i was wondering, what’s your opinion on sex, masturbation, etc. and religion? i was raised religiously but i’m not as religiously involved as the rest of my family. plus i’ve masturbated a couple times but i’ve never had sex. unlike the church and religious standards i view these things as healthy and normal. i just wanted to ask what’s your take on it?
I am a Christian (you can read about my faith here), so I can really only speak to my religion. The word “religion” is so vague and encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices, so we ought to be careful about painting all spirituality with a broad brush. Even “Christianity” includes a huge variety of philosophies and attitudes about sexuality, from extremely repressive to quite progressive. I belong to a very progressive church but have at times been part of more repressive environments.
My personal opinion is that humans were created with the Divine intentions of love, connection, growth, wholeness, joy, and creativity. When we act in a way that draws us away from a healthy, whole, joyful relationship with ourselves, other people, our communities, or our world, that takes us out of alignment with that Divine purpose. The universe - and its creator, the embodied, personified God I believe in - is fundamentally aligned with love, and that’s why hatred, violence, cruelty, pain, and stagnation are all such destructive forces - they pull us out of alignment with God and the reality God has created for us.
Therefore, anything we do with our bodies and our relationships that gives rise to love, joy, beauty, wholeness, creativity, and connection is not a violation of Divine will. And, anything we do with our bodies and relationships to foment cruelty, hatred, pain, shame, isolation - those, to use my youth worker voice, bum God out. There are certainly ways to have sex or masturbate or be in relationships that are fundamentally damaging and destructive, but we have to separate “inherently harmful” from “harmful because social structures say they are.”
It is impossible to make a clear argument that sex outside of marriage, or masturbation, are inherently damaging to our relationships with ourselves, each other, or the Divine. However, shame and guilt, or inaccurate information, or conditional social bonds, are clearly and demonstrably destructive. All people deserve clear and non-judgmental information about their bodies, all people deserve a healthy and fulfilling sex life (whatever that means for them). God wants this for us! God values wisdom and health, not shame and confusion.
I think Rachel Held Evans put it well when she wrote “If same-sex relationships are really sinful, then why do they so often produce good fruit—loving families, open homes, self-sacrifice, commitment, faithfulness, joy? And if conservative Christians are really right in their response to same-sex relationships, then why does that response often produce bad fruit—secrets, shame, depression, loneliness, broken families, and fear?” This quote is about same sex relationships, but you could very easily apply this theological logic to abstinence only education, shame and fear tactics around sexuality, treating bodies as inherently dirty or sinful, and strict gender roles. Do they bear fruit? Do they lead people into the types of healthy, whole, fulfilled lives and experiences that God wills for us? Or do we have story after story, and study after study, demonstrating that comprehensive sex ed, body acceptance, and freedom are far healthier? The Scriptures I follow call often for wisdom and growth and understanding and truth, and it would be foolish to ignore the reality around us.
Sex and masturbation are part of our community and our bodies, and the health of our community and our bodies are things God cares deeply about. We shouldn’t use them harmfully, and of course we can definitely be sinful or harmful with our bodies and with sex, but identifying what “harmful” or “unhealthy” means is a spiritual task we can draw on plenty of sources from, not just whoever is currently being loudest in Evangelical Christianity.
There is lots of sexual sin in our world - rape culture, sex trafficking, revenge porn, criminalization and marginalization of sex workers, lack of access to sexual healthcare, and so much more. Masturbation can become a numbing or addictive behavior. Sex can used destructively in a number of ways. But nearly everything can be used for good or ill. (God gave us fun and joy, and there’s nothing inherently sinful about play, but things like gambling addictions and the exploitation of young football players are bad.) Sex and masturbation are part of our lives that we need to learn how to make healthy choices about. Religious or not, figuring out how to be a healthy, happy, whole, joyful person takes nuance and effort. It is rarely achieved by following a strict, arbitrary, one-size-fits-all set of rules.
My religion - Episcopal Christianity - teaches that our God is a living God. Living things can be engaged with, life implies growth and change. Our faith is not dead or stagnant. Death has been defeated! It also teaches that we were gifted the Holy Spirit to help us in our interpretive and discerning work as we try to figure out how best to live in alignment with Divine love, light, grace, and mercy. Scripture is a living document, a history of people trying to figure that out in their own ways and their own times. We were also designed with wisdom and reasoning qualities, able to learn and question and grow. Being in a relationship with any Divine power, through any religion, should involve guidance from Divinity, as well as your community, scripture, and your own experience, on what is true and wise and holy.
If you have more questions about sex and masturbation, check out Scarleteen’s excellent resources.