Masturbation, God’s Design For Sexuality, & Your Marriage

They May Not Seem All That Related, But They Are

When it comes to something as intimate as masturbation, we worry about others judging us.  We worry about what God thinks, too.  Will he be angry, disappointed, and tell us to ‘just stop’?

In my first post, I argued that we need to wrestle with whether masturbation is right or wrong.  But that wasn’t my main focus.  I don’t think it’s God’s either, or he would have made it clearer, as he has with many other things.

Instead, I believe God wants us to wrestle more deeply with several fundamental questions.  (Jesus was always asking questions; at least 135 of them.)  If we’ll answer honestly, that will open the door to some authentic conversations with God so we can give this area of our lives – and others – more fully to him.

divorce photo

You can check out the first post for the first three questions.  Here are three more.

What’s Our Sexuality For Anyway?

Ever wonder why you have such strong sexual desires?  God could have made us without them… but he didn’t.

We can’t really deal with masturbation without asking the bigger question of what our sexuality is for.

A full answer goes waaay beyond the scope of this post.  (Read Tim Keller’s article ‘The Gospel & Sex‘ for a fantastic, fuller treatment.)

But as Karol Boschung points out, our sexuality was never meant to point inward, but ‘outwards, towards union and love’.

He goes on to take us on a quick tour of relevant scriptures:

  • Genesis 2:24.  ‘The man shall… hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’  They ‘became one’ fully through the act of sex.
  • Ephesians 5:22-33.  Paul basically says that marriage and the gospel explain each other.  ‘This mystery [of marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church’ (Ephesians 5:32).  In sexual intercourse, the intimacy of marriage takes on its clearest expression, and displays the kind of closeness God desires with us, his church.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:4.  ‘… the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.’  Here, Paul makes it plain that a husband and wife aren’t supposed to be selfish with their bodies.  Instead, they should view their sexuality as a way to serve their spouse.

So, our sexuality points to God’s intimacy with us, his church, and, is mainly for serving our spouse.  Not ourselves.

With this background, we can put masturbation in its bigger context.  Does masturbation accurately portray our intimacy with God?  Is it focused on serving others?

I think it’s pretty obvious that the answer to these questions is ‘no’.  Masturbation says, ‘sex is all about me’, and that’s the main problem.

What Effect Will Masturbation Have On Your Future (Or Current) Marriage?

So if masturbation trains us to view sex in a selfish way, what will that mean for our marriage?

When I first got married 19 years ago, I was surprised by what physical intimacy was actually like.  (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t like Hollywood, where people act like wild horses and everything is smooth like butter.)

Sex required infinitely more of me than I had ever imagined.  Being fully present. Seeing what my wife actually enjoyed – and didn’t.  Dealing with my own insecurities in the moment.

There were a lot of layers to this, and I’m still not sure I understand them all.  But in part, my struggles with masturbation didn’t require me to deal with any of this.  No need to be present, worry about anyone else, or, deal with my insecurity.

So, even though I didn’t struggle with masturbation after marriage, I brought my selfishness with me.  And that hurt my wife, and the intimacy we were trying to create.

If you’re already married, allow me to say one more thing.  As you know, sex is meant to bring us together with our spouse.  Many of us – especially us guys – have been motivated out of a grouchy mood, put our work down, or sought forgiveness partly because we want to be with our wives again!

But couples struggling with intimacy in general will be tempted to bypass the difficult road back and get their physical needs met apart from one another.  By masturbating, for example.

If that’s where your marriage is, I want to give you a hug and say I can understand how you got there.  But I also want to beg you to go to your spouse and begin talking about turning things around.  No matter how icy things are between you, there’s grace for you and your marriage.

Will You Let Your Struggle Lead You To God?

At the end of the day, all of us have sexual desires that are deeply good, baked into us by God himself.  And yet they’re corrupted by our three enemies: the world, our fallen sin natures, and the devil.

The question isn’t, ‘Will I struggle with my sexuality?’ but rather, ‘How will I handle it when I do?’

We won’t handle masturbation – or any other area of life – perfectly.  That’s why Jesus came, right?  Through his death on our behalf, ‘he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified’ (Hebrews 10:18).

So your struggles with masturbation don’t define you.  Jesus does.

That means we’re free to keep seeking him in our sexual struggles.  When we do, we’ll learn in a very practical way that he ‘is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46:1).

Questions for reflection:

  1. To what extent do you think your struggles with masturbation are rooted in a misunderstanding of God’s design for your sexuality in general?
  2. If you’re single, how might your struggles with masturbation impact your future marriage?
  3. If you are married, where do you still see selfishness in the area of your sexuality?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Hi Matthew,
    I appreciate you tackling a sensitive, controversial issue so boldly and straightforwardly. I also think masturbation is a sin, and threatens the oneness God desires between a man and wife. Sadly, I’ve heard it defended by some Christians, but like you said, if we consider what sex is for, we’ll see masturbation denies the purposes.

    • Hey Scott, thanks for reading and your encouraging feedback. At some point, I realized that I had been blogging for 2 years and somehow never covered this. In my work with students and younger people, it comes up all the time, so figured it would be useful for others. Not to mention that it had also been a challenge for me.

  • Chris Petruzzi

    Hi Bryan,
    I appreciate your courage in addressing this important topic which most people try to dodge.
    I have two comments (the implications of which are in opposition to each other).
    First, I believe that masturbation is related to lust. I believe that it would be almost impossible to masturbate without lust. That, by the way, makes it clear that all forms of sex are about souls, not physical activities. I believe that sexual arousal always involves thoughts of other people (or animals in the case of beastialitality) . Those thoughts represent the souls of the masturbator dwelling on the souls of other people.
    My second thought on this is that men’s sexual desires increase without the release of hormones associated with ejaculation. That is the conclusion of academic research on this topic. (see Jiang, M.; Xin, J.; Zou, Q.; Shen, J. W. (2003). “A research on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone level in men”. Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. 4 (2): 236–240). It is also consistent with Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 7: 5 “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” If that is true, then a man who does not have a wife available for sex may develop more lustful thoughts in the absence of masturbation.
    Masturbation is not described in the Bible. While I believe that Jesus did not masturbate, could this be the type of sin that is “missing the mark” as opposed to overt disobedience to God? If so, could there be circumstances in which a man without a wife can serve God better by releasing hormones through masturbation than by letting Satan tempt him further?

    • Hi Chris, first thanks for reading and your thoughtful comment. Connecting like this really helps us all keep growing.

      I certainly agree that masturbation is almost always fueled by lust and is connected to other people. As you say, ultimately it’s not the act itself that’s the issue, but what it represents (our lust).

      As someone without a scientific background, I’m less qualified to speak to the details of the study you share, but experientially it makes sense that sexual desires can increase without release through ejaculation. So I can see how intentional masturbation would be one way to try and reduce lustful thoughts.

      In response, I have a few thoughts. One is that men will have nocturnal emissions (‘wet dreams’) if they don’t masturbate. This is involuntary, and seems like God’s provision for men who aren’t married.

      Second, if we agree that masturbation is connected to lust – and therefore to be avoided – then engaging in it, even to a good end (reducing lustful thoughts) is a pragmatic, ‘ends justifies the means’ approach. In my mind, that’s really dangerous because it’s so natural for us as fallen sinners. (And not just in the arena of sex.)

      As for 1 Corinthians 7, Paul acknowledges that being single, and having no outlet for sexual release, can be tempting (verse 2). But – unless we have the gift of singleness like Paul did – his remedy is marriage, where we can have sexual relations within the safety of a covenant, not masturbation.

      Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:13 come to mind and give us hope: ‘No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it’.

      I remember struggling with sexual desires before I was married, and (as I mentioned in the post) I never fully conquered masturbation when I was single. So I get how hard it is in real life. Still, fighting masturbation and (especially) the lust behind it, with God’s help is the way to go.

      Hope that’s helpful. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed part of what you were trying to say, and thanks again for engaging with me!

      • Chris Petruzzi

        Hi Bryan,
        Thanks for you well-thought response.
        I do not know if you are fully considering the types of sin (with different original words for each) in the Bible. see http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/6773/Sin-as-Missing-Mark.htm We all “miss the mark” in some areas. I am probably missing the mark by owning an above-average house in Orange County, California while many people live homeless. Jesus had no home on earth. If I sold the house and moved with my wife and daughters into a cheaper residence, giving the difference to Christian charities, however, it would be so difficult for me and my family that I just do not think I can do it.
        There are some things I can do and some that I can’t and therefore miss the mark. I think that is what Paul is saying when he writes “each of you has your own gift from God”. While his comment was directed at marriage, I think that may also apply to masturbation. This seems to me to be a “missing the mark” type of sin, and some can hit the mark while others miss. Some men without wives do not need release of hormones while others may masturbate to avoid the stronger temptations of Satan. I do not think that they should be told to not do this, just as I do not think that a Christian should tell another Christian to sell his house and give the proceeds to the poor. The other Christian might be led and enabled to sell his house and give the proceeds to the poor, and it is probably what Jesus would do, but I would not tell it to another Christian.

        • Hey Chris, you’re welcome and thank you for your own well-thought out, and humble, response. I have to say that your comments are encouraging me to dig deeper, and that, even now, I’m doing my best rather than feeling completely confident in my thoughts.

          I didn’t respond to your comments on ‘missing the mark’ in my first response, so thanks for bringing that up again. I recognize that the bible describes sin in many different ways, with the OT using about 8 different words for it, and the NT about 20. Complex stuff!

          After reading the link you shared, and some others I found, it seems that ‘missing the mark’ focuses on the ways we fall short of God’s perfect standard, with the word’s original context being that of an archer missing the target. It seems that it can include sin that’s both intentional or unintentional, but even what this exactly means can be debated.

          With that (inconclusive) background, let’s take a quick look at the three main areas you mention: housing and the way we use wealth, marriage (from 1 Cor. 7), and masturbation.

          Housing and the way we use wealth. In general, the bible has a ton to say about the way we use money, but it doesn’t condemn wealth per se. It encourages generosity and condemns greed, which would certainly be ‘missing the mark’. But if someone has a nice home in a nicer neighborhood, for example, and yet is generous, I certainly wouldn’t say with confidence that they are ‘missing the mark’ biblically. As you seem to, assuming motivations are good, I’d say things like this are a matter of conscience / Christian freedom.

          Marriage. In 1 Cor. 7, Paul says that singleness is preferable to marriage (v.8), but that marriage is better than falling into sexual temptation (v.9). But the self-control necessary for singleness seems to be rooted ultimately in God’s gift (v.7). While sexual sin such as lack of ‘self-control’ is certainly ‘missing the mark’, marriage is not, and is sanctioned clearly in many other places throughout the bible. Put another way, getting married is not ‘missing the mark’. (Unless someone felt clearly called to singleness by God and rejected that.)

          Masturbation. As you’ve mentioned, masturbation is never mentioned clearly in the bible, whether good or bad. Because of this, I’d say that Paul’s comments in 1 Cor. 7 re: marriage cannot easily be applied to masturbation, too. Instead, we’re left to look for broader principles from scripture. Christians have had a fair amount of disagreement on this, of course. In that sense, I’d say that masturbation is more like the use of wealth/housing than marriage.

          However, unlike the housing example, I find that things scripture does clearly condemn (e.g., lust, turning to pleasure instead of God) are almost always associated with masturbation. While Christians who own nicer things certainly can be greedy and ungenerous, many other times this is not the case.

          At the end of the day, while I have the conviction that, for singles, masturbation is wrong and not a matter of conscience, it’s not a hill for me to die on. If someone avoids lustful thoughts, and is not using it as a substitute for the Lord, we can ‘agree to disagree’ in Christ. I’m not the Judge! 🙂

          So, that’s the best I can do for now. Thanks again for engaging, and God bless you in every way!