• Zach Spafford

Masturbation is not “self abuse” so let’s stop calling it that

I recently had a conversation with a man, who I greatly respect and who was at one point my ecclesiastical leader, about the pornography problem that is plaguing the young single adult congregation he is now bishop for. As we spoke, there was a great exchange of ideas on how to help those who are struggling to end their addictive behavior.


Throughout the conversation, my friend kept using the phrase “self abuse” when talking about masturbation. In the moment it was jarring to me. In the week since our conversation I have thought about that phrase a lot.


What is self abuse? In the traditional sense of the words, it is harm that one inflicts on their self. Someone who cuts their skin would be inflicting self abuse. So why would someone use that term in reference to masturbation? Arguably, masturbation is not painful nor does it leave scars or injure a person.


From an ecclesiastical perspective, he may be referring to the nature of the act as sinful and as such the “self abuse” occurring is of a spiritual nature.


That strikes me as odd and unnecessary. When a member of a congregation steals we don’t say they have engaged in “self abuse” because they have injured their soul in the act of theft. We call a spade a spade and discuss it in direct terms doing our best to leave judgment out of it.



The reality is, masturbation is, on the whole, a fairly pleasant experience. It includes feelings of arousal and sexual climax. Rarely does it include pain, scarring or physical injury to self or others.


It is masturbation. Calling it “self abuse” is judging the act and shaming the actor, unnecessarily compounding the difficulties already being faced by someone who is trying to quit pornography.


Please don’t mistake, I am not arguing that we should not be addressing masturbation, though I believe that there is a good likelihood that it will subside naturally in most cases as pornography use is abated.


What I am saying, and what I believe is true, is that calling something by name, regardless of how uncomfortable we are with the terminology is the easiest and simplest way to deal with the issue.


When we deal with issues head on and with language that is best designed to knock down the hurdles that pornography users face in overcoming their addictive behavior, I believe both users and those helping them will be more successful.

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