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Editor’s Note: Children today are taught in the media and even in school that masturbation is a healthy, natural part of life, failing to acknowledge any potentially harmful effects. The Church, on the other hand, is fairly outspoken against it. So, how do we teach our children to avoid this particular behavior? Geoff Steurer, the author of Meridian’s “Your Hardest Family Question” column, has some incredibly nuanced and helpful insights.
The following is an excerpt from a much longer article. To read the full post on Protect Young Minds, click here.
Avoiding masturbation: 3 reasons to consider
If you choose to teach your children to abstain from masturbation, then you need to have a clear understanding about why it’s something that should be avoided. Your children, whether they ask you or not, will have questions about why it’s banned. They’ll likely ask themselves, “Since it feels good why is it wrong?” As a parent, you have to be prepared with good answers, flexibility, and plenty of loving encouragement.
I want to introduce three ways you can help your child understand why masturbation is something they’ll want to avoid:
#1 Just because masturbation is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you
As a child develops, we help them redirect what comes naturally to them, otherwise their impulses will completely control their behavior. For example, if they want a toy, they hit another child. If they see something on the floor, they put it in their mouth. We want our children to learn how to slow down their physical impulses and not be ruled by them.
Children begin with no ability to regulate anything that comes naturally to them (hunger, bathroom behavior, sleep, and so on). We celebrate each stage of mastery over their bodies as they learn to walk, feed themselves, talk, and potty train. New challenges await them as they develop. Eventually, we have an opportunity to help them learn to master their sexual impulses.
In the same way we gladly work with a child to master other physical aspects of their development, we can also help our children make sense of their sexual feelings and impulses. The word “natural” only means that it’s not the child’s fault when they feel sexual impulses in their bodies. It doesn’t mean we ignore it because it happens naturally. Our commitment as parents is to provide loving guidance and teach limits with all of the natural stages of development.
Sexuality is powerful and isn’t something children can make sense of on their own. Unfortunately, there often exists a private collusion between parents and children around the issue of masturbation. In these cases, kids are embarrassed and unsure about these strong urges, while parents would rather not talk about it. In my view, the fact that it IS natural gives us even more permission and reason to talk about it in a non-shaming and supportive way. We must not dismiss it and hope our kids figure it out.
World famous historians Will and Ariel Durant wrote:
No man [or woman], however brilliant or well-informed, can … safely … dismiss … the wisdom of [lessons learned] in the laboratory of history. A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; [but] if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he … understand[s] that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group. (The Lessons of History (1968), 35–36.)
We can teach our children that sexual impulses, though natural, can become consuming and problematic for them if they fail to put limits around them.
#2 Masturbation can become a substitute for real connection with others
Even though our sexual urges are a natural human need, a stronger and more important need that predates our sexuality is the longing to be close to another human being. From birth, we need others to see us, respond to us, and touch us. We never outgrow these needs, but we often accidentally discover counterfeit ways to meet this deep need for safe connection with others.
Babies instinctively reach for human connection when they’re distressed. As we get older and discover the powerful and soothing feelings experienced with food, sex, and other behaviors, it’s easy to turn to these instead of other people. Human relationships are unpredictable, painful, confusing, and sometimes unavailable. Counterfeit connections, on the other hand, are always available.
Masturbation is highly soothing and relaxing, which can create a pattern of turning only to ourselves for comfort when our wiring actually craves safe connection with another person. We can teach children that masturbation creates a powerful calming feeling that might keep us from turning to other people when we need emotional support. It’s like having your own emotional “off switch” that can direct all of your struggles away from people who can actually help you. Using masturbation in this way can lead to loneliness and isolation.
Our sexual response releases the hormone oxytocin, which is often called the “cuddle hormone.” One of its primary purposes is to bond us deeper to our spouse during sex. This is great for marriage, but not so great when you’re alone, as it can often leave people feeling more isolated. The problem with masturbation, then, is that it teaches that sex is a solitary event instead of an experience that brings two people closer together.
In other words, masturbation will not prepare people to think unselfishly of their partner’s needs, but instead, it will teach them to merely focus on their own pleasure.
We can teach our children that our sexuality is intended to draw us closer to our spouse, not to be an end unto itself.
To read the full post on Protect Young Minds, click here.