Struggles of waiting
Creation: sex drive and sexual tension
As people created by God, all we want is to be able to love someone and be loved by them in return; to be able to experience to the full the beautiful gift of sexual and emotional intimacy that He designed and instilled in us to enjoy. Yet it feels like we are asking for the forbidden or as though we somehow don't qualify for it. In addition, one of the biggest mistakes we can make is thinking that our sexuality—as designed and put in motion by God—is somehow superfluous to who we are. Constant failure in trying to stifle, deny, or downplay the ongoing yearnings and desires we were created with is evidence of that. So waiting for biblical marriage without means of experiencing and expressing sexual intimacy makes life difficult to endure.
A single woman notes:
"I wish I could tell you that I waited and now I'm having hot and heavy sex with my awesome husband. But I can't. There is a chance that I may never marry. This is something that I struggle with—a lot! One of my heart's desires is to love a man passionately and tenderly, and for him to love me back in the same way. Honestly, I am afraid that I will end up being alone. I'm afraid that I will never get to be romanced, be kissed, and have sex. I trust that God knows my heart and He knows my desires. I am doing my part to be the person I am made to be. I am doing the things I love and want to do. I am being social. The rest is left up to God. I know He has a good plan for me, regardless of whether or not marriage and sex is a part of that."
And as Lauren Nicole Love so frankly puts it:
"The truth is that when we want sex, we want passionate intimacy. We want a man to want us. We want him to actively, physically demonstrate his intense desire for us—over everything else he could be doing at this very moment. We want closeness. We want to feel needed, wanted; to feel like we both fully satisfy and are satisfied by another. I'm not eliminating our desire for physical pleasure, or to put it bluntly, saying that, "Women just want to be wanted, we don't care about getting off." No. What I'm pointing out is that when we crave sex, we are craving things that can't be delivered by getting ourselves off. Otherwise we would be forever content with that."
The truth that's hard to swallow is that there simply are no guarantees in Scripture that God will ever provide a spouse for us. And it's all too easy to get caught up in the false notion that our yearning for marriage and intimacy are because our focus is wrong—that we're not spiritually mature or content enough in Christ. While it should never become an idol in our lives, how easily we forget that Adam was sinless at the time that God created Eve to address the problem of Adam's loneliness.
God created men and women with drives and desires for sexual intimacy. What we believe about those desires and how we deal with them will determine whether or not we honor God and genuinely value a future spouse. However, without a spouse to fulfill and satisfy that drive and desires through sexual intimacy, sexual tension continually builds. It is a medical fact that God set in motion. For men, this is more physically quantifiable seeing as seminal fluid constantly builds, resulting in (in most cases) a Nocturnal emission, Prostatic congestion, and/or absorption into the body. A lesser known and encountered but very real condition, epididymal hypertension, can result, which can sometimes be quite painful. For women, sexual tension is just as real, but due to anatomical differences, more difficult to determine (other than the effects of hormones).
In Matthew 19:12 (NLT), Jesus recognizes that not everyone is able to accept life without sexual intimacy (note His words "who can" at the end of the verse):
"Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."
It seems obvious: the only solution to celibacy directly prescribed in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 7:9 (NASB):
"But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."
Sexual drive and desire are not inherently sinful. The difference comes in how, when, and where those desires are acted upon. The same is true for sensuality—meaning it doesn't inherently stem from pornography or lust (see the Song of Solomon as an example). Context and motives determine whether or not it is sin.
Masturbation is not necessarily directly mentioned in the Bible. The closest references to it are found in the Old Testament in regards to seminal emission, with Leviticus 15:16-17 being the closest description:
Deuteronomy 23:9-11 (NASB): "When you go out as an army against your enemies, you shall keep yourself from every evil thing. If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp. But it shall be when evening approaches, he shall bathe himself with water, and at sundown he may reenter the camp."
Leviticus 15:16-17 (NASB): "Now if a man has a seminal emission, he shall bathe all his body in water and be unclean until evening. As for any garment or any leather on which there is seminal emission, it shall be washed with water and be unclean until evening."
Leviticus 22:4-6 (NASB): "No man of the descendants of Aaron, who is a leper or who has a discharge, may eat of the holy gifts until he is clean. And if one touches anything made unclean by a corpse or if a man has a seminal emission, or if a man touches any teeming things by which he is made unclean, or any man by whom he is made unclean, whatever his uncleanness; a person who touches any such shall be unclean until evening, and shall not eat of the holy gifts unless he has bathed his body in water."
Without clear instruction or warning in the Bible, it is my personal opinion that masturbation is a scruple, or matter of conscience, in a similar sense that some issues in the Bible are literally considered "conscience-dependant"—i.e. to some believers extremely offensive, and yet to others appropriately helpful. One such example is found in Romans 14:5-8 (NASB):
"One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's."
Another example is found in Romans 14:22 (NASB):
"The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves."
What is clear is that it should never include lust as Matthew 5:28 (NASB) clearly states:
"...but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Nor should it be more important than God in our lives (i.e. a form of idolatry), or become an addiction that controls us. Is it possible that lust or fantasy about a particular person are the impetus for it? Yes, and that is clearly sin. But it is also possible to masturbate without lust when the focus is genuinely on the sensations and for the purpose of release rather than fantasizing about a particular person. Providing that lust isn't part of it (and that requires each person to be 100% honest with themselves and God), masturbation provides a means of relief and release from ongoing sexual tension that is otherwise a very real challenge and frustration for the single person. For some people (and I suspect this may be a greater challenge for women) fantasy is much harder to wrest from masturbation, and so it becomes a sinful temptation. I understand that many Christians disagree with this viewpoint, and I respectfully agree to disagree with them.
Contrary to what some may believe about men, nocturnal emissions (or "wet dreams") do not serve as a "natural" release for sexual tension, because for many men, they are very rare and/or unpredictable.
What about its impact on marital intimacy? Being a virgin, I obviously have no idea what it's like to make love with a spouse, but it's obvious that, on its own merit, masturbation drastically pales in comparison to all that sexual and emotional intimacy in marriage provide and entail. The fundamental difference between masturbation as a single person and within marriage is just that: you are now joined to the person that you vowed to love and to meet their needs. Masturbation is no longer needed as a means of release from sexual tension—the shadow of what has been longing for is replaced by the real thing. It is clearly no competition (and should be no threat) for marital intimacy, because it is unnecessary when frequent, healthy mutual intimacy is the reality between husband and wife. Pleasing each other now not only becomes possible, but paramount. If masturbation is ever 'needed' within marriage (other than physical distance or illness making intimacy impossible), then there are clearly deeper relational and intimacy issues between husband and wife that need to be addressed. The biggest issue is that of the heart; not so much the physical act. Why? As an example, it is not uncommon for a spouse to—in the middle of intercourse with their spouse—imagine having sex with someone other than their spouse.
Ultimately, God is looking at the heart of the person as to how and why it is used, and each of us are accountable to Him for our thoughts and actions.
The most objective, biblically-based article I've personally found on masturbation is from Pastor Ed Martin, orignally of mychainsaregone.org:
Temptation: the allure and lie of lust and pornography/erotica
"I don't think I would ever write a book with what anybody could call pornography in it, because I feel that pornography is a cheat. It is an attempt to provide sexual experience by secondhand means. Now sex is a thing which has to be experienced firsthand, if you are really going to understand it, and pornography is rather like trying to find out about a Beethoven symphony by having somebody tell you about it and perhaps hum a few bars. It's not the same thing. Sex is primarily a question of relationships. Pornography is a do-it-yourself kit—a twenty-second best." — Robertson Davies
Pornography and lust exist on a series of lies; such as: "As long as you don't get caught, there are no short- or long-term consequences to watching it", or "at least the pleasure will always outweigh any pain or regret." Neither are based in reality. They objectify women, prevent and destroy intimacy and trust by distorting sexuality so that it cannot support or build healthy, real-life relationships; and it undermines self-worth and self-esteem.
In addition, there's often a sense of rebellion, control, and power inherent in pornography: "No-one can stop me from looking at whatever I want." The truth however, is that it is short-sighted, selfishly intrusive, and limits sex (and one's view of it) to a very shallow physical act instead of allowing it to bring and build contentment, commitment, trust, union, love, and growth within the context of marriage over time as God intended. It also denies the fact that the act of sex itself bonds you on both physical and emotional levels (through the effect of hormones), leaving physiological scars each time it is engaged in outside of marriage.
In one of her blogs, Sheila Gregoire notes that:
"Our culture wants to turn sex into something that is completely physical. They are twisting something which is beautiful, and trying to make it exciting by focusing on the forbidden, the extreme, the hidden, rather than the relationship. And when you focus on the physical, sex loses that special element that helps us bond. ... Porn rewires your brain so that what becomes arousing is a picture, rather than a person. And now erotica has the same effect on women: it rewires your brain so that what is arousing is an idea or a scenario rather than your husband."
Another wife shares her experience in Finding Out: A Wifeís Discovery, A Marriage Restored:
"Take my word for it, porn ruins sex, and pornless marriage increases the sweetness and depth of sex. It also vastly increases the frequency. When there is no other outlet besides oneís spouse, sex cannot be pushed by the wayside and issues in the relationship are resolved much faster. (Come on, you know you have forgiven, or asked for forgiveness a little faster when you would like to be intimate in the near future.)
In addition, it has opened my eyes for my husbandís need, yes true need, for acceptance in sex. It is his core, and I need to be the one that gives him that, unconditionally. That doesn't mean that I canít say "not tonight," but it does mean that we talk about it and come up with a plan to get together very soon.
It has also opened my husbandís eyes to my need for loyalty and admiration in the bedroom, and in arenas where I feel less than adequate physically. I need to feel that I am enough for him and that he enjoys me as I am, two kids later, wrinkled and sagging in a lot of directions."
Interaction: respect and the opposite sex
Respect is something that must always characterize our interaction with the opposite sex. In a world constantly bombarding us with sexual imagery and messages—as men and women—we must be intentional and constantly on our guard in how we view and treat each other. We are people first, and male/female second.
As one commenter notes in her reply to Ruthie Dean's post What if I Never Get Married? The Feared Call of Singleness:
"As someone who is 30 and unmarried (though currently dating), I have often marveled at how some people jump from marriage to marriage, yet I have not had one relationship last to the point of proposal. The epidemic of singleness is a cancer of society. We humans are doing something terribly wrong; namely, we are not teaching successive generations how to form and maintain healthy relationships. Marriages and relationships are not disposable."
Frustration: venting and prayer
"...They tell me that the desire to marry never goes away. The passions get easier to deal with, but the sadness that one has not been chosen to be loved is lingering. In fact, one 80-year-old friend confessed this to me, with teary eyes." — Meredith
I wish I could answer the question of "How do I deal with the ongoing longing to be desired and loved by someone of the opposite sex?" But I'm convinced that we need a means of venting our frustrations as singles.
Some people might look at us and think, "You must have so much resolve or discipline to still be a virgin in your late 40s"—implying that you're having to fight off the opposite sex every day. But the truth is that it's hard being a virgin because the opposite sex isn't drawn to you. Temptation for sex hasn't been a problem, simply because interest in us from the opposite sex has never really been there.
Prayer should be first on our list, and journaling thoughts whether privately or in blog form can be helpful. If you have a close friend you trust, sharing your thoughts can also help. Walking, biking (or other forms of exercise), and wholesome/uplifting music, movies, and TV can also serve to escape temporarily from daily frustration and stress. However, great care must be taken in what we watch, listen to, or do so that they don't become a source of temptation/addiction or distraction from Scripture.
As ludicrous as it sounds, one of the most difficult things for me to do is praying about, or for, a future spouse. I find it easy to pray for numerous things, but when it comes to a future spouse, I have no words. Too many questions suddenly surface: "How can you pray about a spouse? God's not done with you yet, and He may not have one for you. You're not ready for one—you're too immature. That's just a selfish request."
The bottom line is that, as unmarried believers, our sexuality is at worst, repressed; or at best, unrealized. Neither are happy endings.
There is also no room for Christianese. It is not uncommon for married Christians to have callous attitudes toward singles and happily spout condescending, pat answers (without the honesty or personal experience of actually having been single themselves for any extended period of time) such as: "Your value needs to be found in God." Translation: "Stop whining about being single, and be more spiritual." Wow—thanks! So if there's so little value in marriage, tell me again why you got married? (yes, Mr. John Piper, I'm looking at you—married at 22, yet doling out advice on being single as if you know all about it, when you have no clue).