Masturbation: Is it sin?

Written by: Chris Stump | July 27th, 2010

About seven years ago I attended my first Exodus conference. As I was looking at the multitude of workshops offered during the week I came across one entitled “Something, something…MASTURBATION”. I can’t remember the whole title, because I just saw that “m” word. I knew I had to go to that one. But of course when the time came to go I was filled with so much trepidation and shame. Would I be the only one in the workshop? I got up enough courage to go, and to my amazement, the room was so full, there was barely any standing room. It was such a relief to know that I was no longer the only person, or one of the select few, who dealt with this issue.

Something that is so common, a problem for so many Christians, is one of the few things ever discussed in church. So what is the answer to the question, ‘Is masturbation a sin?’ Is there really anything wrong with it? I mean, what’s the harm? What does the Bible say?

The Bible doesn’t specifically address the issue of masturbation. Out of the entire scriptures, not one verse mentions masturbation. The closest one that is used most often in relation to masturbation is Genesis 38:9 -

But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother.

Tamar was Onan’s sister-in-law. Her husband, Er, was wicked and recently died. So Judah, Onan’s father told him to lie with Tamar to produce children that Er couldn’t do. But Onan, spills his seed to prevent himself from impregnating Tamar. The Lord is angry and ultimately kills him. So, because he spills his seed, many equate that with masturbation. But, if you look at the context, it isn’t masturbation the Lord is displeased with, it is the fact that Onan deliberately prevents himself from passing his seed on to Tamar. He disrespects God’s perfect design by wasting his seed. The purpose he was to fulfill was thwarted by his own selfish desires. So this verse we can’t use to defend or condemn masturbation.

But I believe the issue of lust is important to discuss in relation to masturbation. In my many years of battling with this issue, I’ve heard the arguments that masturbation is alright as long as it doesn’t become an addictive behavior and it’s used as a tool for relaxation and not lust. But I have not found one time when lust could be suppressed from the act of masturbation. The two are closely associated. Masturbation is an artificial expression of sex, and in God’s perfect design, sex is to be a relational, deeply intimate expression between one man and one woman of their sacrificial love for one another. So how could one be able to masturbate without bringing a relational dynamic into it – most often in the form of fantasy or pornography?

Christopher West, in Theology of the Body for Beginners, shares insights from Pope John Paul II. He discusses an interesting perspective on lust. Pope John Paul’s belief is that love and sex ultimately is self-donation. It is the body’s capacity of expressing love. A man’s body doesn’t make sense by itself and a woman’s body doesn’t make sense by itself. Sexual difference reveals the unmistakable plan of God that man and woman are meant to be a “gift” to one another. This is a whole other subject for a different post. But this sets the backdrop for what he later brings up about lust:

Lust “passes on the ruins” of the nuptial (marital) meaning of the body and aims directly to satisfy only the “sexual need” of the body. It seeks “the sensation of sexuality” apart from a true gift of self and a true communion of persons … In reality, lust is a reduction of the original fullness God intended for sexual desire.

Lust is the difference between self-gratification and self-donation, taking versus giving. You see, sex is a very relational thing. It was never intended to be enjoyed by oneself. Regardless of whether you claim you can masturbate without fantasizing or not, it doesn’t matter. Sex and orgasms were meant for the marriage bed, to unite two individuals in self-giving.

An orgasm was not originally designed for relaxation or for self-indulgence. I remember hearing a talk one time by Sy Rogers. I’m paraphrasing and perhaps even restructuring his thought here, but this is the gist of it. An orgasm, originally, serves as a seal between two individuals. In a world without pornography and void of masturbation, a man is to meet a woman, fall in love, marry, and unite in the joyous act of sexual intercourse. When both partners experience orgasm, their other partner is imprinted in their minds, stamped, sealed, and delivered to their brain as the person of their dreams…in essence. Of course I’m merely paraphrasing.

The dangers of masturbating is imprinting your mind with many different people that were never supposed to be linked to this most intimate act. A rewiring in your brain happens. That’s why, at least for me, when I began indulging in pornography I could never masturbate without the fantasy. Because that was imprinted in my mind.

Can you imagine what it would be like, men, to never have masturbated, never looked at pornography, resisted the temptation to lust, and once you marry and enter the marriage bed for the first time, your wife is the only one imprinted on your mind in the most intimate moment? That was God’s original intent.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. Galatians 5:16-17

So, if you are still battling with this whole notion of whether it is sin or not start asking yourself these questions, “Do you feel guilty after you do it?” If the answer is yes, then most likely you are feeling conviction, which means it is sin. Is this something habitual for you? Has it become an idol? Then masturbation is not a good or beneficial thing. Do you use it as a form of medication? Then masturbation is a substitution for God, and therefore sin.

For those who do truly believe masturbation is possible without lust, then I should ask, what’s the benefit? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:23 that, “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” So, if you believe masturbation is permissible, what’s the benefit that it brings other than self-gratification and pleasure? We are called to be living sacrifices, not living self-indulgers.

Ultimately masturbation is a counterfeit form of intimacy and leads to self-focused gratification. Therefore, how do we deal with it?

First, acknowledge God’s grace and love for you. If you are trapped in a repetitive, addictive, unbreakable cycle of masturbating, you probably feel a lot of shame and guilt. If so, embrace God’s love, and rest in His grace for you. He sees you, not your sin. Begin to dive deeper into relationship with Him. Once He supplies your relational needs, then the counterfeit of masturbation loses it’s appeal. If you are fulfilled in His love, you no longer need the self-gratification or indulgence of pornography or masturbation.

We also must daily deny ourselves, our fleshly desires, and self-focused motivations to Christ. The longer we starve an addiction, the easier it becomes to resist. Our bodies are not our own. “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” 1 Corinthians 6:19. As a temple of the Holy Spirit, we should not defile our bodies in acts of self-gratification of any kind.

We must submit our sexuality, sexual appetites, and impulses to God. He, by His Holy Spirit, will give us the grace and power to resist and fight the temptation to masturbate. This is something that can be extremely hard to break. So walk under the grace of our Lord, and not under condemnation. The more you feel accused, the easier it is to stay stuck in this sin. God neither accuses or condemns you, because Christ took on all of that for us. If you are stuck in the repetitive cycle of sin, then I encourage you to truly embrace who you are in Christ. You are beloved, a dearly loved child of the King. To learn more about helpful tools and ways to handle temptation read Hope for Resisting Temptation.

If you are using masturbation to medicate pain, loneliness, or brokenness, then acknowledge it and begin to understand what triggers you and how you handle certain issues. Your brain has been conditioned to respond to hard life situations through masturbation. It will take some time to retrain your brain and respond to these same situations by turning to Christ who is THE absolute medicator and healer. Masturbation only medicates for a few minutes. Christ heals for a lifetime.

This is indeed a reality that so many men struggle with. It is now becoming a prevalent struggle for women as well. Don’t keep this in the dark. Gather around your brothers, men or sisters, women and begin to fight this struggle together. It is when we bring our dark secrets into the light that freedom comes. Darkness only perpetuates more bondage. The more we talk about this in a real, honest, and humble way, the more shame and guilt will relinquish its power to the healing of the community of faith and Christ Himself.