Faith and Masturbation: Interview with an Ex-Pastor
Hi Nikole. Thank you so much for joining us! Can you start by giving us a quick overview of your background in faith?
Hi! I’m so happy to be here! Yes, my story’s gone viral as the Pastor-turned-stripper, and it’s true. I grew up in the church, loved the church, and became a leader in my megachurch. Church was all I knew. In 2017, however, I traded it all in for a life of pleasure, sex work, and self-expression instead. And I am so glad. I no longer identify as Christian, but as anyone who was raised in the church knows, there really is no way to fully throw off all things Christianity. It’s still a part of me, whether or not I want it to be.
We’ll get right to the popular question: is masturbation forbidden in the Christian faith? Is it considered sinful, natural, or morally acceptable?
Masturbation was definitely discouraged and even considered sinful in some churches I attended. I remember being a little girl innocently touching myself, and a family member saw me doing it and immediately shamed me for it. From then on, I only touched myself in secret, thinking I was doing something wrong. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I felt shame-free about my own masturbation.
Did God give sex as a gift to married men and women? Is self-stimulation considered a corruption of that blessing?
I believe sex is a gift, period. For married people, for partnered people, for single people, for anyone who is of age, has consent, and gives consent. What a gift it is to experience it with someone else! But also, how cool that we can experience sex with ourselves! There’s a common misconception that self-stimulation can corrupt coupled-sex, but it’s not actually true. Masturbating helps us learn our own bodies, which helps us communicate to our partners how we like to be pleasured. It also reduces stress, helps us sleep better, and has zero risk of pregnancy or an STI!
Is sexual expression confined to monogamous, married, heterosexual couples?
There’s a prevalent and outdated paradigm that says sex or sexual expression is only for monogamous, married, heterosexual couples. And if that were so, sex and sexual expression would be limited to a tiny part of the human population! Because there are a lot more of us who are not heterosexual, monogamous, or married! We are LGTBQ, polyamorous, asexual, single, divorced, widowed, and more. We do sex (and humanity) injustice when we try to box sex (and humans) in. Sex is fluid and unboxable, just like us humans. The more we honor that about ourselves and sex, the better off we all will be.
Is the purpose of sex to procreate? Does that mean any sex, even between monogamous, married, heterosexual couples without the intentions of impregnation is a sin?
It baffles me that there are still religious institutions and people who believe sex is only for procreation. Thankfully less and less people are adhering to that! Having consensual sex with someone isn’t sinful. It’s intimacy, power, connection, care, ravishing, and tenderness all mixed together. It’s where we can feel connected or powerful, cared for or dominated, loved or lusted after… depending on what we want! That’s what I love about sex. It’s as diverse and creative as the people partaking in it. It’s something we can all enjoy, by ourselves or with others. And procreation doesn’t have to be a part of it!
Does God give us “erotic energy” or sex drive? In what way does He intend we use it?
I believe we are extensions of the Divine, and so is our erotic energy. Our erotic energy is this powerful force that has the power to bring pleasure, peace, and passion into our lives and the lives of others. It can be channeled during sex and masturbation. It can also be channeled into our work, our relationships, the way we dress, speak, and move. It’s this beautiful power coursing through our body, and we can utilize it for so much good. Far too many people have been taught to fear this power or to play down this power, when it’s something we can love, appreciate, and celebrate in ourselves and in others.
Can masturbation only be achieved through lust?
First, I don’t think lust is a bad thing. The definition of lust is “very strong sexual desire.” We can use that very strong sexual desire for good or for bad, but the strong desire in and of itself isn’t a bad thing! In fact, having a very strong sexual desire can be a very good thing and create some magical moments and amazing memories in the bedroom (or wherever you like to have sex)! With that said, people masturbate for all kinds of reasons: to feel good, relieve stress, go to sleep, etc. Some people do it in the dark, others do it with their partners, some might use pictures or videos to help, but just like sex, masturbation – and the motivation behind it – is as varied as the people who do it.
Is masturbation a good alternative to engaging in premarital sex?
I think masturbation is a great alternative to all kinds of things! It’s great if you want to feel good, feel less stress, sleep better, not get someone pregnant, not have to worry about spreading/contracting STIs, etc. Masturbation is also great if your partner is recovering from an illness or surgery or is traveling. And if not having premarital sex is a value of yours, then yes, masturbation can definitely help relieve sexual tension! Again, we have the power to channel our sexual energy in ways that feel right to us. It’s part of what makes us unique!
Is refraining from masturbation considered honorable by the church?
In the churches I grew up in, yes, abstaining from masturbation and sex was considered the right thing to do. Isn’t it interesting how we are sexual beings, but we try to cut that part of ourselves off? I believe suppressing our sexual energy causes more harm than if we are taught healthy and safe ways to express it instead. The more we come to accept our sexual nature, the less we’ll fear it and the more ways we can use it for good.
Can masturbation lead to a more promiscuous life?
No. Masturbation doesn’t lead to a more promiscuous life. It does lead to a lot more pleasure though, and that’s a good thing! Pleasure isn’t something to be afraid of. We are safe in feeling good. We are worthy of feeling good. We are allowed to feel good. Let yourself feel good.
A lot of religious literature suggests that masturbation is more of a problem if the feelings are aroused by imagination and fantasies, as opposed to real objects. Can you explain this viewpoint?
There’s this belief that if we think sexual thoughts or have sexual fantasies, we are objectifying or harming someone. When the truth is, imagination and fantasies are just that – thoughts in our head! No one is actually being harmed. Again, this is religion afraid of human desire and trying to control it by suppressing it. But any time we suppress something, it often comes out sideways. The less we fear our desire and the more we normalize it, the more we can enjoy it in healthy ways!
Some religious literature suggests that masturbation is not only a moral sin, but a natural one because God did not design the body to function in such a way. Is that true if many people “learn” to masturbate, or get the natural urge to do so, without ever being taught it?
I like to joke that if God didn’t want us to masturbate, then why did God give us hands? On a more serious note, the fact that the clitoris’ sole existence is for sexual pleasure shows us that pleasure IS natural. We’ve just learned to fear it. It’s common for little kids to touch themselves, explore their body parts, and even self soothe by touching their genitals. It’s not until someone (usually a parent or caregiver) shames them for touching themselves that children/teenagers learn to masturbate in secret, feeling shame over it and being afraid of possibly being caught. That shame and fear is often carried into adulthood, unfortunately, and can even affect romantic relationships. Which just underscores the importance of normalizing masturbation and having more conversations about it. It’s one of the reasons why I’m excited you and I are having this conversation right now!
Do you think there are any benefits to media’s normalization of sex and sexuality? Do you think there are any dangers?
I think society shows the two extremes of sex and sexuality. We’ve got the religious side that tends to shame and punish sexuality and sexual behavior. Then we’ve got the media’s side that tends to hypersexualize women and overfocus on certain sexual acts (i.e.: penetration). I experience this personally as a woman in the adult industry who is also a mother of three. Some people think it’s inappropriate for me to do adult work because I’m a mom. Which is funny because sex is the very thing that brought my kiddos into the world, but apparently, I’m not allowed to be sexual after having kids. Because I’m a mom and I do sex work, I bridge two worlds that society (and religion) try to keep separate.
Society also hypersexualizes women and it’s considered normal, but when a woman owns her sexuality, she’s seen as abnormal, unhealthy, rebellious, shallow, slutty, etc. There’s a double standard and women like me refuse to pick one or the other. I get to be sexy and be taken seriously, I get to be risqué and be respected, I get to be a model and a mother. It’s a both/and life for me.
Do you think our society has a fixation on the human body?
Yes. I think we are obsessed with bodies, especially with the ones that our society has deemed “beautiful” and “worthy” and “sexy”, which tend to be young, skinny, white, hairless, able bodies (in the U.S. specifically). Thankfully, I see change occurring. Being an Instagram model and an Only Fans creator, I see more and more bodies being represented and more and more people loving the variety of bodies, ethnicities, orientations, backgrounds, and niches that we all have to offer. There’s a burgeoning love for thicker bodies, older women (the MILF market is huge!), natural hair, no makeup, and more. So, while society fixates on a very limited and unrealistic body type, there are a whole lot of us who are focusing on loving our own bodies and celebrating the bodies of others. We are all amazing, we are all deserving, we are all sexy. Period.
Do you have any advice for someone who is struggling to avoid the urge to masturbate?
As a life coach, it’s more important to me that we examine why they want to avoid masturbating. If we can uncover the root cause of that urge, we might find that it’s rooted in a parent shaming us, for example, when they caught us masturbating as a kid. Or we might find that it’s because a previous partner took our masturbation as a sign that they weren’t good enough at sexually satisfying us (note: you can be sexually satisfied by your partner and still masturbate! They are not mutually exclusive). When we can uncover the root issue, we can then heal and release anything that no longer serves us. Maybe we realize that just because our parent shamed us for masturbating, it doesn’t mean masturbating is bad or wrong. So then we can release our parent’s reaction and choose a different belief about masturbating.
My main thing is I don’t want anyone doing anything out of shame and fear, even if it appears as a “good” thing, like not masturbating. When shame and fear drive our decisions, it lowers our vibration, it suppresses our immune system, it isolates us, and it makes us become secretive. When we release shame and fear, we open up more, we feel safe in connecting with others, we feel more loved, and we have a renewed sense of energy. I want that for everyone. Less shame and fear. More love and peace. And of course, a whole lot of pleasure.
If you or someone you know is a religious leader who would be open to these types of interviews, please contact us. Our goal is to provide our readers with as much information as possible, so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and their bodily autonomy.
Donna is a Volonté contributor and freelancer who lives in San Francisco with her understanding husband and not-so-understanding teenage sons. Her work has been published in The Journal of Sexology and she is currently writing a book on love languages.