What do I tell my teens about masturbation?

January 17th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 33 comments

Question: This is a serious question.  I have teenagers now.  What does the bible have to say about masturbation?  And is there a difference in teaching between boys and girls?  I would really appreciate an honest, biblical answer.  Thank you.

Joanne

Dear Joanne,

Of course this is a serious question but we understand why you felt it necessary to forewarn us.  And a serious, honest, Biblical answer is exactly what we would have done our best to provide, even had you not explicitly requested it.  We also empathize with you and admire how seriously you are accepting the responsibility of raising children.  In today’s cultural climate, it is enormously challenging to raise wholesome teenagers.  However, we feel certain that doing so with Biblical help is far easier than without.  For this reason, our answer involves you sitting down with each of your children in front of a Bible and studying some Scripture together. 

Sex in general can feel awkward to discuss, particularly out of context.  Its intensity is irrational and its power mysterious.  When sexual relationships form, the process involves ambiguity and risk of rejection.  Solo stimulation bypasses all of that for a small, sad, mimicking of sensation.  Yet all attempts to rationalize sex, demystify and reduce it to no more than a mutual spasm in the spinal column, as taught in most sex ed. classes at what we call GICs (public schools=government indoctrination camps)  have failed to improve male-female relations in America.  So, it is with some trepidation that we try to tackle this topic here. 

To place this this all in a meaningful context, we turn to the Bible for our starting point.  Judah’s son, Onan, gave his name to the practice of masturbation.  At first glance, the reason God opposed “onanism” was that it “wasted seed” (Genesis 38:9).  However, please don’t miss the concluding phrase of that verse which is the whole point.  Onan did not want to be a giver.  In this case specifically, he didn’t want to give his late brother’s widow a child in accordance with the Biblical model of levirate marriage which was practiced back then, because the child he would sire and raise would be considered his brother’s offspring, not his. (For a deeper discussion of Levirate marriage and Onan’s reluctance, please listen to this podcast we prepared.

God created us to be givers.  That early commandment to be fruitful and multiply, which follows the commandment to cleave to one’s wife, is partly to ensure this.  Nothing teaches one to become a giver more than becoming a parent.  And we don’t doubt that this you already know, Joanne.  Because this need to give is built into our souls, we are usually much more comfortable with giving gifts graciously than receiving them graciously.  Receiving charity can corrode the soul and it can make us miserably unhappy.  Those living on the generosity of their fellow citizens often become resentful rather than appreciative and patriotic.  Activities that make us only takers and not givers diminish us as humans and make us feel less of ourselves; they also demoralize us. 

There are really only two activities we can do which help only us and nobody else.  Let me tell you about them by exploring one of them in detail.

When one of us (RDL) first heard the phrase, men’s room, soon after immigrating to the U.S. my mind conjured up a big screen television, a comfortable couch, a workbench and set of tools, and a BBQ emitting wonderful smells of cooked meat.  That’s my men’s room!  Instead, I discovered that the term, like washroom, restroom, and bathroom are really all euphemisms for a room designed for relieving oneself.

Why would a society so comfortable with public expression of so many private things, appear to be so squeamish about the perfectly natural bodily function of voiding one’s bowels?  You’ll pardon us, we don’t mean to be vulgar. However, we ask why a society so openly public about every possible variation of sexual pleasure would be so uncomfortable about simply saying, “Excuse me but I have to go and empty my bowels.”  Why instead, do people say, “Excuse me but I have to use the washroom.” For what, a shower?  Or, “Excuse me, but I need a rest room.”  Why? Are you tired?

So uncomfortable are we with so-called ‘bathroom functions’ that we over decorate this smallest room in the house as if to disguise its primary use.  Would you like to use our powder room?  It has monogramed towels and soap shaped like sea shells. 

Clearly there is a deep-seated discomfort with publicly acknowledging our need to relieve ourselves.  And therein lies the clue.  It is called ‘relieving oneself’ and not ‘relieving society’ or ‘relieving the world.’  Going to the bathroom is one of the very few human activities that in no way benefits, helps, (or relieves) anyone else other than the person going to the restroom.  Unlike cow or horse manure, human waste can’t even be used for agricultural fertilizer without extensive treatment to remove pathogens.  Truly, going to the ‘john’ does nothing at all for anyone else.  One could say that necessary though it is, it remains one of the few utterly selfish things that each of us does.  Not surprisingly, our souls are embarrassed by it.  Not because it is a bodily function, which is indeed perfectly natural, but because it does nothing for anyone else but ourselves.  We feel subconsciously uncomfortable at doing things that benefit only ourselves. 

This is one reason that the Bible (Deuteronomy 23:13) insists that even soldiers in battle bury their excrement.  Leaving our excrement out in plain view is demoralizing because it distracts us from the selfless natures we all possess and which are particularly needed by soldiers.

Masturbation is the other human activity that brings no benefit to anyone else.  Most people would be fairly comfortable saying something like, “Please pick me up after eight as I still have to shower, shave and get dressed.”  But almost nobody would comfortably say, “Pick me up after eight, as I want to empty my bowels and masturbate.”  These are the two activities that help nobody else.  As such, they embarrass us.

Pretty much everything else we do helps others even if we are the primary beneficiaries.   Eating an ice-cream benefits the store that sold it to us.  Showering benefits the people alongside of whom we may sit during the day, and so on.  Voiding one’s bowels is unavoidable but masturbation isn’t.

That God created us to be givers not takers is the main problem with masturbation.  What is more, it is precisely in the sexual area that God created us to be givers.  We don’t think that it is outside the ability of a teenager to understand these points if explained sensitively and with an open Bible in front of parent and child.  A husband’s own enjoyment of his sexual relationship with his wife is inextricably tied to the joy he brings to her. His pleasure is enhanced by knowing that he has brought ecstasy to his wife.  Some women occasionally “fake” that joy so as not to deprive their husbands of that pleasure.

The relevant Biblical verse discusses the obligation of a husband to ‘cheer’ his wife in Deuteronomy 24:5. That King James translation of the Hebrew vesimach with the word ’cheer’ as a verb, is quaintly accurate because the verse is discussing the husband’s obligation to bring his wife to climactic fulfillment.  The Hebrew text does not mean that the husband should just enjoy sexual pleasure together with his wife but rather that he, the husband, carries the responsibility of bringing joy to his wife. Indeed, he should cheer her.   

Both the words and the Hebrew grammatical structure of the verse all indicate that “his wife” is the object of the phrase.  God wants him to be focused on her pleasure.  No more powerful avenue to his own intense sensual pleasure exists for a man than for him to bring his wife physical pleasure.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this sexual dynamic created by God is to teach a man, who has no natural yearning to care for a child, that giving to someone else is pleasurable.  How perfect it is that the process of conceiving a child includes introducing a man to the idea that focusing on the needs of another person is the best way to personal fulfillment.  How perfect is that preparation for becoming a father.

We think that your children, boys and girls, will be able to understand this Biblical approach and may even find it a refreshing change from some of the superstitious and fire-and-brimstone approaches to masturbation that they may have anticipated.  Masturbation is an activity that turns us into takers only.  Over time, like all taking, it can corrode the soul, diminish us as human beings, and make us feel demoralized.  Though we are well aware of them, others are more qualified than we are to warn of the issues surrounding pornography and addiction concerns.  And misguided programs, such as that advocated in 1994 by then Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, to ‘normalize’ masturbation aren’t helpful. 

Ever since “Not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) God’s plan is for humans to connect and bond.  Sex is part of God’s plan for men and women to be drawn towards one another and to form families.  By contrast, popular culture focuses on individual fulfillment rather than fulfillment through family connection.  For this reason, sensational news accounts lately have been full of sex robots and other means to masturbate creatively, if we might misuse that word.  Thus, the question with which you will leave your children is this:  Ultimately, do you want your sexuality to define your aloneness or your connectedness when the time is right?

We congratulate you on taking your parenting so responsibly and not evading the potentially awkward conversations that are a part of being a parent.  We pray that you succeed in raising your teenagers to become adults who will build successful and happy marriages themselves in time.

Sincerely, honestly and Biblically,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Tags: , ,

33 comments

s. williams says:

Thank you for answering this question. I believe it has equipped me with more knowledge as I help guide my own kids through their life decisions. I think your last sentence, “Ultimately, do you want your sexuality to define your aloneness or your connectedness when the time is right?” sums up your answer beautifully and is the perfect question to hopefully start a conversation or provoke thoughts.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Right Sonyia–
This was written especially for parents who wish to relate to their children responsibly as parents. But it is hard, isn’t it?
Cordially
RDL

Minnie says:

Thank you for writing this. I wish I had read it years and years ago.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Minnie–
the most common comment I get from people at my lectures and speeches is ‘where was all this information when I needed it 20/30/40/50 years ago?’
I understand,
Cordially
RDL

Tim says:

Wow! This was powerful! You must have spent hours deciding how to write this. Thank you very much!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Tim–
actually I find it impossible not to spend hours figuring out how to write almost everything we write.
Cordially
RDL

Joan W says:

And we are blessed because of that, RDL. Thank you!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks Joan

Mordechai says:

Thank you for writing this. I was shocked when I heard an orthodox rabbi in a video say the following words:
“I’ve heard rabbis go and say, ‘Well, if masturbation is part of healthy sexuality, getting to know your body better, how your body reacts to touch and to, you know, pleasure, then maybe masturbation in teenage boys is part of the healthy sexuality that develops into adulthood.’”
Thank you for standing up for Judaism and for Torah.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Mordechai-
It’s my privilege to do so. I am aware of that to which you allude (our policy is not to include website links in comments) and share your dismay at how many religious leaders (I don’t know whether to put quote around ‘religious’ or ‘leaders’ or perhaps both) have surrendered to popular culture on sexual matters. Looking at those in positions of power and leadership both in our Jewish community as well as in national politics and in leadership of other religious groups (such as the Anglicans and the Archbishop of Canterbury) it is hard not to see passages of the Tanach brought to life in frightening ways. Thanks for reading our website and for commenting.
Cordially
RDL

Lynn Perrizo says:

Wow, this was so interesting! What a difficult question to ask but you answered it so well. Perfectly! I am always able to count on you and Susan to present a wonderful, Godly response to a delicate questions about life.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Lynn–
The Bible is God’s manual for human life on earth so it would be surprising were it not to contain vital and detailed information on things that really matter to us including sex and money. The former encourages the kind of relationships that form families while the latter facilitates non-sexual, consensual, mutually cooperative and mutually beneficial interactions.
Cordially
RDL

Judy says:

Thank you for the first explanation I’ve ever heard that not only makes sense but also speaks truth to my heart. Bless you.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Judy–
Your letter means so much to me because I am solemnly dedicated to teaching the true Biblical explanations of how the world REALLY works and I have discovered that my mission is obstructed by the many things that people think that just aren’t true.
Cordially
RDL

Eric says:

Very interesting article but I would like to posit an alternative explanation for why we find defecation so embarrassing. I think it has more to do with the odors (and involuntary sounds) than selfishness. After all, by your definition of selfishness, urination is equally selfish yet men (at least) are much less embarrassed about that. Men will often announce that they have to “take a leak.” Urinals, unlike toilets, tend not to be enclosed for privacy. In certain circumstances (e.g., camping or fishing trips), men will collegially urinate together and boys have been known to have contests to see who can shoot further. On the other hand, even children learn at a young age to keep defecation private.

Indeed, unlike dogs, humans tend to be repelled by body-related odors. What other explanation is there for the fact that we willingly spend large sums of money on harmful chemicals that we slather under our arms or use to rinse out our mouths?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Eric–
Thanks for giving the topic such serious thought. The malodorous quality of excrement when compared to urine is certainly worth noting–it is a relevant and valid point. But it’s not all. It’s important to identify some of the differences between human urine and feces. The former is both sterile and non-toxic while the latter harbors huge number of bacteria both living and dead as well as often toxic pathogens. It is also not insignificant that the former is produced while standing, a more dignified position than the squat or seated position of the latter. Urine is far more useful as an agricultural fertilizer than fecal matter since it contains most of the valuable nutrients excreted by the body like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus and negligible risk of transmission of disease, again unlike feces. So, one cannot claim as convincingly that urinating is quite as selfish as defecating. I think I will spare you the accounts of shipwrecked mariners and downed airmen who have prolonged life by drinking their own urine which of course is over 90% water. And for all these reasons, I believe, we are more comfortable with urinating than defecating. However, Susan would want me to point out that in refined circumstances, which I trust are the only circumstances you visit, one would say, “I’m going to the mens’ room” not “I’m going to take a leak”
Cordially
RDL

This is by far the best written teaching on this subject I’ve ever read. Your enlightenment from the Word of God is just astounding.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Michael–
I am happy you gave credit where it was Due! My contribution was merely that made by a clear glass window when a resident of a house admires the beautiful landscape outside.
Cordially
RDL

Alessandro Mecle says:

Dear Rabbi, it was amazing to read this article and watching the same theme on TCT. One is a complement of the other. Thank you.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Alessandro–
I am so pleased you caught the TV show at http://www.tct.tv/watch-tct/on-demand-ajw With complicated topics we try several different approaches though different media, knowing that everybody learns in a unique way.
Cordially
RDL

Yeshiva Bochur says:

Ok, so we’re supposed to be givers. And we are 99.99% of the time. What’s wrong with having one vice that is for one’s own pleasure exclusively? Besides, a subscription to a pornography site or magazine benefits the vender just like your ice cream example.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Good questions Yeshiva Bochur–
First, just because you had a shower last Monday doesn’t mean that you don’t need another one today. We are humans and every day gives us opportunity for getting soiled and for getting cleaned. Any vice justified on a regular basis means that you are accepting of it in principle while calling it a vice and is a little like apologizing for hurting someone while planning on doing the same thing tomorrow. That’s what is wrong with your argument.
Second, a legitimate vendor is one whose customers would be happy to return next week for the same experience they had today. This is why we frown on gambling and casinos; if I was there today and lost just like 90% of casino customers must, I most decidedly do not want to return next week for the SAME experience. Next week I want to win. By the same measure, a prostitute or brothel offers a far more honest customer experience. The man who leaves satisfied from his encounter today, is quite happy to return next week for the same experience. The purveyor of pornography is in the former rather than latter category. Most customers of pornography experience deep dismay about their purchase keeping it private and often promising themselves not to repeat the experience. Many of the women engaged in the production of that product take their own lives. It is just not wholesome and nobody could persuasively argue otherwise. By contrast, the ice cream vendor is a paragon of virtue.
I hope that helps my friend,
Cordially
RDL

Mrs Maas says:

WELL SAID!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Mrs. Maas:-
It’s an important but delicate topic and communication with our children must take place regardless of how awkward.
Cordially
RDL

Ashamed to Say says:

Thank you so much for your contribution to my life. I’m constantly amazed by your insight. On this topic, what if your wife doesn’t want to be “cheered”? Like, hardly ever?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Ashamed To Say–
This is obviously a huge problem in any marriage and is often a symptom of something else. It takes up many pages in my forthcoming book on Sex and Money as you can well imagine. You hardly need me to tell you that it ought to be confronted and discussed, right? Sometimes there are issues such as health and other times there are relationship glitches that have crept into the relationship. Those need to be tackled before trying to cheer. For here and now, I can’t say more.
Cordially
RDL

Bravo to Rabbi Lapin for his courageous wisdom in tackling such a complex issue. I took time to reflect on the Rabbi’s response. I knew that what he wrote is true but I didn’t know if it was practical. The Times of Israel posted an essay: The M Word: Raising Sexually Healthy Orthodox Sons, and I then realized that the Lapins’ approach is practical if, and when, families emulate Rabbi and Mrs Lapin in raising their children with Wisdom. The approach advised in the essay is for families raised without clarity.

I was privileged to share a meal with the Lapin family (1991) and was so busy absorbing the pearls of wisdom flowing from Rabbi and Mrs Lapin that I did not realize how beautiful is their family until I was on my way home. There is a tangible difference in a family raised with such consistent wisdom.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Rabbi Weinberg–
We well remember the occasion on which you graced our table with your company…was it really as long ago as 1991?
I did see the essay by Mrs Rosenbaum I think it was and thought it was well done.
Good to hear from you
Cordially
RDL

Craig Curtis says:

I would offer third item to add to your list of activities that help nobody else. Something you have written and spoken of so well. Profanity. Unfortunately profanity isn’t something that embarrasses enough people.

I appreciate your insights into Ancient Jewish Wisdom and have become increasingly aware of how looking back in history to that wisdom can prepare us for what is coming. In fact this response to Ask the Rabbi and the related podcast on masturbation were the only things keeping me from going into shock yesterday on my way out of a parking lot. I tend to get a mental picture of the driver ahead of me by reading their bumper stickers (I don’t do the bumper sticker thing following the same reasoning why I would never have a tattoo–you don’t slap a bumper sticker on a Rolls Royce). The car I was behind yesterday proudly sent out two messages. One bumpsticker said: Vegetarian. That told me there were more steaks and hamburgers available to meat lovers. The second bumper sticker would have put me in shock if my Rabbi hadn’t prepared me ahead of time, it said: I Masturbate. That told me they were interested in themselves and not serving others. Thank you so much for preparing me.

Larry says:

Thanks for this topic, i need helpLarr on the issue of masturbation because i find myself indulging in the act and i could love to put an end to it.
Thank you

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Larry
Thank you for your note. In addition to the case we made in our teaching on the topic, there are several strong web based accountability networks where men help each other grow in this area.
Cordially
RDL

Larry says:

Thanks for your prompt response, can i get a recommendation for the web network
Thank you.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Sorry, Larry,
A specific recommendation from me wouldn’t be best. Do your own research online and you will find a far more suitable match than the one I might suggest without knowing you well. Furthermore, you will discover that the process of researching it is in itself part of the therapy. Wishing you success
Cordially
RDL

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.This is a required field!

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Search Questions

Yes! I would like to receive FREE weekly teachings

Sign Up Now!

Do you love reading our Ask the Rabbi column? Now, get 101 favorite questions and answers in one delightful book.

Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Real Life ‘Ask the Rabbi’ Questions

Learn More | Add to Cart

X