A Biblical Perspective on Masturbation

A Biblical Perspective on Masturbation

Dear Roger

I’m struggling with masturbation. Is there hope for me? I always repent and will not commit this sin but after a few months I go back and fall into this sin. This has been happening for over 11 years way before I got born again in 2007. I really want to change but I don’t know how…


Dear “B”,

Dealing with masturbation is uncomfortable. Churches—and most people—avoid the subject like the plague. Yet, with the shocking rise of pornography, masturbation is an important discussion we need to have.

However, many do have a plan, either consciously or subconsciously, for handling the subject. I call it, “The Cycle of Guilt and Shame Plan.” It goes like this: “Don’t masturbate… If you do masturbate you ought to feel guilt and shame… Repent and confess your sin to God… Ask God to forgive you… Thank God for the cleansing.” Then the cycle begins anew: “Don’t masturbate… If you do…….”

Ask Jeeves.com., a Christian website dealing with moral issues, broached the topic. “What about Christians and Masturbation,” and received scores of hits. A sampling of answers revealed a close adherence to the Cycle—some more closely than others. Check out Got questions.org, Probe Ministries; and clay.jones@biola.edu. All three classify masturbation as a sin. Each site provides helpful verses and concepts devoted to gaining victory. Nevertheless, each site offers the Cycle as the only means of relief.

It seems to me that there must be a better approach. Reliable studies consistently find that 95% of men and over 30% of women masturbate on a regular basis. I find it hard to believe that God would build into us such a powerful, God-given and gifted drive like the one for sex and make it so that 95% of men and over 30% of women consistently repeat the Cycle again and again. It would seem there is no chance to stop the cycle of guilt and shame.

Knowing that so many people masturbate is helpful because many Christians wonder if they are the only ones who struggle here. Be at peace; we are not alone. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:10: “There is no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” So, if this is a temptation for you, take heart, the world is filled with Christians who struggle here as well and there is hope for victory.

The drive for sex is deeply ingrained in the genetic and chemical fabric of the brain. Telling some one to “just stop it” is like telling some one who is hard-wired with chemical-clinical depression to “just stop it.” It can’t be done. Fortunately, anti-depressants can bring relief. Some Christian counselors will say that masturbation provides relief and others consider masturbation to be the way God designed for people to obtain sexual release when they are not married.

I want to be careful to approach the subject with the utmost prayer and care. I would like to relate that I decided early on not to take the easy way out and give a non-answer that brings little satisfaction to anyone. Developing a practical theology regarding masturbation is quite complex and worthy of more than just a passing surrender to the Cycle of sin, guilt, shame, repentance, confession, forgiveness—and now everything is all right—until a day or two later and the vicious cycle commences once more.

I postulate that how we manage masturbation hinges on how we define “lust”.

I postulate that saying “Stop It” doesn’t work well. The key to a workable solution is self control.

I believe that there is no direct Biblical reference to masturbation. Nevertheless, some turn to two passages that they claim teach otherwise. Dr. Ray Bohlin of Probe Ministries described these two suppositions:

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 referring to masturbation. However, that is not at all 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 (to provide an heir for his dead brother). [In essence, Onan’s maneuver was an early form of birth control—all be it not a very effective one—Roger]

A second passage sometimes used as evidence for masturbation’s being a sin is Matthew 5:27-30. Jesus spoke 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 many passages mention the sins of sexual impurity and sexual immorality, and encourage us to avoid such behavior, the Bible never mentions masturbation in the lists. Ephesians 5:3; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 14:23; and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 are a few relevant passages. This fact in no way negates the possibility of masturbation being a sin; however, to declare it so from these passages and others like them is to argue from silence—a dangerous thing to assume.

Certainly, sexual immorality is to be stringently avoided. It is of some note that Paul defines sexual immorality as occurring in the context of two or more people.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

A careful reading of this passage describes sexual impurity as an activity that includes and takes place in the context of others: “and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.” Impure sexual activity can certainly occur without others involved. Think Pornography. However, the primary place where sexual immorality occurs is with others.

All that being said—and much more can be said—let me share some thoughts to consider as guidelines in developing a practical and workable plan.

First, carefully consider the definition of lust as enunciated by Jesus in Matthew 5:28: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Masturbation may not be specifically condemned in Scripture but lust is clearly condemned.

I have asked a number of Christian counselors whether or not “lust” refers to thinking lustful thoughts about any woman (or man) or thinking lustful thoughts about a particular woman (or man). Many quickly respond that lust includes any and every possible woman or man.

On the other hand, many are not so quick to answer. After all, Christian counselors are in the unique position of trying to apply Biblical truth to everyday life. They see hundreds of counselees over the course of their ministries. In struggling to make practical sense of Jesus’ statement, many narrow down the focus of lust as defining impure thoughts about a man or woman in particular.

During my ministry I often turned to one particular-counselor friend for advice on how to guide a counselee with whom I was working. When it came to the subject of lust, he was quite emphatic. His conclusion was that lust commenced whenever the focus on one particular individual produced plans or imaginations which zeroed in on having explicit sexual behaviors with that person. At this point sin is being committed.

Second, consider the damage pornography can do to you and to your marriage.

Pornography is clearly identified as a sin in Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” The lie of pornography is that the woman on the page or on the screen is willing and obtainable. The truth is that if you encountered her on the sidewalk, she wouldn’t give you the time of day.

One of the saddest counseling sessions that I ever conducted was with a newly-married couple. He was upset with his new wife because she was horrified at the thought of some of the sexual activities he expected her to perform. It was quickly obvious that he had viewed quite a number of pornographic sexual behaviors on the internet and thought that all women performed in the same manner. She was shamed and he was angry. What an awful honeymoon.

Consider that the persistent use of porn makes sexual addiction a real possibility. The more we look the more we creep closer and closer to the precipice. Proper sexual desire and activity is twisted and bent into unrecognizable misery when addiction commences.

Masturbation with pornography follows the law of diminishing returns. Today’s pleasure is tomorrow’s disappointment. More and deeper levels are required to gain the same satisfaction.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:19: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.”

So, there’s a continual lust for more. For the true sex addict who may have sex or masturbate more than once a day, such a person reaches a point where an erection cannot be maintained even during masturbation. There’s a continual lust for more.

Third, if you are married then obviously have sex with your spouse.

If you are masturbating while married then Paul says there are several things to consider. Don’t deprive your wife/husband or have less sex with your spouse because of masturbation. This is a sin. By the way, why are you masturbating if you are married? Is it because you are lusting after other women? If so, this is a sin.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:5-6: “Do not deprive each other (sexually) except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command.”

Fourth, self control is essential.

If you are using masturbation in an ungodly way know that Paul said: “Control yourself.” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:9: “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

Another of my counselor friends related to me that a number of his clients struggle with out of control masturbation and desperately want relief from the domination. Self control is foundational to victory. He said: “One way to control is to make a goal each week to masturbate less than the week before until you finally find freedom. A lot of prayer and infused power from the Holy Spirit can make all the difference in the world in getting this behavior under your control instead of letting it control you.

Finally, remember that your body belongs to Jesus more than it belongs to you. Make Him proud of how you use it for His glory!

Our bodies are redeemed and belong to God. Paul wrote: “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).

The umbrella of sexual impurity covers so much more than masturbation. Sexual purity is top priority for all who follow the Lord Jesus. We know, according to Romans 1:18-25, that in the last days, sexual debauchery will increase without bound. This is all the more reason for us Christians to stand out as different. We are the ones who make sex a holy and blessed thing as God commanded us in Genesis 2. A healthy life of sexual purity is quite attractive to those whose lives are deeply stained by immorality.

Well, “B”, I hope I have given enough information for you to decide how you want to deal with masturbation. When you sin, ask for forgiveness. OK. But, don’t be so hard on yourself. We probably make feeling guilty about masturbation more trouble than it is worth. The unresolved and irresolvable quilt can wreck untold havoc on our spiritual lives.

Just stay away from the lusting. Lusting dirties the soul and leads to all sorts of marital and spiritual troubles.

Sincerely, Roger

Several days later I received the following reply from “B”.

Dear Roger,

Thanks for the reply, you have made it clear. I don’t necessarily lust after someone it’s just a feeling that comes at times and I’ll resist sometimes. I don’t know if age adds to this too, I’m 36 years old.



I replied:

Dear “B”,

I am glad I helped. Also, I think that your torment of guilt is much worse than the masturbating. Back off on feeling so guilty about a normal, human drive to procreate.

Love, Roger

By the way, as “B” mentioned above, aging obviously affects sexual desire. Decreasing testosterone and increasing estrogen (in males) wreck havoc with sexual desire. But, for most, the drive seldom, if ever, goes away entirely.

I was sitting in an ethics class in seminary when eighty-six-year-old-retired-ethics professor T.B. Maston came in for a visit. He spent the hour answering our questions about Christian ethics. Near the end of the class time one student got personal.

“At what age do men stop looking at attractive women?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Matson replied. “You’ll have to ask someone older than I.”

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