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Sex For Pleasure
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Is Masturbation And Premarital Sex A Sin?

By James Donahue

Most people in the Christian world believe masturbation is a sinful act and should be avoided at all cost. Yet we would wager that very few, if any young and single men and women succeed in abstaining from finding some way of enjoying the pure pleasure of ejaculation.

This is because sex is not only a natural but important part of our lives, but young boys and girls, from the time they reach puberty, find themselves naturally drawn to each other. With hormones racing through their young bodies, the sex act is predominately on their minds.

The teachings of the church, also reflected in the established mores of our society, sadly make everything that is sexually natural for adolescent boys and girls a sinful act, but it uses trickery and fear to frighten them into abstinence . . . if abstinence is to be achieved.

I distinctly remember when I was in the Fifth Grade that all the boys and girls in our class were singled out and lead off into separate rooms where we were shown films and given stern lectures about all the pitfalls linked to masturbation and premarital sex. While it was true that impregnating girls of that age was not a wise thing for us to be doing (not that many of us had even thought of it at that age) the warnings against "whacking off" in the bathroom were especially frightening.

We were given that worn-out old Bible quote where God allegedly warns against spewing our seed on the ground. We also were warned that masturbation is habit forming and known to wreck lives, and I think there were other warnings about health concerns linked to too much jerking.

So at just about the age when we were discovering the joys of masturbation, we were bombarded with films and warnings from the adult world designed to scare us into keeping those zippers zipped and our hands safely in our pockets whenever the urge for sexual pleasure began to overwhelm us. I remember sitting through class, beside or directly behind some attractive young girls enduring an erection so hard I was afraid to stand up and walk out of the room when the class ended.

The social norms of our capitalistic society has strangely placed sex far behind our primary goal….with is to train for a vocation so we could make money and afford to support a wife. After that, it was all right for us to date girls and think of marriage. But marriage was required before we experienced sex. And this sometimes means at least 10 to 20 years of virtual hell dealing with sexual abstinence before allowing ourselves to plunge into the bliss of sexual union.

There seemed to be something very wrong with this picture. Looking back on it, it is now easy to understand what was happening.

Sex after puberty was always supposed to be a natural act. There was a time when the human life span was no more than 30 to 40 years. That means that if the species was to survive, women had to begin having babies very early in life. Waiting until the parents finished high school and college did not give enough time to produce and raise children.

At the time of the Roman Empire, girls married at age 12. Some of the girls in the early American colonies were married at age 9. The general rule by law in most countries today is that marriage is allowed at age 18 and younger with parental consent. The age of marriage, however, has been slipping to higher and higher levels. In some cases, couples are now simply living together without going through the process of formally getting married.

So where did we get the story that masturbation was a sinful act?

That quote taken out of context comes from verse in Genesis 38:9. The verse tells how God punished Onan for spilling his semen instead of impregnating his brother’s wife and failing to continue the tribe. What the verse was saying was that Onan objected to God’s command to sleep with his deceased brother’s wife, which was the old Hebrew custom when the men went off to war and were killed in batte. The verse had nothing to do with masturbation.

Then there is that warning by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount: "But I say unto you, that whosever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."

Obviously Jesus was not thinking of young boys masturbating to pictures of nude women in contemporary pornographic magazines and films. With the pornography trade operating at full speed these days, we have to wonder what Jesus would have to say about this today. Obviously most males of the world, and perhaps some females, are mental adulterers and doomed to hell because we looked.

A recent column by Greg Carey, Professor of New Testament, Lancaster Theological Seminary, seems to put the contemporary Christian attitude toward marriage and sex in perspective when he wrote: "Unfortunately, many Christians use the Bible to support their own prejudices and bigotry. They talk about ‘Biblical family values’ as if the Bible had a clear message on marriage and sexuality. Let’s be clear: There’s no such thing as ‘biblical family values’ because the Bible does not speak to the topic clearly and consistently."