Wanking: The Last Taboo

In today's permissive society there are few taboos left. Teenagers are educated in areas of sex that would have shocked and embarrassed many married couples in previous centuries. Fantasies are discussed freely; and films become more and more explicit. Premarital sex is virtually the norm. Homosexuality, S&M, group sex, wife-swapping - all can be freely discussed in polite society now. More concern is registered over someone making a value judgement against such practices than whether or not someone indulges in them.

But one bastion of privacy and shame remains, and that is the subject of masturbation. Sperm banks in Australia suffer from a shortage of (paid) donors simply because the Australian male is too bashful to face a receptionist with evidence in his hand that he actually masturbated.

Some men find it painful to admit to themselves that they indulge in wanking, much less acknowledge such a practice to their friends or even to their GP.

Paradoxically, masturbation is despised by religious prudes and liberated machos alike. Prudes see it as sinful, and machos see it as a sign of weakness. Yet both parties practise it.

Here is the ultimate in sexual hypocrisy. All of the arguments used against wowserism and double standards in every other area of sexual practice have overlooked the number one offender. While "self-abuse" as it used to be called, is practised almost universally, it is also done with almost universal shame.

It is like the story of The Emperor's New Clothes. We all implicitly support the lie that no respectable person would touch themselves "down there" when what we really need is for an innocent child to speak the truth and say, "Hey look! The emperor is playing with himself!"

Many people have found it liberating to be able to speak freely about their fantasies, about their sexual preferences, and about other practices which were once frowned upon. But how much more liberating it would be if people could overcome the dictates of their biological needs when those dictates interfere with other goals. And that is exactly what masturbation represents. It is the safety valve on the sexual pressure cooker. Masturbation stops us from exploding in unacceptable or inappropriate ways.

I spoke about this situation quite frankly with a fellow minister once, in an effort to get him to realise the positive side of masturbation. He eventually confided to me that in his youth ("Before I became a Christian, of course!") he had gone out on a date with a girl that he greatly respected. He did not want to scare her off by being too forward, so he stopped at a service station and went into the toilet to relieve himself in more ways than one. And, of course, it worked.

Yet this same minister still teaches boys in his congregation that they are guilty of a great sin if they indulge in masturbation. Paedophilia, incest, rape, homosexuality, bestiality... all these practices seem to be tolerated more by a church which refuses to speak the liberating truth about masturbation.

The traditional reason given for condemning masturbation within the Christian church is that Jesus Christ taught that it was just as bad to "look on a woman with lust" as it was to actually commit adultery with her. In other words, the thought was as bad as the action. So a teaching developed that thinking about sex (which obviously occurs during masturbation) is evil, whether you would ever actually indulge in the practice you are thinking about or not.

Some tried nobly to suppress all thoughts of sex, only to discover that they resurfaced, often in more bizarre forms than they had when first pushed underground. In Arab countries where women are covered from head to toe, for example, sexual offences still occur. And the same is true of the most extreme "holiness" cults.

Covering women's bodies will not take away the God-given, biological urge to have sex. Nor is clothing going to stop the war that rages in the minds of people who feel guilty about sex thoughts. Some Amish groups have succeeded in stopping all forms of ejaculation for extended periods of time, only to develop cancer from the rotting semen inside their sex organs.

Others have taken the attitude that, if they are going to fry in hell anyway, they may as well get as much pleasure out of this life as they can before the final judgement.

So a rule aimed at teaching greater morality has led to greater immorality, both from those who have thrown it out as too hard and from those who have tried their hardest to follow it.

The mistake is that people confuse "thinking about sex" with "lust". Lust is actually wanting to do something that you know is wrong. There are plenty of people who lust these days. And it is not limited to matters pertaining to sex.

Let's say, for example, that you like pizza. You don't feel guilty about this do you? But if the only way you can get one is to steal it from your neighbour, then fulfilling your desire could mean doing something that you know is wrong (i.e. stealing). You can desire the pizza all you want, and even (if you like, for the fun of it) fantasise about stealing it; but if the bottom line is that you would not actually do it (because you know it is wrong), then you have not sinned.

But if you would steal it if you could get away with it, and if you held back simply because you were afraid of being caught, then you are spiritually guilty of the act (robbery) whether or not you ever got up enough courage to actually do it. You have "lusted" for the pizza, by wanting it more than you want to do what is right. But the pizza (i.e. the thing you desired) is not wrong in itself.

Applying this to sex, the sin is not in desiring sex (since that is as universal as the desire for food), nor is it in fantasising about sex. The sin is in wanting to actually perform a sexual act that you know is wrong, and then refraining from doing it only out of fear about what people would think of you or what they would do to you if they found out.

There are many ways in which we are bombarded by sexual images and fanstasies within modern society. It is on the streets in advertising around us every day. To completely avoid such things we would have to live like hermits. But being aroused by sexual images and fantasies is not the same as actually wanting to commit a sexual act which is wrong. Sexual arousal is a normal bodily function which difficult to prevent, and likewise the mind seems to involuntarily throw up all kinds of fantasies in order to encourage us to engage in sexual intercourse. But masturbating is the best way to deal with any such arousal or fantasies, and it will help overcome the temptation to indulge in the wrong action in real life.

Masturbation is the universally legitimate way to satisfy your sexual appetite without indulging in something else which may not be legitimate. If there was more masturbation, there would be a lot less incest, fewer rapes, less infidelity in marriage, etc.

Instead of trying to stop people from masturbating, the church should be encouraging them to do so, thus leaving them free to choose (without the overriding pressure of sperm build-up) not to do those things that God has forbidden.

Much of this has relevance to females as well. Many marriages would be happier if wives weren't so riddled with feelings of guilt about their own need for sex.

There is a popular myth that people cannot live without sex, and it suggests that God is unreasonable to expect people to remain faithful in marriage, chaste outside of marriage, and single if the first marriage fails. But people can live without engaging in sex with another person; and to do so does not require some impossible level of discipline.

Living without ejaculation is, however, a different story. And because the church has fostered the myth that people can, through sheer willpower, become asexual, it must take some responsibility for the sexual permissiveness, high incidence of divorce and remarriage, and the backlash against God that has resulted from this lie in today's world.

In conclusion, we should ask ourselves: Was Jesus fully human? If so, did he have wet dreams? (For if you don't masturbate, then sooner or later, the semen will come out through "nocturnal emissions".) And if this happened to Jesus, would he have had thoughts about sex at the moment of ejaculation? The obvious answer is Yes. For ejaculation itself is sex. And if Jesus was without sin, then thoughts about sex (and ejaculations outside of marriage) must not be any more sinful than eating or going to the toilet. It is only cultural brainwashing that has taught us otherwise.

As a sexually frustrated, religiously uptight youth I used to look forward to wet dreams, because it was the one time when I was free to indulge in activities and thoughts which were forbidden to me in the daytime. And yet even these were marred by the fear that the dream might not be just a dream. How much better to consciously choose to fantasise (and masturbate) while awake. For me, this became a guilt-free option only when I discovered that there was absolutely nothing forbidding it in scripture.

One of the cleverest ways the church has ever found to control the masses has been to make masturbation a sin. The consequence has been that the most dishonest (i.e. the ones who try to give the impression that they don't masturbate) are looked on as being the most holy, while more honest believers are made to feel guilty and in need of absolution from the hypocrites.

Anyone interested in a genuine revival of sexual morality and sincere faith should consider the possibility that the first step in that direction might be to enlighten the masses to their right (and perhaps even their responsibility) to masturbate.

At the same time, those who suffer from guilt because of the secular myth that real men don't wank need to stand up to that lie as well. The result will be a happier, healthier society.

(See also Honesty.)

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