[Note: this blog post is focused on a sensitive topic; the images on the page are very mild, but there are links to two teaching sites that are more sexually open. Also, I want to acknowledge the editorial and content assistance generously provided by Malachi Grennnell, good friend and cherished colleague.]
Masturbation gets a bad rap.
Even though many people do it. Even though it is not illegal.
But it won’t get a bad rap here.
Indeed, it is my view that masturbation, or solo sex or self-pleasuring as it is also known, is a gift from God for the people of God. As a Christian theologian, it seems clear to me that God delights in sexual pleasure, provided no one is injured. And as was stated last week in terms of partnered sex (see More Sex, Sacred Sex), Lent is a great time for single people, and others who choose to masturbate by themselves or with others, to engage in sacred self-pleasuring, meditative masturbation, not only for the joy of it and for feeling good about our bodies but also for the avenue of divine engagement and closeness it can provide. Engaging in sacred sex, partnered or alone, deepens our intimate relationship with ourselves, God, and others.
As a society, however, embracing our solo sexuality as a method of communing with the Holy is barred by a series of sociological and religious ideological practices that have permeated our understanding of masturbation. So before we can move toward embracing solo sexuality as a meditative process, we need to dismantle some of the myths around masturbation:
- Religious institutions frequently condemn masturbation as a practice.
The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians generally share the sentiment, although there is some more recent deviation from that perspective. Similarly, Islam generally teaches that masturbation is contrary to God. However, many mainstream Protestants have been reducing their condemnation (and some writers, theologians and ethicists now affirm the value of it). Jews often refer to the biblical text in which Onan “spills his seed,” but other than the Orthodox, there is not an outright prohibition within Judaism. In short, many of the religious institutions rooted in more conservative theologies and worldviews tend to view masturbation in a negative light; however, many of the organizations that do are also rooted in the belief that the primary role of sex is to procreate. These two perspectives (masturbation is bad and sex is for procreation) also lend themselves easily to the condemnation of same-sex couples. The structure and framework of these practices tend to be rooted in self-shaming, and for those of us seeking to embrace the Holy through our sexual selves, there is very little in the teachings of these practices that is congruent with our lives. Why should we continue to maintain this ideology about masturbation when we have shrugged off similar teachings about partnered sex and relationship dynamics?
- Masturbation leads to addiction.
In the past few years, another concern involving masturbation has arisen, namely easy access to online pornography which has for some led to addictive behavior–endless masturbation sessions online (either in terms of frequency or duration, or both). Clinicians have expressed concern as with other forms of addictive behavior but not all professional bodies have expressed it with the same degree of concern. It is important to note that addiction to porn is not the same thing as addiction to masturbation, nor does one necessarily lead to the other.
In addition, of course, addictive use of pornographic materials or masturbation does not, as is true in the case of any sexual or other behavioral or substance addictions, mean that either is bad in and of itself. As is the case with alcoholism, e.g., the problem is not the substance per se (pornography or masturbation), but rather the spiral of addiction itself.
In short, we can absolutely support healthy masturbation practices without supporting obsession or addiction.
- Masturbation is just a means of achieving relief–to be over and done as fast as possible.
Perhaps one of the most pervasive perspectives of this climate is the idea that our bodies are inherently “not good enough.” We are inundated with messages that teach us to be self-shaming: our weight, the size of our breasts or penises, how we express ourselves. With these repetitious messages that we are “not good enough,” it’s no wonder that we approach masturbation as a mechanical act, a necessary relief to be finished as fast as possible.
We are not taught to celebrate our bodies, but to hide and shame them. We are taught that there is something wrong with us, even down to how we manage our pubic hair (discussions around shaving/trimming/managing pubic hair is perhaps one of the most intrinsic ways that we feel shame around these ideas that our bodies are “not good enough”).
Masturbation as a meditative practice can help to combat the idea that we are inherently flawed. While we are bombarded daily with impossible images and ideals of the perfect bodies, we must learn to combat these social messages with nurturing care to the body we were given. Practicing masturbation as a means of embracing our bodies (which were created in the image of God) is one of the most powerful ways we can learn to love ourselves. And it is important to state that loving ourselves, children of God, is a way of honoring God.
So how can solo sex or self-pleasuring or masturbation–or “jacking off” or “jilling off,” depending on gender–help us deepen our spiritual lives? Learning a little about two teachers of masturbation may help us answer this question.
Betty Dodson, Ph.D., is the “Masturbation Maven” of our time. She single-handedly helped women in the earlier heady days of feminism, and even now, to learn to love their bodies through self-pleasuring. Her classic text is Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving. She really brought the clitoris, and its pleasuring, into the light of day for untold numbers of women. And, as she says, in the process, she freed many women to finally have real orgasms through heterosexual intercourse. No more faking it, thanks to Betty. Later in her career, she even led masturbation sessions for men.
Dodson, now 86 and still teaching, writes of her experience of bringing together her practice of Transcendental Meditation and masturbation (activities that were part of her daily routine) when she was too busy to do each by itself. She switched from two twenty-minute TM sessions, one morning and one evening, to one forty-minute session of meditation with her vibrator (Betty is very big on vibrators, even encouraging men to try them on their penises), a practice that regularly led her to orgasm. She realized she felt “harmony between my body and my mind,” centered in her body and relaxed in her mind.
If you want to learn more about, or from, Betty Dodson–which I encourage for women, and men, too–click here for her website, where you will find all sorts of resources, some for free and others not, but all honest and sex-positive and caring. Please note that Betty does not hide body parts–her own and those of others. There is no shame here, so be prepared to see, e.g, a celebration of the clitoris, and hear frank talk about sex.
More recently, she has a colleague on the male side of things, Bruce Grether. Since 1995, he has been “a male masturbation activist and teacher,” showing us, according to Joseph Kramer (another renowned teacher of sexual energy and pleasure, and the founder of the Body Electric School), “that the sustained sexual arousal produced from mindful masturbation gives us access to the magic deep within our hearts.” (click here to visit his website, Erotic Engineering). A note here, too. You will find lots of naked men on this site, mostly masturbating–and as with Betty’s site, lots of informed discussion about sexuality (Bruce is himself often, though not always, clothed).
Mindful masturbation, according to Grether, opens us to “limitless possibilities for bliss you can give yourself.” And masturbation, according to both Dodson and Grether, does not have to be a solo activity. Couples and lovers can share, and even groups. Older people, coupled and single, who may be experiencing less than the optimal functioning of earlier years, often find masturbation a very positive experience.
One key element of mindful masturbation for men, according to Grether, is to not focus on ejaculation. This is not a race, but a process of self-pleasuring. Experienced practitioners can have many orgasms without ejaculation (did you know men can have “dry orgasms?). You might think of these as moments of divine revelation or connection–exquisite sensations taking over your body, then ebbing, and perhaps returning later after more stroking. Dodson, like all experts on female sexuality, stresses women’s ability for orgasmic release in waves–and both Grether and Dodson encourage staying with, enjoying and even learning from, all the feelings of pleasure.
So, what to do? Here are some suggestions for what is essentially a masturbatory meditation ritual/session. Here I am using my word “God” to stand for whatever greater or spiritual power you may identify in your life.
Pray. Ask God to help you set aside a time and place to make love with and to yourself. Commit to setting aside this time–an hour or more if you can, to start with, but less if you are unsure (but not less than 20 minutes if at all possible). Try to set aside time at least several times a week–and more if possible. If scheduling is important, set a timer so you can be sure you go the full time but also stop when you need to for the rest of your life. Daily masturbatory meditation–morning or evening–would be ideal. This can feel strange, doing a new thing that contradicts much you may have been taught, so take time to breathe, to ask God to guide and protect you. The big thing here is to let God be with you, or more accurately because God already is, to let yourself be with God.
- Find a space where you feel safe, comfortable (a good temperature for nakedness), and will not be disturbed. Light a candle if you wish. You might want music, but then it might distract your meditation–you will learn what works for you. Ask God to bless the space and your time together (you and God, and others if present).
Pray. Ask God to help you take off all your clothes, one article at a time. Make a ritual out of getting undressed. Take a moment to smell the article of clothing, give thanks for its protection of your body. Touch yourself in the area where you removed an article of clothing as one way of getting closer to your body. Celebrate each area as your remove the layers. When you are naked, ask God to guide your hands to touch yourself all over, slowly, lovingly. Don’t rush this. Linger wherever you wish. Doing this in front of a mirror can be very enriching, but it is not necessary. What is important is that you allow yourself to enjoy the process, enjoy your body. Again, this may tap into issues of body shame–about specific body parts or your whole body–so breathe, ask God to help you see your body as God sees it, a divine creation of beauty and joy.
A key to this process is breathing. So now that you are naked and more comfortable, sit quietly, eyes closed, and breathe. If you wish, you can visualize parts of your body and give thanks for their gifts to you. Breathe from the gut as much as possible. This helps energize your genital area.
- Think of a mantra you want to use to help you stay focused on your embodied spiritual energy, and begin to say it. Repeating a word or phrase with each touching, or at least each time you find yourself moving toward a climax, keeps you grounded. Some people use a word, “love,” or “joy.” Others may use a phrase. “God is good, all the time” is one possibility. In my meditation, I am partial to a phrase from Franciscan writer Richard Rohr, “Astonish me with Your love!” Using the mantra helps you stay grounded in a meditative state. I also encourage you to listen for God, who may use this time to say something important and loving to you. Leave some space for God to “speak.”
- Touch your pleasure organ–your clitoris or penis–and gently rub it. Feel the sensation. Just hold it for a while, too. Breathe. Then more rubbing/stroking, remembering to repeat your mantra, too. Also, touch around the organ, enjoy the neighborhood!
Just stay with this as long as you can, not rushing, letting feelings of pleasure move through you. Touch yourself all over. Touch your penis or clitoris in different ways, rub them in different ways. The two websites mentioned above have many resources for techniques, ways of touching yourself to maximize sensation.
- Of course, be open to orgasm and ejaculation but try not to rush it. Again, this can feel strange, since so many of us have been taught to release tension as quickly as we can. This is not about tension release, although that will happen, so much as it is about consciousness, God-consciousness for you. Try to ride the wave(s) of pleasure and feel yourself go deeper into ….. what? yourself, God, your soul, Holy Spirit–all of the above most likely.
- Whatever happens, thank God!!!
I have laid out a pretty simple process. But I suspect for many, probably most, it will not be easy. We have issues to overcome, body- and sex-negativity that pervades our culture. So be gentle with yourself. Take your time, do this in stages if you have to, taking one or more sessions just to set the mood and get undressed and touch yourself a little. There is not a right way to do any of this, and you have the rest of your life to develop your own practice and style.
This practice does not need to be limited to Lent; in fact, I hope you let it become a continuing part of your life. However, in Lent, when we have so often been told to give something up, perhaps you can choose to give up hurried, shame-based, masturbation for deeper self-loving that celebrates God and the body you have from God. That would be a new way of living to celebrate at Easter, or if you are Jewish, at Passover!
The key is to stay open to the endless possibilities, not only of pleasure but also of other forms of divine presence and revelation. Remember, pleasuring your body pleases, pleasures, God, too. In your shared pleasuring, you and the divine grow more united, more loving, more whole. And that will help you the rest of your day, the rest of your life, be filled with more positive energy—good for you and for the world.
Enjoy solo sex, sacred sex, today!