Tacenda: things to be passed over in silence; matters not to be mentioned.
I wrote recently about pornography and it seems to be a topic of much discussion, even making the cover of Time magazine recently. The effects of it are being argued in the Washington Post and other newspapers, which is good in that at least people are talking about it.
I have not seen much discussion, however, on a related issue: masturbation. While it seems generally understood that pornography and masturbation are closely linked, the debates seem to imply they are separate issues, even though some of the “downsides” of pornography are actually the side effects of masturbation. If you agree with my thoughts on pornography and you want to change your behavior, you are going to have to stop masturbating as well.
My reasoning and examples are all from a male perspective; it’s what I am and what I know. I acknowledge an increasing number of females struggle with masturbation—largely fueled by the expectations of pornography—so I hope some of what follows is applicable for woman as well, though I suspect there may be differences.
When I came of age in the 1980s, sexual curiosity was often fulfilled through recognizing the so-called “soft” pornography in the environment—lingerie ads, Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, Playboy. These images of semi-nude or nude women became the fuel for sexual stimulation which was accompanied by masturbation. The connection with lust and masturbation was thereby made early.
Masturbation added intensity to the physiological rush of looking at sexualized images. The chemicals released in the body during sexual stimulation is what make sex enjoyable and this enjoyment becomes linked to these images through masturbation. Over time, more sexually explicit material is generally sought out in order to increase the stimulation. As with most addictive behaviors, previous levels of stimulation fail to bring the same result, so higher “doses” are sought.
Before unregulated media,¹ there were thresholds that could not be easily crossed either through lack of availability or social stigma, while today, the escalation of stimulation is unconstrained. My generation may have inadvertently trained ourselves to link bare breasts with these feelings, which is natural to a degree,² but with the availability today of internet pornography, these feelings can be linked to all sorts of unrealistic, debasing, abusive, and dangerous acts. Instead of starting with a girl in a bikini, one can start with violent, deviant behavior. In fact, this has become more and more likely as pornographic content has continued to push limits in order to retain users and compete with an increasingly pornified “mainstream” media.
Pornography, by itself, isn’t necessarily addictive, though. The addiction is made because pornography is used to stimulate masturbation, which causes pleasurable sensations in the mind and body. It’s the same for any substance. Cigarettes, by themselves, are not addictive. What people crave is the feelings they create—the effects of nicotine. The act of smoking becomes associated with receiving those feelings and therefore is reinforced.
Masturbation is addictive, while pornography is merely a means of enhancing the stimulation one creates while masturbating. It is possible to masturbate without fantasy, though I would venture it is very rare in western culture. A young boy in a society not hypersexualized like ours could theoretically “discover himself” and the sexual pleasure he could bring to himself outside of an external stimulus.³
Masturbation makes lust (looking at another for purposes of sexual self-gratification) compulsive. If pornography did not promote and stimulate masturbation, it would not be the massive industry that it is today. It would be some sort of niche cinema, not a mainstream crisis. Masturbation is the “nicotine” to pornography.
When someone ceases pornography consumption—voluntarily or otherwise—if efforts are not made to cease masturbation, the previously seen images will be replayed and further ingrained in the mind. Also, the conditions will be ripe for relapse at almost any opportunity because the underlying behavior is still present. Lust will still be happening, because the individual will be viewing someone mentally for purposes of self stimulation—even if it is someone “made up” in their mind.
The only way to achieve sexual sanctity is to cease both activities—viewing pornography and masturbating. Only then are we starving lust in our heart and mind (assuming there is no other sexual sin occurring in our life.) It is a tough standard, especially in our society where sexualized female images surround us, but it is a fight that must be fought if we seek to follow our Lord and become pure in heart.
¹ It could be argued that the real revolution in pornography began with the VCR. It was the first device that allowed users to bring unregulated content into their homes, closely followed by satellite dishes.
² What I mean is the female body is naturally attractive to males. Males are visually stimulated sexually.
³ Even in this case, there are dangers. The person could become sexually narcissistic—looking to themselves exclusively for sexual satisfaction. They could also be more prone to homosexual attraction if the associations reinforced through their masturbation are with their own sexual organs and not those of the opposite sex.