Monday, July 11, 2011

HZL

A letter from a correspondent (so  far as I know, not someone of my acquaintance):

Dear YGB, 
I read on your blog that you think masturbation is selfish. 
I am a young  guy and enjoy doing it. From a psychological perspective it is a positive expression of sexuality. 
The reason why it is my ultimate goal to stop is because that is the halachic reality. 
However masturbation is completely normal and there is absolutely nothing perverted or selfish about it.

I would appreciate It if you explain what you mean, and if you thing I am entitled to disagree with you and still be considered an orthodox jew.

Thanks for your time.


My response:

Sorry for the delay.

That you enjoy doing something does not make it right. The Rambam tells us that we must understand that to eat a ham sandwich is very pleasurable and enjoyable, and that we nevertheless refrain from it because of Ratzon Hashem.

If sexuality was given by God to his creatures as a means of bonding (not to mention procreation), I fail to see how how one can assert that solitary sexuality is a positive psychological activity.

Hence, I am not sure on what basis you assert it to be "normal." Perhaps by societal norms, but not by the norms expected of us by our Creator.

Since perversion is a societal norm, it is in constant flux and cannot be an objective measure. Homosexuality was once regarded by greater society as a perversion, and now it is not.

As to being selfish, the more proper term is self-centered.

You certainly are entitled to disagree with me and still be considered an Orthodox Jew. But your arguments here are based on self-validated premises, not on solid reasoning.

I am happy to continue the conversation. I will be blogging it, leaving you anonymous, of course.

KT,
YGB

38 comments:

  1. Well you could look at this way: if sex was only about procreation then it would be forbidden for a married couple where one is infertile (example post-menopausal). Clearly then there is the idea of giving pleasure to another as part of the process. The husband still has to pleasure his wife (the onah thing).
    With masturbation there is an element of pleasure but it's self directed - the guy will have his orgasm, thank you very much, but without having to give to anyone but himself. Self-centred would work better as selfish implies that the guy could choice between intercourse and masturbation and chooses masturbation because he doesn't want to waste time pleasuring his wife.

    "When I was young, we were so poor that I hadn't been a guy I wouldn't have had nothing to play with." Redd Foxx

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  2. Olam Hafuch Hu

    5 years ago no mainstream blogger would touch this topic, now this post has been up for a while and only one comment?

    Olam Hafuch Hu

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  3. My guess is that the questioner means in today's time. I.e. in the olden days, one got married quite young and was not exposed to immodest women constantly like today. (on the street, TV, interent, clothing stores, billboards, etc.)
    In such an immodest world, especially if one does not take steps to limit the exposure, the sexual tension builds and so for someone who is not married and will not be married for years (or perhaps even someone who is married), I could see how one could think that it is a phychologically "normal" thing to do.

    However, as the questioner said, it is agianst the ratzon Hashem and is therefore to be avoided just like avoiding a ham sandwhich. It would be like living in a country that only serves ham as its meat and bans all cow, lamb chicken etc. There is ham everywhere and bacon frying on carts on the street. In such a situation, one has a natural desire to eat meat, and may even suffer phychological stress from the deprivation, but that would not make eating it OK or "normal".

    At best I would say that (as per a shiur on homosexuality I heard from Rabbi Gottlieb) the current society would possibly make the potential punishment for the sin less due to the massive temptation (i.e. Hashem will show more mercy than perhaps in previous generations). This would not mean one can stop working on eliminating the sin, but can be a conferting thought to someone who starts to feel lost, depressed, a failure, and wants to give up.

    I think the questioner's main point is that he doesn't want to feel like the sin is a perversion or selfish, but rather just a lav that is a chok-like (like homosexuality). I do not think one can say that though, as it is self-evidence that self-centeredness is at the heart of the sin, whether it is the cause or the effect, or both.

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  4. From the original questioner:

    1.

    Thank you very much for your reply, sorry that this email is long but
    I feel strongly about these things and think it is very important,
    please do post on your blog if you want.

    "The Rambam tells us that we must understand that to eat a ham
    sandwich is very pleasurable and enjoyable, and that we nevertheless
    refrain from it because of Ratzon Hashem."

    I am sure there is a rashi somewhere that says that we should actually want to eat non kosher but we don't because it is against the Torah.

    Now I don't think we can say this by murder or rape. Think about it,
    eating non kosher can be very healthy physically and psychologically.

    There is absolutely nothing perverse or evil about eating non kosher food. Yes we must not eat it, simply because it is against halacha.

    Why did Hashem tell us not to eat it? I have no idea. Yes there are
    meaningful lessons we can learn but ultimately I have no clue.

    Let's imagine that a young girl is suffering from anorexia, she can
    hardly get herself to eat a thing, let's also imaging that she is
    slowly becoming more observant, she decides that she is slowly going
    to start eating kosher, she decides to only eat non kosher 3 times a
    week and slowly cut down more and more.

    Now, keeping in mind that she finds any sort of eating very difficult,
    when she is able to get herself to eat a wholesome ham sandwich, what
    should her attitude be? Should she say "it was evil and disgusting" or
    should she rather say "I am happy that I got my self to eat, this is
    positive, I hope to reach the level that I will only eat Kosher."

    My point is that there can be things that are against halacha, but on a human level are still positive.

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  5. 2.

    "If sexuality was given by God to his creatures as a means of bonding
    (not to mention procreation), I fail to see how how one can assert
    that solitary sexuality is a positive psychological activity."

    I agree that sexuality is meant for the bond of a husband and wife,
    but sexuality is part of being human, one has urges, that are in a way like the need to eat.
    firstly you cannot deny that masturbation is normal, young children even do it and unless it is obsessive no one will say it is a problem.

    Secondly think about this, no frum person will say that the sexual
    pleasure that one gives ones wife is negative, now she can experience
    this physical pleasure alone and most frum people will say this is
    negative, but why? I don't think it is. It is a human need that is not
    being expressed in the ultimate way, but I would say that this
    sexuality is positive. a non jewish sexologist who I spoke to (see
    below) could not even begin to understand why my ultimate goal is to stop masturbation she asked "why would you want to stop? you love
    yourself!"

    "Hence, I am not sure on what basis you assert it to be 'normal.'
    Perhaps by societal norms, but not by the norms expected of us by our
    Creator."

    Hashem created us human we are not angels, deep down I know that
    Hashem is reasonable and that he loves me more than I love myself.
    Hashem created most males with an extremely strong desire to
    masturbate, and I don't think Hashem did this by mistake. I believe masturbation is normal and Hashem obviously knows this, but we as Jews have to try our best, at our own pace to rise above the norm.

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  6. 3.

    "Homosexuality was once regarded by greater society as a perversion,
    and now it is not."

    All I will say is that obviously acting on ones homosexual feelings is violating a serious Torah law.

    Someone I know recently killed himself, he was homosexual and his
    parents could not accept him. But I know that Hashem's Torah is
    eternal and laws can't change, but that does not take away from the
    struggle.

    "As to being selfish, the more proper term is self-centered"

    Is it any more "self-centered" than enjoying a chocolate?

    "You certainly are entitled to disagree with me and still be
    considered an Orthodox Jew. But your arguments here are based on
    self-validated premises, not on solid reasoning"

    Let me very briefly give you some background for years I tried to stop masturbating unsuccessfully I had the same opinions that you have
    about this issue, I regarded masturbation as abnormal and selfish. To cut a long story short, I would feel very guilty and dirty, this lead into a downward spiral of pornography. Eventually I did some really deep introspection and thinking, I realized that at that stage of my life it simply was out of my free will range to completely stop.

    I started changing my attitudes and started doing well.

    There is a certain charaidy website that was created for frum people
    with these problems. When I said I did not believe I could completely
    stop they wrote to a frum expert who said that this was my addiction
    talking to me and that masturbation could mess up my future marriage.

    I took them very seriously and I was very confused because deep down I knew that this was not right.

    So I went to a very well known non- Jewish sexologist who told me that
    I had no addiction and that my strict religious beliefs were the
    problem.

    She could not understand why I even wanted to strive to grow in this
    area, so I went to a frum psychologist he also said that I had no addiction, but he did not want to discuss my attitude about
    masturbation and said I should rather speak to a rabbi.

    To sum up i went through turmoil because of this and I think its a big problem in the frum world. Making something natural like masturbating seem like a perverse and selfish problem, and added to this I went through(and still go through) turmoil thinking that a cannot be considered a torah jew because of my "open minded" views.
    But I am not trying to say that I must not strive to stop this. But it is even more difficult when you not married.

    And I cannot get married yet because I don't have enough money, my parents hardly have enough to live on for themselves so they can't help out, so I am trying to progress in my career but it could be a while before I can afford it.

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  7. It's a strange thing, isn't it, that we are so disciplined when it comes to prohibited foods and Chillul Shabbos, but we have such terrible problems with sexual self control. Why such a difference?

    I don't think a direct attack can work. It's like lifting a boulder: it simply can't be done. If you try, all you'll do is seriously damage yourself. But- if you have a lever and fulcrum, the task is doable. Perhaps our task is to psychologically move sexual behavior out of the "impossible to control group" into the "manageable group". How does one do that?

    Here are some suggestions. They don't make it easy, but they make it possible.

    1. Association.
    By mentally associating the act with something you can control- treifus, chillul shabbos, gneiva. Borrow the lifetime of discipline from those and apply it to this.

    2. Extreme Mental Focus.
    Sexual activity is tied to a twilight state- not a loss of consciousness, but a sort of foggy, dreamy, less intellectual state of mind. At the first sign of loss of control, when you feel yourself going into that dreamy state, don't waste a split second. You have to immediately bring you mind back into focus. Like those guys that try to stay up for three days, and someone is slapping them and saying wake up! wake up!

    3. Physical Distraction.
    Either demanding physical activity like crunches with your arms out to the side until your stomach aches, or a cold shower. Jews are not very good at cold showers, but I guarantee you'll survive, although it doesn't feel like you will.

    Good luck to you.

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  8. I fail to see the point of the point trying to be made. You seem to agree that it is assur, and the Gemara says clearly that it is a sin that has a maximum punishment of death from Heaven.

    What difference does it make if it feels or is considered "normal"?

    The only difference I see is what I have already commented on, and that is that since it is so accepted in our over-sexed society, that one can assume the mercy and patience of Hashem to allow one to work on removing the sin at a pace that is healthy and will not cause one to sink into depression and dispare.

    I don't know if anyone would disagree with that analysis except for chassidim and some kabbalists (who SAY the sin is worse than murder - although I wonder if when they contimplate on recent tragic events, if they really truly beleive that is true).

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  9. Perhaps the most complete discussion on the (or "a") Jewish of masturbation can be found at Aishdas:
    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol01/v01n021.shtml#05 (You'll have to hunt around for the beginning and end of the thread.)

    It's from thirteen years ago.

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  10. That thread seems extreamly permissive. If that post were true, then things would be very different in the Jewish world.
    I do not think it is wise to post such a permissive thread unless you are really sure it is a valid psak.
    There is a huge difference between a sin called by many "worse than murder" that carries the possible death penelty from Heaven, and a rabbinic fence over a lav... The extreams seem a bit too far from each other for both to be valid views. Am I wrong?

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  11. Reuven Meir, you're probably right. In fact, I had intended to mention that the writer who did most of the research (the one who seems extremely permissive) has a "run-in" with none other than R' Bechhofer on one of those pages.

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  12. Dear Reuven Meir, I am the person that wrote the original question.
    My basic points are
    1)A lot of religious educators tend to mix up psychological problems with spiritual issues, this can have disasters effects. Personally I was told that I have a terrible addiction, and every time a tried to argue and state my opinions I was told that my opinions are all from my addictive mind and are nonsense. Now how do you think I felt when I wrote to experts and afterwards even went to a renowned expert who told me that these educators are actually the ones who are not objectively able to think?
    I also wrote to a website that these frum people actually quoted (out of context) to argue against me here is there response http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/question/religious-belief-and-masturbation-discrepancy (note that they shortened my question, I went into more detail)

    2)You ask, if I believe that masturbation is against halacha and therefore one needs to strive to grow in this area what difference does it make if I think its normal?
    It makes an infinite difference, you might not realize it but there are frum teens that regard themselves as just as perverted as that guy who did that terrible thing to a child.
    Secondly I personally just cannot view masturbation as something negative it is probably a mental thing, but as I heard in a shuir by R gotleib Hashem takes mental needs into consideration.

    So Reuven Meir, I am interested in what you think of me.
    I believe that I have to slowly strive to overcome masturbation but at the same time when I do masturbate I don't look at it as something negative.
    Some one told me that I will loose my eternity unless I change my attitude how do you thinks that makes me feel?

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  13. I think the only thing that is wrong is "when I do masturbate I don't look at it as something negative."
    This is incorrect even according to your view. It is a great negative thing to do a sin agaisnt Hashem. Even it were a guarentee that Hashem would show mercy this time, it is still a very negative thing to do!

    As far as your other experiences, I would agree that the education you received was counterproductive and harmful. I cannot relate to it so well since I am a BT and went through college where masterbating was as accepted, common and frequent as getting dressed in the morning.

    I do not believe you will lose your eternity for your views, even if they are misguided (my opinion). If pork was found to give great health benifits, we would not lose our eternity by saying eating pork is a positive thing that we cannot do because Hashem doesn't want us to.

    BTW in one of your posts you mention getting involved in watching porn. I do not see how even if you feel masterbating is normal that it would have any bearing at all on avoiding the deorysa of "do not stray after your eyes". In fact, the limiting of exposure to immodest women (like MTV, bad internet sites, VS catalogs, etc) is the best way to begin to be able to work on ridding oneself of masturbation.

    I also happen to believe that there is an addiction aspect to masturbation in that it is not something one can just "stop doing" at the drop of a hat when told it is forbidden. It is a hormonal stimulant to the brain which is pleasurable and therefore can easily become a phych addiction. This is why you can have a frum person who will completely refrain from a multitude of acts which are desirable because they are agianst halachah, but still can fall many times in the sin of masturbation.

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  14. My point is that there can be things that are against halacha, but on a human level are still positive.

    This is true, but just as in achilah, which is generally positive, achilah gassah is negative; so too in sexuality, which can be positive, masturbation is negative. (Note: That I am not equating the severity of gluttony with that of masturbation, only the taxonomy.)

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  15. Secondly think about this, no frum person will say that the sexual
    pleasure that one gives ones wife is negative, now she can experience
    this physical pleasure alone and most frum people will say this is
    negative, but why?


    Not to obfuscate unnecessarily, but this issue as it pertains to women is different than as it pertains to men. Let's remain focused on the male of the species.

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  16. Hashem created most males with an extremely strong desire to
    masturbate, and I don't think Hashem did this by mistake. I believe masturbation is normal and Hashem obviously knows this, but we as Jews have to try our best, at our own pace to rise above the norm.


    I also believe that Hashem created us with a powerful drive for sexuality, but not specifically for masturbation. Once one has become habituated to the act, however, your second sentence is certainly true.

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  17. Is it any more "self-centered" than enjoying a chocolate?

    In the abstract, not necessarily!

    But the middah is magnified by the emotional activity to which it is attached...

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  18. , I realized that at that stage of my life it simply was out of my free will range to completely stop.

    This relates very much to Rav Dessler's famous concept of "nekudas ha'bechirah," and you should approach it from that perspective.

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  19. Phil said...
    Perhaps the most complete discussion on the (or "a") Jewish of masturbation can be found at Aishdas:
    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol01/v01n021.shtml#05 (You'll have to hunt around for the beginning and end of the thread.)

    It's from thirteen years ago.


    Reuven Meir said...
    That thread seems extremely permissive. If that post were true, then things would be very different in the Jewish world.
    I do not think it is wise to post such a permissive thread unless you are really sure it is a valid psak.


    Wow! Makes the line from the song go through my head: "When we were young yeshiva boys, way back in '98."

    Anyway, the author of that post is a learned person, but not a Torah authority. But be that as it may, he is addressing masturbation among married partners - not our topic here.

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  20. Reuven meir-
    "I do not see how even if you feel masturbating is normal that it would have any bearing at all on avoiding the deorysa of "do not stray after your eyes"

    You are correct BH I have progressed in that area, and when I masturbate I try not to think about anything.

    YGB-

    "so too in sexuality, which can be positive, masturbation is negative."

    Firstly let me clarify that I am speaking on a human level, I have no idea what the cosmic truth is, and my finite mind cannot begin to grasp it.
    But I was given a human mind and that is this only tool I have.
    This is probably a bad example but
    When there is a tragedy we don't say let's look at this as good and positive because its the will of Hashem. We say duyan haemes, I understand this to mean that yes Hashem has a cosmic plan, but in our human mind a tragedy is a tragedy.
    So to (lehavdil) masturbation may be negitive on a cosmic level. But I have I deep psychological need to view my masturbation as a positive act added to this is the fact that the medical experts agree with me (yes I know they can't decide on what is moral and what is not but they can show what is positive on a psychological level irrespective of its moral meaning).

    "Note: That I am not equating the severity of gluttony with that of masturbation, only the taxonomy"

    Dr sorority quotes rav Dessler saying that wasting seed is a series transgression, how much more so is the sin of wasting time. So I'm not sure if masturbation is worse then gluttony.
    http://www.drsorotzkin.com/audio/BoundariesRestrictionsSexuality.mp3

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  21. "but this issue as it pertains to women is different than as it pertains to men"

    But why? Psychologically its the same (you may disagree but that would not be a religious argument)
    The only difference is that halachicaly its more serious for a man, and I can't argue with that, but my point is that masturbation is not at all self centered

    "I also believe that Hashem created us with a powerful drive for sexuality, but not specifically for masturbation"

    I did not mean that Hashem created sexuality for masturbation, what I am saying is that the vast majority of health frum boys will masturbate, and a lot of them will go through a terrible struggle trying not to. Now they did not make themselves have these urges, they were created that way it is not some sort of mental disorder or a sign of being self centered.

    "But the middah is magnified by the emotional activity to which it is attached..."

    I don't know what you mean, and in any case even if it is an emotional activity so what? Lets imagine that all you arguments were true but there was no prohibition of masturbating.
    Why on earth would I want to stop?
    I love myself! I am entitled to give my self pleasure. Most girls don't even view a guy that does this as self centered.

    Btw I heard a shuir by Rabbi Zev leff ( who is no fan of masturbation, to put it mildly)
    That Yosef was Hzl inorder not to be seduced by potifar's wife.
    Was Yosef self centered?

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  22. "Btw I heard a shuir by Rabbi Zev leff ( who is no fan of masturbation, to put it mildly)
    That Yosef was Hzl inorder not to be seduced by potifar's wife.
    Was Yosef self centered?"

    If this is true, then it is a simple case of avara lishmah (especially since the mitzvos were not binding on the avos)

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  23. I know this is not the direction in which this conversation is going. But are we talking about a D'Oraisa or a D'Rabanan? (If I'm not mistaken, Sefer HaChinuch and Rambam don't list masturbation among 613.)

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  24. To anonymous: From my research it seems that masturbation is a deoriysa which is not one of the taryag. It is like a women having to cover her hair, which the gemara says is deorysa but is also not part of the taryag. My best guess as to the status is a mitzvah deorysa but since it cannot be punished with by the courts (makkos), it is not a technical "mitzvah" like a taryag, but is nonetheless forbidden on a Torah level. Rabbi, is this a decent analysis?

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  25. Reuven Meir-
    "If this is true, then it is a simple case of avara lishmah"

    My point is that I don't see how masturbation can be the ultimate act of being self centered, yosef's Hzl was obviously not self centered.
    And I ask, are a lot of people today not facing similar challenges to yosef?
    I am NOT saying that we have a heter today all I am saying is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the midda of being self centered, and therefore those that struggle with hzl do not have to have the extra burden of worrying about doing ultimate self centered acts.

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  26. Danny - It does not mean that one who masterbates is therefore a self-centered person. It means that masturbation is a self-centered act which can cause one to become more and more self-centered, or conversly one who IS self-centered would perhaps be more prone to it.

    An analogy would be sinning by killing animals for no reason. It does not neessesarly mean that the person is cruel, but it is a cruel thing to do, and therefore when done frequently can cause one to become more cruel.

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  27. Reuven meir-

    Thanks for you comment I think we are getting to the heart of the matter and our difference of opinion.
    As I wrote above I consulted with a non Jewish therapist and a frum one and they both told me that masturbating once or twice a week will not have any negative effect on my mental health, or middos (obviously like a lot of other things if it becomes obsessive it will cause problems)
    You believe that masturbation can cause one to become more self centered, I don't.
    Would you still have this belief if you were not religious?
    I find it too much of a coincidence
    that generally speaking the only people who think masturbation can have negative effects are very religious. It is similar to the fact that the only people who believe in a young universe are religious.
    In any case I feel very strongly that someone who does believe that masturbation will have negative effects, that indeed will happen, kind of like the placebo effect.

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  28. Dr Sorotzkin quotes Rav Dessler saying that wasting seed is a serious transgression, how much more so is the sin of wasting time. So I'm not sure if masturbation is worse then gluttony.
    http://www.drsorotzkin.com/audio/BoundariesRestrictionsSexuality.mp3


    The parallel is strange, to say the least. I cannot understand it, and certainly cannot accept it.

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  29. "but this issue as it pertains to women is different than as it pertains to men"

    But why? Psychologically its the same (you may disagree but that would not be a religious argument)


    The feminine receives pleasure (and uses that passivity as a vehicle for giving). The masculine gives pleasure actively. I don't want to get into the topic to any greater extent at this juncture.

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  30. Rabbi, is this a decent analysis?

    yes.

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  31. A couple of good Christian sites:

    http://www.growthtrac.com/artman/publish/masturbation-ruins-great-sex-801.php

    http://www.christianity.com/Home/Christian%20Living/Features/11555712/

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  32. As to the psychology of it, don't be so sure. It is not PC to be negative on it, but the information is out there.

    See

    http://www.healthboards.com/boards/showthread.php?t=497247

    http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Post-Ejaculatory-Guilt-Syndrome

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  33. YGB-
    Firstly pegs happens after sexual intercourse as well so its not unique to masturbation

    Secondly pegs has no negative psychological effects, a part from feeling down for a few minutes.
    Often these feelings are escalated because of religious guilt, and the religious guilt can cause serious long term problems. A sexologist told me that a lot of her patients are from religious backgrounds (including jewish) and they have a lot of problems after marriage because of this.
    I challenge you to find any secular professional article that says that
    A mentally stable person that masturbates (not compulsively) will have negative mental effects.

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  34. Finally the fact that people may get pegs after sexual intercourse or masturbation does not mean that it is negative any less than the fact that some girls feel guilty after eating makes eating negative.

    Btw the nationmaster website that you quote also says this http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Masturbation#Health_and_psychological_effects

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  35. Anyway I think we have both stated our views and I don't think any of us are going to change our minds, so let's agree to disagree.
    I hope you are able to understand that my arguments are not "based on self-validated premises", they are my honest opinions.
    Thanks for saying "You certainly are entitled to disagree with me and still be considered an Orthodox Jew."
    It means a lot to me as I really worry about this.
    All the best.

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  36. Something to think about http://www.inewsone.com/2011/05/20/atheists-sex-lives-better-than-believers/51823
    Danny if there were more religious people like you, there would be less sexual problems in the religious word.
    Thank you for being brave enough to speak out

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  37. I will be doing a second post on the topic.

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