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Masturbation:

Beliefs: Christians, Wiccans,
religious liberals, & Mormons

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Past Christian opposition to masturbation:

Some religious groups have condemned masturbation because sexual organs are designed by God for procreation. Since masturbation involves only one person it cannot lead to pregnancy. It has been called an "unnatural act" for this reason.

Others stress that God created sex with the intent that it be enjoyed between a married couple: one man and one woman. Physical closeness promotes emotional closeness. Again, masturbation is a solitary practice and thus is to be avoiced.

Religious opposition to masturbation has softened greatly in recent years. We expect that masturbation will eventually be ignored by most churches.

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Neopagan beliefs about masturbation:

Neopagans represent less than 1% of the population of North America, and their religious tradition is very different from that of most main religions. Many of their beliefs about masturbation and other topics are significantly different from larger faith groups. We include them here in order to give a better representation of the full range of religious thought in North America.

The largest group within Neopaganism are the Wiccans. Rather than viewing human sexuality as separate and often antagonistic to religion, many Wiccans integrate sexuality, faith and practice. The Council of American Witches issued a statement about their religion during their Spring Witchmeet of 1974, held in Minneapolis, MN. It says, in part:

"We value sexuality as pleasure, as the symbol and embodiment of Life, and as one of the sources of energies used in magickal practices and religious worship."

They regard human sexuality as a gift of the Goddess and God. It is an activity to be enjoyed responsibly in accordance with the Wiccan Rede. One modern form of the Rede is:

"Do what you wish, as long as it harms no one, including yourself."

Neopagans carefully consider any act in advance, and avoid those that are harmful to themselves or others. Masturbation is no exception. It is not harmful to other people, because (by definition) it is performed while one is alone. Most Wiccans agree with the best medical information indicates that it is not harmful to the individual either, but rather offers many benefits.

The "Charge of the Goddess" is an instruction of unknown antiquity that is recognized by many Neopagans. One part of it reads: "All acts of pleasure are my rituals." We have communicated with one Wiccan coven which has modified the Charge to read "All responsible acts of pleasure are my rituals." Responsible, in this case, would mean a sexual act that is free of any negative outcomes like pregnancy or disease. And it would also need to be non-manipulative, non-dominating, non-controlling, non-coercive, and consensual. Some Wiccans engage in the Great Rite which includes sexual intercourse in private between a committed couple as part of a circle religious ritual. We suspect that masturbation by solitary practitioners also forms part of some solitary Wiccan rituals.

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Liberal Christian beliefs about masturbation:

There are no passages in the Bible that discuss this topic directly. Jesus did not give his opinion on masturbation. Although he gave hundreds of instructions to help us govern our lives, he apparently did not consider the topic of human sexuality of great importance. His only recorded reference to human sexuality is his association of adultery with sin in John 8:1-11. This passage is of doubtful authenticity because it apparently did not appear in the original autograph copy of that Gospel. It is apparently a forgery written by an unknown author.

bulletAbout the fantasy aspects of masturbation:
One comment that Jesus did make about sexual fantasies is contained in Matthew 5:28, which states:

"...whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (KJV)

That is, a person who fantasizes about making love to another person has committed a sin equivalent to adultery. This passage is important here, because fantasies are often present when a person masturbates.

Liberal Christians typically do not base their moral code solely on the Bible. They integrate findings of science, medicine, etc., including research into human sexuality. Most sexuality and mental health professionals have concluded that such fantasies are normal and healthy; they are not harmful. Sexual attraction to other people is natural and, to a degree, an automatic and unavoidable response. They would thus tend to not interpret the above passage literally. Of course, if a person acts upon these fantasies inappropriately, then they can easily become sinful and even criminal.

Most liberal Christians probably ignore Matthew 5:28, just as they ignore passages requiring women to cover their hair in church, which ban polyester-cotton clothing, the eating of pork, shrimp, and cheeseburgers, or which ban inter-faith marriages, or regulate slavery. They would not treat the fantasy aspect of masturbation as an item of concern.

bulletAbout the act itself:
Masturbation may be considered to be composed of three to five components. A liberal Christian might analyze them as follows:

bulletManually touching one's genitals: The human body is a magnificent structure, and no part of it is inherently dirty, evil, or untouchable. Extreme close-up photograph (say, a 1/8" square piece of skin) in the area of the foreskin, penis, clitoris, vulva, palm, chest, or neck will show basically the identical structure. If skin throughout the entire body has the same construction and is formed from  identical materials, why should one part be untouchable and the other touchable? A religious liberal would probably conclude that touching one's genitals is not considered an evil or sinful act.

bulletEnjoying the feelings arising from manual stimulation: There are many forms of body stimulation that generate pleasurable feelings: luxuriating in a perfumed bath, lying on the beach and feeling the sun's rays beating down on you, manually stimulating the genitals, experiencing a sensual massage. In each case, some external agent stimulates nerve endings which in turn generate pleasant feelings. The only difference with masturbation is the intensity of those feelings. A religious liberal would probably conclude that manual stimulation of the genitals is in no way sinful.

bulletFantasizing about a person who one is in love with or would like to be in love with: Fantasies are internal thoughts that bring pleasure and do not impact on anyone else. As noted above, they are harmless.

bulletOptionally experiencing an orgasm: An orgasm is a very intense, joyous, sensual experience. Physiologically, the closest experience to an orgasm is the act of sneezing. A religious liberal would probably conclude that an orgasm is a morally neutral, and very pleasant experience. Again, it harms nobody and is thus free of sin.

bulletIn the case of a male: having an ejaculation of semen: The testicles produce semen at the rate of thousands of sperm a second. Reservoirs near the prostate gland are continuously being refilled. Each ejaculation partially empties the chambers. But more sperm will arrive to refill them. If they are not emptied by masturbation or intercourse, they will automatically be voided during sleep in the form of nocturnal emissions. A religious liberal would probably conclude that an ejaculation is harmless. It merely speeds up a natural process.

Most liberal Christians would conclude that masturbation is a harmless activity, one that is not particularly sinful. It generates considerable pleasure, and teaches the individual about their body's responses -- useful knowledge when one is sexually active with a partner. The findings of two studies that masturbation lessens one's chances of prostate cancer is a bonus.

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Mormon Beliefs:

bulletA Speech to Mormon Youth on Masturbation:
The late Mark E. Petersen was a member of the Council of the 12 Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the Mormons. He allegedly wrote an article circa 1970 CE titled "Steps in Overcoming Masturbation." 1,2  The essay is widely published by a number of anti-Mormon web sites, and allegedly has been distributed to students at Brigham Young University. We have asked the LDS repeatedly to check the authenticity of this document and to confirm that it is not a hoax. 3 We have never received a response.

This article continually refers to masturbation as "the problem."

"We are taught that our bodies are temples of God, and are to be clean so that the Holy Ghost may dwell within us. Masturbation is a sinful habit that robs one of the Spirit and creates guilt and emotional stress. It is not physically harmful unless practiced in the extreme. It is a habit that is totally self-centered, and secretive, and in no way expresses the proper use of the procreative power given to man to fulfill eternal purposes. It therefore separates a person from God and defeats the gospel plan."

"This self-gratifying activity will cause one to lose his self-respect, testimony becomes weak, and missionary work and other Church callings become burdensome, offerings."

"You can win this fight! The joy and strength you will feel when you do will give your whole life a radiant and spiritual glow of satisfaction and fulfillment."

The Apostle offers some practical suggestions for overcoming "the problem:" avoiding being alone; praying; exercising; yelling "stop" when tempted; reciting a passage of a Gospel or the Book of Mormon; singing a hymn; setting goals for intervals of abstinence; imagining yourself as strong and in control; "dress yourself for the night so securely that you cannot easily touch your vital parts," use aversion therapy [for example, if you are "tempted to masturbate, think of having to bathe in a tub of worms, and eat several of them as you do the act."]; reducing the consumption of fluids in the evening; reducing spices; "Wear pajamas that are difficult to open, yet loose and not binding." "In very severe cases it may be necessary to tie a hand to the bed frame."

A longer version of the essay, allegedly distributed by the LDS church at Brigham Young University is also available online. 2


bulletA Second Mormon Speech on Masturbation:

Boyd K. Packer gave a talk to a group of young Mormon men at the General Conference Priesthood Session, held on 1976-OCT-2. He said in part:

bulletWithin your body you have the power of creation.

bulletThis is a very sacred power. The Lord has commanded that you use it only with one to whom you are legally and lawfully wedded. He has decreed serious penalties indeed for the misuse of it.

bulletWhen this power begins to form, it might be likened to having a little factory in your body, one designed to produce the product that can generate life.

bulletThere is, however, something you should not do. Sometimes a young man... might fondle himself and open that release valve. This you shouldn't do, for if you do that, the little factory will speed up. You will then be tempted again and again to release it. You can quickly be subjected to a habit, one that is not worthy, one that will leave you feeling depressed and feeling guilty.

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References:

  1. Mark E. Petersen, Council of the 12 Apostles [Mormon], "Steps in Overcoming Masturbation," at: http://qrd.tcp.com/
    The article was apparently written circa 1970 CE. It is replicated at many locations across the Web.
  2. "A guide to self-control: Overcoming masturbation," at: http://nowscape.com/
  3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a method by which non-members can contact Church headquarters to have questions asked. It is at: http://www.mormon.org/
  4. Lambert Dolphin, "Masturbation And The Bible," at: http://www.ldolphin.org/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-AUG-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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