This post is focused on talking about masturbation. It’s written for parents, especially scared parents, about how to talk to boys about masturbation.
I learned about masturbation probably the same way other guys did: I discovered it on my own. No one talked to me about it. No one told me how to do it. I didn’t even have a name for it for the first several years of my adolescence. It wasn’t included in any “sex talks” from my parents or the public school system. It wasn’t until I heard a group friends at school joking around about “jacking off” that I discovered that I wasn’t all that unique in my secret habits.
When boys get to the age where masturbation becomes a habit linked with lust, how can Christian parents address the subject? How can parents begin talking about masturbation with their sons?
In my last article, I addressed the subject of younger children and masturbation—specifically when no lustful fantasy is involved.
In this article I’ll be addressing how to talk to boys 11 and up about masturbation. The exact age when boys begin engaging in lustful fantasy varies from child to child, so this is a guideline, not a rule.
Nervous about having sex talks with your son? Check out our course Having the Talk for more tips and advice about talking to your kids about sex.
(As I stated in my last article, I’m well aware that women and girls also masturbate, and yes, daughters should receive education about this as well. I’ve deliberately chosen to focus on boys in this article because (1) I am a man, and (2) I have four boys and no daughters.)
Talking About Masturbation and Ejaculation
As I said in my previous post, going from the Merriam-Webster definition of masturbation, we are talking specifically about the stimulation of one’s own genitals in a concentrated manner that often leads to orgasm. Even young boys can masturbate to orgasm, but pre-pubescent boys will not be capable of ejaculation.
One study states that on average boys experience their first conscious ejaculation (called “semenarche”) at 12.9 years old. Other studies state the average is a little older: 13 ½ years (± ½ year). For most American boys, semenarche is a result of masturbation (as opposed to a nocturnal emission or “wet dream”).
In retrospect, most boys feel unprepared for their first ejaculation because they were never instructed about it beforehand. Most boys experience a mix of emotions, often great pleasure mixed with a desire for secrecy, and one study concludes that this is because it is socially taboo and most parents don’t have any intention on talking to their sons about it.
Parents, be forewarned: Talking about masturbation with your son means getting comfortable (or pushing through your discomfort) about saying words like “orgasm,” “arousal,” “ejaculation,” “erection,” and “semen.” If you cringe at the thought, you must reset your thinking. These are not “dirty” words. Your boys need a language for their experiences, and if you don’t provide them with that language, they will learn it elsewhere.
Masturbation and Lust
For some men, masturbation is not an act associated with fantasy. Dr. Doug Weiss says there are some who masturbate and “stay connected” to themselves and only concentrate on the physical activity itself. They don’t “escape” into fantasy. For most pre-pubescent children, this is what masturbation is often like—unless they have been sexually abused or shown graphic pornography. However, for teens and pre-teens, sexual fantasy is the driving force of masturbation most of the time.
Surveys show that boys remember beginning sexual fantasy (beyond just attraction) shortly after turning 11, on average.
While the Bible says nothing about masturbation as an activity, it has a great deal to say about sexual lust. For parents, this should be the focus of our conversation for boys.
Boys should understand: Masturbation is—more often than not—the bad fruit of a bad tree. Even if the desire to masturbate a specific moment isn’t tied directly to a lustful thought, it is often the result of many instances of lust throughout the day. If boys feel an overwhelming desire to masturbate, they need to look at how they handle the issue of lust.
Biblical Definition of Lust
In the Old Testament, the term most often translated “lust” is the same word translated “covet.” In fact, the 10th commandment, which forbids coveting, draws out a possible sexual application: “you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Deuteronomy 5:21).
In the New Testament the Greek word often translated “lust” is epithymeō, and at its root it means a strong craving or longing for something. When it is used to describe sinful longings, it can refer to cravings for evil things, but more often than not it refers to an inordinate desire—even a desire for good things.
Sexual desire is something created by God and therefore good. Lust is when that good desire becomes inordinate: when we begin to crave sex in a covetous way. Joshua Harris’ short definition of lust hits the nail on the head: “Lust is craving sexually what God has forbidden.“
Jesus is clear that lust, like all sin, is hell-worthy. “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
Teaching Point #1: Attraction is Not Lusting
When you begin talking about masturbation to your son, please remember that it is important to help a boy understand the naturalness and goodness of sexual attraction. It is the way God created him.
The Song of Solomon is full of poetic examples of a married man enjoying the physical beauty and body of his wife. This book is called “the song of songs” (1:1), meaning “the best song of all”—it was Solomon’s greatest poetic achievement, inspired by God to show the place of sexual love in marriage. Young boys need to understand this: their attraction to girls is something God wired into them, something He delights in because it is part of His creation.
At the same time, boys also need to develop an appreciation, not just for the goodness of sex, but the power of sex. Just as sex creates and maintains a powerful bond between a man and woman, sexual attraction is a powerful force. It should never be underestimated—and mixed with our sinful hearts, it can easily be twisted into lust.
Teach this truth to your son: Attraction is not lust, but it can easily become lust. Sex is good. Sexual attraction is good. Lust is evil. The point of distinguishing between sexual attraction and lust is that we do not want our sons harboring false guilt, always mistaking their attraction to girls as a bad thing. The point of distinguishing is not, however, to create an easy way for our boys to rationalize lust as “just attraction.” He needs to know lust is real, his heart is deceitful (Hebrews 3:13), and lust can be very ensnaring. When he experiences physical or emotional attraction, he should learn to embrace this rule of thumb: appreciate a girl’s attractiveness but be watchful of your sinful heart.
Teaching Point #2: Lust is Idolatry
Lustful fantasy, at its heart, is like a sexually-charged mental movie. Boys cast their latest crush (or crushes) as the leading lady in the movie of their minds. In that film, the woman plays a certain roll and reads the script she has been given.
These mental movies come in all types—from elaborate romantic comedies to low-budget pornos—but if boys are honest with themselves, the main character of these films is not the woman. The main character is the boy himself. At best, the woman is a supporting actress to the heart of the fantasy. The person who takes center stage is the boy who is fantasizing: he is lead actor, director, writer, and producer. The woman is there to attest to his attractiveness, his irresistibility.
In his book, It’s All About Me: The Problem with Masturbation, Winston Smith notes that this the sinful nature of lust: turning someone into an object that revolves around you. Lustful fantasy is creating a you-centered world that plays to your desires for pleasure, power, or control.
Smith likens lustful fantasy to playing god. “No matter how widely your fantasies may vary, in every instance you play god with people. You reduce those made in the image of the true God to mindless robots who serve your whims.” This is the heart of the problem with sexual fantasies: they train the mind to be self-focused, pleasure-seeking, and escapist, the exact opposite of a life that does all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Idolatry is at the heart of lust. Paul draws this idea out:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Notice what Paul is doing: he is going from the more overt and outward sexual sins and moving to the sins of the heart. He starts with habitual sexual immorality (such as adultery, prostitution, or fornication), moves to evil desire (a strong craving), and then covetousness, which he calls idolatry.
When talking about masturbation, teach this truth to your son: Lust is offensive to God because it is self-idolatry. Do this by identifying with his tendency to lust: chances are, you can relate to the above concept of sexual fantasy. Dissect your own sexual fantasies in front of your son—not with an emphasis on graphic details, but with an emphasis on how your fantasies are self-focused and self-absorbed. Say to your son, “This is one way our sinful hearts are guilty of idolatry. Instead of making God our greatest joy in life, we escape into an imaginary world in our minds where we are the most important thing, and we use images of the opposite sex in our minds to make us feel important or loved or attractive.”
Follow this truth with grace: While it may feel good to get a girl’s attention in your imagination, God’s favor is so much better. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44). What helps us not escape into the fantasy of lust is resting in the reality of God’s approval. In Christ, we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, and given every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3-10). Don’t escape into fantasy. Escape into the reality of God.
Teaching Point #3: Lust Robs Women of Their Dignity
Christian men are called to treat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). If we were to follow the lead of our porn-saturated culture, we would say, “Treat older women as cougars and younger women as ‘barely legal.'”
Again, the distinction between attraction and lust is key here. For boys, noticing a girl’s attractiveness is as normal as the day is long. What matters is if they allow that attraction to turn to a strong craving through gazing, fantasizing, and objectifying.
Boys need to learn that woman and girls are creatures created in God’s image, and they should be treated with dignity and respect—even in a boy’s mental life. Lust robs women of that dignity. When they find themselves heading down the mental trail of lust, they need to learn to take their thoughts captive.
Teach this truth to your son: That girl is somebody’s daughter. She isn’t just the next actress in your fantasy: she is a human being, created in the image of the Creator of the universe, who has passions, goals, dreams, and purpose.
Teaching Point #4: Lust is Unmanly
I appreciate John Piper’s excellent definition of what biblical manhood is, in his book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:
At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper
This is what we want for our boys as they grow into mature men:
- We want them to honor and prize the women around them, not be patronizing or authoritarian.
- We want them to accept the responsibility of servant-hearted leadership, not taking what they can get from others.
- If they get married, we want our boys to become strong and tender lovers, not forceful or impotent.
- If they become fathers, we want them to take the lead in their homes discipling our grandchildren.
- We want our boys to see Christ not just as their Savior, but as the ultimate example of what humble, self-sacrificing men are meant to become (Philippians 2:6-8).
Contrary to what our culture might say about manliness, lust is a movement in the opposite direction from mature masculinity. Nothing about lustful fantasy trains a man to honor women, to serve unselfishly. Lustful fantasy makes a man feel like a man without requiring him to be one.
When talking about masturbation, teach this truth to your son: Imagine yourself 10 or 20 years from now. What kind of man do you want to become? Do you want to be the kind of man who sees women as objects that serve your desires? Or do you want to be the kind of man like Jesus was: a man of self-sacrifice, love, and power?
Three Principles. One Verse.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
2 Timothy 2:22
This single verse should be the mantra of every growing boy. It is short, easy to memorize, and packs in 3 critical strategies boys need to learn and practice: run from, run to, and run with.
1. Run From
Our boys have “youthful passions.” The first course of action this verse prescribes is: flee.
- Boys should be taught the importance of mentally fleeing: capturing their stray thoughts when they notice attraction turning to lust.
- Boys should be taught the importance of visually fleeing: bouncing their eyes from the images of girls they find attractive.
- Boys should be taught the importance of emotionally fleeing: often what triggers lust are emotions of loneliness, discontentment, or frustration; boys need to learn when those emotional triggers are cropping up and turn them into occasions for prayer.
- Boys should be taught the importance of physically fleeing: getting out of situations where lust or sexual temptation looks inevitable.
2. Run To
It isn’t enough to run from lust. If all our boys have to choose between are lust and nothing, this is a sad choice. The human heart was never meant to merely be void of desire. You don’t kill sin by pushing it down. You kill sin by replacing it with holy desires. This verse tells us what boys need to do: pursue.
- Boys should be taught to pursue righteousness: doing the things that are right in God’s sight. Boys need to develop a love for what it means to treat a woman in a way that is right.
- Boys should be taught to pursue faith: a strong trust in God. Boys need to develop a trust in God that He knows exactly how to help them manage their desires for love, their raging hormones, and their future relationships.
- Boys should be taught to pursue love: a benevolent affection toward God and others. Boys need to develop a strong conviction that lusting isn’t loving, and there is great pleasure in showing others the love God calls us to show.
- Boys should be taught to pursue peace: a harmony with God and others. Boys need to understand that lust does not lead to peaceful relationships with others but only more sexual frustration and tension.
3. Run With
Boys also need to begin to develop strong relationships with others who can help them as they battle lust. These should should be those who “call on the Lord” (i.e. fellow Christians, as in Romans 10:13) from a “pure” (genuine) heart.
- Encourage boys to talk with you (especially you, Dad). Talking about lust with mom or dad may not sound like that most natural thing in the world, but parents should identify with their sons as fellow sinners who understand the power of lust.
- Encourage boys to talk with their Christian male friends. Are there some peers at church who seem genuine. Encourage your son to pursue accountability relationships with those friends.
- Encourage boys to talk with other male mentors. There might be older men at your church who can serve as big brothers to your son. Look for opportunities for your son to build natural connections to those people.
A Final Word on Masturbation
For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.
And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions with no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.
In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself…
After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.
– C.S. Lewis
I hope this post gave you wisdom about how to approach talking about masturbation with your son.
More Articles on Sex-Ed:
- Talking to Young Boys about Masturbation
- The #1 Mistake Christian Parents Make When Talking About Puberty
- 3 Strategies for Biblical Sex Education At Home
- Cut the Smut: Teaching Your Son to Guard His Eyes
- Talking to Kids About Sex: 3 Things Christian Parents Shouldn’t Do
- Moms and Sex Ed: 7 Tips for Teaching Young Boys