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Promoting 20/20 vision: a Q & A ministry to undergraduates.

A recent sermon entitled "The Blessings of 20/20 Spiritual Vision" began with the minister (Adams, 2002) sharing the fact that the most popular and widely sought surgical intervention today is laser eye surgery which is observed to be safe, relatively affordable, and capable of restoring many people's vision to the good vision standard of "20/20" eyesight. Building upon the vision metaphor, he drew our attention to the words of the Apostle Paul recorded in Acts 20:20, "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house" (NASB). He pointed out that Paul willingly declared to his listeners "anything" that he considered to be profitable for the purpose of enhancing spiritual vision and understanding. Paul did so in two venues: the public setting, which is open to all who desired to listen, and the personal setting, which occurred when he visited and interacted in private households. The minister then elaborated on three blessings to be realized through the application of such a focus. He first noted that those on the receiving end of such a spiritually focused ministry could experience a growth in their faith. Second, he observed that there was the provision of pastoral care and, third, it involved a reaching out to those who were seeking answers to their questions.

It was definitely in the spirit of Acts 20:20 and the points identified above that my colleague, Marsha Schreiber (director of the Biola University Health Center), and I began a service to the undergraduate students at Biola University in April 1998. We hoped to capitalize upon the questions that we anticipated were on the hearts and in the minds of our students, "declaring to [them] anything that was profitable" for the sake of their overall welfare. As such, we viewed this outreach as a spiritual ministry, desiring to minister to the whole person, body, soul, and spirit. Marsha's primary expertise, as a Masters level registered nurse, involves care of the body. My primary focus, as a licensed psychologist, is the care of the soul. The issue of spiritual care is paramount to both of us as committed Christians, believing that only by offering a fully integrated care of the whole person could we best serve the needs of our students.

At the rime Marsha and I began contemplating this service, I had been teaching at Biola University and serving as a clinical staff member at Biola's counseling center for over 20 years, and I had had the opportunity to become reasonably aware of many of the issues that students, staff members, and faculty encounter in their personal lives. This awareness began back in the mid-1970's, even before I became a member of this community, because I had the opportunity to supervise clinical psychology graduate students who provided counseling services in the university counseling center. I became aware that many of those seeking assistance from the counseling center were dealing with various sexual and relational issues. Somewhat later and as a faculty member at Biola, I began teaching the undergraduate human sexuality class in which class discussions and student papers, along with the personal consultation with individual students at their request, continued to increase my awareness of personal issues that needed to be addressed.

As issues of sexually transmitted diseases were covered in my class, I began inviting Marsha to address the topic from her perspective as the campus health service director. She had developed a well informed awareness and concern for students' sexual issues because she had many opportunities to respond to students who were willing to seek help for their questions, fears, and symptoms. Within the context of our interaction regarding the issues facing our students, we discussed the possibility of offering a means by which students could ask questions in a setting of total confidentiality without having to make an office appointment with either of us.

The world-wide response to the recent death of Eppie Lederer (much more widely and fondly known as "Ann Landers") on June 22, 2002 (Sauerwein, 2002), the presence of advice columns and many daily call-in radio and television programs attest to the pervasive and continuous desire on the part of many in our culture for advice and counsel regarding issues of personal concern. For example, the daily California Living section of the Los Angeles Times contains between two and five advice columns. This included an informative (rather than a response to questions) column entitled, "Birds and Bees," which is devoted exclusively to sexual issues. For a number of years earlier in my career, I had listened to a long-running radio psychologist, Dr. Toni Grant, on KABC Radio in Los Angeles. Following her move to another station, her spot was taken by the well published psychiatrist (who is now deceased), Dr. David Viscott (1982, 1984, 1997). As observed from these representatives of what can be identified as a community ps ychology effort, both lay and professional, there is a constant seeking of the opinions of those presumed to be more informed concerning critical life issues. While most of the requests for such advice come from adults, even school age children avail themselves of such resources when they find themselves troubled by difficult and challenging situations.

Developmentally, college students are at a time when they are firming up their identities and expanding their moral reasoning (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2000). The relational and sexual issues these young people face are increasingly complex in our highly sexualized, post-modern society. As such, they are a prime target for a service that seeks to provide them professionally sound and biblically grounded information and behavioral options to consider as they encounter a variety of personal challenges.

One of our major concerns is the amount of misinformation that is consistently dispensed in the popular media as well as the lack of a biblically grounded source for advice offered. A common example of the former is that "Ann Landers" and her sister, "Dear Abbie," have consistently communicated as fact (in their columns addressing the issue of homosexuality) that individuals who experience same-sex attraction are born with the orientation and that it is unchangeable, which is a position that lacks clear scientific evidence (see Jones & Yarhouse, 2000; Satinover, 1996; Whitehead & Whitehead, 1999) and which the personal testimonies of an uncounted number of individuals attest otherwise (Davies & Gilbert, 2001; see also monthly issues of Exodus Update--the news forum of Exodus International North America, which contains personal testimonies of "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ").

This is not to say that media personalities are totally without moral foundation. Each of the columnists represented in the Los Angeles Times clearly take stands of various moral issues. The Lederer sisters often have made reference over the years to various moral precepts and principles that have roots in their Jewish heritage. Dr. Joyce Brothers makes clear statements regarding what she believes to be right and wrong in human relationships and behavior. Carolyn Hax (a syndicated columnist of the Washington Post published regularly in Times) consistently incorporates moral standards in her responses to questions submitted to her column. Of the radio and television personalities, Dr. Laura Schlessinger is most likely recognized for her strong stands on abortion and homosexuality, the latter of which have resulted in an aggressive campaign by the gay community to have her banned from the media. But can such sources be trusted by evangelical Christians when moral views are concerned? The biblical observation re garding every person doing what is right in his or her own eyes (Judges 17:6; Proverbs 21:2) can clearly be observed among the print, audio, and visual media personalities.

There are many additional sources in print that are available to those seeking help with their personal concerns with their sexuality. Dr. Ruth's Sex for Dummies (Westheimer, 1995) is a classic example of what is available in the popular press. Her Jewish heritage shows through from time to time. In her introduction, she states, "I am old fashioned and square. I believe in God, I believe in marriage, and I believe in morality" (p. 4). It seems clear, however, that she has essentially embraced our culture's ethic of sexual freedom, which she desires to be exercised with adequate knowledge--hence her book. Within the Christian community, one of the classics for young people, offered at an age when there is still time to avoid costly errors in judgment and behavior, is James Dobson's Preparing for Adolescence. A more recent volume aimed at the adolescent and young adult population is Miles McPherson's I Don't Want Your Sex for Now (2001), encouraging a life of abstinence before marriage. Another well known volum e, specifically designed to help parents be aware of what kids are thinking and feeling as they struggle with their sexuality is Why Wait? by Josh McDowell and Dick Day (1987).

As both McPherson and McDowell make clear, however, there is typically a sense of urgency on the part of those needing and wanting information and guidance. McPherson (2001) notes in his introduction that when teaching a series on human sexuality, he thought it would be helpful to provide a list of counselors who would be available to talk to young people desiring assistance. He reports, "The response was overwhelming. The phone of the counseling office rang off the hook" (p. 9). McDowell (1987) states the following:

Over and over again I hear young people expressing their confusion about premarital sex. "I was looking for reasons to not have premarital sex, and I didn't receive any answers," confesses Michael at the University of Wisconsin.

"I don't trust my boyfriend," writes a coed, "and he doesn't respect me. I knew it wasn't 'right' but I never knew why".... After interviewing thousands of young people, I am convinced that many teens and young singles are sexually active, not because they really want to be, but because they don't have any deep personal reasons for waiting until they are married. (p. 17)

My desire, along with Marsha's, was to provide an instantly available means by which our students could seek the help they desired and ask the questions that they were wanting answered. As such, we considered a means whereby we could visit with our students in a personal way, somewhat of a "house to house" approach, using the Apostle Paul's model of ministry. With the assistance of support staff, we established an on-line service that we first named "Ask the Dr.," which anyone that had access to the university communication network could use. Within the last year, the service was upgraded and renamed "LifeLines Q&A," using the logo of the health service publication that goes out to all members of the community and includes the byline, "Taking the guess work out of wellness." "LifeLines Q&A" is available on the Biola University Bulletin Board System (BUBBS) and is one of the many "conferences" available to the students. When a student double-clicks on the Lifelines logo, a widow appears on the computer screen offering seven additional icons which give access to an information folder and "Ask a Life Question ...," "Ask a Health Question ..," and "Ask a Sex Question..." folders, as well as three additional folders that serve as Q&A libraries for the three question folders. These latter folders offer the opportunity to proclaim our message "publicly." There is one additional icon, a folder wrapped in a locked chain identified as LifeLines Staff Area, by which Marsha and I are able to access the confidential questions.

The "About LifeLines Q&A..." folder contains the following information:

The LifeLines Q & A conference is designed to give an individual the opportunity to ask sensitive questions about one's life, health, sexuality, STD's, or inquiries about one's body that one might be reluctant to ask a health care worker face to face. If you are having physical problems that require evaluation by an MD, please do not use this conference for regular medical care. Seek help through the Student Health Center or your own personal health care facility.

This conference allows you to ask private questions of health care professionals and receive a private response. [Please allow 24 hours for a response.]

For completely private questions, use the templates (Ask a Life Question, Ask a Health Question, or Ask a Sex Question). Double-click on the desired question icon, read the disclaimers, and send your e-mail question. Do not change the "To:" field; only those authorized to open those folders will be able to see or read your question.

All questions will receive a personalized, private response from a qualified staff person. If you cheek "yes" on the question template, your question (with all identifying information removed) and answer will be posted to the appropriate library. These answer libraries will serve as a place where the whole Biola community can access questions and answers relevant to their needs.

For Health Questions, Marsha Schreiber will respond to you.

For Sex Questions, either Marsha Schreiber or Gary Strauss will respond to you.

For Life Questions--interpersonal or personal--Gary Strauss will respond to you.

What follows the above are brief biographical paragraphs regarding Marsha and myself, identifying our training along with professional qualifications, and history. The following material is what appears in the Sex Questions template (the other two templates follow the same basic layout):

The LifeLines "Ask a Sex Question" folder is designed to give you the opportunity to ask sensitive questions about sexuality, STD's, or inquiries about the body that might feel too personal to ask a health care worker face to face. If you are having physical problems that require evaluation by an MD, please do not use this conference for regular medical care. Seek help through the Student Health Center or your own personal health care facility.

In order to provide a wide range of Questions and Answers for the Biola community, may we have your permission to include your questions in the Answers section of the LifeLines Q & A conference? We will not share your name and we will remove any identifying information.

Please place an "x" in the appropriate Box.

[] Yes.

[] No. Please do not include my question in the LifeLines Q & A Answers section.

Question:

[Please allow 24 hours for a response.] This conference allows you to ask private questions of healthy care professionals and receive a private response.

For completely private questions, do not change the "To:" field in the message. Your question will be sent to a secure folder, and only those authorized to open that folder will be able to see or read your question.

For Sex Questions, either Marsha Schreiber, Director of Health Services, and/or Gary Strauss, a psychologist at the Biola Counseling Center and member of the Biola faculty, will respond.

Over the several years of operation, many significant questions have been asked in each of the three Q & A folders with the majority being health related and the least number being life focused. The continued use of the service by students gives evidence of its apparent value to them. Health questions have covered issues ranging from Anthrax to warts with such concerns as losing hair and tightness in the chest in between. Life issues have included such questions as how best to help a friend struggling with a potentially life threatening condition, handling conflict relationships with extended family, dealing with legalism, responding to a loved one involved with pornography, the necessity of "chemistry" in a romantic relationship, and such emotional issues as depression, anger, and anxiety. In the sexual arena, questions have covered such diverse issues as the common struggle with sexual fantasy at one end of the spectrum and the exotic involving Tantra and Kegels at the other. In between are a wide array of issues including: French kissing and biblical standards, oral contraceptives and the inducing of abortions, prime times of fertility, having sex during one's period and oral sex (a number of married students make use of the service as they address those issues of early marriage), resources to aid in overcoming involvement with pornography, and male and female differences.

A recent example involved the question, "Is a 'hand job' a sin?" I was able to refer the questioner to two responses to masturbation already posted in the Sex Q & A Library. As examples of the types of responses offered to our students, the following are provided.

Question: A group of us (guys) are in an accountability group where were trying to eliminate pornography, Just, and masturbation in our lives. We are curious as to whether there is an alternative method to relieving ourselves or should we just wait it our for the 'dream' (except it NEVER seems to come). Is there any special way to masturbate without sinning?

Response: Maintaining mastery over our sex drive is a challenge for most if not all men. For those that have never masturbated and/or viewed pornography or engaged in any other sexual behavior of these types, it is much easier to maintain that celibate state. It is no wonder that three times the Beloved" in the Song of Songs gives voice to what Solomon had come to know (in all likelihood through his own experience), namely, that one should not engage in those behaviors that will produce sexual arousal that seems too much to control until the time is right. But the data that we have tells us that over 90% of all men do masturbate at some time and to some degree. When we masturbate to visual stimuli (pornography) and/or mental visions or fantasies, we establish a powerfully reinforcing link between mental desire or lust and the natural high of orgasm. What can develop is a type of addiction to the pairing of the two. The question articulated above seems to essentially be a type of 'what do we do once the horse has been let out of the barn?" kind of question. Another way of asking the question is, "Is there some way we can keep the horse from running totally wild and hurting itself without bringing it back into the barn and shutting the door, which seems beyond possibility?"

I believe the key to bringing one's sexual drive (and its expression through self reinforcing, lustful behavior) under personal mastery is to break the link between orgasm and visual and/or mental stimulation. Many appear to assume that masturbation and fantasy are two sides of the same coin, a sort of "You can't have one without the other" phenomenon (that is a line from an old popular song entitled "Love and Marriage," should you be wondering). The fact is that the two are totally separate behaviors, each controlled by personal choice. One can choose to fantasize or to look at pornography and not masturbate (which can fall into the category of "lusting in one's heart,' which our Lord addressed) and one can choose to masturbate and not fantasize, though this can requite a great deal of personal discipline if one has been pairing the two. This may require some degree of repeated refocus of attention, as the mind moves spontaneously to what has become part of one's behavior, a turning away from what the mind's eye wishes to view, so to speak.

Because sex drive in men, particularly young men, is experienced in somewhat of a cycle, building up and finding release via nocturnal emission (The Dream) for those who do nor masturbate, or through some conscious form of release like masturbation or other sexual activity, it does challenge us to exercise some form of self control. Some Christian leaders have held the view that masturbation is God's gift to the single person, a means of released sexual tension without engaging in fornication (interpersonal sex outside of marriage). Since the Bible does not address the issue of masturbation in any direct way, then we must apply biblical principles such as focusing our minds on that which is good (Philippians 4:8), doing all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and not letting ourselves be under the control of anything (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Since masturbation is not specifically condemned in Scripture, then I cannot condemn the behavior, in and of itself. Because, however, it can become difficult to experience without it becoming a problem in self-control (particularly when it becomes paired with viewing pornography or engaging in fantasy), neither do I recommend it. It is something that must be decided about by each one of us, using biblical principles to establish our reasons for or against. To the men asking the question in this case, I can suggest that if using masturbation without viewing pornography or fantasizing can provide a release of sexual tension and help you avoid engaging in lustful thoughts, and if you can give God thanks for this means of helping yourself gain mastery over the problems that you are seeking to help each other with, then this may be a way of helping yourselves move in the right direction, namely, increasing self-control both mentally and physically.

Blessings, Brothers, as you seek to become increasingly conformed to Gods will and Christ likeness in your lives. We need to be supporting each other with prayer and encouragement as we pursue this goal. GS

Whereas the previous response was provided to single men seeking to assist one another within the context of an accountability group, the following was for a married man seeking an appropriate means of handling his sex drive in the context of a wife's temporary absence.

Question: If you are married, is it okay to masturbate if you are fantasizing about your spouse (such as when he or she is out of town)?

Response: As I pursue an answer to the above question, I first consider what the Bible provides in terms of specific commands or other guiding principles regarding the issue. Since the Bible does not address the topic of masturbation in any direct way, then we must apply biblical principles such as focusing our minds on that which is good (Philippians 4:8), doing all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and not letting ourselves be under the control of anything (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Since masturbation is not specifically condemned in Scripture, then I cannot condemn the behavior, in and of its self. Because, however, it can become difficult to experience without it becoming a problem in self-control (particularly when it becomes paired with engaging in fantasy-even more so when paired with viewing pornography), neither do I recommend it. It is something that must be decided about by each one of us, using biblical principles to establish our reasons for or against. When one has a readily and appropriately available context within which the desire for sexual activity can be experienced--being married-and one has been experiencing a satisfying sex life, then dealing with one's sexual desire when one's spouse is away for any length of time can be a challenge.

Some people believe very strongly that one should never masturbate for any reason since it is "having sex with oneself," as one person said to me as we were discussing the issue. Some others believe that masturbation is a God given means to cope with strong sexual drive when the appropriate context is not available (such as for a single person or when separated from one's spouse). The Apostle Paul addressed the issue of sexual desire in his first letter to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 7:1-9; NASB):

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, hue the husband [does]; and likewise also the husband does nor have authority over his own body, but the wife [does]. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But this I say by way of concession, not of command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to hum [with sexual d esire].

What I understand Paul to be saying is that if one is gifted by God with adequate sexual restraint, remaining single can provide the best state in which one is free to devote all of his/her energies to ministry. But he also acknowledged by implication that the sexual drive is very strong and can lead to immorality if one does not have the God ordained relationship-marriage-which was designed to include and provide for sexual expression, thereby affirming marriage as a monogamous heterosexual relationship.

He also observes that nor engaging in sexual expression in a marriage can also lead to sexual temptation when there is a lack of sexual self-control. Withdrawing from sexual activity should, therefore, only be for limited periods of time and be mutually agreed upon for such a purpose as prayer.

Finally, he notes that while he recommends remaining single, it is definitely better to marry than to "burn" (with sexual desire) in light of a lack of adequate self-control. In my experience as a counselor, I find that very few people seem to have such a high level of self-control that they can easily keep their sex drive in check without exercising some coping mechanism. Some have chosen masturbation as a coping mechanism, but for many that do use this method, their fantasies can be troubling to them. Some have suggested that the way to deal with this is to either fantasize about one's future spouse (if confident of that being a particular person with whom one already has a relationship) or about a person without a face who represents the spouse one hopefully will have some day in the future. But one thing needs to be understood about the relationship between masturbation and fantasy; they are nor inevitably linked. One can masturbate without fantasizing, which involves the choice to not let one's mind imag ine the scene of being involved sexually with another person (spouse, fiance, likely spouse, or unknown and hoped for spouse). The data we have available indicates that one can choose not to fantasize. But does this make masturbation right for that person?

Another question we might ask is whether there is medical data regarding the consequences of masturbation. To my understanding, there is no medical evidence that masturbation has any physical consequence unless it is engaged in obsessively to the point that the render genital tissues are damaged. So science does not give us the final answer either. It only lets us know that there are no physical consequences. This leads us to observe that the consequences are psychological and spiritual, depending on how one views the act.

This is where we come back to the challenge that each person faces regarding this issue. We must settle the question in our own minds and hearts before God as to whether it is OK for us. We are promised in James 1:5, "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."

I recognize that I have nor answered the question with a yes or no, which we often wish God would do in these areas which are of concern for us but which the Bible does nor address directly. I am reminded of the words of Paul: "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). We can trust our Father to help us work out these issues in our lives with the guidance and empowering of His Spirit. Blessings to all of you as your seek God's best in your lives. GS

I can say without reservation that being a part of this ministry to our Biola students has been both rewarding and fulfilling. There have been times when the number of questions coming in and the amount of time available to respond thereto has created a degree of overload. But the time invested has always been experienced as highly worthwhile. I am significantly grateful for the opportunity to so serve and I recommend such a service to those at other campuses in a position to implement such for their own students.

REFERENCES

Adams, D. (2002, July). The blessings of 20/20 spiritual vision. A sermon preached at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Whittier, California.

Davies, B., & Gilbert, L (2001). Portraits of freedom: 14 people who came out of homosexuality. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Kail, R. V., & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2000). Human development: A life-span view. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Jones, S. L, & Yarhouse, M. A. (2000). Homosexuality: The use of scientific research in the Church's moral debate. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

McDowell, J., & Day, D. (1987). Why wait? What you need to know about the teen sexuality crisis. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

McPherson, M. (2001). I don't want your sex for now. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House.

Satinover, J. (1996). Homosexuality and the politics of truth. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Sauerwein, K. (2002, June 23). Advice columnist known for her wit and wisdom. Los Angeles Times.

Viscott, D. S. (1982). The language of feelings. New York: Arbor House Publishing Co.

Viscott, D. S. (1984). The Viscott method: A revolutionary program for self-analysis and self understanding. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Viscott, D. S. (1997). Emotional resilience: Simple truths for dealing with the unfinished business of your past. New York: Crown Publishers.

Westheimer, R (1995). Sex for dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide.

Whitehead, N., &Whitehead, B. (1999). My genes made me do it!: A scientific look at sexual orientation. Lafayette, LA: Huntington House Publishers.

AUTHOR

STRAUSS, GARY H. Address: Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639. Title: Associate Professor of Psychology. Degrees: MEd, Elementary School Counseling, University of Northern Iowa; EdD, Counselor Education, Northern Illinois University. Specializations: Human sexuality, and the integration of psychology and theology.

Correspondence concerning this article may be sent to Gary Strauss, EdD, Rosemead School of Psychology, biola, University, 13800 Biola Ave., LaMirada, CA 90639
COPYRIGHT 2002 Rosemead School of Psychology
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Strauss, Gary H.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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