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Fantasies and Freedom


(WARNING:  This article may be offensive to some.  It deals primarily with male sexuality.)

[b]Sexual Fantasies and Freedom
[/b]
30 March 2012
[i](WARNING:  This article may be offensive some.  It deals primarily with male sexuality.)[/i]
It's always difficult to write anything about sex, because it's such a touchy subject, and people can take things wrongly.  However, I am deeply concerned that people so often allow themselves to be drawn into one camp or the other with regard to sexual mores (much like happens with politics), without being able to see the truth on the other side.  While sex may not be seriously discussed in depth very much, it is one of the most powerful drives in our lives, and deserves a lot of thoughtful consideration if we are to keep from becoming confused and warped in our thinking by either extreme.  For that reason, I would like to take a Christian (but not religious) look at sexual fantasies in particular, and how they work in our lives.
God made us with a strong sex drive, and he has made sexual climaxes pleasurable for us.  On top of that, we live in a world where sexual stimulation is thrown at us from many directions.  The religious approach to most of this has been to seek one way after another to repress our sex drive and to distract us from all of the stimulation.  While there are some situations that we need to, and, indeed, can avoid, I believe that, for the vast majority of religious people total avoidance simply is not working.  Worse still, repression often results in bizarre sexual behaviour that generates even more guilt, thus complicating the matter further.
My first thought with regard to all of this is that the Bible says relatively little about sex (apart from the obvious injunctions against fornication, etc.).  The passage where Jesus compares "lust" with adultery is the passage most frequently used to condemn all sexual fantasies, and yet the traditional interpretation has always seemed (to me) out of sync with the real world.  Because of that, I think it deserves a closer look.
Basically, what religion has told us is that all sexual fantasies are the same as lust or adultery, i.e. If you become sexually aroused by a woman wearing skimpy clothing, then you are guilty of lust, and therefore guilty of having committed adultery with her.
Now think about it.  Is that really fair?  Aren't we all (men, at least) sexually aroused by various unavoidable sights and thoughts?  Don't we even have dreams (over which we have very little control) which involve sexual fantasies?  It seems to me that if we interpreted what Jesus said about lust as being a blanket condemnation of all sexual fantasies, then the obvious conclusion is something like this:  "Oh well, since we are all guilty of fornication, whether we've done it or not, and since it seems to be unavoidable, why not grab the real thing and be done with it!"  Surely, that was not what Jesus was trying to encourage!
I want, in this article, to share my own thoughts with regard to sexual fantasies, and then look again to see whether they contradict anything that is taught in the Bible.
Fantasies by definition are unreal.  They do not exist in the real world.  Nevertheless, people are often deceived into thinking that the fantasy COULD be real.  What I mean by this is that temptation tells us that we can engage in something and find true satisfaction in it, when in reality it is not going to measure up to the fantasy, and is very likely going to cause us a great deal of heartache.  While it stays a fantasy, of course, there IS no dissatisfaction, because we have not really engaged in such behaviour.  We get the pleasure without the cost that comes with it in the real world.
For men at least, pleasure comes from ejaculation.  The fantasies are merely a build-up to that.  Even if they are lived out, they cannot do anything more than trigger an ejaculation.  The fantasies can speed up ejaculation, or heighten the pleasure when it comes, but in the end, it's just ejaculation that we men are all looking for.
For many years now, I have taught that there is nothing sinful about masturbation.  It deals with the need without breaking any rules in the Bible.  But the counter-argument has always been that what Jesus taught about "lusting after a woman" refers to any fantasies that take place during masturbation.  I want to challenge that argument.
Fantasies are just that... fantasies.  Whereas adultery is adultery.  Lust is somewhere between the two, where one would engage in the act itself in the real world, if only one could get away with it.  We definitely need to deal with that grey area (and I will, later in this article), but we need to recognise the distinction between the two extremes first.
Many years ago, I was praying for God to speak to me and tell me whatever he felt I needed to know in order to grow spiritually, and I very clearly felt that he said to me on a specific occasion, that I had total freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.  That immediately scared me, because I had this sub-conscious conviction that, if I totally believed such a thing, I would immerse myself in every form of sexual misconduct that was available.
I believe that something like this exists in the minds of many, if not most, religious people today.  We see that awful demon of lust, and we believe that we are possessed by it.  We believe that it is only through the most extreme self-control that we are ever going to be able to keep it under control.
Yet here was God telling me that I was free to do whatever I liked.  I thought about it for many days, and pondered over whether this could really be coming from God.  I had asked in all sincerity for him to speak to me, and yet I was frightened about what I had received.  Part of me wanted badly to exercise that freedom, and yet I feared for my salvation if I was wrong.  But finally, I took the plunge.  I went to see an R rated movie, something I don't think I had done before that.  And then I watched another one.  And already I was starting to think that this was NOT what I really wanted to do.  Oh, I wanted sexual pleasure alright.  But I wanted it within the confines of my marriage.
Little by little, I came to realise that there was only one part of that sexual freedom that might add to the sexual pleasure in our marriage, and that was the part about fantasies.  In one way or another, that is pretty much always a part of sexual relations.  Romantic music, a nice meal, a glass of wine, foreplay, reminiscences about past romantic experiences... it's all part of a romantic fantasy that goes with even the most chaste marital sex.  Take all of that away and it's just a mechanical exercise... perfectly legitimate, but not nearly as exciting as the fantasies.
And now I'm going to bring in a Bible verse about sexual fantasies, believe it or not.  Can you guess what it is?  It refers to the most universal of all sexual fantasies.  It is the fantasy about "living happily ever after" once you have married someone.
Paul said, in I Corinthians 7:28,  "If you marry, you have not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you."
What was he saying, apart from that it's okay to marry?  He was saying that the real thing is not going to live up to the fantasy.  Engaged couples don't want to hear that, and we live in such a romantic world, that few of us are prepared to tell the truth about marriage to such people.  Instead, we smile and wish them well, probably even fantasising about our own high hopes back when we were in the same situation.  But the whole truth is that roughly half of those marriages are going to end up in divorce, some of them quite acrimonious.  A few of those marriages are going to even end up in murder.  That's the reality.  Living out the fantasy takes a lot of hard work, and that's just in a sexual fantasy that the Bible says we are free to live out if we like.
What about all the fantasies about things that that are NOT okay in the eyes of God?  The statistics regarding satisfaction would be a hundred times more depressing if we could read them.  So, for our own good, God tells us not to make them a reality.
If we could only see that these rules are not there to deprive us of pleasure, but rather to protect us from pain!
But now let's say a little about the pleasure that God DOES allow.  As we've said elsewhere, there is nothing in the Bible forbidding masturbation, despite efforts by many to make it say that.  And I fully accept that masturbation almost always involves some kind of fantasising.  I think it is somewhat understandable that the efforts to forbid masturbation have been made by people who have a misunderstanding of the difference between a sexual fantasy and sexual reality.  "Lust" (that grey area in between, which I mentioned earlier) is genuinely wanting to taste the reality, even though we know that it is forbidden.  Given the opportunity, the lustful person would engage in the real act if they could get away with it, and so they are guilty of the act even before they actually do it.
However, one can fantasise without ever wanting to engage in the real thing.  So fantasising in itself is not lust.  One can choose to imagine a situation which heightens the pleasure of masturbation, without ever engaging in or even WANTING to engage in it.
The problem with the Pharisees whom Jesus accused of being guilty of lust, was that they did want to engage in such practices (and I expect that more than a few of them managed to find ways to do that too, as so many self-righteous religious leaders have done today).  But I will say it again:  Fantasising in itself is not lust.
So if someone wishes to imagine having sex with an alien in order to heighten the pleasure or to speed up ejaculation, that's entirely their own business.
One of the problems I have had in getting the courage to write this is because I have generally accepted the principle that, if the Bible is silent on certain topics, then we should be too.  However, even though the Bible has been silent on masturbation, the churches have not.  Some have refrained from coming right out and saying that masturbation is wrong, but they have also taught what I believe is a misguided interpretation of things like the "lust" passage from Jesus in such a way as to imply that masturbation is wrong.  So I am concerned about the need to challenge such teachings.
Another reason for writing about this now is the widespread availability of porn on the Internet (as well as the burgeoning market in simulated sex that has been coming out of Hollywood for the past few decades).  I believe that Christians all over the world are looking for guidelines in terms of where to draw the line, and I believe  that the line between fantasy and reality is not when you finally hop into bed with a real person and start doing those things.  I believe it is when you invite real people into your home (through the Internet, TV, or videos) and let them do things which you would never do yourself, and especially not in the presence of fellow church attenders, for the purpose of giving you sexual stimulation.
I would also add that any fantasies which involve real people (i.e. "fantasising after your neighbour's wife") are definitely in the grey area too, and can very easily open the door to temptations that are going to ruin your relationship with both your neighbour and your neighbour's wife.  Fantasies (to qualify as "fantasies") should be about unreal people and not about real people.  You may tell yourself that you wouldn't really do it, but if that's the case, then leave real people out of it.
Can you see how I have started out by apparently promoting a liberal, almost promiscuous, doctrine (i.e. that people should be free to fantasise and masturbate without guilt), yet I am now coming around to a very strict line (in the eyes of today's world) which even rejects sex scenes in respectable movies?  The problem with so much religious teaching about sex is that people stay totally on one side or the other.  Those promoting freedom include freedom to engage in real sex acts or to "employ" real actors to engage in acts which they are too frightened to engage in themselves; and those promoting scriptural holiness include injunctions against even thinking about sex.  The truth is somewhere in between.
The reality of porn (whether hard core or Hollywood soft core) is that it ruins the lives of the people performing it.  We may call it fantasising, but it's not.  It's real people doing real things (though it may not include penetration) for our sexual gratification.  Even if it means never watching another movie again for the rest of my life, I do NOT want to be a part of that.  There may be some grey areas (e.g. kissing scenes, which are banned in India, surprisingly not on Christian grounds, but on Hindu grounds) that require actors to express intimacy with someone they are not married to. People may need to form their own opinions about whether or not to watch movies that include such things.
I should explain the word "freedom" in the title.  I believe that it is important for us to recognise, as the Bible says, that freedom is not license.  God has graciously given us a free will, so that we should not have to feel we are being forced into anything.  But he has also given us rules which he says are for our own good.  Like with the sabbath commandment (which Jesus said was given to help us and not to put a heavy burden on us), all of the commandments are attempts by God to protect us from the lifelong hurt that can come from bad decisions.  You can disregard them if you like, but you will live to regret those poor choices.  With regard to sexual fantasies, however, there appear to be no obvious restrictions. (As I've said above, one rule may be to keep all real people out of them.)  Through sexual fantasies and masturbation, one is able to experience the pleasure of the fantasies without the horrible costs that come from living them out.  And I see nothing in the Bible to forbid this.
Some have expressed concerns about the implications of encouraging a paedophile to fantasise about molesting children or a rapist to fantasise about rape.  If it was just ejaculation which the paedophile or rapist craved, and if masturbating while fantasising about it would stop the real thing from happening, I would still promote masturbation as a better alternative than anything else that has been so far proposed (since it is generally agreed at this time that the problem of paedophilia in particular seems incurable).  However, I have heard that even a castrated paedophile still molests children, and that rapists have a psychological kink which is more related to violence and cruelty than sexual gratification.  On the basis of that I am assuming that these are psychological problems which do not fit within the boundaries of this discussion.
Although I expect that there will be many who will condemn me, both for being too liberal and for being too strict with regard to what I have written in this article, I hope that there will be some who will see the clear path it has given us in which to walk... a path which includes sexual pleasure, but which excludes behaviour which has been forbidden by God because of the hurt it will cause to ourselves or others.
It's always difficult to write anything about sex, because it's such a touchy subject, and people can take things wrongly.  However, I am deeply concerned that people so often allow themselves to be drawn into one camp or the other (promiscuity or extreme prudishness) with regard to sexual mores (much like happens with politics), without being able to see the truth on the other side.  While sex may not be seriously discussed in depth very much, it is one of the most powerful drives in our lives, and deserves a lot of thoughtful consideration if we are to keep from becoming confused and warped in our thinking by either extreme.  For that reason, I would like to take a Christian (but not religious) look at sexual fantasies in particular, and how they work in our lives.

God made us with a strong sex drive, and he has made sexual climaxes pleasurable for us.  On top of that, we live in a world where sexual stimulation is thrown at us from many directions.  The religious approach to most of this has been to seek one way after another to repress our sex drive and to distract us from all of the stimulation.  While there are some situations that we need to, and, indeed, can avoid, I believe that, for the vast majority of religious people total avoidance simply is not working.  Worse still, repression often results in bizarre sexual behaviour that generates even more guilt, thus complicating the matter further.

My first thought with regard to all of this is that the Bible says relatively little about sex (apart from the obvious injunctions against fornication, etc.).  The passage where Jesus compares "lust" with adultery is the passage most frequently used to condemn all sexual fantasies, and yet the traditional interpretation has always seemed (to me) out of sync with the real world and the rest of the Bible.  Because of that, I think it deserves a closer look.

Basically, what religion has told us is that all sexual fantasies are the same as lust or adultery, i.e. If you become sexually aroused by a woman wearing skimpy clothing, then you are guilty of lust, and therefore guilty of having committed adultery with her.  Now think about it.  Is that really fair?  Aren't we all (men, at least) sexually aroused by various unavoidable sights and thoughts?  Don't we even have dreams (over which we have very little control) which involve sexual fantasies?  It seems to me that if we interpreted what Jesus said about lust as being a blanket condemnation of all sexual fantasies, then the obvious conclusion is something like this:  "Oh well, since we are all guilty of fornication, whether we've done it or not, and since it seems to be unavoidable, why not grab the real thing and be done with it!"  Surely, that was not what Jesus was trying to encourage!

I want, in this article, to share my own thoughts with regard to sexual fantasies, and then look again to see whether they contradict anything that is taught in the Bible.

Fantasies by definition are unreal.  They do not exist in the real world.  Nevertheless, people are often deceived into thinking that the fantasy COULD be real and that it would be truly satisfying.  Such temptation tell us that we can engage in various forms of sex outside of marriage and find true satisfaction from doing so, when in reality the real act is not going to measure up to the fantasy, and it is very likely going to cause us a great deal of heartache.  While it stays a fantasy, of course, there IS no dissatisfaction, because we have not really engaged in such behaviour.  We get the pleasure without the cost that comes with it in the real world.

For men at least, pleasure comes from ejaculation.  The fantasies are merely a build-up to that.  Even if they are lived out, they cannot do anything more than trigger an ejaculation.  The fantasies can speed up ejaculation, or heighten the pleasure when it comes, but in the end, it's just ejaculation that we men are all looking for.

For many years now, I have taught that there is nothing sinful about masturbation.  It deals with the need without breaking any rules in the Bible.  But the counter-argument has always been that what Jesus taught about "lusting after a woman" refers to any fantasies that take place during masturbation.  I want to challenge that argument.

Fantasies are just that... fantasies.  Whereas adultery is adultery.  Lust is somewhere between the two, where one would engage in the act itself in the real world, if only one could get away with it.  We definitely need to deal with that grey area (and I will, later in this article), but we need to recognise the distinction between the two extremes first.

Many years ago, I was praying for God to speak to me and tell me whatever he felt I needed to know in order to grow spiritually, and I very clearly felt that he said to me on a specific occasion, that I had total freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.  That immediately scared me, because I had this sub-conscious conviction that, if I totally believed such a thing, I would immerse myself in every form of sexual misconduct that was available.  

I believe that something like this exists in the minds of many, if not most, religious people today.  We see that awful demon of lust, and we believe that we are possessed by it.  We believe that it is only through the most extreme self-control that we are ever going to be able to keep it under control.

Yet here was God telling me that I was free to do whatever I liked.  I thought about it for many days, and pondered over whether this could really be coming from God.  I had asked in all sincerity for him to speak to me, and yet I was frightened about what I had received.  Part of me wanted badly to exercise that freedom, and yet I feared for my salvation if I was wrong.  But finally, I took the plunge.  I went to see an R rated movie, something I don't think I had done before that.  And then I watched another one.  And already I was starting to think that this was NOT what I really wanted to do.  Oh, I wanted sexual pleasure alright.  But I wanted it within the confines of my marriage.

Little by little, I came to realise that there was only one part of that sexual freedom that might add to the sexual pleasure in our marriage, and that was the part about fantasies.  In one way or another, that is pretty much always a part of sexual relations.  Romantic music, a nice meal, a glass of wine, foreplay, reminiscences about past romantic experiences... it's all part of a romantic fantasy that goes with even the most chaste marital sex.  Take all of that away and it's just a mechanical exercise... perfectly legitimate, but not nearly as exciting as the fantasies.

And now I'm going to bring in a Bible verse about sexual fantasies, believe it or not.  Can you guess what it is?  It refers to the most universal of all sexual fantasies.  It is the fantasy about "living happily ever after" once you have married someone.

Paul said, in I Corinthians 7:28,  "If you marry, you have not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you."

What was he saying, apart from that it's okay to marry?  He was saying that the real thing is not going to live up to the fantasy.  Engaged couples don't want to hear that, and we live in such a romantic world, that few of us are prepared to tell the truth about marriage to such people.  Instead, we smile and wish them well, probably even fantasising about our own high hopes back when we were in the same situation.  But the whole truth is that roughly half of those marriages are going to end up in divorce, some of them quite acrimonious.  A few of those marriages are going to even end up in murder.  That's the reality.  Living out the fantasy takes a lot of hard work, and that's just in a sexual fantasy that the Bible says we are free to live out if we like.

What about all the fantasies about things that that are NOT okay in the eyes of God?  The statistics regarding satisfaction would be a hundred times more depressing if we could read them.  So, for our own good, God tells us not to make them a reality.  

If we could only see that these rules are not there to deprive us of pleasure, but rather to protect us from pain!

But now let's say a little about the pleasure that God DOES allow.  As we've said elsewhere, there is nothing in the Bible forbidding masturbation, despite efforts by many to make it say that.  And I fully accept that masturbation almost always involves some kind of fantasising.  I think it is somewhat understandable that the efforts to forbid masturbation have been made by people who have a misunderstanding of the difference between a sexual fantasy and sexual reality.  "Lust" (that grey area in between, which I mentioned earlier) is genuinely wanting to taste the reality, even though we know that it is forbidden.  Given the opportunity, the lustful person would engage in the real act if they could get away with it, and so they are guilty of the act even before they actually do it.

However, one can fantasise without ever wanting to engage in the real thing.  So fantasising in itself is not lust.  One can choose to imagine a situation which heightens the pleasure of masturbation, without ever engaging in or even WANTING to engage in it.The problem with the Pharisees whom Jesus accused of being guilty of lust, was that they did want to engage in such practices (and I expect that more than a few of them managed to find ways to do that too, as so many self-righteous religious leaders have done today).  But I will say it again:  Fantasising in itself is not lust.

So if someone wishes to imagine having sex with an alien in order to heighten the pleasure or to speed up ejaculation, that's entirely their own business.

One of the problems I have had in getting the courage to write this is because I have generally accepted the principle that, if the Bible is silent on certain topics, then we should be too.  However, even though the Bible has been silent on masturbation, the churches have not.  Some have refrained from coming right out and saying that masturbation is wrong, but they have also taught what I believe is a misguided interpretation of things like the "lust" passage from Jesus in such a way as to imply that masturbation is wrong.  So I am concerned about the need to challenge such teachings.Another reason for writing about this now is the widespread availability of porn on the Internet (as well as the burgeoning market in simulated sex that has been coming out of Hollywood for the past few decades).  I believe that Christians all over the world are looking for guidelines in terms of where to draw the line, and I believe  that the line between fantasy and reality is not when you finally hop into bed with a real person and start doing those things.  I believe it is when you invite real people into your home (through the Internet, TV, or videos) and let them do things which you would never do yourself, and especially not in the presence of fellow church attenders, for the purpose of giving you sexual stimulation.I would also add that any fantasies which involve real people (i.e. "fantasising after your neighbour's wife") are definitely in the grey area too, and can very easily open the door to temptations that are going to ruin your relationship with both your neighbour and your neighbour's wife.  Fantasies (to qualify as "fantasies") should be about unreal people and not about real people.  You may tell yourself that you wouldn't really do it, but if that's the case, then leave real people out of it.

Can you see how I have started out by apparently promoting a liberal, almost promiscuous, doctrine (i.e. that people should be free to fantasise and masturbate without guilt), yet I am now coming around to a very strict line (in the eyes of today's world) which even rejects sex scenes in respectable movies?  The problem with so much religious teaching about sex is that people stay totally on one side or the other.  Those promoting freedom include freedom to engage in real sex acts or to "employ" real actors to engage in acts which they are too frightened to engage in themselves; and those promoting scriptural holiness include injunctions against even thinking about sex.  The truth is somewhere in between.

The reality of porn (whether hard core or Hollywood soft core) is that it ruins the lives of the people performing it.  We may call it fantasising, but it's not.  It's real people doing real things (though it may not include penetration) for our sexual gratification.  Even if it means never watching another movie again for the rest of my life, I do NOT want to be a part of that.  There may be some grey areas (e.g. kissing scenes, which are banned in India, surprisingly not on Christian grounds, but on Hindu grounds) that require actors to express intimacy with someone they are not married to. People may need to form their own opinions about whether or not to watch movies that include such things.

I should explain the word "freedom" in the title.  I believe that it is important for us to recognise, as the Bible says, that freedom is not license.  God has graciously given us a free will, so that we should not have to feel we are being forced into anything.  But he has also given us rules which he says are for our own good.  Like with the sabbath commandment (which Jesus said was given to help us and not to put a heavy burden on us), all of the commandments are attempts by God to protect us from the lifelong hurt that can come from bad decisions.  You can disregard them if you like, but you will live to regret those poor choices.  With regard to sexual fantasies, however, there appear to be no obvious restrictions. (As I've said above, one rule may be to keep all real people out of them.)  Through sexual fantasies and masturbation, one is able to experience the pleasure of the fantasies without the horrible costs that come from living them out.  And I see nothing in the Bible to forbid this.

Some have expressed concerns about the implications of encouraging a paedophile to fantasise about molesting children or a rapist to fantasise about rape.  If it was just ejaculation which the paedophile or rapist craved, and if masturbating while fantasising about it would stop the real thing from happening, I would still promote masturbation as a better alternative than anything else that has been so far proposed (since it is generally agreed at this time that the problem of paedophilia in particular seems incurable).  However, I have heard that even a castrated paedophile still molests children, and that rapists have a psychological kink which is more related to violence and cruelty than sexual gratification.  On the basis of that I am assuming that these are psychological problems which do not fit within the boundaries of this discussion.

Although I expect that there will be many who will condemn me, both for being too liberal and for being too strict with regard to what I have written in this article, I hope that there will be some who will see the clear path it has given us in which to walk... a path which includes sexual pleasure, but which excludes behaviour which has been forbidden by God because of the hurt it will cause to ourselves or others. 
 
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