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August 25, 2005

Comments

djw

Hm. The notion that masturbation in 2005 will rob a future spouse of some portion of one's sexual energy many years later demonstrates a rather breathtaking lack of understanding of human sexuality.

Hugo

But it's an old one, too. Nineteenth century reformers (ala Sylvester Graham) worried about "spermatic conservation"; they were convinced that one had only a limited supply of semen (which was the source of masculine energy), and once it had all been wasted in masturbation, one would have an insufficient supply left for procreation and other manly activities.

Of course, the same sort of reformers endorsed clitoridectomies, so I suppose the boys had it comparatively easy!

Amba

I don't want to get too graphic, but speaking as a woman, getting to know one's own body and what it takes to reach orgasm (something that's often not as easy for women as for men), is one of the best gifts one can offer a future partner.

NYMOM

"I think it's quite possible to teach young men and women that their bodies are their own, gifts from God to be used to honor God; by the same token, their bodies do not belong to the culture, their families, or their peers."

NYMOM said: But I do think you owe something to your community as well. I'm just not sure what. I don't think you have the right to be promiscuous and have unplanned and uncared for children NOR do I think you have the right to spread sexually transmitted diseases.

Sorry, but you do owe your community the certainity that you will exercise a certain level of control over your own body; as they are the ones designated to pick up the pieces of the lives you shatter along the way.

Even Dan Savage acknowledged that with his idea that people who carelessly have sex and pass a disease they knew they had to someone else should be forced to pay for the medical coverage of the person they got sick. Similar to child support now. AND could be even more, as medical coverage is NOT cheap.

People MUST be responsible with their own bodies as it impacts their community.


"But it's an old one, too. Nineteenth century reformers (ala Sylvester Graham) worried about "spermatic conservation"; they were convinced that one had only a limited supply of semen (which was the source of masculine energy), and once it had all been wasted in masturbation, one would have an insufficient supply left for procreation and other manly activities."

NYMOM said: NOW we're getting into damaging stories and lies.

I guess you just can't give some people an inch but that they take a mile. Whoever wrote this stuff went from saving yourself for one special person, which could have been translated into a few 'special relationships' over a lifetime, to not even being allowed to masterbate.

Sigh.

It's just getting a little too silly now.


Hugo

Amba, I hear you. An important point.

NYMOM, saying that our bodies are ours is not an endorsement of recklessness; it is rather an invitation to both responsibility and delight.

Bonnie

Hi Hugo, thanks for linking. Just can't agree on the "Oh God" = orgasm on one's own celebrates God, but that's OK. If you read my post carefully, you will note that I did not suggest that one not enjoy one's own sexuality, but that the proper means to that is everything. The proper means is ultimately more meaningful than the end; indeed, it is the end. It's in the losing oneself to the other that one gains, in a much more profound way than via masturbation.

Djw, note that I said that autoerotism/masturbation robs a spouse of a portion of one's sexuality, not sexual energy.

I addressed Amba's concern in my post as well. (Though my post is not personal, I have realized that of which I speak, and I speak as a married woman.)

Vile Skeptic Ilk

Okay... I'm having a very hard time taking this seriously. WHen you are stroking yourself, you are honoring the omnipotent being who, among other things, set all the laws of physics into motion, codifiied the universal constants, and hung every one of the billions of galaxies in the tapestry of the universe? You honestly believe that such a being (whatever name you give It) would be so deeply and personally concerned over the... ahem... Honor of your masturbatory habits, or for that matter, lack thereof?

Do you really think that God, what with all the other infinite things God could be doing, appreciates the honor of your jerking off? Are you kidding?

Really, I am not being the least be facetious here, but given the incomprehensible enormity of the universe, don't you think it's maybe just a teesy bit... I don't know... conceited to think that your masturbatory habits are THAT important as to be a Divine Honor?

I'm not saying that sexual pleasure is bad or good - I think that's a matter of circumstance and personal morality. But, if you want to masturbate, which seems like a perfectly natural inclination, do you need divine validation for it? Is it really so shameful as that?

djw

I'm almost afraid to ask what the technical differences are between "sexual energy" and "sexuality" relevant to the context of acts of masturbation permanently removing a small part of the latter, but not the former.

mythago

Autoerotism also cheats one’s spouse (current or future) out of a portion of one’s sexuality.

If I have a bowl of ice cream all to myself when I'm out with friends, is that bad because I'm cheating my husband out of a portion of my dessert? Am I cheating him out of a portion of our life together by spending time with friends without him?

I'm honestly not trying to be snarky--I just don't get it. Yes, it's possible to use masturbation as a way of denying one's spouse sexually, or to be selfish or cruel. That doesn't make it inherently selfish or 'cheating'.

Hugo

DJW, I think Bonnie may be thinking of sexual energy in physical terms, while thinking of sexuality in spiritual terms. With the latter, I think she may view it as being like a single apple pie; if one takes a slice for oneself, one has less to share with one's partner.

Thomas

Hugo, I'm no theologian, but I am at a loss to understand how one arrives at a position of opposition to masturbation that does not travel through either (1) a general squeamishness about sex and sexuality; or (2) an asceticism about the body that few would embrace.

If one believed, for example, that using the body for any purpose other than God's work were to "fall short of the mark" (borrowing your term), then masturbation would be out, but so would individual sports under most circumstances, or for that matter, hot showers.

If one believes that we share in the ownership of our bodies, and that our own pleasure is an acceptable goal where it does not interfere with divine purpose, then masturbation ought only to be a problem under specific circumstances: when it encourages one to other sexual conduct that is sinful; or when it detracts from a committed relationship. One could add that it might drain energy better spent on God's purpose, but that argument proves too much and requires abstention from video games and immersion in a monastic existence.

I look at Christian theology as an outsider. If I'm missing something, tell me.

Thomas

Having read Bonny's remarks in full, I understand how she reaches her conclusion. The notion that every last ounce of sexuality, from birth to death, must be other-directed by divine command is one that some folks might pay lip service to, and that only a handful of complete ascetics could achieve. But hey, if her faith tells her that's what she needs to do, I wish her the best of luck.

Bonnie

It's late & I'm fried, but I will try to respond.

In my post, I really wasn't considering sexual energy (in any form) specifically at all, but it would fit under the umbrella of sexuality as a whole, and I thank you for bringing it up. By "sexuality" I mean everything in one's being related to sex. Broad picture? Yeah, but it truly is what I mean.

Thomas, thanks for reading my post. May I say that it's not about asceticism at all, but about denial of a deceptive stand-in in favor of the real thing. It's about self-discipline, not self-denial.

I wouldn't say that we share in ownership of our own bodies, but that we are stewards of them. We are given responsibility for stewardship of them and for decisions made regarding them.

Hugo, I appreciate very much that you've taken my thoughts seriously and made effort to truly understand what I'm saying. I'd like to comment further, but for now: your apple-pie analogy isn't bad :-). But there's even more to it than that (the quantitative): it's the whole intimacy thing. It's sharing the existence of the totality of one's sexuality. Nothing is kept from the other. It's the process, the adventure, the mutual learning, even the times when things stink. Nothing is sexier than true intimacy.

(It's impossible to cover these things thoroughly in a comments box but hopefully I'm conveying the gist.)

Peace,
Bonnie

Antigone

I guess that the only problem I have with the apple pie theory is that my sexuality is not finite. That's like saying my love is finite...if I had a child, and loved him/her more than anything it the world, but then had a second child, would the second child be taking love away from the first or would my love grow to accomodate them both?

Same thing with sexuality...my pleasure of understanding my body enhances sex when I'm with someone else, not detracts from it.

mythago

Yes, and I am also not following the argument that intimacy precludes privacy, or any self-directed sexuality.

I again don't mean this in a nasty way, but I get the sense that Bonnie is an extrover.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

I wonder whether extroversion does affect, if not our sexual morals themselves, how it's natural for us to cast them. I've sometimes thought that my gut aversion to casual sex with other people (which is basically, ick, why would anyone want to do this) is part of a broader dislike, as an introvert, for too much contact with casual acquaintances. A more sexually extroverted person might still believe that some standard should be met before having sex, but that belief wouldn't be accompanied by the same degree of gut level aversion to actually sleeping with someone you don't trust that well yet. On the flip side, I don't feel any aversion to masturbation, and certainly find it subjectively a whole lot preferable to sex with someone I don't know and trust. Not that our morality depends on our temperament, of course, but what comes easily to us does.

Now, I actually do think my sexuality is finite, just not fixed in quantity, if that makes sense. There's only so much sex I'll ever be up for, but time and circumstances can still affect that, within limits.

Bonnie

Mythago, to respond to your comments: the apple-pie analogy (as well as my view of masturbation as outlined in my post) must be understood within a context of one's sexuality belonging to one's spouse. (Note that this is reciprocal; as the wife's sexuality belongs to the husband, the husband's also belongs to the wife.)

Issues of privacy are rooted in the concept of belonging. They have to do with to whom things belong and with whom an owner chooses to share his/her things.

In your scenarios, your dish of ice cream does not belong to your husband, not does your time with your friends (unless you are spending too much time with them to the neglect of your husband.)

Hope that makes sense.

Oh, and FWIW, I'm an introvert :-)

Antigone

Okay, so here's where we must part company. My body DOES belong to me. It does not belong to any theoritcal husband, it does not belong to any theoritical children, it is mine to do with as I wish. And masturbation is healthy; it's a cheap, effective way to get rid of stress. It requires next to no money, just a little privacy and a little time. So arguably, it's one of the most wide-spread stress-relievers. It doesn't hurt anyone, it helps blood-flow, and one has a greater understanding and appreciation of how their body works.

So, no. It's mine, I'm keeping it. NO marital rape for me.

sophonisba

Bonnie - Suppose my hypothetical husband's sexuality really does belong to me. Why shouldn't I let him masturbate? Why should it bother me?

If I'm not aroused and not interested in becoming aroused at a particular time - and this happens to most people of both sexes once in a while, however rarely - trying to seduce me, asking that his desires be expressed on my reluctant body, would be selfish. Masturbation would be the generous, thoughtful choice. Of course, I could ask my husband to wait a day or two in sexual frustration until I felt more like sex, and because his sexuality belongs to me, he would have to obey. But why would I want to do that? What would I get out of it, except a petty excercise of power?

Keri

Antigone makes an interesting point-- doesn't the idea that one's sexuality belongs entirely to one's spouse put the concept of marital rape on rather shaky ground? The language of "ownership" creates a difficult situation-- if we do not own our sexual energy, how can we stay in control of when, where and how the person who supposedly does own it chooses to use it? Are we obligated to offer sex whenever our partners want it-- is it just as immoral and "selfish" as masturbation to refuse (since, after all, we are denying them something that is rightfully 100% theirs)?

If you believe that people have a moral obligation to share their sexuality with only one long-term monogamous partner in their lifetimes, fine-- I strongly disagree that it's the right path for everyone, but we're all entitled to our opinions. I think it's quite possible to express that sentiment without getting into all the sketchy stuff about sexuality being a "thing" that "belongs" to an "owner," however. Since it is nearly impossible to separate the intangible "sexuality" from the physical acts that express it, that's akin to saying that a woman's body belongs to her husband (I acknowledge the "vice versa," but I don't think it makes up for anything). That doesn't sound romantic or spiritually affirming to me-- it sounds like slavery.

mythago

Mythago, to respond to your comments: the apple-pie analogy (as well as my view of masturbation as outlined in my post) must be understood within a context of one's sexuality belonging to one's spouse.

As somebody said above, the problem with the apple-pie analogy is that the pie is finite. It doesn't grow back. If I eat a piece of pie, there's that much less pie forever. Yet you don't apply the same logic to time with my friends. I have finite time, right? And while "time with my friends" does not belong to my husband, my attention and presence are an important part of our marriage. If I am spending time with friends, that is time I am not spending with my husband.

I don't see how masturbation is more like eating a finite piece of pie than spending finite time with friends. For the apple-pie analogy to work, I would only be able to have so much sexual activity in my life--ever--and if I masturbate, some of that potential sexual activity is gone forever, as if I'd eaten a piece of pie. (Yet we don't treat time with friends that way; surely if I spend an hour with a friend, that hour is gone forever, but nobody chides me for taking an hour forever away from my marriage.)

Bonnie

Mythago, up above I qualified the apple-pie analogy in my comment to Hugo -- I stated that sexuality cannot be understood merely in a quantitative sense.

Sophonisba, if the point of sexuality is that it's not for the self, then that's where communication, love, respect, compassion, etc. enter in, on both sides, in the same way they do for any event that people share. People's needs and wants are not always going to line up together, therefore loving concession is made on each side, and the concessions may differ at different times.

I would give a similar answer to Keri. I don't view sexuality as a mere "thing," nor see it as a commodity to be kept or shared. I don't know exactly how to describe it except to say that I think it *is* an intangible that is shared/expressed in a tangible way, and meant for relationship. I do believe that a woman's body belongs to her husband, and vice-versa, but in a generous way, not a slave-objective way. If one waits to get married (& have sex) until one finds a person with whom one can have a generous, committed relationship, then the context is set for a mutually-respectful and giving sexual relationship.

(Note that I don't claim to have "all the answers," but I offer my understanding of things in answer to questions & for your consideration.)

sophonisba

People's needs and wants are not always going to line up together, therefore loving concession is made on each side, and the concessions may differ at different times.

This sounds nice, but is so vague that it's impossible to tell whether you're agreeing with me or not. I think I would agree with you, with the caveat that I do not consider "allowing" a lover to masturbate to be any kind of concession, or even a favor. I don't believe that love is generally properly expressed by directing the ways in which another person may touch themself (though I do, with difficulty, accept that others may privately agree to express their love in such a fashion.)

if the point of sexuality is that it's not for the self

The problem with this idea of sex not being for the self is this: Suppose my hypothetical husband owns my sexuality, and I his. I certainly couldn't ask him to perform sexually when he didn't wish to, not because it would be a terrible hardship for him to do it, but because I find the idea of sex with an uninterested or unaroused person completely unerotic - I don't want the kind of sex where each person 'services' the other any more than I want sex with a selfish, ungenerous lover. But if he was interested in said sexual act, he would be performing it for his own pleasure as much as for mine. That is the only kind of sex I'm interested in, but it appears to be the kind of sex you find unacceptable.

(Please bear with me in my attempt to be clear without being explicit.)

I don't think many people would have much of a problem with the sexual ethics you espouse if you had said sex isn't only for the self. Good sex requires concern for your partner's physical pleasure and emotional comfort; everyone I know (few of whom are Christians) accepts that as axiomatic. But truly selfless sex is not good sex; it's barely pleasureable at all for the person who has to politely endure such a 'gift'. So there's the paradox: a husband who won't own his own sexuality and pursue his own pleasure with me may be doing great things for his own self-esteem and storing up treasure in heaven, but he's lying to himself if he thinks it's an act of generosity towards me. And I know for a fact that I am very, very far from unique in this respect.


If one waits to get married (& have sex) until one finds a person with whom one can have a generous, committed relationship, then the context is set for a mutually-respectful and giving sexual relationship.

But of course you must know that most women whose husbands rape them believe they've waited for just that. Sure, most men who are kind and respectful out of bed will behave the same way in it. But not all of them. And you can't tell for sure until you sleep with them, and if you don't sleep with them until you're married - well then. The best gift an abuser can have is a wife who believes she owes him the use of her body.

mythago

I stated that sexuality cannot be understood merely in a quantitative sense

Which is why the apple-pie analogy is not, IMO, a very good one.

I do believe that a woman's body belongs to her husband, and vice-versa, but in a generous way, not a slave-objective way.

How can you own somebody in a "generous" way? If a woman's body belongs to her husband--and not to herself, or at least more so than to herself--that is in an objectifying way, however nicely the ownership is handled. That also has all kinds of unpleasant implications I don't think you intend. (For example, if my husband wants me to get a breast enlargement because he sincerely believes it would make me much more sexually attractive to him, who am I to refuse if my body belongs to him?)

Bonnie

Sophonisba, by "concessions" I wasn't referring to allowing a spouse to masturbate; I was referring to concessions one to the other over matters such as libido and the timing of such.

Yes, love allows others to make their own decisions. That has no bearing on the morality of those decisions.

I didn't say that sex was not for the self at all; I said that one's sexuality exists to build the marital relationship. Good grief, I don't support your definition of selfless sex. To me, the paradox is that in the giving is the ultimate receiving.

But of course you must know that most women whose husbands rape them believe they've waited for just that.

Huh?

Sure, most men who are kind and respectful out of bed will behave the same way in it. But not all of them.

In those cases, I question how well the woman really got to know the man before she married him. I would think that the Hyde factor would show up in more areas than just sexual ones. It is certainly not necessary to have sex with someone to find out whether or not they are sexually selfish; a person’s character is going to be reflected in many areas, and it is highly unlikely that one’s sexuality will be completely incongruent with the rest of one’s character. Besides, there should be enough conversation on the topic before marriage to figure things out.

Mythago, can we agree that the apple-pie analogy works for the quantitative aspects of sexuality but not the other aspects, all aspects being equally important?

Spousal-body-ownership is not about any sort of objectification at all. I am seeing that there are problems with use of the word "ownership;" the implications are those which you are pointing out, but they are not what I intend, or what I think God intends. My belief is that God owns us and gives us responsibility of stewardship over our persons, including our bodies. I think the idea regarding sexuality is that a husband or wife deserves, by nature of his/her spouse-dom, the full sexuality of his/her spouse. A husband or wife is not to withhold his/her sexuality from his/her spouse. Masturbation represents a withholding from the spouse.

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