by Robert and Mollie Brow
The release of sexual energy is often given as a reason for adultery. So before we make judgments on this or that form of immorality it is important to begin with the obvious physiological facts. Female animals only go on heat when their eggs are ready to be fertilized. A major difference among humans is that the sexual desire of women can be disconnected from their readiness to conceive. This means that for any particular woman the cycle of producing eggs for fertilization, and discarding those that are not fertilized in her monthly period, can be totally disconnected from the sexual energy that demands an orgasm.
A woman's sexual appetite is often triggered by its first arousal. In the case of child abuse it can begin much too young, often long before she could become pregnant. Mary first felt the energy petting in the back of a car. Betty had the exciting surge during their honeymoon. Joan didn't get enthusiastic till they adopted a child. Marion suddenly felt excited when her periods ceased. Heather reports she never got turned on by her husband at all. And some women feel the energy with other women.
The sexual energy of an average male is focussed on the orgasmic release of his sperm. The problem is that like dandelion seeds, only a very small proportion of sperm will be used. And, since the seed has to be fresh to do its work, once or twice a week any unused seed has to be discarded. So beginning in his teens until he becomes impotent, he will face the moral problem of how to have the orgasm that is needed. There are three alternatives. Waiting for a nocturnal emission, sexual intercourse, or disposing of surplus seed on his own. Every mother should know that after the first emission in his early teens a boy will feel the awful embarrassment of messing his bed. And, because of the strong pressure of his sexual energy, he will usually begin to dispose of his seed voluntarily. This simple physiological need has unfortunately been given a clinical name with unpleasant connotations. Masturbation has been condemned as a sinful unhealthy abuse of one's body. The Roman Catholic Church had for centuries viewed it as a sin that needs to be confessed to a priest. Protestants until the middle of this century branded it as an adulteration which any wholesome person must avoid.
It is hard to imagine how this disapproval was derived from the Bible. A text that is quoted is the sin of Onan. "Since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother's wife." [Genesis 38:9] Onan's sin was a wrong disposal of his seed because he was refusing to do his duty to his brother's widow. [Genesis 38:8-10] Apart from this irrelevant text, there is not one verse in the Bible that condemns the private relieving of sexual tension. Nor is there to our knowledge any medical or psychological evidence to suggest that it is harmful.
For most men and for a proportion of women it is the only way to dispose of the surplus sexual the body produces without our asking. The alternative that is often suggested is to find oneself a sexual partner. We explore in Appendix B why porneia or sleeping around is not an acceptable expression of genuine love. And the whole of this book is an exploration of why adultery is not compatible with the mutuality of a loving marriage. But what can be said of a marriage in which the man and the woman discover that their sexual energies and sexual appetites are incompatible? We discussed differences in marriage expectation in Chapter 5, and we admitted that where differences are unbearably disastrous divorce might be as sad and inevitable as shipwreck for a sea captain.
Even when the levels of sexual energy are similar, there are subtle differences in how the energy of men and women is focussed. Some women may never have, and may never feel the need of an identifiable orgasm to release their sexual energy. In any case, unlike men, their sexual energy is diffused and connected with their intuition of life as a whole. Since we assume that God designed our sexual instincts for our ultimate good we should not feel guilty because our sexual energy seems to be different from what we hear is the normal. The question is how do we handle such vast differences of sexual energy without sliding into adultery? Even in the best of marriages there are times when our partner is upset or exhausted or sick or away for a long period. In such cases the private release of excess sexual energy is surely a better alternative to adultery. We would turn the question around, and suggest that by regulating his or her own surplus energy a highly sexed married person can be freed to love without making excessive sexual demands. It is time husbands and wives should be able to recognize this fact without embarrassment and manage it discreetly.
The moral problem is that both men and women tend to experience sexual fantasies when they touch and become aware of their own bodies. The relationship of sexual temptation to adultery is explored in Chapter 6 and fantasy is discussed in Appendix F. At this point we merely note that all fantasies, and the sexual ones in particular, should be recognized honestly as an indication of feelings in one's heart. In Chapter 7 we see how they can be brought into our prayer conversation with God, and the Holy Spirit can then help us to interpret, evaluate, and redirect our hidden desires long before adulteration becomes disastrous.
It is even possible that what we perceive as a disturbing connection between the relieving of sexual tension and our fantasies is designed by a loving God for a purpose. Our sexuality in marriage sets up a complex interplay between our instincts, imagining, conscience setting, and moral judgments. We suspect these are all designed to work together for the perfecting of our ability to love beautifully without adulteration. But we could hardly prove that except by the personal experience of a long commitment to that kind of marriage.