Is Masturbation Sinful?

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Monthly Theology Couch Chat discussing a theological hot topic


We’re coming at you today with a hot topic: is masturbation sinful?

We want to talk about this because too often we shy away from these types of topics within the church. Obviously, we don’t necessarily think that this should be a topic for the Sunday morning pulpit, but Christians need to talk about this. Shame on us. These are topics that need to be addressed (obviously age appropriately and gender appropriately).

We’ve heard godly Christians say that it is sinful, and we’ve heard godly Christians say that it isn’t.

I think too often we try to make issues black and white and just have an answer. We’re not going today outright from the get-go what we think. We want you to learn how to come to these conclusions yourself as well.

We think that what we should do is dive into scripture, prayer, and community in order to come to a conclusion.

So come on this journey with us!

First Things First

Let’s get a couple of things clear before we dive in.

The Bible does not specifically state whether or not masturbation is a sin.

There are generally two passages that people will point to surrounding this conversation.

The first is Genesis 38:6-11, where Onan spills his seed. But in the context, this passage isn’t about masturbation- Onan was being judged for not being faithful to fulfill his duty and responsibility. He was trying to get out of it. It’s a major stretch to use this passage to say that masturbation is sinful.

The second verse is Matthew 5:30. Jesus warns his followers against lust and tells them to cut off their right hand if it causes them to sin. Some people claim that Jesus is specifically referring to masturbation here. This one isn’t as much of a stretch, but we don’t think he was specifically referring just to masturbation in this passage. In context, Jesus is trying to communicate that the magnitude of our sin is great and we should take extreme measures to fight against it. We need to properly understand the weight of our sin and the beauty of the cross.

In all things, Christians are called to glorify God.

When asking questions about what is sinful and what isn’t, a good place to start is, “can I honestly say this is glorifying to Christ?”. Can you do this to glorify God, especially based on Scripture?

Now that we have those foundational things clear, let’s dive into the conversation.

The Purpose of Orgasms

You might be thinking, “why the heck are you starting there?” If you’re like us, you might be thinking “that’s an awkward word” or “I feel uncomfortable right now.” We think that these discussions and words should be used in appropriate age and gender contexts in order to have honest discussions. It can be awkward, but it is harmful to ignore these topics and pretend like they don’t exist.

In order to answer the question of sinfulness or not, we need to start by discerning what God’s design for orgasm and sex is. Ultimately, masturbation is a self-orgasmic activity, so in order to answer this question, this is where we start. 

  • God made orgasms to be pleasurable- they are enjoyable experiences. They are something to be enjoyed, in their proper context.
  • God also made orgasms in order to promote sexual desire. People would be less likely to procreate if sexual activity leading to orgasm was not enjoyable.
  • Having an orgasm is sexual by nature. The dictionary defines orgasm as “the most intense point during sexual excitement, characterized by extremely pleasurable sensations and in the male accompanied by ejaculation of semen.”

It is important to understand these things!

The Purpose of Sex

Because masturbation (which leads to orgasm) is sexual by nature, we have to ask the question: what is the purpose of sex?

We’ve talked about this in a few other episodes so we won’t go super far into detail, but sex is a gift given by God, intended to be celebrated within the context of marriage between one man and one woman. In Genesis 2:24, we see this one-flesh union is sacred and special and is a GIFT given by God. When sex is done right, a husband should be fully seeking to please his wife while a wife should be fully seeking to please her husband.

“For 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”

1 Corinthians 7:4

To be completely fair, the context of this verse is referring to refraining from sex. But, we still see this radical picture of husbands not having authority over their own bodies and likewise for wives. They are called to mutually consider, love, and serve each other, especially in the bedroom. This is a pretty radical and countercultural concept! It goes back to an idea from Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage: marriage is about mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice.

To sum it all up:

Sex is an incredibly intimate, revealing, exciting, and transparent activity.

So, is Masturbation Sinful?

First of all, let’s define it: for the purposes of this episode, we are saying that masturbation is bringing yourself to orgasm in isolation (not in a group setting…. but the Bible makes clear that group orgies are sinful).

Working off of this definition, there are a few things we need to say about masturbation. No matter what side you fall on, these are likely things we can all agree on.

  1. It is self-pleasing. When masturbating, you are literally sexually pleasing yourself. Your focus is on yourself.
  2. It is typically (not always, but the majority of the time) accompanied by lustful thoughts. Whether it is pornography, lustful imaginations, etc… masturbation is usually not just you chilling out- watching and thinking about sports.
  3. It is typically done in secret and quickly. You don’t want to be caught so you try to finish fast and discreetly. Studies show that this can actually cause harm to your marriage’s sexual relationship because of how you are conditioning yourself.
  4. It does not increase self-control. In fact, masturbation encourages self-gratification rather than self-control.

Back to the Purpose of Sex

  1. It is a gift given by God to be celebrated between a husband and wife, but masturbation is a sexual activity done by yourself.
  2. Husbands are meant to desire to please their wives and vice versa, but masturbation is inherently self-serving.
  3. Christians, especially within marriage, are called to practice self-control when it comes to sexual activity, but masturbation is self-gratifying and diminishes self-control.
  4. Can you honestly say that a sexual activity that is done in isolation for the purpose of gratifying your desire is glorifying God? Assess this for yourself!

Grey Areas

  1. I (Nathaniel) come at this from a male perspective. We’ve heard women ask if it’s okay to masturbate to find out what they like, enjoy, or what feels good.

    I (Xan) think that if it is done with your husband for the purpose of helping him serve you better in the bedroom, I definitely would say that it is okay. There is nuance and it all goes back to the heart of the issue. 
  2. What if my spouse is in the military and we are apart for months or years? Is phone sex/masturbation okay?

    To be honest, I (Nathaniel) kind of want to punt on this. This is a tricky conversation and I can see arguments for both sides. This is a nuanced topic. If I had to answer, I humbly give my opinion on this one knowing it could well be wrong. I would still say the act itself is trying to please yourself. When this happens you are still physically pleasing yourself. There is something about being physically together and intimate that is joyous. When we masturbate in isolation, even if on the phone with our spouse, we just don’t know… The Holy Spirit and community should lead you in making this decision with a clear conscience.
  3. What if I can masturbate without lust and I just use it as a way to go to sleep?

    I (Nathaniel) hear this from a lot of single guys. (highly recommend) did a really good job of laying out a response to this question.

    Christians are called to glorify God with all that they do (1 Corinthians 10:31), practice self-control (which is a fruit of the spirit; 1 Corinthians 9:27), not gratify their flesh, and honor God with their bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Can you honestly answer that masturbation does all of those things? 

    Also, Romans 14:23 tells us that whatever does not proceed from faith is a sin. If you are wondering whether it is sinful or not, that is probably a good indication for you…

Parting Words

We genuinely believe that this is a discussion best had in your community. If you are wrestling with this question, we encourage you to seek out wise Christian peers and mentors to wrestle with this question together!

If you believe that masturbation is sinful and you are currently struggling with it, we want to give you hope and encouragement with these words from 1 John 1:5-10

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Yes, feel the weight of your sin, but also feel the weight of the cross! God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins when we confess them. Confess them to Him, confess them to brothers or sisters in the faith, and know that God has forgiven you.

Take this encouragement from GotQuestions.Org:

“The Bible nowhere explicitly states that masturbation is a sin, but there is no question that the actions that usually lead to masturbation are sinful. Mastrubation is nearly always the result of lustful thoughts, inappropriate sexual stimulation, and/or pornography. 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 much less of an issue and temptation. Many people struggle with guilt concerning masturbation, when, in reality, they would be far better off repenting of the sins that lead them to masturbate.”

Masturbation isn’t always the result of lustful thoughts or a pornography addiction. If that is the case, just know that there are numerous resources out there for you. Fight your sin in community and find a good support system. If pornography is tied to your struggle, look into Covenant Eyes and/or Freedom Fight.

One Degree Shift

 If you are struggling with masturbation and believe it is a sin, seek out resources and community.

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