I am in a deeply committed Christian relationship and we are now discussing engagement. We are physically intimate, but nothing goes "below the belt." However I have been struggling with masturbation for years, and I have tried many ways to overcome it. I don't know what to do. I am at my wits end. I want to defeat my problem before we get any further in our relationship. I have tried praying and asking God for help, but I am not sure I am doing it right (if that makes any sense). I know you probably cannot give me any easy advice, but I need to go somewhere and I am too ashamed to talk to anyone in person.
We've attempted to discuss this difficult and embarrassing issue before on Boundless — you'd be amazed how many female readers send in questions like yours. The best response to date comes from J. Budziszewski who has written (You can read his full response here.):
Masturbation is wrong because it goes against what the sexual powers were designed for, because it is inseparable from illicit fantasies, because these fantasies take on a life of their own, and because it draws the erotic longing backward into Self instead of outward. It doesn't "release" lust, but reinforces it, so that next time the temptation is stronger yet. The hard thing, most people find, isn't figuring out that they ought to stop, but stopping. (It's also hard to ask for help — that takes courage).
I agree with you and with Dr. Budziszewski that this habit is worth conquering. However I don't think struggling with masturbation is a reason to delay engagement. After all, legitimate sexual expression is one of the reasons Christians marry! That said, if your masturbating is linked to deeper struggles with, or addictions to, fantasy or porn, then I do think you should get help for those problems before proceeding in marriage. Marriage provides the context for healthy, life affirming, God-honoring sex. But that is only possible when both husband and wife give themselves to one another without the hindrances that sexual addiction creates. (If you are beset by these deeper issues, you may find further help at www.pureintimacy.org.)
Assuming yours is the more typical, habitual struggle that afflicts many singles, I would suggest continuing to pray, continue to make every effort to stop and, though this may sound goofy, get more exercise. Exercise releases the same feel-good endorphins that sex does while leaving you more tired when it's time to go to bed. If sleep comes easily, other things may be avoided.
You wrote that you're "too ashamed to talk to anyone in person." We shouldn't be surprised that this sin wants to hide in the shadows. But it's precisely by confessing your struggle with a trusted Christian mentor, asking her to hold you accountable, that you can overcome this sin. Taking it from the dark alleys to the light of day is key to victory in this area. It is through the confession of your sins and prayer that you are healed (see James 5:16, Romans 13:12-14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8).
Finally, I think it's important to address your comment that you and your boyfriend are "physically intimate, but nothing goes 'below the belt.'" Whether below the belt or above, physical intimacy that arouses is wrong before marriage. God gave us foreplay to prepare for intercourse. It's part of the married package. Everything you do with your boyfriend that gets your sexual motor running makes it harder, not easier, to remain chaste with one another and to resist the temptation to masturbate alone.
I suspect if you are more intentional about your time together — stop arousing one another and start making plans toward marriage — that will go a long way toward helping you remain pure in action and thought.
May God strengthen you to do what will benefit your relationship with Him, and your future husband (whether this young man or another), now and in the future.
Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.