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There is a lot of disagreement and confusion with regard to sexual morality, even amongst professing Christians. The study of other societies, and increasing questions about assumptions within our own society have given rise to a wide variety of philosophies, and an overall feeling that people are pretty much free to make up their own rules with regard to sexual morality. I cannot go along with this.

If there is a God at all, then he must have opinions on our sexual behaviour. Because this is such a vital issue in the life of each individual and in society as a whole, it is important to get it right with regard to what God wants for us. We must be careful that we are not trying to squeeze God into our own mould, when we should really be making our behaviour conform to the mould which he has established.

The Bible records that "in the beginning" God created both male and female, and commanded them to "be fruitful and multiply". (Genesis 1:28) He was saying that he wanted them to have sex (and plenty of it) but primarily for the purpose of "replenishing the earth". This appears to be the original and fundamental purpose for sex. Pleasure was not forbidden, but it was a secondary thing.

When it comes to arguments over what is "natural" and what is not natural with regard to sex, the story of the creation from the first chapter of Genesis seems to suggest that one man having sex with one woman for the purpose of making babies is about as "natural" as you can get.

But any time we have a rule, we must also determine whether the rule is "complete". Does it cover everything? I believe that there has been a step-by-step development which God has been trying to communicate to the human race with regard to sex; and because of changing circumstances, God's emphasis with regard to sex has changed over the millennia.

I would now like to go through some of those steps.

The command for Adam and Eve to be fruitful and to multiply, and to replenish the earth may imply that other forms of sex were contrary to God's real purpose for the human race. In the other "books of Moses" there are pages of instruction with regard to sex, which support this suggestion. Various punishments are prescribed for people who break the rules.

This includes rules against prostitution, against incest, against bestiality, and against homosexuality. (e.g. Leviticus 20:13 "If a man lies with mankind as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.")

One form of sexual activity is not mentioned in the list of things that are condemned in those early books of the Bible, and that is masturbation. From this, it would seem that, if, for one reason or another, a man was not able to have sex with a woman, then the natural sexual urges building up inside of him could legitimately be dealt with through masturbation.

In the Old Testament, it was common for one man to have several wives, and for men to divorce wives who displeased them. There was nothing in the law forbidding this. However, Jesus taught things which altered this approach to sex. He said that Moses had been too soft on the husbands with regard to divorce. So he outlawed divorce altogether, with one debateable exception: in the event of the other partner committing adultery.

On top of this, he said it was preferable for men to remain celibate, i.e. not to even get married in the first place. Paul echoed the teaching about celibacy being preferable (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9), and he outlawed polygamy amongst official church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2, 1 Timothy 3:12). So the New Testament approach goes from restricting sex to married partners, to even discouraging marriage, or at the very least, encouraging a limit of one marriage per person.

One reason for this shift may have been population. There was no longer the urgency to populate the earth. The original purpose for sex had largely been fulfilled. God was more interested in finding ways to improve the quality of the earth's population, than he was in increasing the quantity of people on the earth.

With the need for sex gradually disappearing, there are now hints that the practice of sex (at least between two people) may not be such an important part of his plan. We will shortly discuss how such a plan can be reconciled with our assumptions about sexual needs.

But first, let's look at the last book of the Bible. The Revelation talks about an army of 144,000 "virgins" who have "kept themselves from women". This description is consistent with Paul's statement (in 1 Corinthians 7:29) that it would be expedient as we neared the end of the world for married people to live as though they were not married.

Can you see a progression here with regard to sex? First God commands the man and woman to have sex, as a means for populating the world. Although he forbids sex outside of a permanent marriage relationship, he does not condemn polygamy, probably because it has the potential to provide even more population growth. Then Jesus and Paul start putting the brakes on sex for the purpose of population growth. They seem to be saying that there are better things to be done, and that men with more than one wife are not suitable leaders in the building of God's kingdom.

Finally, there is a move toward an army of totally celibate individuals who will represent Christ's sexually "spotless" Bride when he returns. Such people are not asexual in the sense that they do not have sexual needs; but rather they have chosen to replace the relationship aspect of sex with a special relationship to God.

It is likely that many of us will find it difficult to see the truth in what all of these passages indicate, because we are involved in (or desiring) sexual relationships which we do not want to turn loose of. We would far rather hear someone tell us that what we are doing right now is right and good. If we are sleeping around, we want to hear people say that sleeping around is okay now, as long as we practice safe sex. If we are involved in a homosexual relationship, we want to hear someone say that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality, that it is a radical new form of birth control, or that it was practised by such people as David and Jonathon in the Old Testament (which it wasn't, by the way). If we are practising paedophilia, we want to hear someone say that we are spreading "love" around, and waking young people up to the wonderful pleasures of sex. But none of this is true.

What is true, is that the Bible condemns all of these and more, at the same time that it says absolutely nothing against masturbation. Neither does it say anything against sexual pleasure. This is not a loophole. It is a wide open door. You can engage in all the masturbation you like, without guilt. And you can get as much pleasure as you like while doing it. You can walk through this door, or you can try to squeeze through a loophole to justify things like divorce, remarriage, adultery, rape, or any other perversion instead.

If you faithfully masturbate, you will find that biblically forbidden sex is no longer overpoweringly irresistible. At least for a short time after you have masturbated, you will be able to walk away from such temptations with only minimal effort. And when the temptation becomes strong once again, then you need only masturbate again to find relief.

You will, however, still have one small battle, and that is the battle against loneliness. No matter how much you masturbate, you will still be lonely. It will still be tempting to have a "partner" with whom to find your pleasure. And this marks the start of the second half of this article, where I will deal with this second aspect of sexual temptation.

The first source of sexual temptation (for males at least) comes from a physical source. The build-up of sperm creates sexual "tension", and it increases until eventually the sperm comes out, through ejaculation. It may be during sexual intercourse, during masturbation, or during a wet dream. But it will come out. After that, the tension eases. But the second source of sexual temptation (loneliness) will remain.

There are two general ways to fight loneliness. One is through supernatural effort reinforced by prayer, and the other is through such practical things as hugs and loving touches (as well as deep and meaningful sharing). Like every temptation (for example, the temptation to be impatient, selfish, lazy, angry, or greedy) there is a need for you to exercise a certain amount of willpower to overcome the sexual temptation that comes to you when you are feeling lonely. You develop character and show spiritual maturity through your ability to say no to those emotions which you have come to see as spiritually dangerous or spiritually immature.

We have all experienced loneliness at times. But true friendship must be developed in accord with certain rules that God has laid down. God's people don't terrorise people into being their friends. We don't bribe them into being our friends. And we don't seduce them into being our friends. Friendship is based on genuine unselfish love. The Bible says, "If you want friends, you must show yourself to be friendly." (Proverbs 18:24) Even in a marriage true love is measured through such things as faithfulness more than through sexual prowess. And the same love that holds a marriage together can hold Christian friendships together. Your patience, your humility, your kindness, your loyalty, your service... all of these things can create a relationship which can fill your need for companionship. But they must be practised whether or not they result in a great friendship. You must do the right thing because it is the right thing, and not because you are desperate for love. This is what true love is all about, and it can only come about through much desperate prayer.

In other words, one way to overcome loneliness is simply to get yourself so busy trusting God and loving others that you forget about your own personal needs and you think only of the needs of others. It's not easy, but it's not impossible, with God's help. Prayer is a very important part of this exercise.

The other way to overcome loneliness is through hugs. Because of the confusion that exists in our society about the connection between sex and love, many people have come to believe that it is evil to make physical contact in any way with another person. It is ironic that we show our own obsession with physical sex through our obsession with denying physical contact. Like the masturbation paradox, where people deny themselves the freedom to masturbate at the same time that they tolerate real immorality in their lives, people will often deny themselves legitimate and healthy physical contact, and then end up falling into sexual immorality as a result.

Now I will attempt to summarise what I have been rambling on about in this article. I have said that God's original plan was to give us sexual urges for the purpose of making babies. (Sexual pleasure was thrown in to make the process enjoyable.) But God was clear that he expected the couple making the babies to be committed to each other for life. Then as time went on, there was less and less need for an increased population. Sex for the purpose of procreation became less and less necessary. In the New Testament, there was a move against polygamy, and a much softer push toward considering total celibacy as an option. In The Revelation, there is a description of an army of people just before Jesus returns, who have kept themselves totally away from a dependence on sexual intercourse. Such people are empowered through such single-mindedness to be more powerfully useful to God.

Masturbation and sexual pleasure as such were never condemned at any stage in this development of sexual morality. Pleasurable masturbation thus becomes the safety valve to stop us from breaking the rules about sex outside of marriage, and it also becomes the safety valve for the virgin army, so that we can seriously contemplate a lifetime of celibacy.

Finally, we looked at the need for companionship that continues to plague most of us even after we have dealt with the physical urge for sex through masturbation. We saw that the two general ways to overcome loneliness were to prayerfully seek to love others rather than thinking about our own needs; and to look for opportunities to hug and to be hugged and/or touched lovingly by others (in a non-sexual way).

I hope that all of these things will help you in your own moral development.

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