Masturbation. Christians don’t talk about it nearly enough.
When we do, the conversation usually turns toward this ultimate question: ‘Is masturbation a sin – or not?’
Sometimes, the question is sincere. Coming from a heart that deeply wants to honor God, a heart that’s struggling with a confusing, practical issue.
Other times, the questioner is hoping for an answer that allows them to masturbate without guilt. (I was there, and maybe you are, too. 😉)
Let me be honest with you upfront. I’ll share my bottom-line thoughts with you at the end, but it’s not going to be as neat and clean as you’d like. At the same time, I think you will come away with something far better than an easy, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
In-between the beginning and the end, I will ask you to think. And, read prayerfully with an open heart. If you’re ready to do that, you won’t be disappointed.
Does The Bible Say Masturbation Is Wrong?
Before you tar-and-feather me for suggesting that truth isn’t important, grab a brown lunch bag and take a deep breath. Obviously, God says that truth is extremely important.
When the bible speaks clearly, we cannot, and should not, sidestep it. Take the gospel, for example. In Galatians 1, for instance, Paul made Christ’s work a hill to die on:
‘There are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed’ (verses 7-8).
Again and again, scripture pulls no punches with the gospel. So, we shouldn’t either. Obviously, there are many other issues where scripture speaks with great clarity, too.
While the bible does, I believe, address masturbation, it’s interesting that it doesn’t address it directly.
I’m pretty sure it existed back then, so it’s not like God forgot to include it in the final draft. He could have just come right out and given us a clear answer. But, he didn’t.
On the one hand, this suggests that it isn’t among God’s top concerns for us. On the other hand, our sexuality is a core part of how God created us, and we’ve all seen the massive damage that can result when we mishandle it.
We need to ask the ‘right/wrong question’, but there are other, even more pressing ones. Ones that require more reflection, thought, prayer, and… well, good old-fashioned effort. So that we can receive deeper, better help.
Should Christians Masturbate? Six Probing Questions
#1 Does Masturbation Lead You Into (Or Go Along) With Other Sins?
Masturbation is often not a standalone event. As an example, for many it also goes along with sexual fantasies and porn.
So, even if masturbation itself isn’t wrong, sexual fantasies (about someone other than your spouse) and pornography clearly are. And it’s not just about ‘breaking the rules’. No, it’s far deeper than that.
In a helpful post about masturbation, counselor Winston Smith writes:
… your fantasies are about more than sex; they are about relationships. That is, sex is more than a physical act; it is something that you do with a person, not an object…
For a moment look beyond the sex acts and explore these fantasy relationships in nonsexual terms. How would you describe their attitudes? How are they relating to you?
Don’t just answer, “They are enjoying themselves,” or “They are giving me pleasure.” … In most cases… you are the center of attention in a world where no one cares about anything but you…
In relational terms, sexual fantasies are a world where you practice selfishness and manipulation.
Whoa. Pretty intense, right?
When we think about our relationship and masturbation, we have to ask if we’re living out Philippians 2:3-4:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
For reflection: if you masturbate, do you also engage in fantasies or pornography? If you do, what do you think God would say to you about them?
If you would like help overcoming pornography, check out 5 Ways To Stop Watching Porn Right Now by my friend Ken Reid.
#2 Can You Stop Masturbating (Really)?
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul writes, ‘ “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.’
Again, we can talk about whether masturbation is ‘lawful’, but Paul says it’s critical for us not to be ‘dominated’ by it. He goes on to mention food, and then specifically sexual immorality (verse 13) as Exhibits A & B.
To be honest with you, before I got married, I wasn’t able to stop. God gave me increasing success, but I wasn’t fully in control of my body.
For younger guys especially, our bodies are filled with raging hormones and it can feel nearly impossible to stop. But that’s not true.
I have a friend whose wife passed away unexpectedly when he was in his mid-thirties. Although he said it was really hard, God gave him the grace to not masturbate for two years until he got married again. It’s not like he’s a super-Christian, either.
For reflection: Are you in control of your body, or, is your body in control of you? Consider stopping for a time to find out, then talking to God about what you learn.
#3 Why Do You Masturbate?
Like money, sex and masturbation are never just about sex and masturbation. We’re always seeking a deeper benefit, whether real or perceived (or both).
For example, beyond the obvious pleasure, masturbation is often an escape from stress. It can be an escape that’s (seemingly) under our control. That doesn’t require us to seek God. In that sense, it can be a lot like food, alcohol or smoking.
One way to figure out what you’re looking for from masturbation (or any escape) is to ask, ‘When am I most tempted by it?’ For example, common suspects include times of:
- loneliness and isolation in your marriage
- rejection from someone you want to date
- conflict with family
- stress and deadlines with school or work
- public or obvious failure
- feeling out of control
Looking back, loneliness and seasons of stress at school were the biggest triggers for me. So, instead of trying to ‘just stop’, I (slowly) learned to ask God to help me deal with the underlying triggers. Progress wasn’t easy or linear, but acknowledging that only God could ultimately meet me in these spaces really helped over time.
Even better, depending on God for friendship and peace when I was stressed out helped me not only sexually, but in every other area of life, too. When we tackle masturbation, pornography and other sexual sin by leaning into God, the benefits ripple throughout our entire lives.
For reflection: What do you think you’re really looking for when you masturbate? How can God meet those desires more fully?
#4 Can you masturbate with a clear conscience?
In Romans 14, Paul says something incredibly convicting. Something I – in my weaker, honest moments – wish he hadn’t.
‘For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.’ (Romans 14:23)
In context, he’s speaking about the relationship between our conscience, actions, and sin. While something may or may not be sin before God, if we do something that violates our conscience, it becomes sin for us. It’s wrong to do something we believe is wrong because faith glorifies God, and not trusting him does not.
Our relationship with alcohol, and the kinds of movies we watch, are common examples Christians wrestle with.
The principle of only doing what comes from faith applies to masturbation, too. It doesn’t mean that, if we can do it with a clear conscience, it’s not sin. But if we cannot do it in faith, then it most certainly is.
For reflection: If you masturbate, to what extent are you doing it with a clear conscience?
#5 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’.
[shareable]We can’t really deal with masturbation without asking the bigger question of what our sexuality is for.[/shareable]
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 5:32 – 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.’ 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. While God does want us to experience pleasure in marriage – truly – our sexuality is not ultimately about us.
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 concern.
For reflection: If you have struggled with masturbation, can you recall times where it helped you love God, or serve others, more?
#6 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 over 20 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 nothing ever goes wrong.)
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 my struggles with masturbation when I was single 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 (physical and spiritual) 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, and put the gospel on display. Let’s be honest, men: most of us have found the motivation to get out of a grouchy mood, put our work down, or sought forgiveness partly because we want to have sex 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.
For reflection: How would addressing your struggles with selfishness positive impact your closest relationships?
[shareable]Couples struggling with intimacy will be tempted to pursue their physical needs apart from one another.[/shareable]
#7 Will You Let Your Struggle With Masturbating 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 10:8)
So your struggles with masturbation don’t define you. Jesus does.
And even on those days where you’ve failed the most, his love for you doesn’t decrease. Not at all. How awesome is that?
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)
Reflection: How would knowing Jesus is for you, even when you fail, change the way you address your struggles with masturbation and sexual sin?
So, Is Masturbation A Sin?
At the beginning, I told you I’d share my bottom-line thoughts on masturbation at the end.
While ultimately you need to process this before the Lord, here they are.
- The bible doesn’t explicitly mention masturbation, so we need to acknowledge that. God easily could have addressed it more clearly.
- Since masturbation touches on our sexuality, a core part of our God-given identity, it matters. We bring that into our relationships, and our choices here will impact others, too.
- To wrestle with the ‘is masturbation a sin’ question, we need to other, more foundational questions first. (See above.)
- While I don’t think masturbation is one of God’s biggest concerns for us, the issues underneath it are important. From my own experience, and talking with many others, masturbation is usually self-focused and serves as an escape from stress that doesn’t have anything to do with God. It doesn’t help us fulfill God’s greatest commandments to love him and others.
Again, let me stress how critical it is for you to work through these things yourself with the Lord. You don’t answer to me, but to him.
By asking better questions in our struggles with masturbation, we uncover our deepest issues and – more importantly – discover God’s infinite grace to meet them.