And now for the sequel post, four years later, that nobody has been clamoring for (lately)!
Four years ago at the start of Lent, I declared I’d be giving up masturbation until Easter Sunday. I’m not sure if that’s how fasting or Lent actually “works” as a self-proclaimed ignorant yet innocent Protestant boy, but I decided to go for it nonetheless. I was having a rough go with masturbation and lust at the time, and I saw the Lenten season as an opportunity to pump the brakes and shift my focus.
Midway through Lent, a few people reached out to me:
“So, how’s that going? Still on the wagon?”
And then right after Easter, quite a few more reached out to me:
“So . . . ?”
I’m not sure the “vulnerability hangover” has ever hit me as strongly with a blog as it did that one. It’s been one thing to confess I’m attracted to men as a sort of “blanket confession” for all the world to see; it’s another to invite people into the specific workings of my sexuality.
Particularly with something as personal and hardly-talked-about as masturbation.
I had intended on following up with my masturbation post after Easter to share my mostly positive gleanings of that 40-day journey (I was “successful,” by the way). But then I felt all the awkwardness and shame about opening up again. I ignored most of those curious messages and inquiries, along with the impulse ever to conclude those thoughts.
And yet here I am, four Lents later, bringing it up again. I already feel woozy from the hangover hitting me again . . .
I’ve sorta felt “due” for a post like this. I haven’t talked about masturbation in a while. We did a podcast on masturbation a couple years ago. Around that time we had something of a community kerfuffle on Discord, debating the morality of masturbation.
Does the Bible even address masturbation? Does masturbation always include lust? Even if masturbation doesn’t include lust, does it remain a selfish sexual act? Is it ever okay to do??
I’m purposely not answering any of those questions in this post. Because, well.
Is it okay to say I (still) don’t know what I believe about masturbation? That I see both the pros and cons of it? A healthy alternative to cope with stress and the body’s natural rhythms? But also a sneaky if not sinister thing to be mindful of?
Maybe there are indeed more cons, more reasons to be against it than for it. I certainly see those arguments and wrote about them four years ago, including my unhealthy tendency with masturbation to retreat into fantasy worlds (lust-driven or not).
I’ll echo here what I said in that blog, sort of the crux of my ongoing angst with masturbation:
I hate being reliant on things more than Jesus. Seeking and valuing and idolizing things more than him. Dependence on anything other than Jesus . . . is the worst.
Similar to where I was four years ago during Lent, I’ve found myself dependent not just on masturbation but a slew of things other than Jesus: namely, a ravenous need for masculine inclusion, masculine approval. My inner fantasy world is great for finding that (i.e., not great). I also find myself clicking and clicking online, or trying out men’s groups like buffets only to feel the disconnect, the lack.
All these scourings for masculinity like stealing away that midnight snack, feeling gross for it in bed — and I’m still hungry.
We’re already halfway through Lent this year, and no, I’ve not been giving up masturbation for six weeks. I’m not fasting from anything this year. I thought about it. Maybe coffee or Instagram? Something that would hurt a little, at least.
Alas. Can I be honest? I just don’t feel strong enough right now.
Previous versions of myself have honestly loved fasting, treasured those hunger pangs and the constant returning of thoughts to healthier, holier places. To Jesus. But I can’t remember the last time I fasted from anything for any stretch of time.
40 days? I’d feel like such a failure giving up after hardly 40 hours.
But maybe that’s precisely the point? I appreciate my brother Joseph’s recent Lent post. How it’s okay to fail, and how this sacred season calls us to humility. To better recognize our fallenness and our veritable need for a Savior.
Failing a fast or failing anything hits me in my soul’s crosshairs, because I struggle mightily with all-or-nothing mindsets. If I’m not 95% sure I can succeed at something, if I don’t go all the way across the finish line, what even is the point in starting that journey? Why train for a race or competition not to finish it?
Beyond fasting, I also face all-or-nothing hangups in my relationships with other men. If it’s not guaranteed we’ll be BFFFLs (best friends forever for life), why bother sending that text or getting to know them? Why the small talk, why the extra exerted mental energy? Why do the work of relationship-building if our blueprint isn’t for a mansion?
When it comes to matters of lust, I’ve been there again and again, as I’m sure many of you reading have as well: if I feel the constant itch and I’m just going to give in anyway, why not cut to the chase and get it over with? If I can’t go one day or one night or one flipping hour without giving up my sin or idolatry or morning cup of coffee, why even try?
Even as I say that though, I know God still calls us to try. Calls us to follow him. I know there’s grace for those failures, always grace with our God, even when I feel I’ve used up all his reserves on me.
A righteous man gets up one more time than he falls (Proverbs 24:16), and I long for my life to be seen through this lens of integrity. That no matter how many times I masturbated or lusted or some combination of both, no matter how many times I took my eyes away from Jesus, I never stopped picking up my cross as he did his.
It doesn’t feel good enough, if I’m honest. I want my walk with Jesus to look and feel and sound a lot sexier than it does right now, like it’s felt in the past. But there I go all-or-nothing’ing again.
If you find yourself in a season of repetition and failure right now, I feel you. I see you. As does Jesus all the more.
Just remember, whether we agree with it or not, there’s grace. Amples of grace on this journey.
Do you also struggle with all-or-nothing mindsets, regardless the issue? Is it difficult for you to accept grace or perhaps show grace?
Sua sinceridade é comovente, Tom! Gostaria de oferecer-lhe alguma dica ou conselho, mas… Apenas me limito a compartilhar algo descrito por Teresa de Lisieux que, ante sua provação de fé naquilo que a mística católica chama de ‘noite escura’, contentava-se por crer que o Sol brilhava acima das densas nuvens que o pareciam encobrir. Abraço, irmão!
Thank you for this lovely comment in another language! It felt like a scavenger hunt translating it, and it made me smile to read. Much love, brother.
Tom, although I try to express my feelings/thoughts in English, I came to the conclusion that I can’t express them clearly, so I did it in my native Portuguese.Thanks for your attention. God bless you!
Wow, Tom. WOW. First I have to say that I am beyond grateful for this post and that I am proud to be in the company of the man who wrote it. Clearly, it takes a man with an incredible amount of humility and balls to share like you have, no only as a person and a man, but as a Christian community leader.
Next, thank you for your naked transparency about dealing with masturbation and lust as something current and not in the past. It allows me to breathe a sigh of relief, not as a kind of license to do anything I don’t believe is right for me, but rather in that it reminds me that I am not “other” or alien in my own lifelong struggle around this issue, and that wrestling with it is not a disqualification from being a leader.
I continue to deal with masturbation, fantasy, and lust as real day-to-day challenges in my life. There’s a lot of shame around it all for me, although some of what seemed intractable about it has been extricated and lifted in recent years. I join you in recognizing there is absolutely no explicit statement about masturbation in Scripture, and have learned from experience that it can be enjoyed separate from lust, focusing instead on the simple physical pleasure and nurture of the activity.
At the same time, I have come to learn that, while I genuinely believe others can, I personally cannot seem to enjoy masturbation apart from lust without it eventually sliding into masturbation with lust and fantasy. God knows I’ve tried countless times, but somehow, a few episodes without inevitably leads to the with. And I do find that the masturbation with lust/fantasy leaves me incredibly foggy, in many ways because of the adulterous factor of my fantasy since I am married. Also, I find that masturbation inevitably reduces my drive to pursue my wife sexually, which is already in short supply as it is.
Finally, I completely relate to the aspect of it that, whether there is a sinful component wrapped up in it or not, my excess with masturbation draws me away from loving Jesus more.
Thank you again, Tom. You are an inspiration and a man of great courage. I respect the heck out of you.
Thanks, Drew. I know I’ve been greatly encouraged by people admitting present struggles and not just the once difficult things they’ve now found “victory” in. Hoping always to be honest about those struggles along this journey. Thanks for boldly sharing some of your own present struggles. Lifting you up today!
Thank you for sharing this with us. Masturbation is a topic so many of us (SSA and men in the Church) deal with the struggle but rarely talk about it because we deal with guilt and shame; whether it’s because of culture or spiritual beliefs. Both of those can be so powerful. I don’t think non-believers have these issues. Teens and twenty-somethings think it’s funny and joke about it with each other.
Just this past Wednesday night on the way from Bible study, the guy driving me home, 24, shared with me his struggle with porn and masturbation. I could see on his face and hear in his voice how much it pains him to admit it. I assured him that the conversation would say between us. He appreciated and continued talking about it. I’ve always thought it was that the topic wasn’t talked about more. I know how much pain not talking about this secret caused me. I shared with the guy on Wednesday how in my 43 years of being a Christian, I wouldn’t take part in communion because I felt so ashamed.
I personally think shame comes from the devil. Conviction is from God. And if this is something one has conviction on, great. If they don’t, like one of my mentees, that’s also fine. God isn’t going to stop loving us.
I know I’ve said it before, but I’m really thankful for you and YOB. Your one reason why my faith has grown.
Aw, you’re so great Michael. Your faith inspires my own, so we’ve got that going for each other. Grateful you can be a safe space for so many, inside our community and out. May we turn from shame more and more along this journey, despite the pull of its orbit.
I have waited for this blog and now that it has come, I feel affirmed in so many ways. I feel seen and loved and for that reason I’ll rise once more.
Indeed you are seen and loved. Grateful to be even a small conduit toward that realization. Be blessed! You got this.
There’s so much I’d like to say, but I’ll limit myself to saying that:
a) you’re struggle has made my struggle more bearable.
b) sin is not inevitable, and we can escape it, by God’s grace.
c) masturbation has no place in the Christ-centered life, and God has true blessings to give us instead of it.
d) God desires the victory of His people.
I love you, Tom, and whoever else may be reading this. It seems trite, but I truly mean it. Whatever you are facing – you are not alone.
Grateful to struggle alongside you and others here! Much love to you, too.
Thanks Tom, for this excellent post. This has been/is one of hardest things to deal with in life since I never had anyone to talk about it without fear of rejection or ridicule. You have helped me today! And…I appreciate you being so open – it means a lot.
Thanks for all your encouragement over the years, WaveDave! Blessings, brother.
Oh Tom. Thank you listening to the Spirit’s leading (even if it’s uncomfortable to be so vulnerable) to write this blog. Even though masturbation was the topic, that’s not what drew me to comment. My soul needed reminded that “a righteous man gets up one more time.” Several years ago I crossed boundaries with my best friend. Our friendship went on for quite a while despite those poor decisions. We’re both married now (to women) and when his wife found out, she ended our friendship. That was just over a year ago. Today my heart has been breaking. Missing my friend with all my heart. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been beat down and am too tired to get up and go another round. Thank you for the reminder that I’ve been called to righteousness. I’ve been called to Jesus. Thank you for reminding me that if I just get up, HE will fight for me.
Aw, Dan, my heart breaks over that story. I know the pain of losing many a friend, but never one quite like that. I hope you find some assurance that others in our community have also had to reckon with similar wounds and losses. Prayers for you today in the getting back up. I know God delights in our angling toward Him. Leaning into that truth myself, day by day right now.
I also struggle with the all-or-nothing mindset. I was told in school by our AIG teacher that it was very common for Honors and AP level students. A constant pressure to always do our best (and hiding or never trying if we can’t be sure we could do so).
On my days where I give in to temptation, that mindset shows up again to tell me “you’ve already failed, so what’s a few more times?”
When it comes to other people, grace and patience overflow. They deserve a second chance because Jesus gave me one. But on the flip side, I’m not the best at giving that same grace to myself. I know myself deeper than what I see on the surface of others so I hold myself to that impossible standard, unable to allow myself to fail without crashing hard.
Somebody once said that celibacy was a “hands-on” job!
Thanks for posting this Tom! I am so deeply grateful for your remarks here! Why this subject is so painful, sensitive and secret for Christian men I don’t know but it seems to be. Condemnation comes from the evil one, and a very wise counselor told me once that evil spirits condemn Christian men for this because they able to engage in this male activity and will thus condemn the Christian man for it. It has to be seen as something that men are naturally predisposed to do without it being wrong as long as the thought life is guarded! That’s where most of us have difficulty. Men were naturally created for sexual release on a regular basis and that’s not sinful. The prostate needs voiding on a regular basis to keep it healthy and avoid prostate cancer at an older age. This all may seem bold to say as a Christian man to other Christian men, but regardless of our temptations in the flesh there is virtually nothing ever in scripture that condemns the act of masturabion. Our thought life is addressed and that’s a tough one especially for the homosexual struggle, but we need one another to cry to and confess to when the thoughts and struggles overwhelm us at times! Christ is our righteousness and He was tempted in all ways as we are! I find that very thought provoking and helpful because no one knows more than He does right where we are in this very sensitive subject! My encouragement and love to all of my brothers here and to you Tom for this beautiful and well written statement you have posted here!
Thanks for this post so much — I am catching it after Lent has past. The other comments have said pretty much everything I would want to say I guess. But just to have another man, another Christian, express these things lightens the burdens for us all. So thanks for that.
I meant to say “evil spirits condemn Christian men for this because they are NOT able to engage in this male activity (masturbation) and will thus condemn the Christian man for it.”