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August 27, 2007



The question: is this the kind of allergy that moderates over time, or the one that becomes progressively more debilitating with ongoing exposure?


The solution to your first problem is masturbation. It's quick and dirty, but it gets the job done. It's much easier to resist those urges when you're already sated. It's a purely mechanistic solution, because your body and brain chemistry are subtly altered short-term. I think ejaculating regularly can also have some positive long-term health effects (I recall reading about that somewhere, but I don't remember where).

Nathan Smith

I don't think that's allowed. I know the Mormons don't allow it, nor does the ancient Jewish law. I'm not claiming to be completely innocent of it, but I try to avoid it.

There are practical problems, too. Laundry, etc.


Oh my. It would seem very challenging to regulate one's libido without regular release. Would it be allowed in support of fertility treatment (into the cup and all)?

I don't know what's considered wrong about masturbation in the various religious traditions. It just seems a practical, non-destructive way to ameliorate biochemical pressures that might otherwise distort one's judgment.

Nathan Smith

Well, it would hardly help when you're walking around campus-- you can't do it there, anyway. Also it tends to involve thoughts that seem to me unworthy of a free and honest man-- thoughts about adultery, prostitution, polygamy, etc. If you got a great deal of pleasure out of thinking about killing Jews, even if you never actually did it, wouldn't it seem that there was something wrong with that? How is it better if you think about immoral actions all the time? Of course, it might be possible to restrict one's thoughts solely to legitimate sexual subjects-- sex within marriage, say. Only I don't think that works as well. Also, there seems to be some kind of indication that it's objectively wrong in that people would typically be horrified to be seen doing it, and reluctant to talk about it. Isn't that kind of shame an indicator of something? Even if you think the shame is just an irrational superstition, an anti-lying ethos provides grounds of sorts for objecting to it: if anyone were to ask you, you would be likely to lie; and there's a certain deceit, perhaps, in deliberately concealing it, e.g., waiting until you're alone in the room...


I'd be a little embarrassed to be caught picking my nose, so I try not to do that too publicly. Similarly, if my undershirt has come loose and I need to tuck it in, I go into the bathroom or whatever to re-assort myself. It seems to me that the privacy requirement involved in masturbation is not vastly above that.

Fortunately, I don't think one need masturbate in the middle of campus to blunt the edge of one's libido.


Well, if you're going to kill Jews, it's best to do it in your imagination. Your argument against immoral thoughts is the same argument that's used against violence in popular media: killing is immoral, and thus pretending or imagining to kill someone is also immoral. Personally, I don't buy that line of moral reasoning. It seems highly untenable to me. If you have immoral urges, it's absolutely better to sate them in innocuous ways. A great many people try to resist having the urges altogether, and end up falling from grace (Catholic priests molesting children is a good example).


Regarding shame, in many places in the Middle East, it's shameful for a woman to go out in public without a veil on. I have an aunt who feels shame if she doesn't "have her face on" (wearing make-up). Plenty of men feel shame about going bald, and thus try to cover their shame through wearing a hair piece or getting plugs. Shame is the result of feeling self-conscious and insecure, and the opposite of shame is self-confidence. Personally, I'm not ashamed of masturbation, but it's only proper etiquette not to do it in front of others, as with defecating and belching.


I think Tom's position is about as dead-on as it gets.

David Alexander

Thomas, what strikes me about the position you articulate is the amount of passive surrender it implies (which leads me to think that you may have been colonized by some memes).

First, there is the disassociation of thoughts and imagination with actions which seems to me a surrender of explanatory power. Actions just sort of happen mysteriously, in a misty realm beyond good and evil. The effects of our thoughts and imagination, this seems to suggest, has little if anything to do with what we actually do.

Second, if our thoughts and imaginations are associated with our actions, they are disassociated from us. This is a surrender of our ability to make choices which shape and effect the directions of our given natures.

If I look at someone’s wife or girlfriend and feel a desire well up in me, it is certainly not a given that “harmless” masturbation and fantasy about them are the solution to acting on the desire. I may be in different states. If I have fed my sexual desires with a constant stream of masturbation and pornography I may be more helpless to divert my mind but if I am capable of diverting it and choose to masturbate and fantasize about this love of another’s, then in the coming days lo and behold, I discover the desire has grown. The neuron pathways are prepared for further exploration of the subject. I am more prone to the thing I want to avoid by giving into it in my thoughts.

In most great traditions there is recognition that there are harmful kinds of shame, it seems to me. Scruples, they used to be called. It seems much more nuanced and on target to me to recognize that there are kinds of shame which are needful and helpful in navigating life’s issues and there are scruples which bind up a person in needless reservations, etc. Nietzsche seems to have made the “terrible simplification” of calling all morals and the shame for their trespass “scruples”, unleashing the “blonde beast”. The way you describe masturbation also suggests that you would not refrain from publicly doing it if there was no external social pressure (which is supposedly still benighted and repressed) to not do so, which summons up a Brave New World society. I must say, I am one of those who would be repulsed if you were to do this (I am not suggesting that you want to) and I would be confident in my appraisal because I understand how shame rightly ordered can have a good effect and lack of it a bad one.


In my own life, I have avoided fantasizing about specific people for some good reasons and some confused reasoning. Whatever the case, I have no trouble granting that fantasizing about someone's wife or girlfried (or husband or boyfriend or any other inappropriate object) is no good for any party. However, I don't think that's what's in the offing.


I also have to say that I have some difficulty imagining how I would feel about public defecation, masturbation etc. if I had grown up in a society for which they were common events. I suspect that this would essentially never happen, however, because feces smells bad and sex is a basic drive* with so much social power that even masturbation would be disruptive at the margins.

If this means that defecation and masturbation in public are objectively "bad", it's only a contingent truth. Only human biology would have to be different to obviate the problems, not the human spirit.

*I am not using this as a technical term endorsing any Drive Reduction Theory.


I will write a more length response to David later, but I just came across this in the news, and I thought it was interesting and pertinent to the discussion:


There's actually a mountain-load of evidence and research that suggests regular ejaculation is good for a man. If I randomly happen to come across another study, I'll make sure to post it here.


Regarding disassociation of thoughts from actions, I did not claim anywhere that actions are not preceded by ideation. My point was that if you are going to ideate something that would be detrimental to actuate, it's best to sate your desires in innocuous ways. People are going to think bad thoughts, but that doesn't always lead to bad actions. The other point I made is that innocuous activity, such as masturbation or playing violent video games, doesn't necessarily lead to detrimental action: ie violent video games aren't a gateway to murder, and masturbation is not a gateway to sexual crimes, philandery or promiscuity.

Regarding lust, it's an instinctual urge much like hunger or thirst. A person may be able to ignore hunger, but it will not just go away without being sated. Likewise, Nathanael may be able to ignore lust, but it will still plague him and make him bitter towards the objects of his lusting. Is it better to sate lust through masturbation and bear no resentment towards pretty girls, or is it better to suffer lust and resent every pretty girl that you see? Or worse, you could try to ignore lust for most of your life, and then one day suddenly snap and rape or molest someone, like a hungry wolf that has been teased with food.

Regarding shame, it seems to me that it is often conflated with guilt. If you do something morally objectionable, in contrary to your scruples, you will feel guilt. If you do something embarrassing (to you), you will feel shame. Now, masturbating is not embarrassing to me, and thus does not inspire shame. However, masturbating in front of children I would consider morally objectionable (because children are not physically and emotionally mature enough to be exposed to explicit sexual content), and I would feel guilt and remorse were I to do so. Someone who feels guilt masturbating in the privacy of their own home is being too hard on themselves, I think. A modicum of shame might be expected if there's extreme negative social pressure, but that shame does not make masturbation "bad" in any normative sense.

Nathan Smith

The lust-hunger analogy seems invalid. Hunger affects us our whole lives and if not sated it gets worse, for an obvious reason: our bodies need nourishment to survive. But we survive (at least individually) without sex, so you would expect the propensity to lust to have different features. In fact there doesn't seem to be much of it in early childhood or very old age (Freud notwithstanding).

The idea that unsated lust would "explode" into sexual crimes seems empirically dubious.


"The idea that unsated lust would 'explode' into sexual crimes seems empirically dubious."

The idea that innocuously sating lust leads to sexual deviancy seems more empirically dubious to me.

Nathan Smith

Well, I agree with Tom there. I doubt there's any important or strong link between masturbation and "sexual deviancy," whatever that means.



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