Last week I shared C.S. Lewis' thoughts on masturbation.
Quotes like Lewis' are not meant to be taken as dogmatic, but like all prophetic material it can make you search your soul.
Lewis basically says that sex is designed to draw us out of ourselves and into communion with another. And masturbating does not help us in that way. Especially, if it's fantasy based. Masturbating, he warns, can be a sexual narcissism where you are playing puppet master in the prison of your mind. The danger he says is to fall in love with that prison and not know how to deeply connect with another.
I appreciate this take because Lewis is couching masturbation in a larger theme of life. For Lewis true freedom comes from being other-focused. Healthy sex does that.
But, back to the question(s): So, is masturbation ok? Can it be healthy?
Some of you may be wondering why I am even asking the question because you are thinking the answer is "NO!". And, some of you may be wondering because you think "OF COURSE!"
It depends. It depends. It depends.
It depends if you are in recovery from sexual addiction. It depends on your spouses' opinion. It depends upon your spiritual view regarding lust--unless you masturbate without fantasy, in which case I say...bravo?
Here are three questions that can help you reflect on it more deeply:
Is masturbation a compensation for the lack of a healthy relationship?
Healthy relationships meet your needs and invite you to transcend your own to meet another's.
If you have struggled to establish a healthy relationship masturbation may be causing you to settle. It can keep you psychologically stunted, thus preventing you from dealing with the deeper issues of your soul. It's at the soul level where we do intimacy with another person.
Intimacy is about surrendering and being vulnerable.
Can we trust that the person we love will meet our needs?
If there has been a betrayal in your life from parents or someone else it can be hard to trust. This is where compulsive masturbation can be a prison. Especially, if masturbation was the way you coped with relational betrayal. "I can't control others, but I can control myself!"
As the adage says: in relationship we are hurt; in relationship we are healed. Or, as one of my favorite artists sings: love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears (Mumford & Sons). In other words, if masturbation is preventing you from healing from those wounds then my invitation to you is to let go...literally.
Is masturbation the compensation for a poor sex life with your partner?
Learning the art of intimacy, like any worthy endeavor, can be a challenge. Part of the challenge is entrusting your sexual needs to your partner. That's vulnerable. Especially when there is a discrepancy between desire. The desire discrepancy creates an opportunity to dialogue and to connect on a deeper level. What usually happens for couples is that in order for there to be more and better sex, more love, more thoughtfulness and more time has to be pumped into the relationship. Masturbation has the potential to prevent such a conversation from happening. In the end it can lead to a pretty stale sex life.
Is masturbation sexually conditioning you in a unhealthy way?
If masturbating has been the way you've dealt with trauma, fear, stress, sadness, boredom, etc. Most likely when you feel those things you will feel the urge to masturbate. This is a problem because masturbation can be a poor solution to solving your real-life problems. It's also a problem in the bedroom.
Some people also have difficulty achieving orgasm with a partner because they are not in control. They've wired their brain to their way of doing themselves that its uncomfortable and unsatisfying to be pleasured by someone else.
Does your partner care that you are fantasizing about others?
Another way I can ask this is how would you feel if your spouse or partner were fantasizing about someone else? We'll let the golden rule answer this question.
What about fantasizing about your spouse? Some spouses are ok with that, others are not.
These are just some basic questions to get you thinking. My recommendation is that you take it a step further and talk with a therapist, spiritual leader, sponsor* and your partner.
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*In Sexaholics Anonymous, a 12-step group for those in recovery from sex addiction masturbation is not part of "sobriety."