Why am I so compelled to masturbate?… Should I feel guilty?… Does it make me perverted or weird? These are the most common questions I’ve heard over the past 20 years of speaking and writing on the topic of healthy sexuality, so I was delighted when Disfunkshion asked me to write this article.
It is indeed one of the most common struggles known to man (and woman!). The old joke is often told about how 98% of the people on the planet admit to having masturbated at some point in their lives and the other 2% are probably lying. For the most part (and yes, there are exceptions to every rule) self-stimulation is a universal phenomenon.
Why? Consider this: When you’ve gone without food for several hours, your tummy gets rumbly. Hunger is nature’s way of telling you, “I need nourishment! Feed me!” When you haven’t had much to drink all day, your mouth soon feels like the Sahara dessert. Thirst is a gift, indicating your body needs hydration. Sleepiness sets in after being awake for a long time. If you ignore fatigue, sleep deprivation creates all sorts of unhealthy chemical changes in your brain and body. Hunger, thirst, and fatigue are all natural, biological drives that help you function properly. But guess what? Your brain doesn’t just crave these three things over and over again. There is a fourth “pleasure center” in the brain that screams, “Satisfy me!” on occasion. Can you guess what that fourth pleasure center represents? (Drum roll, please)… Our sex drive.
If we don’t have a partner to have sex with (and call me old-fashioned, but my hope is that you will not until marriage, for a W-I-D-E variety of mental, emotional, and physical reasons), the drive still beckons. Your libido has no way of knowing if you have a wedding ring on your finger or not. Once you go through puberty and various hormones begin to swirl throughout your body and brain, sexual urges strike—just like hunger, thirst, or fatigue.
If a young woman wasn’t experiencing at least some sort of sexual interest on occasion, I’d actually be concerned. I might suggest a doctor check her pulse. Just like everyone eats, drinks, and sleeps, every person from every country in the world will most likely feel the desire to tend to their secret garden at some point.
Women can feel odd for experiencing this desire, because we’ve assumed that the masturbatory drive is exclusive to the male gender. Bzzzzzt. Wrong! While men may have a stronger drive to tug their taffy because of higher levels of testosterone they naturally produce, women also feel the need to rub the genie’s lamp on occasion. In fact, many children (both boys and girls) discover this delight very early in life as a way of self-soothing or relieving boredom.
So does succumbing to this biological drive in private make you weird or perverted? I believe it simply makes us human. Just like we do not need to feel guilty for being hungry, thirsty, or sleepy, I do not think we need to feel guilty for experiencing this natural biological desire, either.
But of course, some women intuitively wonder, “How can I keep this drive from hurting me or my future marriage?” Just like we must be good stewards of our bodies by considering how much to eat, drink, and sleep, we must also be good stewards of how much time and energy (if any) we invest in self-stimulation. Here are seven guidelines that every girl would benefit from in setting appropriate boundaries for herself:
- If you hold certain spiritual beliefs about the practice of masturbation, do not go against your conscience. Guilt usually surfaces not because of the physical act, but because of the spiritual implications of the act. Find a mature, trustworthy female to discuss your questions about aligning your sexuality with your spirituality so that guilt doesn’t have to be part of the picture.
- If you don’t feel spiritual conviction about the practice, keep in mind that masturbation is a solo act. There should be absolutely no one else involved. Period. Don’t use self-stimulation to entertain a boyfriend, especially not by taking photos or videos that can be shared with others. Many a reputation has been destroyed by such lack of discretion.
- Do not couple masturbation with pornography. Scientific researchers are all over the notion that porn hijacks the brain, twisting our thoughts and shaping our sexuality in ways that are dangerous and relationally destructive. Your brain is perfectly capable of conjuring up sufficient mental fodder to create a climax organically, so leave porn out of the equation altogether.
- Realize that masturbation can also be addictive without some self-restraint and moderation. A good rule of thumb is to deny the urge far more than you indulge it. That way you have the opportunity to exercise mental and emotional muscles that will serve you well as you attempt to resist the pre-marital or extra-marital temptations that will inevitably arise.
- If the urge strikes and you do not want to succumb for whatever reason, sublimation is a great strategy. Take all that energy and channel it into a stress-reducing, productive activity such as reading a good book, journaling, painting, exercising, etc.
- If the practice has become a compulsive habit (translation: you do it far more often than you want or need to because you simply can’t say “no” to the urge), recruit the help of a counselor to learn about disrupting the addictive cycle. Don’t assume that the ability to have sex with your husband someday will be enough to break the addiction. Whatever habits control us prior to marriage will also follow us into marriage.
- Finally, do not let shame rub you of relational intimacy in the future. If you choose to be honest about this part of your private life, chances are your husband will be far more understanding than you realize, simply because he’ll most likely need the same compassion for his own monkey (spanking) business.
If you are particularly troubled about the nature of the thoughts or fantasies that enter your mind during self-stimulation, I encourage you to read The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts (Thomas Nelson, 2012). It will help you understand how sexual fantasies are really just the brain’s way of trying to heal itself from past trauma or relational disillusionment, and teaches you how to control your fantasies rather than letting them to control you.
If you are one of the many women who have struggled with boatloads of guilt, shame, or anxiety about your own sexuality, I hope you’ll consider attending one of my Women at the Well Intensive Workshops, where a small group of 8-10 women invest four days looking at their own lives and understanding the bigger picture of why they’ve felt so tempted to sexually act out (or shut down) in relationships.
Here’s your key take-away: Sexual curiosities and desires are perfectly normal and healthy. The only way to deaden yourself to all sexual thoughts and feelings is to be dead—literally. As long as you’re alive, be grateful for the vibrant way your body is wired, and exercise caution in discerning how best to channel (or control) those sexual energies so they are a blessing to your life, not a burden.
By Shannon Ethridge, M.A.