As you know, while zero is an integer, it is neutral in that it defines neither a positive nor negative value. Yet, if you remember factorials from algebra class, you’ll remember that the factorial of zero is mathematically defined as one. It has to be, so that all the other factorials work. Today’s equation defines sexuality as experienced by a solitary individual and yet even in the absence of another person, others may be involved. We’re talking, in this section, about the taboo topic of masturbation.

First, let’s face the facts. Masturbation does not meet the divine formula for sexual expression as discussed in our inTro. But it is practiced more often than confessed by single and married, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, religious and irreligious. For some, this has become a mechanism to cope with the sexual urges they cannot express. For others it is a form of relaxation and just another part of their day. Yet others are in a struggle to stop masturbating, battling feelings of guilt, shame and defeat after every indulgence.

Here are four common myths currently in circulation about the practice of masturbation.

Because it’s natural, it’s right. It will be argued that even little children explore their genitalia in a manner akin to masturbation. Were it not for social norms prohibiting such behavior, some would say, then as the body matures, masturbation would be a natural activity to engage in without the encumbrance of guilt and shame. This view does not cohere with the biblical perspective, which does not define morality by what feels natural. Sin has so corrupted our nature that we must not follow its inclinations as our guide (Rom. 8:7). Rather we are to yield ourselves to obey God’s definition of what we were created to be and to do.

Pragmatic reasons. There are various benefits touted for masturbation. From lowering stress and soothing you to sleep, it relieves sexual tension, helping you to focus, and for women, can even relieve cramps. But is this the only way to achieve these outcomes? Teleological ethics basically holds that the end justifies the means so that as long as the desired goal is good, it does not matter how you get there. However, Proverbs 14:12 (and 16:25) tells us that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Rather, we are to trust God’s ways: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:3–5).

Educational reasons. “You need to masturbate in order to better understand your own wants and needs, and then you can teach your spouse how to please you.” Two false assumptions underlie this claim. The first is that your spouse could replicate what you do to sexually stimulate yourself. From the potential involvement of pornography or sheer fantasy to the mechanics of the method of stimulation whether manual or mechanical, a partner cannot replicate the masturbation experience. This in turn can lead to frustration, and rather than learning to please each other sexually, two individuals may find themselves mutually self-pleasing during the sexual act. The second false assumption is that the sexual act is purely physical and focusing on understanding the physical aspects that lead to sexual climax could instruct an individual on how climax is achieved when engaged in the act with another person. If anything, masturbation is a miseducation on what sexual intimacy between two God-fearing individuals looks like. Keep studying the lesson for more on this point.

You’re not hurting anybody. The pornography industry is fraught with questionable content. Whether it is revenge porn or videos made through the sex trafficking trade, those ingesting this form of media have no assurance that no one was indeed hurt during the making of the material. Pornography aside, to the previous point on the miseducation of masturbation, there will certainly be emotional damage done to the partner who finds that they cannot, for all their best efforts, bring pleasure to their spouse. Moreover, while we may not fully comprehend the ramifications, a deviation from God’s ideal is never without personal harm. And most importantly, the God who gave Himself so that we could experience victorious Christian living is worth our consideration as well.

The practice of masturbation is fueled by three things, which are all objectionable. Pornography, besides the potential harm to others, is certainly objectionable on the grounds of Matthew 5:27, 28. Sexual fantasy cannot stand the Philippians 4:8 test. And last, a purely hedonistic masturbatory experience focused on the physical sensations of sexual stimulation contravenes the oft-repeated counsel to avoid the selfish pursuit of pleasure (cf. Eccl. 2:1–11; 12:8–13). Sexuality is a gift designed by God and best enjoyed in accordance with His precepts.