Is masturbation harmful?

Despite what many modern sex educators may say, evidence shows that masturbation is detrimental to both men and women. If you have ever taken a class in psychology, you probably learned about Pavlov’s dog. Pavlov was a guy who rang a bell every time he was about to feed his dog. By doing this, the dog came to associate the bell with food, and would begin salivating at the sound of the bell. This is known as a trained response.

The human mind can be trained in the same way. In fact, the pleasure center of the brain is the most easily trained part of the human mind. This place in the brain is called the Medial Pre-optic Nucleus (MPN), and when the body experiences great pleasure, as in a sexual release, this part of the brain is rewarded. According to the research of Dr. Douglas Weiss, when a person experiences sexual arousal, the brain releases endorphins that help train the MPN to associate pleasure with whatever the person is doing, looking at, smelling, and so on.[1] Unconsciously, a person forms a bond between a particular image, scent, or person and the feeling of sexual pleasure. (That’s one reason porn magazines have perfume samples in them).

During sexual pleasure, this bond is further solidified by the release of a neuropeptide called oxytocin. This also creates a bond between people during a sexual act. If a person is alone, it still creates a mental bond with whomever he or she is fantasizing about. However, this bonding mechanism is damaged through casual sexual arousal.[2]

This scientific discovery sheds new light on Paul’s words: “Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ . . . Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:16–18).

When a person experiences sexual pleasure while masturbating and lusting after another in his imagination, he is training his brain to be stimulated by fantasy images in his own mind. If this is what a person’s brain identifies as the cause of sexual joy, then where does this leave his or her spouse one day? A spouse is not a fantasy image that you act upon, but a real human being with his or her own personality, feelings, emotions, etc. Yet instead of being able to take joy in the actual person in the marriage bed, the individual trained by masturbation may be driven to find stimulation in inner fantasies even while trying to make love to his or her spouse. Sometimes men and women may look beyond their own imagination to adultery, strip clubs, pornography, or a disordered lust for one another to satiate their desires. Sometimes, the habit of masturbation continues within marriage in order to take care of sexual “needs.”

Now, this does not mean that you are doomed to a dysfunctional marriage if you have ever experienced sexual pleasure with anyone other than your husband or wife. However, it does mean that you will have obstacles to overcome that those without such a history will not struggle with. The brain can be retrained, but it will take time according to how well-entrenched the habit of lust has become.

This should show us that God’s plan for our sexuality is stamped into our anatomy. When people live according to God’s truths, their bodies will associate sexual joy with their spouse. God has designed our bodies to ensure that a married couple will be physiologically drawn toward each other. Their minds have been trained that way. As the Bible says, “Let your fountain be yours alone, not one shared with strangers. And have joy of the wife of your youth, your lovely hind, your graceful doe. Her love will invigorate you always. Through her love you will flourish constantly” (Prov. 5:17–19).
[1]. Douglas Weiss, M.D., The Final Freedom (Fort Worth, Texas: Discovery Press, 1998).
[2]. Eric J. Keroack, M.D., and John R. Diggs, Jr., M.D., “Bonding Imperative,” A Special Report from the Abstinence Medical Council (Abstinence Clearinghouse, April 30, 2001).

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