Mental Health, Masturbation, & the Church

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I’m not going to tell you that masturbation is good for you.

But a mountain of data shows that feeling guilt or shame about masturbation is definitely bad for you. And that almost always starts in childhood.

This means that any institution telling kids that masturbation is bad is abusive. The medical profession used to do that. Psychologists used to do that. Popular magazines used to do that. For the most part, they no longer do. But as has always been the case, the number one culprit today is organized religion.

As it happens, May is both National Mental Health Month and International Masturbation Month. Feeling good about masturbation does not guarantee good mental health. But feeling bad about masturbation pretty much guarantees poor mental health.

And that brings us back to organized religion.


Yesterday, America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention released a bombshell report. The church had systematically covered up sexual abuse within its clergy for years. The church deserves credit for collecting the data and (finally) releasing it.

But while we’re justifiably outraged at the horrific abuse of tens of thousands of children, we should remember the tens of MILLIONS of children whose mental health and adulthood have been wrecked by the Baptists’ relentless attacks on normal sexuality.

This is true of the orthodox wing of virtually every organized religion in America. And even the more “tolerant” orthodox religious people who condemn non-marital or non-procreative sex are perpetuating a crime against humanity.

Obviously, not every child abuser or sexual predator is religious. But children who suffered through hands-on abuse are not the only victims here. Every week I treat people who are ashamed of who they are, what they do, or what they’ve done—sexual acts that fall well within the range of common and normal.

The suffering of those people is often agonizing to them. I admit that there are days when it’s agonizing for me to bear witness to it as well.

While psychology and medicine have come a long way, and are increasingly sophisticated and proactive about sexual abuse, they still have a long way to go in speaking up about how religion gaslights children about their sexuality. The helping professions are essentially standing by while incredibly rich and powerful institutions systematically drive children crazy, damaging them and undermining their future adulthood.


While the hands-on clergy abuse by Southern Baptists (and Mennonites, Catholics, Orthodox rabbis, etc) is always kept secret as long as possible, this other abuse—intentionally damaging childrens’ sexuality—happens in plain sight, year after year.

Obviously, I understand the pressures within both professions to back away from speaking honestly about this matter.

But when yet another report like yesterday’s comes out, and we only focus on the children who have been physically abused, we’re letting this church (and all religions) off the hook way too easily.

You don’t have to have a priest or imam fondle you in order to feel filthy—you just need to listen to what one has to routinely say about your body and your erotic feelings. That’s what the Southern Baptist convention has done for almost 200 years. That’s what organized religions have been doing for thousands of years.

And what they’ll continue doing today and tomorrow.


If you’re a person who prays, pray for the kids who have been physically abused. Way more importantly, pressure your church, synagogue, or mosque to accept God’s erotic breath into every human body of every age. Masturbation is not a sin—it’s an expression of divine will.

If you’re not a person of religious faith, know that you’re living through a historical cataclysm—thousands of years of children being tortured for having normal sexual feelings and expressing them with normal masturbation.

While we’re lobbying for bathroom, sports, and pronoun privileges for a minority of kids, let’s also lobby for the sexual sanity of all kids.

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