“The prison of himself”

Apr 24, 2015
2 min read

Did you know that C.S. Lewis once weighed in on the subject of masturbation? In a personal letter to someone named Keith Masson he illuminates the core problem with such a practice with his insightful candor. He approaches the topic in such a way that boils it down to some core principles. With the way things are in the world today, this wisdom could be useful so feel free to share.

“For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself… And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.

The true exercise of imagination, in my view, is (a) To help us to understand other people (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce, art. But it has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world—e.g. picturing all I’d do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.” – Letter C. S. Lewis sent in 1956 to Keith Masson


  1. Richard J. Nobbe III

    It appears that nobody wants to touch this one…

    (I’m so horrible).

    • Rick, Rick, you just had to go there.

      Personally, I think his words regarding the imagination and turning outward instead of inward are especially useful.

      The most terrifying statement is at the end when he warns of coming to love the prison. I realize the subject here is masturbation, but this can be applied to so many things. How many ways are there that we turn inward and come to love a place of self-centeredness where we control are the variables instead of taking that risky step of including people in our world, or participating in the world of another?

      These words have made me think a lot about my own situation. Personally, I do better as a loner. I can be completely alone and completely comfortable, I feel at peace and like I can really get things done. I find that others tend to complicate things.

      My wife is an extrovert, she loves being around people and would probably be depressed if she was alone.

      I’ve come to realize that I NEED to extend beyond myself in order to grow. Any kind of turning inward can create a prison, one that you can come to love.

      But in order to become “one” we don’t do that alone, because alone we are not one. We must BECOME one, with a spouse and with the body of Christ. You could take it a step further and place it in the context of 2 Nephi chapter 2:11-12:

      “…if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.”

      I’m not saying alone time is bad. Jesus himself went out alone to pray and meditate, so I would say that it’s necessary. But just like anything, there are good ways and bad ways to practice any principle.

      Life is about finding that balance between opposing forces.

      • Richard J. Nobbe III

        I think you’re spot on with these comments. I enjoyed reading something I had never seen from C.S. Lewis. I appreciate you posting this as we tend to shy away from these important topics in our conversations and lessons.

        Pornography is often discussed, but masturbation less so. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but I think it’s important to have frank, honest conversations with each other about these things that are out there. The same could and should be said for anything that is damning or addicting to the carnal human body. We need to talk more about video games. We need to talk more about gambling. We need to talk more about the trash that is on TV. Some of the trashiest stuff out there is labeled “family friendly,” comes on during a normal hour of the day, and just might be on a network that is considered “for children.”

        We should talk about the dangers involved with Ouija boards and devil worship. We should talk more openly about the “softer” kinds of pornography like really ANY fashion magazine or going to ANY public pool. That which looks clean from the outside is full of filth and uncleanliness.

        We should also talk more openly about addictions to talk radio or TV News shows that do nothing but arouse contention (from the right or the left). I know a lot of good people that are addicted to these types of shows. It really doesn’t do them good to watch them – they are filled with fear and can cause people to develop dangerous opinions which can slow their forward progression. I’ve seen it in my own family.

        We should also be aware that anyone is prone to these evils. For example, I’ve sat as a ward clerk in church disciplinary counsels and was shocked to the foundation and surprised at how many females deal with sex addiction and everything associated with it. Satan is real and he is dangerous. But the Lord is stronger, and He has won the fight over sin and death, and we can crush the head of satan any time we choose.

        I’ll leave this post with some quotes on the subject of freedom and obedience from a book I read this year, “Reflections of a Scientist” by Dr. Henry Eyring. He says, “If I live a higher standard than the law requires there is a complete f

        • I agree, I think there are times, places and ages to discuss certain topics, but when those times, places and ages are right, we shouldn’t shy away.

          I think what is hard about discussing some things, or admitting familiarity with them is the feeling that it insinuates something about you personally. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s hard for someone on the outside to understand without an explanation.

          If I would have posted something about alcoholism, many oneClimbs readers might have assumed I was an alcoholic at some point. Why talk about it if you don’t have anything invested in it? You don’t just bring things up without having thought about it before so why mention it?

          In today’s age, you come across stuff that you weren’t even looking for, it just appears on the radar without warning. I post whatever I find interesting and I think this quote illuminates a subject that causes a lot of people pain.

          I like your Eyring quotes, those are great! I always enjoy reading things from him, I like his attitude.

          • Richard J. Nobbe III

            Yeah, Eyring Sr. has a lot of spunk. We are all products of our formative years, and he spent his as a ranch hand in Mexico and Arizona.

            And I also agree about the necessity of saying things at the right time, place, and maturity level or age. And I also agree that sometimes people think if you were to bring up something like MASTURBATION! or PORNOGRAPHY! or ALCOHOLISM! or SAME-SEX ATTRACTION! it kind of makes people think twice. I think the danger is in the avoidance of these topics altogether. The more we talk about vices, the more we expose satan for who he is. Then, the more we as a people can turn these vices into virtues.

            I appreciate you sharing the quote for two reasons. First, as you said, the quote illuminates a subject that brings a lot of people pain, and perhaps is a gateway into other painful subjects that need to be discussed. And second, I love hearing anything from C.S. Lewis, and how fascinating is it that he wrote a detailed stance on masturbation. I think his words have powerful meaning. These sins really do create real prisons for men and women.

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