Masturbation—fapping, onanism, pocket pool, the solitary vice—has driven religious people nuts since St. Augustine. The emergence of Internet porn has re-occasioned a moral freakout over masturbation, driving major religious organizations, fringe churches, pious universities and the odd freelancer to catalyze anti-masturbation movements. From websites to T-shirts to hands-to-yourself retreats, these are the most ridiculous attempts to get people to keep their hands to themselves.
1. BYU’s amazing masturbation-as-war film.
Masturbation is back in the news after a BYU video went viral in February for being perhaps the most over-the-top attempt to stop masturbation in history.
The video, titled Wounded on the Battlefield, sprung from the words of Brigham Young University president Kim Clark, who, in describing a young man so enthralled by pornography he even stops going to church, called him “spiritually wounded on the battlefield of the Great War.”
Alas, the filmmakers took Clark’s metaphor about as literally as possible. In an extended Saving Private Ryan-esque sequence, the film dramatizes the self-lover as a fatigued soldier being abandoned by his fellow infantryman in a jungle warzone. "The enemy whispers 'Don’t get involved, it’s not your problem,’” Clark intones as the soldiers flee the crackling gunfire. “Brothers and sisters, don't leave the wounded on the battlefield."
2. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ anti-masturbation video (now with more R Kelly).
Mormons aren’t the only ones taking advantage of YouTube to spread the anti-masturbatory message. The Jehovah’s Witnesses released a sign language video in 2012 warning of its evils. (The sign for jacking off is…well, it’s exactly what you think it is.)
“Maybe they feel there’s nothing wrong with it,” the man in the video signs. “They’re wrong! Jehovah is watching and he is disgusted.”
3. Passion For Christ “ex-masturbator” T-shirts.
Are YouTube videos too high-tech? If you still have a dialup connection, the people at Passion for Christ Movement (P4CM) designed the “Ex-Masturbator” shirt that allows you to declare your impulse control to everyone you meet. (Also available in "Ex-Fornicator," "Ex-Diva," "Ex-Slave," "Ex-Atheist," and "Ex-Hypocrite” flavors.)
“We pray that you will join us in breaking the silence on an issue that has stayed silent for too long,” their website states. “Be the first to boldly rock your Ex-Masturbator shirt and let’s change the world baby!”
4. The Vatican goes after nuns on a bus.
Sister Margaret Farley‘s book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics stirred up the Vatican (six years after it was published) when the church officially decided in 2012 that her lax stance on masturbation portended grave harm to the faithful.
While Farley wrote that masturbation “posed no moral questions,” the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith held that it was an “intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” (They also found homosexuality to be “intrinsically disordered”; the connection between masturbation and homosexuality is a common one by moral crusaders.) The Church ended up accusing Farley and her fellow “Nuns on a Bus” of encouraging “doctrinal confusion.”
But whereas the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses worried about masturbation’s effects on the sinner, the Church worried about its effects on the Church. "This idea that having this Second Vatican Council and pronouncing that there's this amorphous spirit that gives us license to pretty much throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak when it comes to Catholic doctrine, it's simply wrong,” one Catholic proponent cried.
4. Mark Driscoll warns masturbation can lead to homosexuality.
Mark Driscoll, whose Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA uses tattoos and DVDs of Fight Club to mask their retrograde beliefs, made headlines a couple years ago when his anti-masturbation tome Porn-Again Christian: A Frank Discussion On Pornography and Masturbation explicitly tied masturbation to homosexuality. The e-book warns:
"Masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexuality activity, particularly if he's watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body."
Driscoll’s concern is entirely for the heterosexual male, who risks, through the haste masturbation requires in order not to be caught, becoming a “notorious minute-man who will not be well skilled in the self-control necessary to satisfy a wife.”
If you do feel tempted, never fear: Driscoll says the Bible permits masturbation if one is on, say, a business trip, but only if you use pictures of your own wife. He also warns caution when using “technology,” lest one “end up an oddity of the world-wide web.”
Alas, after the otherwise unknown Driscoll and his dubius e-book were discovered, that’s exactly what happened to him.
6. Faithful and True / XXXChurch.
Many contemporary attempts at curbing masturbation have left the fire and brimstone behind and instead adopted the rhetoric of rehab. When you go to Faithful and True, a 16-week rehabilitation course, you won’t just get Biblical scripture quoted at you (though that’ll definitely happen), you'll also learn to become “sober” from your masturbation “addiction.”
The rhetoric of addiction has been a long time in coming, says Craig Gross, a California pastor who helped found XXXChurch.com. (The URL was intentionally designed to look like a porn site, hoping to snag addicts on the prowl.)
“Ten years ago, when I wanted to bring the church up to date, everyone was like, ‘This won’t work. People will be confused about what you’re doing,’” Gross told CNN. “It was controversial at the time, but the church is always behind the times. We should have had a XXXChurch.com in the late 1990s if we really wanted to get ahead of this problem.”
It worked: XXXChurch has grown to millions of clicks, and helps organize some of the widest-reaching campaigns, including a few involving NFL players. It also crashes porn shows, handing out Bibles and “tak[ing] love into places where most wouldn’t expect to find it.” The site even has its own masturbation detection service that emails a sponsor-type person whenever you access a porn site—not, presumably, XXXChurch.
7. The Serenellians.
Not everyone thinks this openness about masturbation and porn is healthy. In 2002, a Catholic apostolate called the Serenellians (he was a man who killed a saint out of lust) foundedPornnomore.com, which aims to help masturbators conquer their habit. But founder and recovering porn addict Paul Rasvage said the problem is less that nobody in the church will talk about masturbation so much as priests and pastors are too quick to dismiss the action “normal” or “nothing to worry about.”
Rasvage aims to change that. His apostolate boasts a website, a workbook of spiritual counsel, and downloadable writings of saints advising against lust. “Just trying to stop the illicit material is not good,” Rasvage said. “You have to deal with the disordered desires, the root cause.”
8. Dirty Girls Ministries.
Most of these groups cater strictly to men. What about women addicted to masturbating? For them, there’s Dirty Girls Ministries, a female-only evangelical masturbation and porn recovery group started by Kansas resident Crystal Renaud.
“You’d be surprised at how many women—women in your own lives—are hiding this deep, dark, and dirty secret,” Renaud likes to preach at local churches, warning that masturbation, “like drugs and alcohol, so many things that feel good in a short amount of time can end up hurting you.”
She follows the addiction metaphor to the end of the line. Renaud, who says she discovered masturbation at the age of 10 and overcame it at Bible camp in her teens, helps girls, some as young as 11, get “sober” by forbidding anything remotely sexual, even suggestive television shows, and through website blocking devices.
“When you stop masturbating or stop looking at porn, your body actually goes through withdrawal,” she said. “It’s intense.”
It may be intense, but at least in Renaud’s group it’s cheap. No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Addiction, the book Renaud uses in her rehabilitation sessions, comes from the Bethesda Workshops, a hifalutin' Nashville rehab clinic for masturbation and other issues of sexual deviancy that runs $1,400 a stay.
9. NoFap.com presents: fapstronauts.