What Can Medical Research Tell Us
About the Morality of Solo Sex?
A Sober Approach to Medical Research
We’re told coffee is bad for us. Then the media trumpets the findings of research – sometimes questionably funded by coffee marketers and growers – suggesting this very drink is beneficial.
It is currently believed that not only is tobacco smoking dangerous for the general population, it aggravates the symptoms of multiple sclerosis sufferers. Nevertheless, in the 1970s a doctor advised a woman I knew to smoke tobacco because of her multiple sclerosis.
For decades Hormone Replacement Therapy was touted as the medically smart option for menopausal women. It was a fountain of youth, reducing the likelihood of serious medical conditions such as osteoporosis, senile dementia, and even heart disease. Then it began to fall out of favor, with mounting evidence that medical researchers focusing on certain health benefits had overlooked other dangers of this practice, particularly a seriously heightened risk of breast cancer. More disturbing still was the need to call a halt to a long term study of HRT involving over 16,000 women because of marked increase in blood clots, strokes and heart attacks found in women receiving the very treatment that for years medics had supposed, among other benefits, lowered the risk of heart disease. Suddenly women all over the world began to panic as they angrily faced the possibility that the practice they had been told medical science had proved to be beneficial to their health, could actually shorten their life.
We are punch drunk from the countless contradictions, claims and counter claims by medical researchers on just about everything that could possibly affect health.
Just as there is a disturbing degree of truth in the saying that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, so almost anything can be ‘proved’ by medical research.
Medical Science Versus Other Sciences
Some scientists complain that medical research is renowned for being churned out much quicker and with less care than almost any other science, with spurious results being unacceptably common. That aside, contradictions reflect the very nature of scientific advance. On the frontiers of human knowledge, scientists in all fields keep misinterpreting data and overemphasizing one piece of the jigsaw as they grapple for a full understanding.
For centuries it was held in some scientific circles that light consists of particles. Eventually, this theory was virtually laughed out of existence. Light consists of waves. Years later, the idea that light consists of particles regained popularity in the world of science. There are countless thousands of examples confirming that as scientific knowledge increases, it is inevitable that views swing widely, although most changes in understanding take decades to become scientifically fashionable. In addition, the mass media sensationalizes tentative findings that it thinks will tickle the public’s fancy. As an inevitable consequence, the average person gains the impression that a single finding has more authority than it does in the eyes of experts in that particular field.
What If . . .
Given the nature of medical research it is not at all unlikely that you might one day read that someone has produced evidence suggesting that abortion lowers the risk of ovarian cancer or that sexual promiscuity increases one’s life expectancy. Of course, these are completely fictitious examples, but suppose it were one day proved to be absolute truth. Would these activities suddenly gain divine approval?
I think it most unlikely that masturbation lowers one’s chance of getting prostate cancer. Nevertheless, let’s for the moment suppose that it did. Would that mean that masturbation raises one’s life expectancy? No. The full picture is much more complex. For instance, there is much anecdotal evidence (e.g. see a link at the end of this webpage) that masturbation in one’s single life lowers one’s ability to have a long, happy marriage, and it is fairly well established that happily married people live longer than singles. We all know what a severe and well-documented health risk tobacco smoking is. It is in an entirely different league to most other health scares. Nevertheless, a British study found that being single lowers one’s life expectancy as significantly as smoking. So taking one health factor in isolation could create a false picture.
A selfish preoccupation with maximizing one’s life expectancy, however, is not on the agenda of Christlike people. ‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it,’ said Jesus (Mark 8:35). When he said, ‘Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me,’ our soon-to-be-crucified Lord knew full well that in his era, and in many future societies, following Christ significantly increases the likelihood of martyrdom, thus lowering one’s life expectancy. ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men,’ wrote Paul, (1 Corinthians 15:19) for whom health hazards included whips, rods, stones, ship wrecks, bandits and prison food.
Especially in previous eras, there was no question that for women, childbirth was extremely hazardous to health and a frequent cause of death. For them, masturbation was far, far healthier than any activity that could result in pregnancy. No one in their right mind would suggest that this implies God would have preferred no children to be born. Sometimes the moral thing to do is to risk one’s health.
Studies suggest that ‘having a variety of partners or frequent sexual activity’ could increase the risk of prostate cancer by 40 per cent. Any Christian citing this as reason for sexual faithfulness has lost sight of Christ’s morality. For a start, studies show that the rate of prostate cancer among Chinese-Americans is not 40 per cent higher, but 300-500 per cent higher than Chinese living in Asia. Diet is thought to be the reason. For simplicity’s sake, let’s take the huge leap and imagine the implications if these findings turned out to be medical fact rather than medical research. If risk of prostate cancer is what makes promiscuity immoral, then eating American food rather than nothing but traditional Chinese meals, is roughly ten times more immoral than ‘having a variety of partners or frequent sexual activity.’ That’s ridiculous.
There is a far greater concern than this, however, for those who see medical consequences as a reason for morality. What, for example, would you think of someone whose motivation for not committing murder was not that murder is wrong but simply that he could end up on death row? The need for a self-serving reason for doing right highlights one’s depravity. Jesus cuts through our hypocrisy when he said that even looking the wrong way at women – no physical health issues here, nor even the possibility of pregnancy – is as morally wrong as full-blown adultery. The fact that this stuns us shows how low our morals really are. It is wrong to think murderous thoughts, even if no one gets killed. Likewise, it is wrong to entertain adulterous thoughts. For Jesus, attitudes are as immoral as actions. Jesus’ morality is so advanced and so obviously from another world that even today it shows up modern morality as being so embarrassingly primitive that current moral norms are as crude as a stone wheel compared with a space shuttle.
What does it say about a person’s morality if he wouldn’t slightly endanger his own life to save a child from drowning? He chooses either to do the heroic or be riddled with shame.
Only if masturbation could first be shown to be morally neutral would health issues enter into the equation, and even then, medical science is simply not advanced enough to provide more than vague guesses.
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