Pornography and Masturbation

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8)

Why are Pornography and Masturbation Therapeutic Issues?

Before opening a conversation that addresses how Counseling Services strives to help those who struggle with pornography and masturbation, we want to first address some generalized attitudes and beliefs that we have encountered about pornography, masturbation, and sexuality in general as we have worked with clients.

Some people think that pornography and masturbation are healthy and acceptable avenues of acting on one’s sexuality. Moreover, they believe sexuality in general is ours to do with as we please, when we please; the concept of “stewarding one’s sexuality” is foreign. They believe they have a right to act on their sexual desires and, so long as they do not physically hurt another person, are harmless and private. In fact, many in our culture would argue that suppressing one’s sexual desires is unhealthy and an outdated point of view. This is a perspective with which we are in strong disagreement.

On the other hand, there are those who say nothing about sexuality. These people believe that it is inappropriate to discuss sexuality with others, going so far as to directly or indirectly send the message that having any sexual desires before marriage is abnormal (this is especially true in how girls and women are raised to think about sexuality). Specific sexual attitudes are stereotypically assigned to each gender. In other words, people who think in these terms would say that women avoid or hate sex, and men want sex all the time. Women are like “crock pots” that take a while to “heat up,” while men are “microwaves” that turn on at a moment’s notice. Women are not visually stimulated, while men always are. Women are encouraged, directly or passively, to be available to their husbands or risk their husbands going astray. Men, on the other hand, should expect to marry a good Christian girl who will probably have a minimal or absent sexual appetite. Because people who follow this line of thinking may be reluctant to talk about/address sexuality in general, we can infer that their views are opposed to pornography and masturbation. Unfortunately, this inadvertently creates some troublesome problems; although their strong stance against sexual sin is one with which we would agree, saying little about sexuality in general leaves men and women to figure it out on their own or, worse yet, to be taught by the world around them. The assumption that being raised in a home with a biblical stance on sexuality will equip someone with a clear understanding of how to avoid sexual sin and how to respond in godly ways to sexual thoughts, feelings, and desires has left many believers to suffer in silence as they felt shame too strong to permit them to ask for help. Much more needs to be said than just, “Do this; don’t do that.” However, when conversations about sexuality in Christian settings are boiled down to simplistic instructions, they are not as effective in providing help to those who struggle.

In our experience, views on all sides of this argument, though extreme, are passed around our culture, spreading into the Christian community as well, where they are presented as Truth. Because these issues (and the broader topic of sexuality) attract such strong, opposing views, it can be challenging to cover the topic well and in a manner that is useful to those who may read this. What we strive to do, then, is to present the lines upon which we firmly stand and, as always, outline ways for someone who either personally struggles or has a loved one who struggles with pornography and masturbation find healing and greater intimacy with the God through a strong relationship with Christ. Thus, in helping Christian men and women understand the role of sexuality in a God-honoring life, we think it is important to start by adopting the perspective and behavior that is in line with God’s Word.

What Are the Parameters for Biblically-Defined Sexuality?

Everything about us was made by a sovereign, intentional Creator, which means our sexuality was intentionally created as well. Therefore, we do not take a relativistic view of sexuality; we stand firm on the belief that there are absolute truths that apply to how we handle our sexuality. We use the language “stewarding sexuality” because responding to our sexual thoughts, feelings, and attitudes requires wisdom and guidance from the Spirit. For example, how we spend and save money requires stewardship because money can and often is used in godly, life-giving ways. Just as often, though, it can be and is distorted into something that we covet and eventually make our master. In the same way, sexuality is one of the many gifts given to us by a loving God, but because it can be misused or worshipped, healthy sexuality requires intentional stewardship.

We have outlined some basic biblical principles of stewarding sexuality below:

  • Sex inside of a biblically-defined marriage should always involve respect for both parties.
  • Sexual sin involves more than sexual intercourse with another person. It involves thoughts, speech, or actions that dishonor God, one’s spouse, or deny another person their dignity.
  • Sexual sin inside or outside of marriage is no worse than any other sin.
  • Sex outside of a biblically-defined marriage does not honor God and is sinful.
  • Our sexual thoughts and desires were created by God intentionally and for a purpose.
  • Sexual desires in and of themselves are not sinful.
  • Sex inside a biblically-defined marriage honors God and is a biblically-endorsed way of showing love, affection, care, and respect to one’s spouse.
  • ~ see Gen. 2:24; Heb.13:4; Eph. 5:24-25; Matt. 5:28

Because we believe that these principles are key to stewarding our sexuality, they inform our therapeutic approach to helping anyone struggling with pornography or masturbation. Additionally, we want to communicate clearly that we believe anyone who has these struggles is a person worthy of the same dignity, grace, and compassion as those who struggle with any other sin. We are all sinners in need of a Savior, no matter what our sin issues may be.

We believe that stewarding one’s sexuality is a lifelong process for all believers, single and married alike, and this process is made easier through seeking God through prayer and His Word; inviting healthy accountability from other healthy people of the same gender; engaging in open dialogue with trusted people of the same gender; and, as needed, through counseling. Suffering in shame or isolation is never the path to greater intimacy with the Lord or victory over sin. We realize that this is just a brief overview of pornography and masturbation and is not meant to provide all the answers.

Are Pornography and Masturbation Problems for Both Genders?

As we narrow our focus in on pornography and masturbation, we want to debunk the myth that only men struggle with pornography and masturbation. As mentioned above, one of the lies we have inadvertently bought into is that only men are sexual and only men are tempted to view pornography or act on their sexual feelings through masturbation. That couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, many men have been hurt by the assumption that they are constantly craving sex, and many women are silenced because they fear shock or judgment from others if they share their struggles. Men, too, experience shame as they battle pornography and masturbation, and their fear of judgment may keep them from seeking support or help. Additionally, though pornography and masturbation have not been discussed openly in the past, more and more women are beginning to admit their frequent temptation in these areas. In short, both men and women are struggling to steward their sexuality in our culture, and both are equally invited to receive help in finding victory over these problems.

Why is Viewing Pornography Sinful?

Though some would, again, suggest that viewing pornography is a healthy acting out of one’s sexual appetite, it is sinful. We hold this view because pornographic materials do not honor the Lord or one’s spouse/significant other, and they deprive the people involved of dignity.

Because the Church has historically done a poor job of addressing the fall-out from sexual sin and has felt uncomfortable discussing the topic, many believers are struggling in silence from the damages done by a person viewing pornography. Some repercussions – on the person who viewed it or on their loved ones – include:

  • Shame that prevents intimacy with the Lord
  • Mistrust in relationships
  • Marital separation or divorce
  • Failed relationships
  • Unhealthy sexual relationship with one’s spouse
  • Unhealthy and unrealistic sexual expectations of one’s spouse or oneself
  • Unhealthy view of sex in general
  • A sense of isolation or an obligation to stay silent about the struggle
  • A cycle of remorse, relapse, and addiction

Is Masturbation Sinful?

There are differing views, even among evangelical Christians, on the sinfulness of masturbation. Some would say that this is a safe physical alternative for single Christians who are attempting to avoid the sin of sexual activity outside marriage. Others say it is wrong to engage in any solitary sexual act, even when married. Still others say that masturbation is not sinful, provided it is absent of lust. Finally, others argue that is impossible to engage in masturbation without lusting. We have resources that present all of these views in our Resources links, and we believe it is valuable to present all sides because, again, these conclusions have come after much research and prayer from people on opposing sides of this argument.

We believe that lust is sinful and adhere to the biblical definition of lust as outlined in Matthew 5. Having sexual thoughts about anyone who isn’t your spouse is a sin against God and the other person. Pairing pornography and masturbation is sinful.

If you are someone who is battling this issue or are unsure of whether or not it is sin, we encourage you to seek the Lord through prayer and reading His Word. Talking to a trusted mentor or godly friend can also provide another layer of insight and accountability as you work through this struggle. Finally, if needed, seeing a counselor here or off campus can also be beneficial through this process.

What Can I Do If Know That Someone Struggles with Pornography and/or Masturbation?

Though one’s first instinct in addressing a loved one’s problem with pornography or masturbation would be to confront him or her, we would encourage you to start by taking this matter before the Lord. By turning to Him in prayer and asking for wisdom and strength to deal with this knowledge, we believe that conversations covered in prayer will have a greater likelihood of being God and person honoring.

Additionally, before approaching your loved one, it is crucial to understand that your loved one’s problem with pornography or masturbation is not the result of your personal failure. In considering the presence of these problems in a couple’s relationship, it is a lie to believe that your loved one has turned to pornography or masturbation because of failings in your attractiveness, availability, or (in the case of marriage) performance. Though there may be aspects of a married couple’s sexual relationship that may need to be evaluated and openly discussed together, no one is responsible for another person’s sexual sin. In friendships, though these factors may not apply, the same truth still stands that we are each responsible for our own choices.

When you do approach your loved one, we encourage you to use the grace and patience you would use to address any other sin with this person.

  • Address him or her with facts about concerning behavior, not suspicions.
  • Use the “I statement” formula to share how this impacts you:
    • I feel (feeling) when you (behavior) because ¬(reasons for the feeling).
  • Ask why he or she is struggling with pornography or masturbation.
    • DO: I want to help you if I can. Can you tell me how/when/why this started?
    • DON’T: How could you look at/do that stuff? It’s disgusting.
  • Avoid the temptation to press for details that would bring more harm than help.
  • Encourage him or her to find an accountability partner of the same gender; you should never be the accountability partner for your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • Depending on the longevity and/or frequency of the problem, suggest he or she make an appointment with Counseling Services or another mental health professional to begin the healing process.
  • Offer a listening ear that is free of judgment.
  • Avoid dismissing their concerns, even if it is not something you have struggled with or do not view as sin.
  • Avoid shock and isolating language, i.e.
    • I’ve never struggled with that, so I don’t know what to tell you.
    • Girls struggle with that?!

How Can Counseling Help?

In Counseling Services, we are committed to helping a student of either gender who may struggle with viewing pornography. We understand that this is a sensitive issue that can often carry shame with it, one that most are reluctant to talk about openly or to seek help in addressing. We encourage those students who need support in breaking this pattern to meet with one of our counselors to begin the first steps of finding healing. Because we offer confidential counseling, we hope you will find peace in the knowledge that we discuss struggles with pornography with compassion, and your concerns are kept in the strictest confidence.

Resources

Helpful Books for Women

Intimate Issues: Conversations Woman to Woman by Linda Dillow & Lorraine Pinus (1999)

Written from the perspective of two Christian wives and Bible teachers and based on a survey of over one thousand women, this book answers the twenty-one questions about sex most frequently asked by Christian wives. Through teaching, testimonials, scriptural insights, and experts' advice, the authors of this book attempt to examine the teachings of Scripture, expose the lies of the world, and offer real hope for Christian marriages.

Secrets of Eve: Understanding the Mystery of Female Sexuality by Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., Catherine Hart Weber, Ph.D, Debra L. Taylor, MA. (1998)

Based on a survey of over two thousand women, this book tells the stories of women from all walks of life. With honest and genuine discussion, the authors help you discover answers to how committed Christian women feel about their own sexuality and how they express it. This book offers a full comprehension of female sexuality that will help bridge the gap between the sexes and strengthen our resolve to celebrate God's design for our sexuality. Whether a single woman, a married woman, or even a man, this book can be helpful in accurately understanding how women think and feel about their sexuality.

Create in Me a Pure Heart: Answers for Struggling Women by Steve and Kathy Gallagher (2007)

Co-authored by Steve Gallagher and his wife, Kathy, this book offers wisdom, sensitive counsel and truth. It connects with struggling women, affirming that there is freedom and hope from the shame of sexual sin and a path to purity. Each chapter is filled with biblical truth and guidance in helping women overcome sexual sin. Steve Gallagher’s best-selling book, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry, has also helped thousands of men overcome sexual sin. Create in Me a Pure Heart extends this liberating legacy to struggling women.

No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Addiction by Marnie C. Ferree (2010)

Written by a woman who personally struggled with sexual addiction, this book’s target audience are women who have struggles with their sexuality as well. Now a licensed Christian counselor, Ferree takes a biblical and clinical approach to addressing the problem of sexual addiction. She also includes information that will be helpful to the loved ones of a woman battling sexual addiction in offering support, encouragement, and accountability.

Helpful Books for Men

Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World by Joshua Harris (2005)

In a generation bombarded with sexual images, Joshua Harris calls believers back to the joys of holiness. He offers practical advice for developing a personal plan for victory while being straightforward and honest to those who are flirting with temptation or are entrenched in its addictive nature.

At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry by Steve Gallagher (2000)

Written by the founder of Pure Life Ministries, this book is aimed to help men in the grip of sexual sin. This books both challenges and encourages men to break the chains of sexual sin. It also offers readers practical ways to break the cycle of sexual sin and surrender their lives more fully to the Lord.

The Purity Principle: God’s Safeguards for Life’s Dangerous Trails by Randy Alcorn (2003)

Although only 93 pages in length, this book is meaty with scripture and great insight into the problems that sexual impurity causes, as well as the blessed benefits that come with purity. Alcorn exhorts those who are looking to implement and maintain the virtue of purity in their lives and offers solid guidance in how we can practice purity.

Wired for Intimacy – How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William M. Struthers (2009)

Struthers reveals how pornography powerfully hijacks the male brain, changing how it works, how they form memories, and how they make attachments. It can shape their views or assumptions about the value of women, their identity, the nature of relationships, and their sexuality. With helpful insights for both married and single men, Struthers exposes false assumptions and casts a vision for a redeemed masculinity.

Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free by Tim Chester (2010)

Tim Chester challenges believers to move beyond pat answers and will power to find that God offers more than pornography does. He offers spiritual, practical and corporate resources for living porn free. The reader is led to find that God’s grace is greater and that they can come to the point where they no longer feel the need to view pornography.

Helpful Books for Either Gender

False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction by Dr. Harry W. Shaumburg (1997)

Dr. Schaumburg uses honest dialogue to address the problems of sexual addiction and related behaviors in both genders. This resource also extends help to those who are married to or are dating people who struggle with stewarding their sexuality. He uses a biblical approach to understand the roots of sexual addiction, and his extensive expertise in offering therapeutic treatment to those who battle these problems makes him a respected author on this subject.

I Surrender All: Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography by Clay & Renee Crosse (2005)

This book, coauthored by a contemporary Christian singer and his wife, is designed to help couples who are dealing with the fallout of sexual addiction. Though it was Clay in this relationship who engaged in sexual sin, this book could be helpful to a couple regardless of which spouse was struggling with pornography and/or other sinful sexual choices. Because both Clay and Renee write honestly about the impact of sexual sin on themselves and on their marriage, this resource is especially helpful in presenting a safe, respectful way for each member of the relationship to understand how his and her choices and attitudes negatively impact the other.

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas (Zondervan, 2000)

Want to read a book that will enhance and bless your marriage relationship? This book asks the question “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” A better marriage begins with an improved relationship with our Lord. As we focus on allowing God to refine our character, He changes the contours of our marriage relationship.

Websites and Articles

Setting Captives Free - "The Way of Purity" Bible Study Course

Setting Captives Free exists to offer Christ-centered hope and freedom to those in the grip of sin through accountability to Bible-based truth resulting in the true enjoyment of life in and for the glory of God. This is a 60-day Bible study. Highly recommended, especially for men who have a long-term addiction to pornography or other sexual sin.

Pure Life Ministries

“Pure Life Ministries exists to serve Christian individuals and organizations dealing with sexual sin throughout the world by providing biblically based counseling, teaching resources, and a public speaking ministry with the goal of leading Christians to victory over sexual sin through a deeper life in God.” – taken from Pure Life Ministries’ website

ConvenentEyes

This website offers an accountability program that allows you and an accountability partner to see each other’s internet histories.

K9 Web Protection

This is another website that offers free filters to block any words, images, or web searches that may lead someone toward sexual sin. It offers password protection so that changes to those settings can only be made by someone with the password. This allows someone to establish the settings and have a friend or accountability partner set the password.

Internet Safety - safeeyes

This is another Internet filtering and reporting program. It also offers service to Smartphones and other devices like the iPad.

Faithful & True Ministries

Dr. Mark Laaser offers this resource to men and their wives with the purpose of helping them break the patterns associated with pornography, sexual temptation, and sexual addiction.

Stone Gate Resources

Established by Dr. Harry Schaumberg, author of False Intimacy, the mission of Stone Gate Resources is to point people away from sexual sin to restored intimacy with God and others. Through their Biblical Intensive Counseling Workshops, the purpose of this ministry is to help individuals and couples reach greater faithfulness “through spiritual, relational, and sexual morality.”

Videos

A Drug Called Pornography

This video shows the addictive nature of viewing pornography and the possible results of the addiction. For more information about this video or to order a copy, email Jonathan Schneider at jon@usedvideo.org.