*Disclaimer: the topic in this post is highly sexual in nature and contains writing that might not be suitable for young children. Please exercise proper discretion when reading or sharing this article.*
One of the most common sex-related questions asked by Christians on the internet (particularly young Christians) is about masturbation. Is masturbation considered sin? Is it okay under certain circumstances?
Usually the answer you get in response is either a resounding “yes!” or “no!” with vilification of the opposing answer. I’d like to sing a different tune and tell you that it depends on a very particular context.
The topic of masturbation and its morality in light of scripture is not complex, but it might be different than what you are expecting. The Bible is clear on God’s design for sexuality and relationships, so let’s dive in.
Are you entering pubescence? This one is for you
This is a somewhat lengthy article, so I will summarize the answer here for those short on time and/or attention: the act of masturbation in and of itself is not inherently sinful. The context behind the masturbation is what matters.
Lust, however, is always sinful. Lust could be defined as doing things outside of a marriage which should only happen inside of a marriage. Indulging sexual desires outside of marriage is sinful, regardless of whether or not that indulgence includes masturbation.
You will have a very difficult time convincing me that it is possible to masturbate outside of marriage without lust and therefore without sinning. If you are unmarried and wondering if it is okay to masturbate, assume that the answer is no. Within marriage, however, masturbation could be permissible under certain circumstances. Pornography would not be one of those circumstances, however.
Examine Your Heart
Yeah, you probably guessed I was going to say this part. But I challenge you to ask yourself why you are asking this question in the first place. Your intent might immediately point out your answer.
When I was in my early teens as an unlearned, immature, and misguided Christian I scoured the internet for anything that would tell me it was okay to masturbate. I didn’t want to “disappoint God” or whatever I thought in my confused mind. Yet I was going through puberty and was desperate for exploration and explanation of the strong and foreign feelings I had.
I eventually found a video of sexual “experts” who were ironically not Christians. They were talking about Onan‘s sin in Genesis 38 and how it was not contextual in light of pornography, thus making the case that masturbation was not condemned in the Bible. That was all I needed. Never mind Jesus’ clear words in Matthews 5:28.
Oh, God, was I wrong. I paid for it, and I still am paying for it. Not because God punished me or anything like that, but because there are natural consequences to sin and I am still dealing with those consequences to this day. I’ll get into that another day, though.
The Context of Sexuality
Indeed, the case of Onan is less about masturbation and more about Onan’s wicked intent. Yet scripture is very clear on the context of a sexual relationship and its limitations, and Christians should be careful to uphold this.
In the very beginning the sacred institution of marriage was created by God which is the only healthy, holy, and scriptural context for sexual activity. All of this is summarized in Genesis 2:24 but is affirmed thousands of years later by Jesus in Matthew 19:6, and again by Paul in Ephesians 5:31.
Masturbation is definitely included in sexual acts. And now you can see the distinction. Much in the case of Onan, sin is not found in the act of masturbation itself so much as it is in the act of lust.
Beware of Lust
Don’t forget the words of Jesus I mentioned earlier. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This is an extreme statement that definitely outlines the severity of lust.
Masturbation outside of marriage generally goes hand in hand with lust in the form of fantasies or pornography. And lust is an infectious disease which rots the purity of the heart. Lust always demands more of what we don’t have or need, it disillusions us, and it gives us false expectations.
Lust also indicates a lack of faithfulness both to God and to your spouse (or whosoever you might marry in the future, if you marry). It is an entitled, demanding, and dishonest form of desire which can destroy relationships.
For women (and perhaps some men), visual stimulation or vivid fantasies and lustful thoughts may not be required. Perhaps masturbation in this case would not be sinful.
However, it certainly has a powerful potential to be a slippery slope. If you’re already masturbating, it is very easy for your mind to wander into dangerous territory. I would not recommend trying it.
Masturbation Can be Holy…
If you are married then a sexual relationship with your spouse is more than just allowed, it is encouraged and recommended (Corinthians 7:1-12). For the most part, whatever happens sexually between you and your spouse is boundless and limitless.
This includes masturbation! Masturbating together or mutually masturbating one another is definitely a healthy option for married couples. It can provide exciting variety that some marriages need; permit one partner gratification if the other is not in the mood; or serve as a less intensive activity if one or both partners are too tired.
Masturbation can even be the wisest choice for couples in some cases. Perhaps a spouse cannot physically have penetrative sex because of a medical condition or procedure. Or maybe a married couple would be unwise to procreate and have no contraception options available at the time.
Some married Christian couples find masturbation to be an acceptable outlet of sexual longing in cases of long-term separation. Military service or extended work transfers, for example. Although this should be approached with caution, some long-distance strategies might be necessary to avoid temptation.
For instance, having candid video calls or leaving strategically posed photographs with a spouse to help curb sexual loneliness and frustration. In the case of limited privacy, however, celibacy may still be the only prudent option.
Warnings About Sexual Freedom
There are some caveats, though. Masturbation is only acceptable as long as it is not lustful. The sexual act must be about you and your partner, no one else.
Watching porn together or privately is known to have detrimental effects on relationships. Things like threesomes or “open” marriages are biblically adulterous and can also lead to relational struggles. Sex dolls and certain toys have the potential to lead the mind into unhealthy fixations and detachment.
Should you and your spouse recreate the flogging scenes in 50 Shades of Grey? Probably not! I mean, I hesitate to say that these kinds of things are inherently sinful when practiced cautiously. Though I also hesitate to encourage full reign of a sexually reckless and extremely fetishistic lifestyle.
You probably get the picture by now. Intimacy is often one of the most delicate parts of marriage, so be cautious and prayerful in your decisions about it. Keep 1 Corinthians 10:23 in mind. Do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
“But it’s Healthy,” Right?
There is a lot of speculation about whether masturbation (and porn) is good or bad for one’s body and soul. Plenty of people out there try to justify their masturbatory habits and pornographic addictions. Thus, you will repeatedly hear that it’s good for you and that there is “science” to prove it.
After all: if it is healthy and good for your body then it can’t be sinful, right? Although there have been surveys and studies that show a correlation between masturbation and prostate health, the data is sketchy and disputable at best. Correlation does not equal causation. If you interpret data in a certain way it can even show that young men are more likely to develop prostate cancer if they masturbate regularly.
For women there seems to be even less scientific data (could it be because less women are addicted to masturbation than men?) yet there is just as much encouragement to masturbate for females.
I’m not a doctor but your body already has a healthy function called nocturnal emission that is used when ejaculation or orgasm is physiologically necessary. I doubt that masturbating helps to “clean out old semen” or dispose of toxins in the prostate. I doubt even more that any man masturbates for the sole purpose of health.
Masturbation is Amoral
So is masturbation considered sin? Here is the short version: although masturbation is demonized in religious circles and glorified everywhere else, the truth is that masturbation itself is not a moral or immoral action. Masturbation is simply masturbation. What needs to be examined is the state of the heart, the context, and the reason.
If you’re worried that God will strike you down or shake his head in disappointment because of your sexual habits then you might have an unhealthy view of God. God is graceful and loving, and He will forgive any sin.
But if you are trying to justify unhealthy and addictive behavior or the consumption of pornographic media then you honestly need to be encouraged and lovingly rebuked. Examine your thought process and your intentions. Find a good counselor if you are really struggling. And pray for God to guide you in the situation:
A Prayer on Masturbation:
If you are seeking the Lord on the issue of masturbation, it is important to pray and ask God to speak to you about the issue. Yes, it’s okay to talk to God about sex and other taboo things. It doesn’t have to be fancy. If you are not sure how to pray then feel free to use the following prayer as an example to help you understand how to pray about this topic:
“Lord, I am struggling to find a clear answer about the moral issue of masturbation. Please give me the discernment and wisdom to know whether masturbation is appropriate, sinful, or honoring to you in my situation. Help me to guard my heart and defend myself against what may harm me or my relationship to You and others. Thank you for your love and guidance, Lord. Amen.”
If after seeking the Lord for some time on this topic you still are unsure about whether or not it is acceptable to masturbate in your situation, it is better to be safe than sorry. Abstaining is the best choice when there is a lack of clarity. Masturbation is not something to play with frivolously; it can form compulsive habits that harm relationships when not used carefully and in the proper context.
I hope that I have helped you answer the question of whether or not masturbation is sinful. More importantly, I hope I have helped you to seek God on this issue. Please let me know in the comments. And of course, thanks for reading.