Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite feminists. (Because feminist is a controversial word, I'll give you my definition now. Feminist: someone who believes women are people and they deserve the same rights and considerations that men have. Someone who notices and fights back against sexism. This can be an aspect of someone's belief system without being their entire identity). Anyway, back to JGL, the actor. He wrote, directed, and starred in a film called Don Jon back in 2013.
It's a clever, heartfelt, very raw commentary on masturbation and its relationship to porn. In the movie, this hot, charismatic, masculine, guy is addicted to looking at porn and masturbating. It gets so bad that he even starts looking at porn in public when he's not masturbating. It ruins his relationship with a woman because she's freaked out when she discovers his secret. She thinks he's doing this because she's not enough. He doesn't agree with her but he's confused until he meets an older woman. She is very emotionally available and she teaches him how to connect and be intimate during sex. She shows him that sex is not just about orgasms. That it's about experiencing another person, which makes him realize his porn and masturbation habits were never really about sex at all. Porn made him misunderstand women and gave him a wildly inaccurate view of sex, which made him unable to connect to someone he liked in a realistic, romantic way, and masturbation made him think sex was all about his climax and running toward it with all his might. If you don't mind a movie that's about sex, (without much romance) this one is worth a watch. It gave me some perspective into the male experience and it gave the guys I know a new perspective on porn, sex, and masturbation and how the three need to be disassociated.
I think porn is one of the biggest catastrophes to hit our culture in the last 100 years, particularly internet porn. I've watched some. (Gasp). Almost all of it is about a normal dude having a very wild afternoon. The women are often portrayed as either sex hungry play things who only want to pleasure men, (so, sex hungry but not for their own satisfaction) or as innocent caricatures of children who are tricked into having sex (but! Spoiler alert! They love it!). Before I go turning you all on with these vividly romantic portraits let me get to the catastrophe part.
Fantasies are not inherently bad. The reason porn is bad (well, one of the reasons) is because it's taken the place of good sex education. When I was hitting puberty and wanted to know what sex looked like I went to the Internet. I saw these girls acting in a way I could not imagine myself acting. Boys must watch and think, that guy seems normal, I guess the girls I know just flip a switch and become these uninhibited, ravenous, sex acrobats as soon as the lights go down. (Another spoiler alert: they don't. First off, hardly any of us want to give blow jobs for 40 minutes, nor can we do the splits while standing on one foot while a guy knocks us around a room). Porn teaches us that sex is only about one person reaching an orgasm. Masturbation generally shares this theme. But, even though porn is designed primarily for masturbation, sex and masturbation can (and do) exist completely separate from porn.
I debated how to address masturbation in this blog. Some of the questions I received were: Is it sinful? Is it safe? and does it make you better or worse at sex? It looks like I could write a whole book on this topic alone. It also looks like a very volatile, polarizing topic depending on who you talk to. At the very least, its embarrassing and uncomfortable to discuss. But, since I'm rarely embarrassed or uncomfortable, I'm gonna jump right in.
The sinful question is a doozy. I've promised to be considerate of my non-believer readers out there so I'm only going to spend a little time on this. From all the christian thinkers and writers and speakers I've listened to on this subject the answer is, "it depends". Almost anything can be sinful if you're valuing it more than you value your time with God. When you're wondering if something is sinful it helps to ask yourself these questions: Am I keeping it a secret? Does it honor God and His vision of me as an image bearer? What am I thinking about while I do it? and What would happen if I stopped? I don't think you can draw a line in the sand and say that masturbation is always sinful and its a shameful way to use your body. Living as a Christian and pursuing holiness is not as easy as a list of rules. I do think there are many ways that masturbation can be damaging to your relationship with God: if you're thinking about ugly, lustful things, if you do it so often you can't imagine quitting, if you hide it from your spouse, etc. Can a married man masturbate to photos of his wife? Can a single person explore their body and appreciate the sexual creation they're meant to be without it being a sin? These questions can't possibly be answered without the context of the person's life and heart. I genuinely think, when it comes to masturbation or any sexual sin, it comes down to what is going on in your heart.
When we say Jesus died for our sins what we mean is He died to rescue us from the curse of guilt, shame and punishment that ALWAYS comes with sin. God doesn't arbitrarily decide what is sinful. When we do a bad thing, often a piece of our hearts corrode and die. If you're a christian, sin also puts distance and tension in your relationship with God. Don't be afraid to ask "where am I sinning in my life?" because what we get in exchange for repentance and walking away from sin is intimacy with Him and that is better than anything! I found lots of great christian resources on this topic that I would love to share. If you're interested, find me on Facebook or send a note to the site's email address.
It's natural and pretty common for babies and toddlers to masturbate even though they know nothing about sex. They're exploring their bodies and when they find something that feels good they repeat it. Picking your nose feels great but you're typically taught to be sanitary and polite about it. If your child is masturbating, maybe tell them to wash their hands before and after and be sure they don't do it in public. Once we hit puberty, masturbation becomes something new. Moms all over the world, in an effort to save their towels and themselves from embarrassment, have told a lot of lies about masturbation. You cannot go blind from masturbating. It won't make you impotent. You won't, having discovered self achieved orgasms, lock yourself in your room and refuse to come out till you die. Barring eccentric behavior like asphyxiation or any outlandish activity that may fracture a penis (which is very hard to do) biologically, there is no real danger in traditional masturbation. I mean, you should probably wash your hands.
There are tons of health benefits to having orgasms. When women orgasm the cervix "tents" or opens up. This helps prevent cervical infections because it allows room for bad bacteria to be flushed out. This also can prevent and lessons the pain during UTIs. Women who experience frequent orgasms are shown to have greater resistance to coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Men who experience frequent orgasms have better prostate health. Orgasms strengthen the pelvic floor in both men and women. The pelvic floor is like a hammock that holds your bladder so, having a healthy one can prevent incontinence. Having a strong pelvic floor can help in childbirth, help you lose weight, and lesson your risk for Cancer. Orgasms have a multitude of mental health benefits as well. The hormones released can prevent insomnia and depression.
The hormone oxytocin creates a need for intimacy. It's called the "bonding" hormone. Masturbation produces this hormone as well as orgasms reached through contact with another person but a need for intimacy when no one is around can have an opposite effect in the way of preventing depression. So, orgasms are good. They're particularly good, biologically speaking, when achieved with another person, even better with someone you love as that bonding hormone might backfire otherwise.
I read a study on webMD that said there are a lot of differences between a male orgasm achieved through masturbation and one achieved through sex. It said that masturbation doesn't have the health benefits sex does, such as lower blood pressure, pain relief, and a healthy heart. It even said the make-up of semen is different depending on whether the body thinks it might reproduce. If you consider masturbation sex, even though it doesn't typically involve another person, then it is the safest sex you can have as it will never result in pregnancy or an STD. It's really quite an interesting biological phenomenon considering we can't tickle ourselves but we can give ourselves orgasms. Still, judging from the data I collected, I would conclude that orgasms achieved with another person are healthier, emotionally and biologically, than traditional, solo masturbation.
I've read several articles on how to use masturbation as a tool to improve your sex life. It's not hard to imagine some ways it can ruin your sex life as well! If you withhold intimacy from your spouse or partner, you will undoubtedly damage your sex life. If you masturbate in secret, you're probably damaging your relationship. We grow closer to our partners by sharing our private selves, so if you're using masturbation as a way to keep your sexual self private, you're missing out on a real connection with your partner. That being said, if you use masturbation as a way to enhance your sex life and explore your body together with your partner, you may find a whole new level of happy intimacy.
A startling percentage of women do not experience vaginal orgasms. Meaning, most women don't orgasm simply from vaginal penetration. If a wife masturbates with her husband present and together, they figure out the best way to achieve an orgasm then all of a sudden they have a new way to connect and feel good while they have sex! If a man masturbates and challenges himself to last longer by performing certain exercises (like stopping before climax or counting strokes or just really studying what makes his body work), then this can benefit both people in the bedroom. It's especially effective if he imagines his real life partner while he does it or, even better, add it to the time they spend together! Masturbation can improve your sex life if you use it for that purpose.
To answer your questions, and mine, masturbation and porn do not need to go together nor are they the same thing. Porn can be damaging to your understanding of sex, women, your own body, and reality itself. If your masturbation habits are distancing you from your relationship with God you're sinning and you should stop. Orgasms are healthy! How you achieve orgasms matters both emotionally and biologically. And finally, masturbation can make you better or worse at sex depending on your intentions and what's in your heart while you do it. Join me next time on Sex Ed Fails for an article entitled "Where DO babies come from? The science of conception".