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Let's Talk About Sex and Shame. Part XI.

Man, it's getting tricky to group these stories together! But here's what I see in today's: both consider questions connected to what is "allowed" in the bedroom and both are quite straight-forward in expressing their perspectives (first post in the series is here):
I grew up evangelical. In my 20's, I experienced the epiphany that masturbation is a sin. Not the worst sin, but still a sin. This did not bring more shame, no, the clarity of this realization was liberating. Sin has been atoned for by Jesus, so you can confess and move on, but if you don't know what is sin, its difficult. But as I said, this was a liberating idea.

It was liberating for a couple reasons. First, even on a secular level, an introspective daydreamer will have to admit that there comes a time to stop daydreaming and start living. That is a liberating realization. Secondly, its not just the awareness of sin that is liberating, but that Jesus, who died and rose again, loves to forgive sinners, and he leads sinners to a better way. Even after I named it a sin, but still gave into temptation, the confession to God and reconciliation was almost immediate, and he flooded my soul with all kinds of reassuring Bible promises. I was sorry for the sin, but I was grateful to my Creator for my relatively good health, for my youth, and I felt happy to ask God for help in taking concrete steps to becoming more marriageable, and I prayed for the well being of every one I was ever attracted to. Before I named masturbation a sin, I was never so optimistic, I was gloomy. I began to mature by leaps and bounds! (I still have a lot to learn, but ya know I'm just sayin', it helped) I began to see Matt.5:27-30 and Col.3:5 with more clarity. 


My parents, my teenage Christian friends and youth pastors never discussed it. Words in the New Testament like "lust," "sensuality," "lasciviousness," etc. do not, by themselves, give precise details, but they say enough to make a pious guy uneasy. Combine that with hormones and glaring silence, and you get confusion. It may not always lead to subjective shame, as in my case, but I think in all cases such a situation hinders maturity and holy living.

I want to emphasize: Jesus has helped me so much. I love him. He gives me hope and peace. Now that I have written this I realize that this particular problem was relatively simple. Other habits and relationships can be much more complicated, and I don't want to trivialize them. I'm sorry if I have. I hope everyone can find a way to trust in Jesus, what ever their problems are. He was shamefully crucified, but he rose again. He can help.

Me: From the sentence about being an "introspective daydreamer" that needed to "stop daydreaming and start living", it sounds as if masturbation was a habit that was also tied to sexual fantasizing for you, possibly in lieu of other ways of actively participating in life; is this your experience?
Wow, I started answering this question but I don't think I want to tell my story, because the words wont stop and will go on and on and on, wearyingly. Instead I will just give you some isolated facts: Yes, masturbation was a deeply ingrained habit that started in my elementary school years, and that, combined with other factors, made me shy, passive, lonely, bored, and ashamed. In my teens I was addicted to really hard-core porn ( I must still be vigilant against that sin). And I didn't dare discuss it, even with people I trusted, till I was about twenty. I have been married for a few years now to an evangelical woman who grew up non-evangelical, who was not a virgin, and we're doing great!

Me: Are you able to articulate why you believe masturbation is a sin? As something not explicitly stated in Scripture, what has brought you to believe it falls in the bounds of sexually forbidden activity for those who follow Christ?
When studying the Bible it is important to ask two questions: "What does this say?" and "What does this NOT say?" This second question is legitimate because we must "not go beyond what is written," as explained in numerous verses in the Bible. But in my pride and stubbornness I can ask this second question to evade responsibility, to justify myself, and to imagine loopholes. Jesus condemned this kind of hair-splitting self-justification in Matt.23:16-22. I came to realize that when the Bible names a general concept it is wrong to automatically conclude that a specific act is excluded because it is not named explicitly. I can't merely ask, "What does in NOT say?" I must ask, "What DOES it say?" So it is with "lust" and its synonyms in the Bible. I think it is impossible or nearly impossible for a single person to masturbate without lust. Maybe there are cases I am unaware of. And I think it's ok for a husband and wife to manually stimulate each other, and it's ok, when personal contact is impossible, for someone to fantasize about their spouse. A singleton who fantasizes about sex within marriage is doing better than a singleton who has other fantasies.

After reading your blog and your emails I admit that there may be some situations I have not considered. And I cannot emphasize enough: Jesus saves, Jesus loves to forgive the repentant and the humble, and to improve our lot in life by loving us and teaching us to love one another. He made abundant atonement for sin!

This second submission made me laugh because it is casual, frank, and not unlike some of the conversations I have had with my closest friends:
This is some of what I want to say about the sex and purity stuff and marriage things:

Orgasms are good. In fact, they make sex nice. Not having orgasms make sex just sometimes okay. Lady orgasms are hard to achieve, so not having one despite both parties trying really hard is disappointing. And don't even get me started about sex after a baby. The point of all this is to say is to those recently marrieds who feel sex is awful, FIND A WAY TO ORGASM. (I've never typed that in all caps before...feels weird). I couldn't feel more strongly about this.

This leads me to my second anecdote. When I was single in my late 20's, a time which happened to coincide with an increased uptick in my desire to have the sex, I was having a conversation with one of my slightly younger single Christian male friends. He was showing me an angry blog he wrote about a Christian couple who were running a sex toy store online, a website selling toys but purposely avoiding porn imagery. He was upset and affronted by the attempt of this couple to improve Christian marriages by introducing sex toys into the bedroom. "How sad", he remarked. I thought, "What does he know about sex? He's not having it. And what the hell does he know about vaginas?!?"
I appreciate and fully believe that celibate people know a lot about sex. What irked me then and really irks me now, is his judgment about what could or could not constitute Christian practice in the bedroom. I don't know if he and wife have revisited his previous sex toy ban, but that is between them and the walls of their home. The whole incident spoke to my frustration about his male voice getting a say in what sort of "Marital Aids" could and could not be used to bring sexual pleasure to married females. Don't shame the vag, dude. Don't shame the vag.

There you have it.We're getting into the nitty-gritty today: masturbation and pornography, and female fulfillment via sex toys/"marital aids."

Rather than asking whether people are for or against each of these, I'm curious about how you responded to these stories.
  • Were you angry about any of the content? Sad? Shocked? 
  • Why do you think you responded with the emotions that first surfaced? 
  • Are these topics you've ever discussed with either a partner or a group of trusted friends? 
Tomorrow: two stories from people outside church/purity culture.

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