Masturbation – What does the Bible really say?

Masturbation is probably more taboo to talk about then sex.  Most churches would like to take a black or white stance on the topic, but the Bible does not address masturbation. God calls us to live in the tension of being created sexual from the time of birth and knowing that God created sex as a way to join husband and wife together to make them into One. He does not give us clear guidance about masturbation. What may benefit one person, may lead others astray.

The one passage about masturbation that people quote from the Bible  is Genesis 38:9. According to Jewish law, in order to carry on the family line, Onan was to have sex with his dead brother’s wife. Because of Onan’s greed, whenever he had sex with her, he pulled out and spilled his seed on the ground. Onan was not masturbate. It was probably more similar to natural family planning. Now I don’t think God had anything against NFP. He was angry with Onan because of his disobedience.

The Bible does not specifically address masturbation. But plenty of biblical principles impact our decisions about masturbation.

God is first 

Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other God’s before me” – not even our sexuality or masturbation.

We mess this up all the time. We put everything ahead of God – our reputation, our comfort, our kids, even our own self importance by trying to follow the rules. God wants you to fall head over heels in love with Him. He wants to be on your mind constantly, like your first crush. God wants you to reach for him when you feel empty, or broken, or unsure. He wants worship to be like the thrill of climbing a snow capped mountain. More that following the rules, God wants us to put Him first in our life.

If we have a bad day, we should reach for God or relationship with God’s people – not a sexual release. Sex cannot make you into the man or woman that you want to be – God does. Sex cannot make you whole again, God does. Fall in love with God, not what God has given you.

Do not lust

Mathew 5:28 says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So be careful with your eyes and with your mind. Viewing pornography is lust. Reading novels that create a figment in your imagination of some ideal man that does not exist causes us to lust. Using another person to create arousal, regardless of whether they know about it or not, is lust.  Lust is a slippery slope. We must daily make conscious choices to avoid lust, and we will mess up.Thankfully we serve a God filled with grace, and He gives us a new day every morning – don’t give up. Lust is a big deal. I suspect that if lust did not happen, masturbation would not get out of hand like it does.

The 10 commandments states, “do not covet your neighbor’s wife.” Covet means crave, desire or thirst for. Notice it does not say, “do not covet.” So if anyone is to be pictured during masturbation, it should be your spouse. If you are not married, then you should not have anyone in your mind’s eye.

Nothing is supposed to control us

1 Corinthians 6:12 says,  “You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.” Masturbation must not control us. If we spend our time thinking about our next release, then masturbation controls us. If we masturbate even when it upsets our spouse, then it controls us. When we hide it, then it controls us. If masturbation becomes so important to us that we begin to feel lie we have no control, or if you have struggled with it controlling you in the past, then it may be safer to stay clear of masturbation.

Glorify God 

1 Corinthians 10:31 – “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

If we love the Lord and put Him first, then everything that we do ought to glorify Him. We honor who He made us to be – sexual beings from birth.  Rather than denying our sexuality, or feeling repulsed, we look forward to a time when we can share the joy of sex with our spouse. We take care of our bodies and celebrate the physical changes that come with maturity. When we marry, we thank God for the connection to our spouse through sex. When we glorify God, there is no hiddenness or shame – no hiding behind a fig leaf, afraid to be discovered.

Messages from culture or the world can make things feel shameful, when that is not necessarily God’s intent. It is kind of like, if you grew up with the message that all positions besides missionary are perverted. Then you may hide or feel ashamed enjoying anything else. We must sort out cultural messages about our body and sex and determine what is biblical because there is a huge difference.

Final Thoughts

So the Bible actually says a lot about choices that intersect with masturbation. Whether you are talking about masturbation in singleness, or in marriage, the same principles apply. God wants us to love Him above everything else –  even our marriage, our kids, or our own self sufficiency. We must guard ourselves against lust, by taking control of our eyes and our minds. Nothing should control us or master us. We need to turn to God for everything that we need. And our lives should glorify God. When we apply these principle and are in community with God, everything else tends to fall into place.

Next week we will look at masturbation in singleness.


Comments 11

  1. I am a retired man. My wife is having lots of physical issues. We have oral and manual stimulation, like foreplay. However, neither one of us can climax from this approach. ED does not make PIV possible. So, I am stimulated to just below the PONR. I cannot get over the top without a vibrator which my wife refuses to use so far. Solo sex is my option that seems best at this point (I cannot tell my wife of this, she calls much of sexual activity, sinful). I have been working on the mental, emotional and spiritual ramifications of this. I do not want to feel guilty or sinful, but I also want to follow Biblical principles. Thanks for tackling this subject, your insights are helpful.

  2. We ought to be careful with the term “lust”. What did Jesus condemn in the above quoted passage? I seriously doubt that Jesus was condemning sexual arousal or even sexual desire. Only when these are driven by selfish covetousness are these truly “lust”. Lust has over the centuries become a catch all term for anything sexual. Let’s try to remain sex positive.

    • I don’t think Jesus is condemning sexual desire within marriage. The Bible clearly celebrates sexual desire and arousal within God’s boundaries. It is good for us to have desires as we are created as sexual beings and we can do that without sinning. Lust is “epithumia” and epi means to “add to.” In my opinion, lust is when we negatively (or selfishly, like you said) add to a healthy drive, when we bring in other people, thoughts or behaviors that are outside of God’s boundaries or when the desire becomes so strongly that it is idolatry like in nature. Thanks for commenting, Larry.

  3. I think masturbation falls under the permissible versus beneficial category and therefore there is no black and white answer. When my best friend had her second baby, she told her husband she didn’t have time for sex anymore and that he should take care of it himself, which he did. Permissible? I’d say yes. Beneficial? No way. She was being selfish, ignoring his need to feel loved, and clearly not understanding what sexual intimacy is all about. (I called her out on this.) Meanwhile, it came to light later than his bitterness over the lack of sex was exponential; he masturbated only so he wouldn’t hate everyone and everything (especially her) and he reeeeally struggled not to fall back into the porn habit he had before marriage. Not a good situation.

    After my second baby was born, however, I developed severe postpartum psychosis and depression and was eventually hospitalized on suicide watch. Needless to say, we did not have sex for almost 5 months because I was so sick. My husband resorted to masturbation during this time and frankly I think this was beneficial. I cannot imagine what a horrible time that was for him too. But he was very conscious about how he did it. He only thought of me and when he was tempted to look at it read something he shouldn’t, he actually wrote out his own sex stories about us–some real, some fantasy. Maybe some would argue that’s not okay, but I feel honored by how much he tried to stay pure and love me during a time I was not at all lovable.

    But a problem arose when he continued masturbating even when we were back to having sex about three times a week on average. I caught him or could tell he already had that day and frankly was extremely hurt. I felt like I would never be enough for him. So we’ve talked about that and he says he has stopped but I suspect he still does from time to time (and asked him once if he had and indeed, he had). I am currently trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but boy, I sure wish he wouldn’t. It hurts. I am free and available and willing (in fact, I wish we had sex more often than we do), but he still chooses to do that over me sometimes and it stings. Beneficial? No. I feel betrayed. Same thing but different circumstances.

    One of my other friends is trying to help her husband overcome premature ejaculation. I don’t know details about whether this was/is caused by a masturbation habit, but with the various exercises he needs to try to learn to delay ejaculation, some of that wil probably require practice alone so he can get to learn his body’s response with no distractions or pressure from her presence. The goal of this masturbation would be to improve their sex life, since she is deeply unsatisfied with not being able to have sex for more than 30 seconds. I can’t say that masturbating with that purpose is wrong; I think it is beneficial. The same might be true for an anorgasmic wife so she can learn what feels good and bring that knowledge to her husband; the problem is when she’d rather fly solo than have sex with her husband.

    So anyway, there are my thoughts on that! I wish there were a heck of a lot less masturbation in marriage and a heck of a lot more bed-breaking sex, but that doesn’t mean that all masturbation is wrong.

    • mm

      Kay, thanks for sharing experiences about discerning whether masturbation is beneficial within marriage. We will have a post in a couple of weeks addressing masturbation specifically in marriage and hope to have more examples shared. I think we can learn from each others experiences as we discern what is beneficial for our individual marriage.

    • Kay, I like your insights and experiences. I wish the issue was black and white. The urges that God gave us are difficult to have self control over. I wish that husbands and wives could be on the same page,with their health, age, experiences, desires, etc. I wish sin did not so easily beset us. Sometimes I wish I knew what sin was and what was OK. Not being black and white, there are a lot of opinions as to what is and what is not. Very confusing for a husband who is trying to do the right thing for their marriage.

  4. I have times when I think my husband has satisfied himself and I feel all suspicious and distrustful of him. I am working through this an other issues with my marriage. At times, I know it is for release and I do not want to want to shame him either. It can drive me crazy with the not knowing for sure what he is doing because he is so stoic and closed off at times. Since I have been implementing respect in my behavior and voice things have been much better.

    On a different note, you had mentioned Matt 5:28. If you continue reading to verse 30, I think it is interesting that only the right hand and the eye is mentioned in “…if your RIGHT hand causes you to sin cut it off and cast it from you and if your eye causes you to sin, pluck in out and cast it from you”. It is known in the middle-east and biblical times that the left hand is for toilet cleanup and the right hand is the one you write with. Assuming that masturbation is done with the right hand to avoid getting dirty, I am thinking the eye and the right hand refers to masturbation. I believe that the sin must be so distasteful, we must believe we could figuratively cut/pluck and cast that sin away and never do it again. What are your thoughts?

    • mm

      Good for you for changing your behavior in order to strengthen your marriage. Our tone of voice makes such a difference. Keep talking and building trust with your husband.
      As far as the right hand referring specifically to masturbation, I suppose that is possible, but it is coupled with lust. We must keep our minds and our thoughts pure, and not picture anyone other than our spouse.

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