Answer to Freud’s Claim: Masturbation Causes Neurosis
Onanism. Great Cases in PsychotherapyPublished on Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 at 9:33 am and is filed under General Psychology
Sigmund Freud’s priceless contribution was to help us understand the subconscious. He endured public ridicule in order to publish his ideas. Thanks to his pioneering work, it is now acceptable to write about sexuality. We all owe him credit. However, with all respect to Oxford Freudians, his statement that masturbation causes neurosis is incorrect. It is not the act of having masturbated, but the unwarranted guilt associated with it that can cause psychological problems.
First let’s clarify a term. In his writings, Sigmund Freud calls masturbation “onanism”. This is in reference to Onan of Biblical times. Many people believe that the Bible says it is a sin to masturbate because in the Bible, in Genesis 38:8-10, a man named Onan married his brother’s childless widow because he was required by law to give her an inheritance through a progeny. But instead of getting her pregnant, Onan practiced the withdrawal method with her. The result was that God punished him by killing him.
8. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
9. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.
10. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.
Since Onan’s brother died without having children, Onan was supposed to marry the widow and get her pregnant. In ancient Hebrew society, wives could not inherit property, so if the widow was wealthy, she had to have a male descendant to inherit and take care of her. Generally people in those times wanted to keep the money in the family so she had to marry the eldest surviving brother.
Sometimes the widow was poor and had debts. In this case she was still required to marry her brother in law and he in turn had to pay her debts and divide his inheritance among his children and hers. This is called a redeemer in the Bible. Onan did not want to give the inheritance to his widow. So he had sex with her but did not get her pregnant. For this reason God punished him.
There is a healthy amount of disagreement about the meaning of these passages among Christians, who otherwise agree on issues of salvation. Some think that Onan was masturbating, but the passage says he had intercourse with her and withdrew at the last moment, spilling the semen. “He went into her” means intercourse, and “slew” means God killed Onan.
Some people believe that “spilling the seed”, that is spilling the semen, is a loss of a human life. On the basis of this argument, the Catholic Church teaches that sex is only for procreation and married couples should not use birth control. The problem with this is that couples have to abstain from sex, or have many more children than they planned. This is very stressful to a woman’s health and an emotional financial burden too big to bear for most people.
“Our present patient’s behavior in the mater of onanism was most remarkable. He did not indulge in it during puberty to any extent worth mentioning, and therefore, according to one set of views, he might have expected to be exempt from neurosis.” (Wedding & Corsini, 1979, p. 27).
Freud believed that masturbation always causes neurosis. He even expected that if a man had never masturbated, he would never get a neurosis. However he discovered that the patient in this case has a neurosis nevertheless. The patient did not masturbate as a child because he was punished, beaten, by his father for trying it (Wedding & Corsini, 1979, p. 28). Nevertheless, the patient had a neurosis.
Lets look at Freud’s world from a modern perspective first and then from the context of his time. Even today, many a man has not been given privacy when he was a teenager. Children today are still discouraged from masturbating by their parents and many do not allow their children to lock the door in their room. This causes boys to masturbate quickly in order to avoid getting caught. This practice over time leads to habitually coming quickly.
When the boy grows up and has sexual relations he realizes that he is a fast ejaculator at least in part from the habit of masturbating. So he associates this limitation to his sexual potential with masturbation. Another potential problem is habitually masturbating in the shower; a boy can get used to the feel on water over his genitals and eventually need to feel water to be exited to orgasm. This can happen if the only time he is allowed to lock the door is when he is bathing.
However, there are also some children who have more psychologically open minded parents that do not discourage masturbation and give their children privacy. In this case a boy is free to take his time; nevertheless he may lack knowledge about the purpose of masturbation and adult sexuality.
What is the purpose of masturbation within a Christian view today? For those Christians who believe masturbation is not a sin, its purpose is to give the boy a practice in learning how to have sex, and to help him keep chaste until marriage by satisfying himself with self stimulation. However, not many boys are told that women take a long time to reach orgasm through intercourse and the women need the husband to have an erection for a long time. So they may not take their time even if they are given privacy because they lack important information.
In our culture there is still lack of knowledge about sex. On the one hand, pictures of scantily dressed women and commercials with one man and several women pressure men to be super sexual. Boys are looked down upon by adults and abused by peers if they do not look masculine enough. But little is told to boys about women’s sexual needs. This is unfortunate, because the greatest sexual satisfaction a man can have is to give pleasure to his wife.
That is not to say that married men should not masturbate. He may do so if his wife is unable to have sex due to sickness. Or the husband may simply want to control his own sexuality once in a while. But the most satisfying sexual pleasure a man can enjoy is to love the woman he sleeps with as if it was his own body, giving just as much importance to her pleasure as his (Ephesians 5:28-29).
Now let’s look at Freud’s time period in Vienna. Men were expected not to masturbate but it was acceptable by that society that a man goes to prostitute. That is the opposite of our time. Today prostitution is illegal in many countries and considered a sin to take part in. Then as now, having sex with a prostitute is a humiliating experience for men which lacks love, can endanger health, and costs extraordinary prices. As far as privacy during Freud’s time, there was little privacy and families with many children and they hardly ever had a room all to themselves. Boys were discouraged form masturbating and felt guilt by indulging in it.
Back to our example of the boy who was denied privacy as a boy, he may associate such guilt with masturbation, that when he becomes an adult he will discourage his son to masturbate and the cycle of self denial perpetuates itself. It is the guilt of having masturbated not the masturbation itself that can cause psychological problems but the man may not distinguish between the two and have unwarranted guilt.
Fantasyzing is associated with the accompanying act of masturbation. Many men have an emotional reason for believing that it is a sin to fantasize. Another possible source of guilt about masturbation may come from a particular misunderstanding of the Biblical passages Matthew 5:27-28, which state,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do 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 sin, 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.”
It does not say “if you THINK about a woman lustfully”; it says “if you LOOK at a woman lustfully”. For example, Kind David who watched Bathsheba take a bath instead of his own wife ended up committing adultery with her. Another example of looking lustfully in modern times is pornography.
Many people who are fundamentalists pride themselves on their literal reading of the Bible, such as the account of a six day creation in Genesis and they believe literally all the miracles without interpreting the Bible. But when it comes to sex they do not read literally, they infer from the passage that it also means that you can not have sexual fantasies. However all people fantasize unless they were born without genes for sex hormones.
If we are going to infer from the passages we must look at the context in order to apply the meaning of the passage to our lives well. Jesus was talking about adultery. If a man is trying to make sly looks to a married woman and following her to see when she is alone so he can try to seduce her, he is guilty of adultery even if he finds her alone and she says, “No.”
The passage continues to say that if it your eye that causes you to sin, cut it out. The author of this article believes this was written for many men living in Afghanistan and some parts of India where the women are covered from head to toe with a little hole for the eyes. They can hardly breathe, yet if these men see the woman show a little bit of her ankle, they beat her. I can imagine how difficult it would be to walk with a long tunic that reaches over the ankles without tripping, especially since the woman’s field of vision is limited. Many women can not afford the long tunic called a burka and remain prisoners in their own home for life. They do not get sunlight so when they are pregnant they often lose the baby due to a viatmin D deficiency. The body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
It is another case of looking at a woman lustfully, reading a sexual impropriety that is not there. Even going to see a doctor is seen as something sexual and therefore not allowed. It is the sin of the men looking at the women not of the women themselves. Because of the lust in their eyes the men see impropriety in a woman’s natural looks. If this is still a problem today, imagine what it was like in Biblical times. he Bible was written for all people at all times. It has something to say to everyone. In all fairness Western culture is just as guilty of lust through pornography as Eastern cultures of mummifying live women.
Some people teach that fantasizing is bad because thought precedes action, and action follows thought. But this is true only in cases of people without self-control. A person, who is healthy, has self-control and will be able to think about something and not necessarily do it. For example, a person could feel tempted to steal something but not do it. Or a person could visualize themselves donating vasts amounts to money to the poor and never carry it out. Thinking is not the same as doing.
I Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Jesus was tempted in everything
Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin”
Hebrews 2:17-18 “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Our high Priest is Jesus. That means he was tempted with every sin man could possible be tempted with and he did not sin. Therefore it is not a sin to be tempted.
We have shown how fantasizing is not bad in itself since you do not have to do what you think about. We have discussed how men may feel guilty about childhood masturbation because they were denied privacy and made a habit of rapid ejaculation to avoid getting caught. What about girls? Is it alright for girls to masturbate? Yes, girls who are discouraged from masturbation have a different but equally disturbing sexual limitation. Many women tell their daughters never to touch their genitals except when they wash. Some women even tell their daughters that her genitals are dirty without distinguishing between sin and healthy sexuality.
A girl needs to masturbate to learn how to have an orgasm and also to learn how to come more quickly. Women who do not masturbate do not learn to have an orgasm and may as much as the first ten years of married life in orgasmic. Some women never come in all their life.
The Answer to the Problem of Guilt
As far as men are concerned, it not the act of masturbation which can cause a neurosis, but the guilt associated with it. As a Christian author, my final word is that anything that a person may feel he has done wrong, whether it is unwarranted guilt as in the case of masturbation, or whether it is remorse for a sin such as prostitution, or whether it is just an honest mistake like punishing a child for masturbating, there is an answer to guilt in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is God’s son. He lived a sinless life and by his sacrifice on the cross he paid for all out sins and for our release from guilt. Those who believe that Jesus is their God and Savior receive forgiveness of their sins and errors. Believing in Jesus can bring great relief and peace; it also helps us to overcome sins.
To explain how Jesus frees us from sin and paid for our wrongdoing picture a person who has been kidnapped. The person is tied up and can not get loose even if he wants to. That is how sin is, we may want to stop sinning and feel able to stop.
The kidnapper wants more money than the person can afford to pay. Only a sinless life has the great worth to pay for our sins. Jesus took our punishment upon him and he also frees us from sin. He paid the ransom for all of us by giving his own life by crucifixion so we can be free of the punishment of hell. By doing this, Jesus made it possible for us to have eternal life and unimaginably great happiness in Heaven.
Sin also separates us from God. It makes us feel guilty to pray and approach God. At times we may erroneously believe that because we have sinned, we can not pray and we are not worthy to go to church. But God always wants us to seek him by prayer and worship. He is available to clean us from sin by his sacrifice. All you have to do is to believe that Jesus is your Savior and confess your sin to God in repentance.
- Freud, Sigmund A Case of Obsessional Neurosis in D. Wedding & R. J. Corsini (Eds.), (1979) Great Cases in Psychotherapy (p.27). Itaska, IL: F.E. Peacock Publishers.
- The King James Bible
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