One Girl's Battle with Lust
That's just a guy problem, right? Wrong.
I yawned, rolling away from my bedroom window and the streams of light making it impossible to sleep. My alarm clock read 6:30 a.m. I had an hour before I needed to get ready for church.
I crossed the room to my dimly lit closet and rummaged though my secret stash of paperbacks until I found the cover that showed a wild-eyed, barely dressed couple clinging to each other.
After flipping through several chapters, I turned to a graphic sex scene. Sexually excited by what I'd read, I locked my door. Then, I masturbated for the first time. For a while, I'd been curious about whether sex felt as great as the couples in these books seemed to think. But I wasn't planning to try it for myself because I'd grown up in church and knew premarital sex was wrong. Still, I found myself drawn to thoughts about sex. And these thoughts excited me. When I picked up that romance novel, I hadn't planned on masturbating. I simply followed my body's urges to what seemed like a natural release. But that first experiment soon became a habit. I liked how I felt, at least for the first few minutes afterward. But then I'd feel extremely guilty.
But I couldn't stop. I almost always ended up locking myself in my room when I read a romance novel. Eventually I didn't need the books; the images packed into my brain were available anytime.
Isn't This a Guy Problem?
For a while, I wondered if I might be the only 17-year-old girl to struggle with this and if, maybe, there was something wrong with me. Could my brain be wired funny, so that I thought more like a guy than a girl? As far as I knew, Christian girls didn't masturbate. I couldn't imagine any of the girls from church harboring a secret like mine.
One of my school friends did talk about masturbation though. During a sleepover, Ann and I were playing cards while talking about guys, especially Ann's boyfriend. Neither of them were Christians, and I knew they'd recently started having sex.
"Most of the time, I'd rather just take care of myself," Ann confided. "I know what I like. So masturbation is much better than sex."
"Really?" I asked. "You don't think it's weird … or wrong?"
Ann laughed. "Of course not. It's completely natural for a woman to take charge of her body."
I thought a lot about what Ann said because I really wanted to believe her. Still, I needed to know if what I was doing was OK, like she said, or if I should stop, like my conscience kept telling me. Looking in the Bible, I couldn't find the word "masturbation" anywhere. A good "you may" or "thou shalt not" from God would have been really helpful.
Most of the Christian books I found were meant for guys, but I flipped through some anyway. The books said masturbation wasn't good for me. They all warned not to get trapped in lust—specifically fantasizing about sex—but none that I could find answered my most basic question: How was I supposed to clean up my mind and stop?
When I went to college, the campus ministry leaders talked a lot about the importance of accountability friendships. I started asking God to lead me to someone I could talk with and trust. Almost a year passed before my friend Carrie asked me if we could be each other's accountability partner.
At our first meeting in her basement, I was extremely nervous. While I was pretty sure I could trust Carrie, I was still afraid she would find my confession kind of gross.
"Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to have sex, and then I masturbate. … I can't quit."
As my eyes filled with tears, Carrie got off the couch, sat next to me on the floor and wrapped both arms around my shoulders.
"I understand," she said. Carrie didn't struggle with masturbation, but she had other purity issues that made it possible for her to understand my problem. Finally, I could talk freely with someone.
Carrie and I agreed to add another girl to our accountability partnership. As we met weekly, we'd ask each other specific questions about whether or not we'd fallen into our secret sins. The three of us promised to always be truthful. Anything said to the group stayed in the group.
I was right to think that having the other girls confront me every week made it easier to avoid situations and thoughts that led me to masturbate. Even so, it wasn't the cure I'd hoped for. I was still trapped.
Choosing to Be Pure
As my faith grew, I took a second look at some Bible verses I'd dismissed during my earlier search. While they didn't say not to masturbate, they all stressed the importance of purity. Purity, I learned, was both the choice to be pure and the action of remaining pure. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul offered solid advice about how to choose purity: "Flee from sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18, NIV).
In order to "flee," I needed to get away from romance novels. So, I threw mine out. Tossing those books made me feel free. I also stopped spending so much time in the romance section of our library. To keep myself busy, I volunteered for a local organization and used free time to call friends, do homework or read my Bible.
With the changes, I could go a couple of months without giving in to temptation. Try as I might, I couldn't quit entirely.
During a Sunday morning church service, my pastor said something that helped free me from the sin I'd been trapped in. "God doesn't expect you to focus on your failures," he said. "Instead, God wants you to ask for forgiveness and then look to him for help."
That comment helped me think in a new way. I had made some wise choices in trying to flee my masturbation habit. But I also had to learn I couldn't fix myself. Only God could make me right again.
While I was trying my best to be a good Christian, I overlooked the fact that being a Christian means focusing on Christ. When I spend time with God, feeling his love for me, I see lust and masturbation become the empty imitations of love that they are.
These days I continue to stay away from romance novels, because they are just too much of a temptation for me. Even though I still deal with occasional lustful thoughts and the desire to masturbate, I don't feel trapped anymore. God has set me free.
Author's name has been changed.