.
I remember one time in particular, I was preparing to leave for a missions trip to Bulgaria. This was the summer after my first year in Bible College, I was almost 18 years old at the time. The night before my flight was due to leave, I looked up pictures online and masturbated. Part of me felt so relieved, I hadn’t done it in a long time (most of us know how those urges get pent up and how relaxing it is to satisfy them), but I also felt this overwhelming, crippling guilt too. I went on my trip and enjoyed it, but in the back of my mind I was terrified that I had compromised my ability to have a significant spiritual impact on the trip because I had “fallen” and given in to my sexual desires. I seriously thought that what I had done was so horrible that my spiritual effectiveness was diminished. Talk about shame!
Masturbation and fantasizing is not wrong, immoral, sinful, or deviant. Unless you’re asexual, you will most likely start to experience sexual attraction, desires, and fantasies after you hit puberty. You’ll experience these things because this is how our bodies work. Our bodies evolved to desire sex because that’s how our species procreates. Its NORMAL- animals do it, our bodies and minds are designed to enjoy and crave it, and there are even multiple health benefits associated with it (orgasms can make your period cramps less painful!) But no one told me that. No one told me that it wasn’t bad for me to have sexual thoughts and desires, all I heard was that fantasies and masturbation were bad and disgusting. And god forbid if you ever got curious and looked at dirty pictures! That was the worst thing you could EVER do! So I went through my teen and early adult years with tears and shame anytime I gave in and acted like a normal, red-blooded woman.
This fundamentalist obsession with sex causes immense guilt and harm. A life transition and experience that should have been beautiful and healthy was tainted by shame and self-hatred. This is what many youth groups are teaching kids- they are teaching them to hate their own bodies and minds for what comes naturally. What is your teen’s youth group teaching your child?
Don’t hate yourself for thinking sexual thoughts or enjoying your body. It feels good for a reason- not because it’s “sin” and “sin” feels good, but because that’s how our bodies work. Just like it feels good to eat food because our bodies need and desire it, it feels good to satisfy our sexual desires because our bodies need and desire it. Satisfying your sexual urges is no different than fulfilling your need for food; like eating, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to satisfy these urges. Be healthy, be safe, and enjoy your body and sexuality- they are nothing to be ashamed of.
Over these past years, I’ve realized that I am a very sexual person. I’ve thrown off the shackles of puritan modesty and rigid sexuality to embrace myself as I truly am- a woman who loves sex, and lots of it! Both with partners and without. Shame me if you want, but I’ve never been happier. Maybe a little self-love would do you some good. 😉