Theologically-Informed Education about Masturbation: A Male Sexual Health Perspective

By Kwee, Alex W.; Hoover, David C. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Theologically-Informed Education about Masturbation: A Male Sexual Health Perspective


Kwee, Alex W., Hoover, David C., Journal of Psychology and Theology


The Bible presents no clear theological ethic on masturbation, leaving many young unmarried Christians with confusion and guilt around their sexuality. Moreover, with only a sin-based vocabulary for discussing masturbation, those with compulsive masturbation patterns are apt to avoid disclosing problems because of shame and thus risk escalating in compulsivity. We present a discursive educational approach for talking to college-aged Christian men about masturbation. Utilizing theological, psychological and sociological perspectives, this approach equips college-aged Christian men with the knowledge and critical thinking ability to work out an informed personal position on masturbation. We consider these perspectives followed by preventive and therapeutic implications for young men dealing with the early stages of sexual compulsivity.

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Among some Protestant and Catholic young people, the issue of masturbation evokes considerable discomfort and even distress because of the stigma that is attached to this behavior. Informed in part by the Church's historic position on non-marital sexuality, this stigma is exacerbated by the modern Christian emphasis on sexual purity, of which an unfortunate byproduct is the experience of misplaced guilt over a behavior that is arguably developmentally normative. Much of our work as therapists is dedicated to sexuality education and the prevention and treatment of sexual addiction among Christian men. Of the many aspects of human sexuality that we address in our work, masturbation ranks as the most misunderstood for the lack of open, rational dialogue about this topic within the Christian community. Among Christians in general, masturbation generates a unique discomfort and ambivalence--more so than even homosexuality--precisely because masturbation, unlike homosexuality, is quite prevalent in the general population (we will discuss prevalence and temporal frequency estimates of masturbation later in this article). Under the assumption that false guilt about masturbation is inextricably bound up with misinformation and a general lack of clarity, this article aims to bring informed biblical interpretation, sociological realities, and psychological facts to bear on the topic of masturbation. Our objective is to present a way of helping young Christian men to resist emotional arguments based on false facts and the misuse of Scripture, and to approach masturbation with a critical and discursive mindset to arrive at a well-reasoned personal viewpoint on the matter.

Sexual health and information about masturbation

Within evangelical frameworks of sexual ethics--those articulated by Grenz (1997) and Jones (1999), for example--there has never been a well-defined theological ethic of masturbation, in contrast to the ethics of pre-marital sex, marriage, and divorce that are worked out from foundational Christian anthropological assertions about gender, sexuality, and their relationship to the imago Dei. Good attempts have certainly been made by Sanford (1994) and Smedes (1994), among others, but these are good attempts precisely because they do justice to the moral ambiguity around the issue of masturbation. Masturbation falls thus within the proverbial grey area of evangelical sexual ethics. Therein lies the source of the vexation among countless numbers of young unmarried Christians: Even though masturbation is a morally ambiguous issue that seems to be theologically peripheral to the main body of Christian sexual ethics, it is developmentally a very salient issue for these individuals who are trying to understand the place of sexuality in their lives, and perhaps to reconcile their sexuality with a value system that eschews pre-marital sex.

Broadly speaking, the purposes of sexuality education are twofold: the promotion of healthy and responsible sexual choices through the dissemination of accurate information, and the prevention of undesirable outcomes stemming from ignorance. …

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