The Bible never explicitly mentions masturbation or states whether or not masturbation is a sin. The Scripture most frequently pointed to in regards to masturbation is the story of Onan in Genesis 38:9-10. Some interpret this passage as saying that “spilling your seed” on the ground is a sin. However, that is not precisely what the passage is saying. God condemned Onan not for “spilling his seed” but because Onan refused to fulfill his duty to provide an heir for his brother. The passage is not about masturbation, but rather about fulfilling a family duty. A second passage sometimes used as evidence for masturbation’s being a sin is Matthew 5:27-30. Jesus speaks against having lustful thoughts and then says, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” While there are parallels between this passage and masturbation, it is unlikely that masturbation was what Jesus was alluding to.
While the Bible nowhere explicitly states that masturbation is a sin, there is no question as to whether the actions that lead to masturbation are sinful. Masturbation is nearly always the result of lustful thoughts, sexual stimulation, and/or pornographic images. It is these problems that need to be dealt with. If the sins of lust, immoral thoughts, and pornography are forsaken and overcome, masturbation will become a non-issue. Many people struggle with guilty feelings concerning masturbation, when in reality, the things that led to the act are far more worthy of repentance.
There are some biblical principles that can be applied to the issue of masturbation. Ephesians 5:3 declares, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.” It is hard to see how masturbating can pass that particular test. The Bible teaches us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). If you cannot give God glory for something, you should not do it. If a person is not fully convinced that an activity is pleasing to God, then it is a sin: “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Further, we need to remember that our bodies have been redeemed and belong to God. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This great truth should have a real bearing on what we do with our bodies. In light of these principles, the conclusion that masturbation is a sin is biblical. Clearly, masturbation is not glorifying to God; it does not avoid the appearance of immorality, nor does it pass the test of God’s having ownership over our bodies.
Christian views on masturbation
Where there is lack of clarity about a practice, there is usually a variety of views. For many years the dominant, if not exclusive, view within the Christian church was that masturbation was always morally wrong. Arguments used to support this view were as follows: since masturbation is always accompanied by lust, usually for someone that is not one’s spouse, it is forbidden. Second, it is done for self-gratification, but that end has not had much respect among Christians throughout church history. Finally, at one time it was claimed, even on the basis of scientific evidence, that it led to insanity, sterility and a whole host of mental and physical disorders.
Modern science has shown that whether masturbation is right or wrong morally, it is not the cause of insanity, sterility, birth defects, and so forth. It is possible for one to be so consumed by sexual desire and to practice masturbation so regularly that he or she may become so guilt ridden that psychological disorders may appear. However, these disorders are not attributable to the practice alone. Thus, some Christians have taken a more tolerant view toward the practice.
Miles is such an example. He argues that if masturbation is used sparingly and within certain limits by teenage boys (though not by girls) until marriage, it is morally permissible. His thinking can be summarized as follows. The practice is widespread, indicating a need. Sexual desire is strong in young boys and must have some outlet, as can be seen in nocturnal emissions. Girls do not experience similar emissions. Masturbation, however, must be practiced sparingly so that it does not become an obsession. Lust is not to be a part of the experience, as one is to focus on the goodness of God in granting such a gift and thank God for providing a partner at some later time in life to fulfill this need. Finally, the practice must cease upon marriage.
A third view is that of Tim Stafford. He has written widely about sex to adolescents. In a Campus Life column dealing with the issue, he neither condemns nor condones the practice. He gives the impression that the decision is left within reason to the individual.
Recognizing that this is a controversial and difficult issue, we realize that we must avoid as much as possible concluding more than Scripture and reason allow. However, we believe some things can and should be said. First, we note that Scripture never directly addresses masturbation. Therefore, any decision on this matter must grow out of the application of biblical principles. Second, where masturbation includes lust or desire for someone other than one’s spouse, Scripture passages already cited against lust clearly condemn it. Third, 1 Cor 7:3–5 says that the only acceptable reason for failing in one’s duty to one’s spouse is abstinence for the purpose of prayer (and that only for a designated time). If, on the other hand, masturbation prevents one from performing one’s duty to one’s mate, it disobeys the teaching of this passage and is wrong.
Fourth, much depends on how one defines masturbation. In contemporary discussion, the term has been used not only for self-stimulation, but also for mutual arousal and climax by one’s spouse apart from intercourse. When defined this broadly, there are, we think, some cases where masturbation is not wrong. For example, if the husband’s sperm count is low and must be collected to impregnate his wife, we think it is morally permissible for his wife to stimulate him to climax. Moreover, where there is no sexual intercourse for reasons such as impotence or a wife’s menstrual period, we think that stimulation between a married couple leading to climax is not wrong.
Finally, are any other instances of masturbation morally permissible? Without knowledge of the specifics of a case, it is hard to say that all other cases are definitely wrong. Where the act includes elements such as lust and failure to perform one’s sexual duty to one’s mate, the act is contrary to scriptural teaching, and we condemn it. Where the act becomes such a habit that it enslaves one, again it is immoral. Moreover, we cannot agree with Miles’s double standard that says it may be morally permissible for teenage boys, but not for girls. If it is wrong for one, it is wrong for the other, and vice versa. But beyond these general guidelines, there may be other instances that are permissible. It is just difficult to make such judgments in abstraction from particular cases.
Where Masturbation is Sin
There does not seem to be any direct reference to masturbation (as such) in the Scriptures. There is, to be sure, one verse that some people (especially Roman Catholics) have taken to refer to masturbation, but it is certain that it does not. So, if we do not have specific reference to the matter, we must turn to the broad biblical principles that apply to this subject. One very important principle is found in I Corinthians 6:12, where Paul says: “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” This is an important principle. It means that even those things that are right must not be allowed to get such a hold over a Christian that they become his master and he becomes their servant.
Anyone who has had anything to do with counseling young people, particularly young boys, knows that many of them are trapped by this habit. Masturbation can get such a hold on a child that it can almost drive him out of his mind. Today there are aspects of the problem that parents as young people did not have to face. Children are maturing sooner now than they used to mature in the past. This means that the sex drive arrives sooner. They are maturing some time around the ages of 11, 12, or 13. And on the other end of adolescence, their schooling has been lengthened. College education is now the equivalent of a high school education a generation ago. There was a time when a sixth grade education was all that was necessary to get by; then it was high school, and now, college. Fewer are getting married as early as before; and so the unmarried period during which this desire is strong (and for males possibly the strongest) has been lengthened, causing intensified difficulty. It was hard enough to endure that period in an abbreviated form, but now it is even more difficult to do so.
Paul says that a Christian must not let anything gain the mastery over him. But counselors regularly see young people (Christian youth) who are so tangled up in the masturbation problem that they hardly can think about anything else but sex all day long. And the more they engage in masturbation, the more they depend upon it, the more they want it, and the more they feed it. And the more they feed it, the more they are trapped by it. They are caught up in one big vicious circle. Masturbation can gain such a tenacious control over them that it saps their energies, takes their minds away from their studies, and sets them to thinking about sex everywhere they go and with every person they see. Masturbation is a serious problem, much more serious than many may think. Children, therefore, often need help in dealing with this problem.
Because of the meagre public and private discussion that is devoted to the subject of masturbation, it is easy for counselors to forget their own adolescent problem and for them to minimize its importance. But just because the problem of masturbation is not discussed often in society does not mean that it is not an explosive problem. As an additional complication, our society uses sex commercially on every billboard, in every magazine, and as a part of nearly every television program. Everywhere women dress provocatively because that is what the billboards, magazines, and TV dictate. Counselors must realize that young men have an exceedingly difficult time.
Now look at a second principle that is found in Matthew 5:27, 28. There Jesus said that it is not just the outward act of adultery that God is concerned about, but that God also considers the inward thought-and-consent of the heart to be adultery. A child who becomes tangled up in the masturbation spiral eventually cannot avoid becoming involved in this sin as well. In a very young child masturbation may be only exploratory, but before long it gets plugged into fantasizing about sexual relations with imagined sexual partners. Jesus said that this is sin. Adultery of the heart, He said, is just like hatred, which is murder in the heart. To kill with a knife or a gun is not the only way to become guilty of murder before God. It is better for the other fellow, of course, if one murders him only in the imagination, but it is no better for the murderer in the sight of God. The same holds true for adultery.
The third factor that must be considered in any discussion of masturbation is that it is not presented (as Herbert J. Miles wrongly supposes) as a biblical option. When Paul wrote: “If they do not have self control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn” (I Corinthians 7:9), the alternatives are clear: self control or marriage. There is no third option. Paul does not say that masturbation is a proper relief for sexual desire (burning). He does not say, “It is better to masturbate than to burn.” Quite to the contrary, he lists self-control as the only alternative to marriage. Paul knew, of course, that which everyone who practices masturbation discovers sooner or later: masturbation does not put out the fire but only adds fuel to it. It could never be set over against “burning” as an alternative.
Lastly, masturbation is clearly wrong since it constitutes a perversion of the sexual act. In I Corinthians 7:3–4 one thing is plain: one’s sexual capacity does not exist for himself. God has provided one’s sexuality for the benefit on his lawful partner. In sex, as elsewhere, it is always true that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Self-directed sex, therefore, constitutes an unlawful use of sexuality. The rights over one’s body belong to another, not to himself. He must see, therefore, that sexual activity is (1) never to be conducted as a solitaire activity, and (2) properly may be used only in conjunction with one’s lawfully married partner. These two fundamental factors clearly forbid masturbation as a biblically legitimate release of sexual tension.
C. S. Lewis speaks out on Masturbation
A while back someone submitted a question to me about masturbation and whether it was sinful or not.
There is also a thread in the forum about masturbation, through only one person has attempted an answer on it…
It is a very … touchy … subject to deal with.
So as I was recently reading through the Letters of C. S. Lewis, I was surprised to learned that
(1) C. S. Lewis struggled with the temptation of masturbation, and
(2) he had a pretty good theological answer for it.
Here is What C. S. Lewis said about Masturbation
I agree that that the stuff about ‘wastage of vital fluids’ is rubbish. 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: sending 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 sacrifice or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival.
Among these shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification is ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself.
Do read Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell, and study the character of Mr. Wentworth. 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, et cetera 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 be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison (Lewis, Yours, Jack, 292-293).
In a later letter to a different man, C. S. Lewis wrote this about masturbation:
The evidence seems to be that God sometimes works such a complete metamorphosis and sometimes not. We don’t know why: God forbid we should presume it went my merit.
He never in my unmarried days did it for me. He gave me–at least and after many ups and down, the power to resist the temptation so far as the act was concerned. He never stopped the recurrent temptations, nor was I guarded from the sin of mental consent. I don’t mean I wasn’t given sufficient grace. I mean that I sometimes fell into it, grace or no.
One may, I suppose, regard this as partly penal. One is paying for the physical (and still more the imaginative) sins of one’s earlier life. One my also regard it as a tribulation, like any other. The great discovery for me was that the attack does not last forever. It is the devil’s lie that the only escape from the tension is through yielding.
… Disgust, self-contempt, self-hatred–rhetoric against the sin and (still more) vilification of sexuality or the body in themselves–are emphatically not the weapons for this warfare. We must be relieved, not horrified, by the fact that the whole thing is humiliating, undignified, ridiculous; the lofty vices would be far worse.
Nor must we exaggerate our suffering. We talk of ‘torture’: five minutes of really acute toothache would restore our sense of proportion! In a word, no melodrama. The sin, if we fall into it, must be repented, like all our others. God will forgive. The temptation is a darn nuisance, to be born with patience as long as God wills.
On the purely physical side (but people no doubt differ) I’ve always found that tea and bodily weariness are the two great disposing factors, and therefore the great dangers. Sadness is also a danger: lust in my experience follows disgruntlement nearly always. Love of every sort is a guard against lust, by a divine paradox, sexual love is a guard against lust. No woman is more easily and painlessly abstained from from, if need be, than the woman one loves. And I’m pretty sure purely male society is an enemy to chastity. I don’t mean a temptation to homosexuality: I mean that the absence of ordinary female society provokes the normal appetite (Lewis, Yours, Jack, 307-308).
So what are your thoughts? Is C. S. Lewis right about what he says regarding masturbation? Is he wrong? Feel free to comment anonymously!
God’s Truth On Your Secret Sexual Sin (Lies Young Women Believe)
WARNING: The following content might not be appropriate for all readers.
From the LYWB.com team: We’ve received lots of comments lately from girls wrestling with masturbation. We’ve written about it here and here and done a vlog about it here, but since we continue to hear from so many of you on this subject, we decided to recruit some help. Meet Tim and Aileen Challies. Tim is a pastor and author. We thought he’d be a good voice on this subject because of his book Sexual Detox: A Guide For Guys Who Are Sick of Porn. We love how the Challies point you toward the Word of God to answer your questions about this tough issue.
The Bible is not silent on the subject of masturbation. It does not leave us guessing. It’s true that Scripture never mentions masturbation specifically. However, because the Bible does speak thoroughly and explicitly about sexuality and sinful lust, it doesn’t have to speak explicitly about something so closely related as masturbation.
Let’s look at two ways we can know that the Bible speaks to masturbation without ever naming it.
First, consider that if masturbation is extremely common (as are most sins), and nearly always associated with sinful lust, we can safely assume the same was true in the ancient world. So think of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. He essentially said “to imagine having sex with a woman is a kind of adultery” (Matt. 5:28). Don’t you think masturbation is a clear application and exactly the kind of action He was thinking about?
Second, consider that the Bible never refers directly to abortion. Yet because Scripture speaks clearly about the value of human life and the sin of murder, we are right to conclude that abortion is sin. In almost precisely the same way, because Scripture speaks clearly about the power of sexuality and the sin of lust, we can conclude that masturbation is nearly always sinful. In each case the specific action is so closely linked to the larger category of sin that the connection and shared moral status are simply obvious.
The Damage Done Why, exactly, is masturbation sinful? Most importantly, just like any other sin, because it violates God’s holiness. Masturbation is against God, against His ways and His purposes for how men and women are to relate to one another in a marital union that reflects the relationship of Christ to the Church.
Masturbation is also sinful because it compromises us. We are made in God’s image. We are meant to glorify Him in every aspect of our lives, and masturbation hinders us in this mission in two principal ways—by polluting our minds and by inclining us to isolation.
Mind Pollution Sexual gratification, of course, is not merely a physical act, but one that engages the mind, often quite intensely. During masturbation, pornographic images, whether seen externally or visualized internally or just plain imagined, nearly always provide a kind of fuel. Indeed, the vast majority of the time, these fantasies are nearly impossible to separate from the masturbation itself. This type of fantasy can be dangerous in at least two ways.
First, as most adults have learned the hard way, reality is rarely as wonderful as fantasy. Many people create expectations for sex that reality cannot meet. In fantasy everything always works, the other person is always willing and able to participate. In other words, it is nothing like real life. And in that way fantasy eventually and inevitably forms unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of sex.
Second, just as sex scenes in movies rarely involve married couples who can, before God, legitimately enjoy sex, fantasy will rarely revolve around legitimate sexual partners. In theory, it is perfectly fine for a woman to dream of a sexual encounter with her husband, but beyond that God gives us no right to fantasize, even about a pretend husband or a person who may one day be a husband. Masturbation, even under those circumstances, may encourage any woman to fill her mind and desires and fantasies with thoughts of other men. And a single Christian woman, having no God-given partner with whom she can consummate sexual desire, simply has no legitimate reason for pursuing sexual fantasy at all.
Some will protest that when they masturbate it is merely a physical act, something done to relieve stress or boredom. They will insist that they do not succumb to thinking inappropriate thoughts. I am extremely skeptical of these claims, but I do not dismiss them, because I cannot see into anyone else’s heart or read anyone else’s mind. But even assuming, for the sake of argument, that a small proportion of women masturbate without any pornographic images or fantasies in their heads, there is still at least one powerful reason why masturbation is so harmful.
Isolation A close examination of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality uncovers no reason to believe that God ever intended sex to be a private pursuit. Indeed, the heart and soul of sexuality is the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure between two people—one husband and one wife.Sex is intended to be a means of mutual fulfillment, an expression of love in which a husband thinks foremost of his wife and the wife thinks foremost of her husband. It is a uniquely powerful means by which husband and wife can fulfill the Lord’s command to esteem another higher than oneself. As they fulfill each other’s needs, they also have their own needs fulfilled. It is a beautiful picture of intimacy! As any married couple can testify, the more selfless the sex, the better sex becomes. The more each spouse seeks to please the other, the more fulfilling, gratifying, and beautiful the experience.
This mutual giving and receiving, the heart of God’s purpose for sexuality, is exactly what masturbation does not and cannot provide. Masturbation strips sexuality of its divine purpose of mutual fulfillment. Where legitimate sexual expression is meant to produce unity, masturbation produces isolation and division. Masturbation is inherently self-centered. An act meant to be shared toward two people is completely and exclusively about one person, all alone. Masturbation deeply undermines a woman’s ability to deny and resist her most self-centered, sinful, isolationist tendencies.
Masturbation simply cannot fulfill God’s design for sexuality, and thus has no place in the life of one who calls herself a Christian.
Handling The Guilt
But what about the guilt? What about the shame that makes young girls fear being caught and found out and shamed? Should we try to just sweep the guilt away? In the name of preserving us from pain, too much of the advice we receive teaches us to ignore our moral conscience. Better to warp our souls, it seems, than to stress our psyches.
Speak honestly and openly to young people, however, and they do want to talk about their struggles with masturbation. They do want to be reassured that it is wrong and that they can and must overcome it. The guilt they feel is not irrational, but a manifestation of God’s grace. Like a nerve ending that tells you to take a stone out of your shoe before you begin to bleed, such guilt is pain with a corrective purpose.
It’s important to clarify what we should be guilty about in the first place. (As John Piper might say, “Don’t waste your guilt!”) Masturbation is obviously a very graphic act, so it can be natural to focus on that act as the essential problem. Young people generally feel bad because they have masturbated (or been strongly tempted to). But masturbation is really only an outward manifestation of an inner problem. There is guilt and emotional pain and a sense of being dirty within, because the act of masturbation has revealed the corruption continually dwelling within us. Yes, the act of masturbation is wrong in and of itself, as reflected in Paul’s command to cultivate self-control. But the only reason it happens to begin with is because of indwelling sin.
As Josh Harris writes in Sex Is Not The Problem (Lust Is), “masturbation isn’t a filthy habit that makes people dirty. It only reveals the dirt that’s already in our hearts.” So while masturbation does not make anyone filthy, it does take a mental and spiritual toll as girls struggle with feelings of guilt, remorse, and shame. Unfortunately, for most people, guilt alone is not enough to curb our sinful behaviors.
Sadly, though, for many Christian young women, guilt over masturbation can become so extreme that it begins to define their spiritual state. Some even begin to question their salvation, seeing themselves exclusively through the lens of this persistent sin. There is no doubt this is a serious sin, but it does not begin to deserve such prominence. “When we inflate the importance of this act,” Josh Harris writes wisely, “we’ll either overlook the many evidences of God’s work in us or we’ll ignore other more serious expressions of lust that God wants us to address.”
If you struggle with this sin, know for certain that there is hope for you, hope for real change. Do not seek reassurance in the cold comfort that “everyone does it.” The way to avoid the agony of guilt is not to ignore sin or make some vain effort to convince yourself it’s innocuous. The solution to guilt is to focus on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Take comfort in the good news of the gospel. The blood of Jesus was shed for sins like this one, and the power of the Holy Spirit has been given to us so that we can overcome sin. Masturbation is not a sin beyond the power of God. You can be set free.
The Real Problem With Female Masturbation
It’s refreshing to finally hear women talking about female masturbation. Given the social stigma around the topic, it can be difficult just to bring it up.
Unfortunately, too often the conversation doesn’t overcome the unhelpful stereotypes about the female sex drive…or lack thereof. Time and time again, Christian leaders explain that women masturbate because they want to “fill a void” or have “attachment issues.” These emotional generalizations fail to get at the real problem.