Is Masturbation REALLY a Sin?

Let us begin with some real, gut level honesty


Since the inception of Strength in Weakness Ministries, there are few questions I have been asked more than this one; is masturbation a sin?  This article was originally intended to be reserved for the "members" of this ministry, however, I have been asked so many times by those who are not same sex attracted this very same question, that I thought it might be helpful to make this article available to everyone. After all, the temptation to gratify ones self sexually through erotic self stimulation is a part of the broken human condition we all find ourselves in. As a minister and counsellor I have found that the temptation for one to participate in masturbation is not a respector of age, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, the number of years one has been a faithful Christian or the leadership role one has in the church.

That being said, I do appeciate the fact that while masturbation is a commonality, especially prevelant amongst those who are striving to live out a higher moral sexual ethic than the majority of society today, (which is really quite a paradox, isn't it?) it is not every Christian's experience to suffer this particuliar challenge. If this is your reality I would argue that you certainly know someone who does battle with this issue and for this reason alone, suggest that understanding the topic on a deeper level would prove beneficial as you try to offer Biblical reason, hope and help to others.


Are you kidding me? Isn't the answer obvious?


So, is masturbation really a sin? To many Christians, the answer is blatantly obvious and they would be shocked that the question even needs to be considered.  There are others though who are not so sure and for them the response to this question lands in a "grey" area. Then there are a minority amongst us who say that it is not sinful to participate in this action.


As for what those outside of Christianity think, I don't care, and this article will not focus on their viewpoint.  As I have stated plainly elsewhere on this site (using 1 Corinthians 5:12 as our guide) it is not our intention to make judgements on those who do not hold to the Biblical sexual ethic. We should however, judge those inside the church. So let's leave "the world" and it's views out of the argument. I'm sure we're all aware of what the majority of the population would say on this subject.


But what is right for the Christian, for the followers of Jesus who have been called to walk as he walked (1 John 2:6); for those of us who have been called to be holy, as God is holy? (1 Peter 1:16)


Something to ponder before we unpack this topic further


I believe we run into a major problem when we Christians discuss subjects such as this. It is very easy to make such topics a black and white issue. The easiest route always to take is to go straight to "everyone who masturbates is in sin, period." I find that we Christians love to rush to judgement on any number of topics without giving any pause to display compassion and understanding for the individual and the challenges they are facing that would serve as contributing factors as to why they would participate in the questionable action to begin with, even if the judgement is correct. But is judgement the ultimate goal for us as Christians? I don't believe it is. 


Isn't this one of the primary things that seperated Jesus from the Pharisees? To the legal experts of the day it was clear that authority was characteristically critical and that punishment should be the only option (consider the woman caught in the act of adultery). That authority should be based on mercy, that its aim should be to help save people when they were in trouble and to relieve them of their guilt never entered their minds. They knew the thrill of exercising the power to condemn; Jesus knew the thrill of exercising the power to forgive and heal. 46 years of being in a church environment has taught me that for all of us sometimes, like the Pharisees; cold, hard judgement is a much easier dish to serve than mercy, understanding and compassion, even when the other party is guilty.


Here are two real life examples


That being said, how would you deal with these two circumstances?


First, there is the gentleman who had been married for many years, but whose wife has since passed away. For this man, masturbation has not been primarily a means to gratify his carnal sexual urges, but rather used as a method of reconnecting to his lost beloved as he remembers the special bond of love they once shared with each other. Then there is the same sex attracted gentleman who is married. While he loves his wife intently, due to his sexual orientation, he is not able to perform sexually with her, so uses masturbation as a way to fantasize about his wife as a learning device, giving himself the opportunity to "rewire" his thought patterns and attractions toward his wife rather than other men. Both of these gentlemen with whom I've spoken argue that for them, in these unique circumstnces, masturbation is not sinful.


Are these men "in sin"? As mentioned above, some will give an absolute yes, some will say this is a grey area, and yet these men will tell you that their conscience is clear and that for them, it is not a sinful activity. Whether you conclude that it is sin or not, I would suggest that we need to employ copious amounts of compassion and empathy with those who find themselves in such circumstances. As we are warned in James 2:13 "judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement!"


It is too easy for us to focus on what is sin and not nearly enough on God's grace that covers us when either we or someone else commits the sin. It's much simpler to judge and condemn others and even ourselves, while feeling the pang of guilt that often accompanies the act, but much more difficult to accept the grace and mercy of God and understand that the Lord's "grace is sufficient" (2 Corinthians 12:9) while we work through the challenges in our lives.


What would you tell your  son?


So, in trying to answer the question "Is masturbation sinful?" let me share what I believe to be true for my life, and what I would tell others, if I were asked.  Since each of us is called to work out our own salvation with "fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) let me tell you where my "fear and trembling" has led me on this particular subject.


To help accomplish this, permit me to enlighten you about a conversation I had with my son, who at the time was 13 years old. I use this example because I have found that on issues I once thought were "grey" or questionable areas get cleared up pretty quickly when I consider my children and the advice I give them when building their characters, answering their questions and providing God centred direction in this insane world.


One day I sat my boy down and we talked in length about things such as cigarettes, drugs, porn, sex, wet dreams, and yes, masturbation.


As a father who is trying to ensure that his home is G-rated in this X-rated world, I know I can't just sit back and say "well, boys will be boys and stuff will happen" and then do nothing.


I know that in the chronology of my sons life, being the age he was when we talked, he was coming up on puberty and a whole new world of thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations were being opened up to him.


I have always wanted to have a healthy and open relationship with my kids. I want to use these topics and different events in their lives to educate and to relate to them in an honest and transparent way about what it means to be a sexual being in a Godly way.


When we spoke about teen sex and masturbation that day, I warned my son that based on my personal experience (as I am guilty of both) how empty, lonely and frustrated he will feel when he crosses these lines. I warned him of how much fun some of it will seem, but at the same time, just because it is fun does not mean that it won't cause him pain and cause there to be consequences that will have to be paid.


I know from my personal experience that whenever I involved myself in masturbation, I never ended up feeling good about myself, that even though it felt fulfilling momentarily, I was always left feeling isolated, guilty and frustrated. These are not feelings I want my son to have to live with and I would like him to avoid having to go through that pain.


Righteousness and Peace


Also, I can't ever remember talking to a Christian who masturbated and then felt great about it afterward. Just as I do not want my son to live with those feelings of pain and regret, it is my belief that God does not want this for his children, either. Psalm 85:10 says that "righteousness and peace kiss each other." The word "peace" hardly comes close to any feeling I have ever experienced after indulging in sexual self gratification.


Just because it's wrong for you doesn't mean it is for me


Some might argue that just because it goes against my conscience to participate in masturbation doesn't mean that it's wrong for others, they will say their consciences are clear. I do realize that especially in church circles, our consciences are often moulded more by our environment and the customs of the group of which we belong, and these moral guidelines often have more to do with human tradition rather than God's will. That being said, let me refer you to what the apostle Paul said 1 Corinthians 4:4  when he stated that just because one's conscience is clear does not mean that he is innocent, rather, it is the Lord who judges. So for those of you who have reasoned that masturbation is not a sin because in your unique situation and you experience no guilt whatsoever, does not mean that you are not guilty.


Masturbation is not in the Bible


Others argue that because the word "masturbation" is not mentioned specifically in scripture that the Lord does not consider the activity important or even a sin. This argument however can lead one down the wrong path very quickly, as there many activities the Bible does not mention by name.   That does not mean that God would condone the action as the heart and tenor of the scriptures are clear about one's need for personal holiness and righteousness.


What about the Biblical view of sex?


Also, I'm sure that the vast majority of us would agree that sex outside of the confines of heterosexual marriage is sinful. This truth would be an especially poignant stance to hold as truth for those of us who are same sex attracted. With this in mind, one must then ask, if sex outside of those God given boundaries is sinful, then why would one think that sex with ourselves is righteous? Is sexual self stimulation through masturbation not participating in a sex act outside of the marriage bed? It most certainly does not fit within the limits of heterosexual sex with one's spouse. This to me is the most obvious problem with masturbation.


In addressing non married widows in 1 Corinthians 7:9 Paul says that "if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." I don't see an alternative that is provided for those who desire to have their sexual needs met. The person must either exercise self control or they must marry.


Time and time again, the scriptures call us to live holy, spiritual lives while denying the lusts of our flesh. Masturbation is a means of gratifying our fleshly nature. Romans 8:13 says "for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." [1]


The danger of addiction


Earlier, in the same letter, Paul says "Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.  When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness" (Romans 6:19-20).


This verse teaches us that, "offering leads to slavery." When we "offer the parts of our body" to sin we become a slave to sin. Masturbation only "relieves the pressure" temporarily. The obvious problem with this is that the pressure will soon be back and masturbation will need to occur again and again. If we don't learn to find Godly and acceptable ways of relieving our stress and pressure, masturbation can become a habit very difficult to break.


I wish I could count the number of brothers and sisters whom I have encountered who are literally addicted to masturbation and are simply unable to quit.


There is no denying that once we experience the pleasure of erotic sensations, there is an addictive element that becomes a concern. Masturbation becomes addictive because the first few erotic sensations that we experience in life are stimulating events. To our neurons, they are unforgettable experiences that become stamped or branded very deeply in our minds. The neurological pathways are literally rewritten. This may be new to you, but there is much scientific proof to back this up.


On an unconscious level the body learns that it now has eroticism as a device that it can use to literally change its moods. This is apart from our moral will or Biblical conviction. Our body learns that eroticism has the power to make us feel happy, safe and secure.


In this maxed out, stress filled world, the human body will do all it can to get the pain out. So when we experience loneliness, sadness or insecurity there is a natural pairing that happens. Our bodies say that it has learned that we can change this mood by masturbating. This place of fantasy, coupled with the physical sensations that feel overwhelmingly good can become a dependency. We learn that whenever we feel these feelings of insecurity, the body literally craves the release of this pain and has learned that erotic stimulation will literally change our moods.


For the non Christians, this is not really a problem. Millions and millions of people build a whole lifestyle around living like this and they are happy because in the moment they are avoiding the pain and there is no Holy Spirit, no law to tell them that they are doing anything wrong.


But then when one becomes a Christian, the law enters the scene and the rules change. The Holy Spirit moves into our hearts and we're told that trying to change our mood through eroticism is wrong and will hurt us and others. So we become aware that this is something wrong to do and we then have this real war going on in our minds and hearts.

For the Christian who eroticises himself secretly, this is actually a much more shaming event than the non Christian because of our inability to keep the law. It is my belief that the Christian can't be happy in this position because the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. We know that we cannot go back to our old ways.


And in this lies the internal war we find ourselves in. We have this emotional pain that must be dealt with coupled with our inappropriate way of dealing with that pain, all united by the shame. As we have not learned Godly and appropriate things to do when mood alternating sensations arrive, we end up going to where our body or carnal nature says it needs to go in order to get rid of the pain. The body, the flesh, the carnal nature is stupid and goes to the most convenient and most learned method of getting rid of the frustration. This is how masturbation becomes addictive.  When this happens, we must learn to utilize legitimate methods of dealing with hurts and insecurities, learn to use appropriate and Godly measures, and then admit our need for assistance to gain control.[2]


Scripture tells us that we need to offer the parts of our body for righteousness, so that we will become slaves of righteousness, not slaves to sin.


What are we allowing into our minds?


Another major issue of concern with masturbation lies in what one thinks about while involved in this act. Masturbation fixes the mind on the desires of the flesh, and burns images of sex and nudity into the mind. With each occurrence of masturbation, these images become clearer and more intense, and can become a tool of the devil to set up a thought-stronghold that can be unbelievably difficult to erase. This clearly goes against scripture, for as it says in Romans 8:5 "Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." [3]


Just because you can, doesn't mean you should


For those of you who are still battling with the thoughts that masturbation is not a sinful act, let me ask you to consider what Paul said when he discussed sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 11:12-13; "'Everything is permissible for me'-but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me'-but I will not be mastered by anything. ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food'-but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."


Even if masturbation was permissible, does this mean it reflects God's will for your life? Doesn't it make sense that our loving Father would provide what we need, not putting us into a situation where masturbation was the only option available to us when life's stresses and pressures hit us?


Philippians 4:19 tells us that "God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." In Jude 24 we are told "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy" and 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."


If He will meet all our needs (physical, financial, emotional and spiritual), if he is able to keep us from fault and if he will always provide a way out of every temptation, then it is my conviction that masturbation should not be a part of the Christian's life.


I've heard the argument that masturbation is allowable if the person is able to keep his or her thoughts clear of sinful images of sex and nudity. I understand the point here, however even in this case one must ask why one would continue to allow body bodies,  their stupid and dumb flesh to control themlike this? I would still argue that if God has promised to meet ALL of our needs while expecting us at same time to live self controlled and upright lives, then whether one is able to masturbate without allowing his or her thoughts to sexually fantasize is not the point. Just because you think this makes it permissable does not mean that it is beneficial. Why would one want to continue to offer parts of their body to slavery? (Romans 6:19-20)


And what about faith?


And then finally, we are left with these thoughts by Paul in Romans 14:22.


"Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.  But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin."


And so what of our faith? Does masturbation come from faith? Given the above scriptures from Philippians, Jude and 1 Corinthians, I would say it is not.


Colossians 3:27 tells us "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."


Can anyone honestly tell me that they are able to masturbate in the name of the Lord Jesus, while giving thanks as they masturbate? I would think not.


When Jesus felt alone, afraid, overwhelmed or tempted with lust, I just can't imagine him masturbating to make himself feel better. I just can't visualize Jesus masturbating in the garden, the night before his death, or doing so when his family denied him. We see him going to pray for strength, knowing that he needed to rely on God to get him through these incredibly difficult times, but I just cannot picture my Lord performing the act of self sexual stimulation to get him through.


I'm not saying he wasn't tempted, for I believe he was, but Jesus did what we should do, he went to his Father for the strength, security, love and the protection that he needed. He trusted that his Father would meet his needs, meaning that masturbation wasn't necessary. It would have been an incredibly poor substitution for a reliance on God, as it is for you and me.


As I'm sure you can tell as this article concludes; I do believe that regardless of any "unique circumstances" we may find ourselves in, masturbation does not reflect God's will for our lives and is therefore sinful. That being said, let us not forget about grace.


Let's not forget about grace


If masturbation is a problem in your life, first you need to trust and rely on the grace and mercy of God. It is unending. In Matthew 18:21 we're told this story; "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." If the Lord expects us to forgive endlessly, then this is how he treats us. It doesn't matter how many times you have fallen, if you are a Christian, you are forgiven. God's grace is sufficient! Let go of the guilt you are carrying around and trust that the Lord is faithful to his promises.


You also need to know that you can change this. It is not God's will that you be mastered by this sin. It is not the Lord's desire for you that you would have to rely on sexual self stimulation rather than on Him to get your physical and emotional needs met.  Remember that the body, the flesh, the carnal nature is stupid and goes to the most convenient and most learned method of getting rid of the frustration. You are smarter than the flesh and you have God's Holy Spirit living inside of you and therefore can learn to utilize legitimate methods of dealing with hurts, insecurities and temptations that you face.


If this is something you are addicted to, confess this to a trusted and mature friend in whom you can confide. Give them permission to hold you accountable and to pray for you in order to help you gain control. Offer this up to God in prayer and turn your hurts, pains, frustrations and temptations to Him. Remember that the temptation to masturbate will last only a short time. It always leaves. You can get through this if you decide to rely on God, rather than the flesh. Then experience the joy that occurs when righteousness and peace kiss one another.



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ABOUT SIW

We are a Christian organization that helps to bridge the gap between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community through awareness, education, and support.

 

Strength in Weakness Ministries assists Christians in hundreds of churches on every continent in the world. We are teaching evangelists, pastors, church leaders, and pastoral care workers, who through our workshops help Christians to effectively love and counsel other Christians who are same-gender attracted or transgender, and parents, spouses, and siblings dealing with this challenge in their family relationships. We also help with reaching out to our gay neighbors, friends, and co-workers for Christ.

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