By Dr. Asir Ajmal
The boy was sixteen. He looked upset, dark circles around his eyes bore witness to many a sleepless night in front of his laptop. He hesitated a bit, uneasy in his seat, and then confessed. “I am a sinner. I commit the sin every day and then repent. Everyday I promise Allah that I won’t do it again. But I am not strong enough. I switch on the laptop and there I go again.” This was a few years ago. More recently, the culprit is not the computer, but the mobile phone; And the teenagers, boys and girls are caught up in an addiction to pornography on their phones followed by masturbation.
This story is so common in Pakistan that every therapist reading it can relate. They must have seen tens of such clients if not more. And the problem is invariably giving into the carnal sin, but this sin, as one boy put it, is self-abuse.
It is not guilt alone that causes the distress. An incredible amount of pain is caused by the erroneous belief that somehow the act of masturbation is causing their bodies to erode from within, sapping all their strength. The idea that they would not only burn in hell in the afterlife, because they have sinned, but that their health is also being ruined in this world, is ironically responsible for ruining their mental health.
These erroneous and misinformed beliefs cause so much misery that these boys over time end up with extreme anxiety, depression and somatic symptoms.
The problem is that even among psychologists in Pakistan, there is no consensus on the issue, let alone among parents, teachers, priests or doctors. I once attended a workshop where the psychologist suggested removing the door from the boy’s bedroom and depriving him of privacy in order to prevent the “vice of self-abuse”. She even suggested that the boy be made to put on boxing gloves to keep his hands away from mischief.
I was shocked and when I complained to a senior psychologist, who incidentally was a Freudian– I expected him to understand– he said he didn’t agree with me that masturbation was a harmless act. After all, was it not Freud who had said that masturbation weakens the personality and causes neurasthenia?
ISLAM DOES NOT FORBID IT.
On the issue of Islam, I found many religious sources that declared masturbation as not sinful. Some even argued that masturbation was a protection against fornication and adultery, and was therefore certainly not a sin, if not a virtue.
GIRLS ALSO SUFFER FROM GUILT & MISCONCEPTIONS
When an earlier version of this article was first published, a woman, also a clinical psychologist, commented that in her view it was a harmful act not only for boys and men, but also for women. She thought that girls experience infertility and other gynecological complications because of masturbation.
There is absolutely no basis to such claims. Also from am an Islamic point of view, one can see how if the logic of prevention of adultery applies to men, it can be applied to women also.
SEX EDUCATION IS NEEDED EVEN FOR PSYCHOLOGISTS
I educate such clients about the harmlessness of masturbation both in physical as well as religious sense. Educating young men about sex and masturbation is something most Pakistani psychologist have to do at some point in their careers. I wonder if psychologists understand their responsibility to first educate themselves about sex and sex education. It will do them, their partners, and their clients some good.