Masturbation as a ‘borderline homosexual activity’?

Let’s begin with a quote:

…Masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexual activity.

Huh? The idea that privately masturbating is “borderline homosexual activity” is about as crazy as it gets. What’s even crazier is that this quote comes from one of America’s most popular and influential ministers in America, Mark Driscoll, senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle Washington. Driscoll is a New York Times bestselling author, and his credentials are impressive. According to the Mars Hill website, Pastor Driscoll is…

“… the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and is one of the world’s most downloaded and quoted pastors. He and his wife, Grace, co-authored Real Marriage, which became a #1 New York Times best seller. His audience, fans and critics alike, spans the theological and cultural left and right.  He was named one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years by Preaching magazine in 2010, and his audio sermon podcast is regularly #1 on iTunes’ Religion & Spirituality chart and has been among the Top 50 of all podcasts at times. His hour-long  sermons received 10 million plays and downloads in 2011, with another 5 million views of his sermon clips on YouTube and other channels.”

And, if you are wondering, I pulled Driscoll’s quote from his free online book. The link is below for those who want to read more. Enjoy.

Out of curiosity I went on line to find out if there is any scientific evidence to support Driscoll’s claim. I found none. None! What I did find out is Driscoll is not alone; many churches associate sex and masturbation to “original sin” (see image below), It is, however, a well-known fact that many churches condemn same-sex intimacy(see image below), but heterosexual alone-and-in-private masturbation…as borderline homosexual activity? Really? Oh, and I should point out, Pastor Driscoll views homosexuality as sinful, not surprising.

Here is my question: Why would religion care about masturbation? Why in the world would religion want to tie the natural feelings of sexual desire – and acting on it alone and in private – to sin? Perhaps Dr. Darrell Ray has an answer.

Dr. Ray is a contributor to my book (for more information about my book, see archives and click on “One question. One Book. Many answers”). Ray, a bestselling author, suggests that connecting sexual desire to sin has been a long practiced strategy by some religions to keep people feeling sinful, shameful, guilty, and in need of salvation. Ray is also the author of Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality(see below).

The following excerpts are from a lengthy essay Ray sent to me several months ago in response to the question, “What(if anything) should public schools teach children about religion?”

“While many would say that children should be taught a wide range of things about all religions, I would propose that a significant portion of teaching should be about religion and sex, especially to high school students. Sex is the elephant in the living room. Every major religion is concerned with your sex life and tries to force adherents into a particular religious sexuality – what you can and cannot do with your body. Teaching a course in comparative religions, without examining religious sexuality is like teaching a course in biology without studying microorganisms. Sex and sexuality are critical to most religions, yet is rarely examined critically and in detail.

[students] should be taught that sexual preference was not a concern among the religions of some of the Plains Indians, and that many religions in the past and present in Greece, Africa, Polynesia, and South America, were and are, quite tolerant of homosexuality and masturbation. High school students should be given the basic teachings of the various religions, including each religion’s teaching about sex. What is a religion’s teaching on marriage, masturbation, premarital sex? What are the differences among religions and the reasons for differences? Why are patriarchal religions so misogynistic when matriarchal religions are more sexually free? How is it that many so-called “primitive” religions survived for thousands of years without strong sexual restrictions?

Finally, high school students should be taught the basic psychology of religion. They should be taught about the guilt cycle – the psychological method by which a religion creates loyalty and commitment. This is most easily illustrated by the simple observation that a person can only receive forgiveness for religiously taught guilt from the religion that taught it to them in the first place. Muslims do not confess to Catholic priests, Baptists don’t confess to Muslims, etc. The psychology of religion helps people approach religion with open eyes and recognize that sexual guilt is a key component of many religions, especially patriarchal ones.”

In all honesty, I do not mention sex very much in my world religion class. But after reading Pastor Driscoll’s views on the matter, and after reading Ray’s views on the matter, perhaps I should. I’ll just need to get past the blushing part of having to talk about masturbation. No problem…I think. Ugh!




30 thoughts on “Masturbation as a ‘borderline homosexual activity’?

  1. Jim did I read that right. The psychology of religion is guilt? Huh…guilty former Lutheran here. Now I know where it came from…

    • You did read it correctly, but keep in mind those are Ray’s words and not mine, but obviously there is no reason to believe Catholics hold a monopoly on guilt and shame. ha Ha Ha!

  2. To tell you the truth Mr. Morrison coming from someone who went through your class and realizing that religion is a big time arguement. I believe that some of these views are looking into the past too much they should be more modern. The big thing is is that if the religions want men and women to be pure till they marry they need to back off condeming acts that keep them from becoming sexually active!

    • Andrew,

      Looking forward is always the best way to “move forward.” Conservatives look to the past many times and want to “conserve” the old habits and traditions. However, to have progress we must constantly assess what we need to hold on to from the past, and why. We cannot lock ourselves in old habits – we would still be in the dark ages and using slaves if people were “stuck in the past” and not willing to evolve as a society.

      • I agree and like I said their forcing people to choose and thats not going to go well for them. You want abstenant people then stop forcing them to control their bodies let them experiment with themselves

          • very true thats why I took health and your class and am no longer affilated with any religion

          • Well, my intention is never to turn a kid off from religion, but rather to encourage kids to think for themselves and be critical thinkers. Over time you may decide there are somethings in religion worth building your life around, but only you can(and should) decide that!

  3. I hadn’t really thought about the sexual beliefs of various religions until now. The thing focused on in schools is mainly the basic beliefs and customs of religions and they touch very briefly, if at all, on the ideas surrounding sex. In your World Religions class it’s mainly juniors and seniors, most of whom are actually unsure about their faiths. I feel that addressing this issue both in your class and in college courses would be beneficial to students and give them a better understanding about religions in general.

  4. First glance at the title I was laughing. While, others in my Spanish III class gave me a strange stare like “really?” Reading this post made me really curious. Condemn masturbation? I wouldn’t say it’s a “nice” thing to do, but I honestly think there’s nothing wrong with doing it. I’d like to see the churches stop teens from masturbating that’d be a sight to see. I’m a Catholic by baptism, I’m not particularly a hardcore Catholic, but I’ve been in church groups for a little while. It’s almost impossible not to talk about sex in those groups especially to high schoolers. Religion and sex are linked together. I could go into detail, but it’s just pretty much about abstinence and keeping your virginity as long as you can, I personally think. I think you should really talk about sex and religion to your class. Gay marriage is a hot topic in our modern age. They might as well learn a few things.

  5. By having the Church condemn it, does that mean you have to confess it like a sin? Or is the Church manipulating you to be straight? This puts a lot of unsure teenagers in anxiety. They might say, Am I homosexual? Am I straight? Or I can’t love anybody? If they are very religious they might not able to find their way to love, however it is.

  6. Well Mr.Morrison it was not your class. Just me looking at how I see life and realizing that church and my views clash too much so i decided to become unaffilated.

    • Erik,

      Thanks Erik. Feel free to spread the news. I’m trying to let all my former students know about what I’m doing, and I would love to hear back from more people. Happy holidays!!!

  7. Great post Jim, I think its incredibly important for high school age students and young adults to think about this topic, especially the guilt cycle. In the religious climate of Red Wing I believe it finds even greater significance, considering some Church’s manners of attempting to influence the community. Your class could be a great way to shed light on a view of sexuality outside of the Conservative Christian rhetoric to many of these sheltered students.
    And concerning Pastor Driscoll’s outlandish statement, he certainly has a number of other ones so it is not too shocking to read. From his book:
    “The Bible could end right there [in Genesis], after only two chapters, with the man and woman naked, eating fruit, and trying to fill the earth all by their happy, horny, holy selves.” …if only it did end there.
    He also talks about how he is trying to make his church look “cool” by trying to become a part of the “hipster” movement, supporting smoking and drinking in “moderation.” He is also a swearing Pastor, using cuss words in church. This is is a man who, like many other Christians, picks and chooses the parts of the Bible that reinforce his beliefs and solidify the views he is wishing to convey.
    If the simple absurdity of his statement isn’t enough to refute his claims, the rest of his belief system is.
    Keep doing what you’re doing, best of luck!

    • Will,

      So glad to her from you. Great observations. I certainly look forward to hearing more from you! It is sad that many churches promote guilt. It is a kind of a sick marketing tool – with guilt comes the feeling of a need for redemption (through the church and Jesus). And what better way to make people feel constantly guilty than to tell them their natural sex drive is sin?

  8. Mr. Morrison

    The one ideal peace of wisdom I have long held onto since I took your classes was ” Teaching and Preaching all too often coincide, with one another.” I also remember another famous quote you often referred to from the late John Lenon… “Let it be.” People humans fallible and easily distracted even more so quickest to anger and pointing the finger fail more often than not to embrace what EVERY RELIGION PREACHES…AND JESUS said best…“love one another as God loves you.” Muslim Christianity, Budhist Hindu and many all teach to love. Its simply corrupted and twisted by man made ideas and theology if a supreme being exsists and I believe one does, we as a whole have corrupted every “divine” teaching and principality given to us by said God(s) by changing the meaning to better suit our situations. The Romans once a pagon empire endorsed Christianity to repel a uprising of christ followers the muslims followed Mohammed to a belief to rise against Christianity and judaism…the whole problem with belief and religion besides human interferance is the almighty dollar. And that is the mark of the beast. I dont care about gays straights bi’s whatever…i care about the heart of humanity and as a race we are failing not because we are of difference in color but merely the tonality of our actions and the affects of our decisions. All baised and fueled by our own successes. Merry Christmas Happy new year and maybe some day no matter our sexual preference we can indeed “Love one another.”


  9. So by the definition at the beginning if a women masterbates alone its definitely not considered homosexual but if a man does it is? I believe there is flawed logic there… Your class was one of my favorites in High School =P best of luck

  10. This is a tough subject for many, just as politics and religion are as well. Sex is a basic animal instinct that has been around for, well, i think you know. It was been the driving force for every living creature since the beginning of time. I’m sure when religion started, western religion in general, we started to look at sexual instincts as something that made us animals. They fact that we tried to suppress it may have been because we wanted to distinguish ourselves from animals. And the whole being “pure” part, I don’t find that to have to do anything with being free of sin. Imagine everyone had sex with everyone. Imagine how much disease there would be! Therefore i see this as a way to keep ourselves healthy. Christianity, in some sects, i can see why they kept narrowing it down to having one partner. It would just be a way to keep safe. But the sin of “touching one’s self”, I see as an outrageous interpretation of older times. We should establish rules for the modern day based off the modern day, not off of something two thousand years old. Even the whole sex before marriage i find as ridiculous. You need to learn how to love before you find the right person to love. Imagine how awkward it is for some people who wait till marriage, and find out that it isn’t as wonderful as good be. I laugh at myself when i say everything gets better with practice. Practice makes perfect even though no one is. I’m just saying maybe today’s society should really look at this issue instead of having just the church have a say in it.

  11. By definition, masturbation is, according to Concise Encyclopedia: “Erotic stimulation of one’s own genital organs, usually to achieve orgasm. Masturbatory behavior is common in infants and adolescents, and is indulged in by many adults as well. Studies indicate that over 90% of U.S. males and 60–80% of U.S. females have masturbated at one time or another. Christian moral teaching condemned masturbation as the sin of Onan, who in the Old Testament was censured for spilling his seed, and the Roman Catholic Church still officially condemns it.”

    Wow…..90%, which is probably low. Regarding the borderline homosexuality thing…. sure….it all depends on who you are thinking about when doing the deed, George Clooney or Jessica Biel. Regarding guilt….talk to anyone who attended 8 years of Catholic School in the 60′s. Miss mass on Sunday…mortal sin…guilty, masturbation…guilty, impure thoughts….guilty…..and on an on. Luckily we could confess our sins to a priest on a weekly basis, thereby cleaning the slate….but I can guarantee NOBODY…..confessed masturbation….I think that everyone just thought that 4 “hail mary’s” and 4 “our fathers” would take care of anything that we missed.

  12. Jim,
    I have kept what Dr. Ray has written because I was a victim: Shame, guilt and fear then judgment and then hell, a lake of fire for eternity.
    I want you to be very careful when or if you start talking about sex and religion. Main line religions may back away from their support for your course.
    No religion gets it one hundred percent. God makes sure of that. However, the Gospel of John has given me comfort, peace and hope, even healing. Jesus crossed a lot of religious lines when he included everyone. The high priest made sure he was killed for it. Jesus was the light out of darkness, still is; the hope of life over death.
    We all hurt someone and so there is forgiveness, an attempt at redemption. It is the hardest part of life, even forgiving yourself.
    So who should teach right from wrong? Love and hate? Don’t walk into this one without the support of your school Jim. I don’t want to see you get hurt. All the good you have done go way.
    My redemption started with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. And it took a lifetime. I had to invent a God I could live with. Sometimes I consult Jesus for advice.
    Be careful. Sex and morality! Oh Boy! And Religion?
    Uncle Ivan

    • Ivan,

      So glad to hear from you. Like you I began my journey with Joe Campbell and Moyers, The Power of Belief. Like you, I too have developed beliefs that give me hope and courage, and, at the same time, satisfy my intellect. The journey is far from over; it is an ongoing process of growth and discovery. Also, you can take comfort in knowing that I do not focus on sex in my class. If you take the time to read Huston Smith’s book, World Religions – this is the book I lecture from – you will see that he does not treat sex as an important element to faith and spirituality, and nor do I. And nor do I make it an important part of my class – I leave that for the health teacher! My class focuses on the basic beliefs and wisdom of the religions. So…thank you for expressing your concern! I appreciate your words!!


  13. James,

    This post is very interesting and a different perspective to take on the issue of sex and religion. I’m intrigued by this post as I take structural views and examine the presuppositions behind religion in my work as a Catholic campus minister. Unfortunately, I’m finding that there are many problematic presuppositions that do not match the scientific evidence for what sexual activity does for the body. I think your highlighting of the guilt cycle and how that guilt cycle is linked heavily to sexual expression is a great place to start. In essence, it is a system that always makes sure that there is something wrong and then creates its own solution. (well sort of, it doesn’t actually engage the problem, it just creates a cycle of redemption.)

    Another piece I want to add to this discussion though is looking at the difference between mystical theology and what is taught as doctrine. Many Christian mystics in different religious circles break this dichotomy of sex by emphasizing the sins of the spirit (greed, pride, etc.) and talking about how these dispositions are more offensive to G-d than the sins of the flesh (lust, gluttony, etc.) I have to admit, I’m not sure if other religious traditions definitively have this tension as in Christianity, but the bits and pieces I’ve read of non-Christian mystics have these undertones as well.

    Regardless, thanks for this post, it’s helped me think about a little more about how to engage the structure of religion we’ve built and how we connect the pieces differently to build a less oppressive religious force, one that actually unites people instead of tears them up from the inside.


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