I am reposting an article written by my friend, Timothy Reigle, who is founder of Into the Wilderness, an organization helping men who struggle with pornography. Timothy writes about a topic that many in recovery find confusing – masturbation.
By Timothy Reigle
Hardly a day goes by when I do not receive a message or an email from someone asking something like this, “I have gone X days without watching porn, but I still masturbate regularly. Is that ok?” Unfortunately, there isn’t really a simple yes or no answer to that question. So let’s break it down a bit.
Watching porn and masturbation are two completely separate acts. One involves visual stimulation. The other involves physical stimulation. However, they’re almost always performed in conjunction with one another. The whole point of watching porn is for sexual pleasure, so there is almost always masturbation to provide the sexual release.
Very rarely do men watch porn without masturbating as well. When men say, “I’m addicted to porn”, they’re not simply admitting to sitting in front of a screen watching porn for hours. They’re addicted to watching porn and masturbating. I know of very few men who only enjoyed watching porn and not also masturbating to it.
The same cannot be said of the opposite situation, however. Men very often will masturbate without watching porn, especially in the shower. It’s usually not hard for a man to achieve erection and orgasm without visual aids. Sometimes just touching themselves is enough stimulation to get off. Most often, however, men will go into their mental bank of sexual images or replay sexual encounters in their minds eye to give them the stimulation they need. Fantasizing is another activity men use to masturbate. Basically, they create their own porn with their thoughts.
Therein lies the problem with masturbation. It usually still involves some type of sexual imagery and lust, even if it’s only in your mind. The only difference between masturbating to fantasies and masturbating to porn is that there is no physical image to look at. Besides that, you’re still lusting sexually after a woman.
Lust is sin, whether physical or imagined
There is no difference between watching explicit porn, and undressing a woman with your eyes who you see walking down the street. Secondly, the major issue of porn and sex addiction isn’t porn itself, or even masturbation itself, it’s the result of both: Orgasm.
You watch porn so you can masturbate. You masturbate so you can orgasm. Ejaculating is the purpose of both. Orgasm is when your brain is flooded with dopamine and serotonin. This is what gives you the euphoric feeling when you orgasm. It’s this good feeling that we run to to “escape” the emotions that are driving the addiction. When you are triggered by whatever emotional wound is causing your addiction, you run to porn, masturbation, and orgasm to feel better. It’s the release of this “drug” at orgasm that we actually get addicted to.
In this way, masturbation alone is no better than watching porn. You’re still avoiding the pain in your life, you’re just not using sexual images online to do it. So, no, Masturbation alone is not ok. It’s not a healthy alternative to avoid watching porn because it doesn’t solve the core problem driving you to seek sexual release.
Masturbation can be a step in the right direction
Let me explain.
I often tell the men I coach that it is almost impossible to quit porn cold turkey. Relapses are to be expected. Where masturbation can be used in a good way is to wean yourself off the drug of porn addiction.
While masturbation is certainly not an effective alternative to watching porn, it is marginally better. It’s a step forward. If a man is watching porn and masturbating five times a week and they can reduce that behavior to only masturbating five times a week, that is progress.
Remember, two steps forward, one step back, is still moving forward
While I will not encourage you to masturbate as an alternative to porn, it can be used as a way to gradually “detox” yourself from the addiction. I would much rather see a man gradually go from watching porn and masturbating, to only masturbating, than to see a man go with nothing for a week and then completely relapse time and time again. One is making gradual progress, the other is stuck in a vicious cycle.
Another question that is often asked is, “Is masturbation a sin?” The Bible does not specifically address masturbation like it does other sexual sin like adultery. An often mentioned passage is Genesis 38 where Onan is described as “spilling his semen on the ground.” This story, however, is referring to birth control, not masturbation. Onan was “pulling out.”
Since the vast majority of the time masturbation involves lustful sexual thoughts, I would consider it a sin.
Bottom Line: While masturbation can be effectively used to gradually reduce porn consumption, it is not a healthy alternative to porn or a long-term solution.
However, if you want to truly live porn free, you also need to live maturbation free.
Dr. Eddie’s Note: As you can see, there is much debate on this subject. I fully agree with Timothy that masturbation is not healthy because it requires a man to engage in lustful thoughts. For those who are struggling with a sex or porn addiction allowing themselves to engage in lustful thinking is counterproductive. While I understand Timothy’s position that masturbation is better than watching porn and masturbating, I STRONGLY encourage my clients to abstain for a period of 90 days in order to allow their brains to reboot from the chemical overload it had been enduring for years. As Timothy points out, masturbating to pornographic images you have accumulated in your head is really no different than watching porn. All this being said, nearly all experts in this field, including Timothy and myself, discourage masturbation for those for are in recovery.