Monday, 2 September 2013

Masturbation and Sin

I started putting this together while Animal was driving us back from our holiday last week and I got into another twitter debate, this time over whether masturbation is sinful.

First, some background: when God picked me out of the crowd and asked me to follow Him 3 years ago, he challenged me very specifically on my attitudes towards sex and sexuality, and they have been evolving since then as I have prayed, studied and thought about various apsects of the subject. I don't claim to be an expert; just someone who has given a lot of thought to subjects like this and done her best to apply God's will in her life.

Before we begin, I am not writing an apologetic for masturbation; I don't seek to justify it or prove that it is OK. Please don't use my words to justify something to yourself if you think believe it is wrong. I believe sex and sexuality to be deeply personal matters - matters best kept between you, the person you choose to share them with, and God.

When masturbation is wrong

There are certainly circumstances in which masturbation is wrong:
  • If you believe masturbation to be sinful, then it probably is - for you.
  • If you are likely to be led into lustful thoughts by it, you should try to avoid it - lust is a sin.
  • If it becomes a compulsive or addictive behaviour pattern, this is unhealthy whether or not you consider it a sin; it is also more likely to lead you into lust or get in the way of your relationship with God.
If any of those apply to you, I urge you to try (or continue) to resist masturbation. The rest of this piece is not really for you.

You (girls especially) might like this article by Heather Lindsey which explains why she believes masturbation to be sinful, and gives some good advice on avoiding it.

However, if you are a Christian and do not fit into the categories above, or are undecided whether masturbation is right or not, I would like to offer you my perspective; a counter argument to 'masturbation is always sin', which I believe to be unBiblical and unhelpful.

Why do we do it?

OK, let's get right down to it. Sex is fun - God made it that way. Orgasms feel good - God made it that way. God made sex to be enjoyed, not just as a tool for procreation. God made me a sexual being - He made most of us that way, to varying degrees. And the vast majority of us begin to explore that as teenagers, through masturbation. It's a natural process of discovering what we like so that when the time comes to share our bodies with a partner, we can make the most of it.

Enjoying the gift of sex that God gave us - enjoying it fully with the person God has picked for us to spend our lives with - gives more glory to God. Nothing brings two people closer than the act of sex. Nothing. So why not enjoy it as much as possible? And how are we to do that if we don't know what we like?

Yes, ok, masturbation serves no useful purpose other than to make us feel good for a few minutes. Well so what? Neither does Red Dwarf or 'Walking on Sunshine' by Katrina and the Waves. That doesn't make it inherently wrong. For the Christian, I believe all things need a little thought and prayer, and to be done in a sensible, harmless way.

So that's what I think. What does God have to say on the matter?

What the Bible says

The Bible is quite clear that 'sexual immorality' is wrong; however it is far from clear exactly what consitutes sexual immorality. Pre-marital sex is almost universally accepted among Christians as being against God's wishes. A man sleeping with his stepmother is mentioned as a specific example of immorality. Adultery and looking at another with lust were said by Jesus to be equally sinful. There is no more specific advice on masturbation than that*.

Yes, our bodies are a temple, yes, we are called to self-control; as I have already said, if those things make you think you shouldn't be masturbating, then maybe God is calling you not to - perhaps he knows it will lead to an addictive behaviour or lustful thoughts. Listen to these thoughts.


But self-control does not necessarily mean never letting yourself do a thing. The Message puts it as being 'able to marshal our thoughts and energies wisely'. There is no prohibition on moderation.

Take alcohol. Jesus not only drank wine, he bottled his own. Yet drunkenness is right up there next to sexual immorality.

Wine, like masturbation, serves no useful purpose beyond its own enjoyment. Both can lead to sinful behaviour if over-indulged, but with self-control - knowing your limits and sticking to them - I see no Biblical prohibition.

Galatians includes self-control in the fruit of the Spirit; something which will grow out of our relationship with God, not something on which that relationship depends. Allow God to guide you, to give you self-control when needed and keep you from over-indulging.

A warning though: as both wine and masturbation are pleasurable, both can be addictive. Addictive behaviours can become idols in our lives, taking more importance than time with God; put your 'God-time' ahead of your 'me-time'.


The key, I believe, is lust. Now, I know men and women are wired differently this way, but speaking personally, I can masturbate just for it's own sake, without lustful thoughts bothering me. Men generally find this harder, and with the abundance of porn and increasingly sexy videos on MTV, it's all too easy to find some visual aid to speed the process along.

Don't. This is clearly lust, and clearly a sin.

(Pornography is a bigger issue, and one which I have blogged about plenty already. My defence of masturbation is based on not using porn in the process.) 

Lust for your partner

Thinking about your partner can complicate things. If you're married, fantasising about your spouse while you pleasure yourself is fine. Animal does this, and I'm fine with that. You can't lust after what is already yours.

If you're not married though, it's less simple. First, as the person is not 'yours' as your spouse is, by strict interpretation this is lust. Second, from a personal perspective, I had to cut back on masturbation when we were engaged, because it made me want sex with my husband-to-be all the more. (I was not a virgin, I knew what I was missing; this may well not happen to virgins. No promises though, just my experience to share.)

And yes, I did say back there that my husband still masturbates. This is not because I don't fulfill his desires! Girls, you know there are going to be a few days each month when you just don't want him touching you. Not that that has to be the only place for it in the marriage bed; masturbation can be part of fun, healthy sex between a married couple - the kind of sex that unites man and wife to the glory of God.

I certainly don't believe that sex is intended only for having babies; nor do I believe that the Bible sets out rules for what constitutes 'immoral' practices between man and wife. The only restrictions that exist between Animal and I are those that we have imposed on ourselves.

In conclusion...

Your sexual activities are your business - between you, your partner, and God. Nobody else has any place dictating to you what is right or wrong between two consenting adults.

As always, the comments are open for discussion. Keep it clean though, eh?

*Some may point to Onan, who was punished for 'spilling his semen on the ground'; in context, the punishment was for deliberately refusing to fulfil his cultural duty to continue his brother's line. Basically, he wasn't masturbating, he just pulled out early.

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