I will apologize ahead of time for the words I'm about to write.
I'm 14 years old, and from what I know masturbation is against Jewish law, but I find it really hard not to do so when my body really demands it.
Maybe I could do it one last time because I haven't done so in three months.
Please tell me what I can do that is acceptable within Jewish law and thought.
[Admin Note: A similar question was answered on Jewish Values Online previously; see - http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=153.]
Thank you for an honestly presented question. There are probably many who have the same challenge you face, but less of a desire to integrate Jewish law and values.
Permit me for being equally forthright with you. On your correct presumption regarding masturbation, asking about doing it one last time is asking for permission to do something that really should not be done, the only justification for the request being that it will be done no more.
It is clear that you have a conscience, that you care, that you want to do what is right, but strong desires are getting in the way. You have my abiding admiration.
The question that you may want to ask yourself is as follows - what can I do to steer my focus toward other pursuits, so that masturbation is not a concern? You are only 14 years old, but apparently more mature than 14. Perhaps by concentrating on what you can do for others, how you can fill your time with volunteering, and study, the concentration on these pursuits will move you away from focus on your own pleasure, toward filling your life with meaning and purpose. We can never get enough of that; it is long lasting, and in the end will make you feel much better about yourself than running after a fleeting pleasure.
Thank you for your question and sharing a very personal struggle that lots of people wonder and worry about, but are too afraid to ask.
It is true that traditional Jewish sources over the centuries have frowned on masturbation, some even take a rather extreme stance on the subject calling it a serious sin. However, most of these sources base themselves on archaic medical beliefs and superstitions, which have been disproven by contemporary science. We can therefore take a very different view today.
Contemporary studies of human sexuality suggest that nearly all men, and most women, masturbate at some point in their lives. This is particularly common during teenage years, when hormones are at a lifetime high, but it is not yet age appropriate to engage in sexual intercourse with a partner. As Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the Conservative Movement’s foremost legal authority of issues of medical ethics writes: In a choice between masturbation and sex, it is certainly preferable for a teenager to choose the former— because it carries no risk of pregnancy, diseases including HIV/AIDS, or intense emotional commitment beyond what you should have to be ready for at such a young age (see “Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics,” pgs 117-120).
Masturbation should always been done in private, and is only harmful when it becomes obsessive or starts to interfere with normal routines like sleeping or getting work done. Otherwise, it should be considered a normal part of human sexuality, neither immoral nor dangerous, and shouldn’t be a source of guilt or anxiety.
For more information about sexual health and making responsible choices, I highly recommend the amazing website, Go Ask Alice, designed for and by students at Columbia University, which offers accurate, honest, and detailed answers to a wide variety of questions about sexual, emotional, and physical health.
The prohibition about masturbation derives from a biblical story of Onan. Here is the relevant part of the story:
Genesis 38:1 It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.
2 There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her,
3 and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er.
4 She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan.
5 Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. Judah was in Chezib when she bore him.
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.
7 But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD put him to death.
8 Then Judah said to Onan, "Go in to your brother's wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother."
9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother's wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.
10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also.
(Gen 38:1-10 ESV)
The 'spilling of seed on the ground' seems to be what the sin was. He did not fulfill his Levirite duty by making sure his deceased brother's wife did not conceive.
Although it can be argued that the context of the story is one of Levirite marriage and not masturbation, it has been seized upon as maintaining that any waste of seed is somehow sinful. I personally find this absurd.
Natural sex drives are normal and expected especially as a young man or woman enters puberty. The sexual impulse is very strong and is nature's way of procreating the spieces which is why we have those impulses when we are young and healthy as opposed to old and sick. Of course, we can't satisfy those needs by having sex with anyone we wish merely to satisfy the procreation impulse. And so to fantasize is our best substitute.
Naturally, if masturbation is excessive and seems to be occupying you mind all the time, there may be other issues that will need to be dealt with. Constantly thinking of sex may indicate the beginnings of an addiction. But masturbation in a normal and healthy person is normal and healthy. It is no sin. The fantasy life is part of who we all and trying to repress that impulse is almost always futile, frustrating and impossible.
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