Stringfellow on masturbation, sex and the search for self

‘[One] who persists into adulthood in the practice of masturbation is likely to be one who remains profoundly immature sexually, fearing actual sexual contact with a partner, becoming and being sexually retarded. The main danger and damage in masturbation is not in the conduct itself, but in the fantasy life that invariably accompanies the conduct. That life will hardly ever be a sexually fulfilling one, and indeed masturbation is probably most obviously another variety of sexual sublimation – one in which the sexual identity and capability of the person remains stalemated, indefinite, confused, and apparently self-contained. Masturbation is not antisocial per se, but the deep suppression of sexuality which it represents will frequently provoke some other superficially nonsexual, antisocial behavior. And even if the sublimation of masturbation is never relieved, either in sexual relationship with another human being or in some antisocial, apparently non-sexual behavior, the real tragedy – the destructive and dehumanizing fact about masturbation – is its obvious unfulfillment and crude futility among the varieties of sexual activity’ …

‘Such is the mystery of sex and love that what in sex may be dehumanizing, depraved, or merely habitual, may become human, sacramental, and sanctified. For sex to be so great an event as that, it is essential for one to know who he is as a person, to be secure in his own identity, and indeed, to love himself.

Too often sex does not have the dignity of a sacramental even because it is thought to be the means of the search for self rather than the expression and communication of one who has already found oneself and is free from resort to sex in the frantic pursuit of identity. It is wrong to assume that sex is in itself some way of establishing or proving one’s identity or any resolution of the search for selfhood. One who does not know oneself and seeks to find oneself in sexual experience with another will neither find self nor will he respect the person of a sexual partner. Often enough, the very futility of the search for identity in sex will increase the abuse of both one’s own self and one’s partner. The pursuit of identity in sex ends in destruction, in one form or another, for both the one who seeks oneself and the one who is used as the means of the search. No one may show another who he is or she is; no one may give another life; no one can save another.

How then shall one discover who one is as a human being if sex provides neither the means nor the answer? And how shall one be emancipated from the power of sin in sex and in other realms as well?

In Christ.

In Christ. That means in beholding Christ who is in his own person the true human, the person living in the state of reconciliation with God, with himself, with all men, with the whole creation.

In Christ. That means in discerning that God ends the search for self by himself coming in this world in search of men. For the person, [sic] who knows that he has been found by God no longer has to find self.

In Christ. That means in surrendering to the presence and power of death in all things including sex and , in that event, in the very midst of death, receiving a new life free from the claim of death.

In Christ. That means in accepting the fact of God’s immediate and concretely manifest love for human life, including one’s own little life. Finding, then, that one’s own life is encompassed in God’s love for the world.

In Christ. That means in knowing that in the new life which God gives to humans there is no more a separation between who a person is and what a person does. That which one does, in sex or anything else, is a sign of who one is. All that one does become sacraments of new life.

In Christ. That means in realizing radical fulfillment as a person in the life of God in this world; such radical fulfillment that abstinence in sex is a serious option for a Christian though it is never a moral necessity.

In Christ. That means in enjoying God’s love for all humanity and all things in each and every event or decision of one’s own life.

In Christ. That means in confessing that all life belongs to God, and but for him there is no life at all’.

– William Stringfellow, Instead of Death (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 50–1, 54–5.

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