I was given a free copy of this book to review. I can only do so from the perspective of a happy non-Christian masturbator. For all I know there may be countless individuals who felt that masturbation was a problem for them and who have been rescued from an addiction to it by God and Sesan Oguntade’s book. I look forward to reading about this in their five star reviews of it.
Why would God want someone to give up masturbating? This book is written from a Christian view point and the Gospels don’t record Jesus’ thoughts on masturbation. Some believe that, in the Old Testament, Onan incurred the wrath of God through masturbation, because “he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother” Genesis 38:9 but it is unclear whether he masturbated or practised the withdrawal technique of contraception. Clearly the point of the story is that God killed him because he refused to father a child with his brother’s wife. If there were a divine death sentence against masturbation we would see a lot of evidence of it given the popularity of the practice. And, while you will find repeated prohibitions in The Old Testament against sex with animals, something which is widely frowned upon these days, I don’t think you will find a verse saying “Thou shalt not masturbate.”
He does make a reasonable point however when he directs us to Matthew 5:27-30 :
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
The argument is that masturbation is unlikely to be engaged in without accompanying fantasies or visual aids and that Jesus has said that it would be better to blind or cripple yourself than to be in the thrall of lust in such a way. (Actually Oguntade weakens his own case by quoting from some kind of Gospel for Dummies version which doesn’t explicitly mention the eye-gouging or hand-lopping bit.)
Personally I’m not terribly fond of that passage in Matthew. It seems too much like an advocacy of sexual repression and it seems to me that when we repress our sexual feelings we also repress our capacity to feel love for others in non-sexual situations. Is it such a problem that a man walks down the street with a stream of thought which runs like this : “what a lovely day… oh, I like that car, I wouldn’t mind having one like that… wow! what a sexy woman, I wouldn’t mind making love to her… mmmm, I could really go for a slice of that cheesecake in the bakery window…”? Lust becomes a problem when it takes hold of our heart and propels us to do something which is against our own best interests and the best interests of others, but this is less likely to happen if we get into the habit of feeling and enjoying our free-floating sexual desires without compulsively acting upon them. It is when we try to dam these feelings up and then the dam breaks that bad decisions get made and people get hurt.
Oguntade talks a lot about the problem of drug addiction. I think it is dishonest to write a book about masturbation and try to associate it with the obvious dangers of drug addiction. Most of us don’t think that masturbation is a problem, so the challenge of explaining why we should view it as a problem is something that should be tackled head on rather than getting us primed with talk of people ruining their lives with drugs and then expecting us to view masturbation in the same light without any evidence that it harms anyone’s life. When we look at the expert non-religious testimony on masturbation we find that there is evidence that, by inducing orgasms, it is beneficial to both the body and the psyche.
In discussing the importance of sexual morality, the author talks about the problem of sexually transmitted diseases without acknowledging that masturbation is a help not a hindrance in the fight against such diseases. If everyone with such a disease gave up having sex with others and masturbated instead it would contain the spread. This is an especial serious problem in his native Africa.
Oguntade, who lives in Nigeria, grew up in extreme poverty and found in Jesus the prospect of a way to achieve a successful life through helping others. I think Oguntade’s intentions are good. When he says : “I want to be part of the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5). I do not only desire to be part of it. I want to be a vessel in the hands of God to draw millions along with me,” I believe that he wants this and has faith that it is possible, but the success of a self-help book cannot rest on faith and good intentions. (And if helps if the author can write well and avoid saying things like “…the first steps to solving a problem is to first admit there is a problem in the first place…”) He says that he “believes that the solution to ANY problem lies in the WORD OF GOD.” Any problem? Try looking in the Bible for an answer next time your computer is infected with a virus. I’m sure that faith in God has often given people the sense of reassurance necessary to keep going through adversity, but we need a realistic knowledge of ourselves and our world if we want to find practical solutions to the problems which face us each day.
He does give some advice which seems sound enough for someone trying to break a habit they are unhappy with. Get rid of things which make it easier to indulge in the habit and avoid those people who encourage it. (If you want to break a dope habit, throw out your bong and don’t go to a party with your doper friends, would be an example unrelated to masturbation.) Create a pin-up board on which to pin any pictures, quotes or articles which help to inspire you. Cultivate a positive habit to replace a negative habit. But most of what he has to suggest hangs upon accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and studying the Bible.
Now I, too, like to read the Bible, but I read it as a document created by humans in which can be found both wisdom and delusion. In Numbers 15:32-35, we are told that God wanted a man stoned to death simply for gathering wood on the Sabbath. And in 1 Samuel 15:2, we are told that he ordered his people to “put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” belonging to the tribe called the Amalekites. What kind of God wants infants and animals to die for the supposed sins committed by adults? We created this God in our own image. If you feel compelled to commit an atrocity then fool yourself and others that God demanded it. And yet there are those with love rather than hate in their heart, and when they tell me that God is love I am prepared to listen and believe : “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16 So my advice to those who chose to read the Bible is to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Reading it uncritically would be unwise.
A Bible-based self-help book needs to have plenty of quotes from the Bible and this is no exception, but the use of quotes often seems superficial. We will need faith in Jesus to succeed, says the author, so here is a quote from the Bible about someone who had faith that Jesus could cure their physical ailment and it happened. We need to accept the error of our ways and return to the true path. Here is a quote about the prodigal son doing that. By contrast, a more appropriate use of a Bible quote to help someone struggling with an addiction might be : “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:24 This fleshes out the Alcoholics Anonymous advice to take one day at a time.
Of course there are also quotes which go to the heart of the author’s dogmatic allegiance which is to a very rigid form of dualism in which the body and the spirt are seen to be necessarily at war with each other. (Actually he says there are three parts - spirit, soul and body - but doesn’t explain the difference between the spirit and the soul.) This is worthy of closer examination. “‘Watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.’” Matthew 26:41 This is Jesus speaking to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane about whether they will be able to stay awake through the night with him. This is appropriate. Their spirit - their enthusiasm to stay awake with him - is high, but their flesh is weak - they are tired and that tiredness in their flesh is likely to take precedence over their emotional enthusiasm. But this quote is often used inappropriately. When we give in to lust we may say “My spirit is willing but my flesh is weak.” But in this case, unlike when we are tired, it is the flesh which is strong in its desire and the spirit which is weaker and takes the back seat.
But we should look even deeper than that since this is a book about bodily pleasure. What does the body, in itself, want? It’s primary desires are simple - food, warmth, a modicum of sexual pleasure. So why do are we prone to exaggerated desires - gluttony, lust, power over others, etc. The exaggerating factor comes not from the body but from the psyche. The desire for orgasm comes from the body, but if we feel the need to sniff bicycle seats or be humiliated or tied up or to whip someone in order to experience orgasm then it is some imperative in the psyche which is being responded to.
The spirit and the flesh are different elements but they are not separate, nor are they at war. All spiritual experiences are experiences of the flesh. When we are moved to tears we feel the water well-up in the flesh of our tear ducts and run down the flesh of our face. When we feel awe we experience it as a tingling in our flesh. And if we are called upon to clothe the naked and feed the hungry it is in order to bring comfort to their flesh. The spiritual realm is the realm of immaterial relationships and principles, but it would have no existence without the medium of the flesh. The flesh is the instrument, the spirt the music.
The author doesn’t see it this way. He says, “Anything that belongs and acts out the characteristics of the earth is not normal and usually is contrary to the characteristics of God.”
I think this actually goes to the heart of the problem. The author talks about the story of Adam disobeying instructions and sinning against God and thus bringing spiritual death upon himself and humanity. The “sin” was to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If the intrinsic desires of the flesh - for warmth, food and sensual pleasure - only become a problem when they are exaggerated by something in the psyche, then perhaps this mythological story addresses the issue of how this problem in the psyche originated. We developed some system of morality - “knowledge of good and evil” - which had the unforeseen side-effect of giving us a dark, i.e. “sinful”, side to our psyche. “Sin” could be defined as “rebellion against God” but it could also be thought of as “defiance of moral criticism”. It’s a kind of “shut up with all your bloody thou shalt nots!” We need some kind of principles to guide us in our behaviour with each other, but if those principles are too idealistic - to strict - they produce rebellion rather than obedience. This is because they undermine self-acceptance. The insecure ego can only behave defensively, i.e. selfishly. Attempts by religion to solve this problem have always been compromised by the fact that they are a product of the problem they are trying to solve. The battle is within the mind, between ideals and resistance to the oppressiveness of those ideals. The flesh is not a combatant. It’s the battleground. Selfishness, i.e. “sin”, is not good for us, because it compromises our capacity to thrive as a community, but it’s origin is in excessive tightness of moral restrictions. If to love our neighbour as ourself is the primary objective, then getting hung up on whether we or they like to masturbate to porn would seem to be counterproductive, whereas an addiction to heroine, crack or ice is going to be a major obstacle to that objective which needs to be tackled head on.
Only a small minority of us have a problem with masturbation which is comparable with alcoholism or drug addiction. Sure there are people who find themselves making improper use of a stick of salami in a Walmart washroom or who rub their genitals raw through an anxiety-driven obsession, but most of us simply rub one out and get on with our day.
If we want to assess whether some habit of ours is an addiction we should probably ask ourselves :
1. Does it lead us to do significant harm to others?
2. Are we consciously doing significant harm to our own health?
3. Are we willing to compromise our integrity to get what we want?
4. Does it act as a significant impediment to achieving what we want to achieve in our life?
If the answer to all these questions is “No” I don’t think we need consider it an addiction.
The author asks : “Do you enjoy watching Porno films either on the internet or on television? Do you hang around in the company of friends when they discuss filthy issues?” I answer both of these questions with an enthusiastic “Yes!” The author continues : “If you do all of these, you are polluting your mind and you can be sure that a good act or behavior cannot come out from such a dirty mind!”
Think about what he is saying. Just because I spend twenty minutes masturbating over some pornography, that means that I can’t follow that up with two hours working at a soup kitchen, helping those less fortunate than myself? One kind of action need not exclude another kind of action. What makes a difference is how we think about what we do. It is true that if I felt ashamed of masturbating over pornography, that sense of shame might drain away a good deal of my enthusiasm to help others.
This is another reason why I feel that idealism is a major problem. When we try to make ourselves perfect what we end up doing is to exaggerate the power of those aspects of the psyche we would like to be rid of. A person who feels no shame about masturbation can enjoy it, get the satisfaction they crave, and then be fully available to interact cooperatively and creatively with others, but for the person who wishes to rid themselves of masturbation, their life may become centred mainly around their battle with this natural impulse.
(reviewed 5 months after purchase)