The other day I came across a post on social media, written by a Christian to a Christian group, in which the individual stated that they masturbated because it helped with their mental health. They threw the question to the group ‘is masturbation sinful?’ Naturally, what followed was a thread of comments with Christians on both sides of the debate. Some argued that it was wrong and shouldn’t be done by a Christian, whilst others argued along the lines of “If it’s good for you and you enjoy it, go for it”. Sadly, not many people actually turned to the Bible but instead just put forward their own opinion. So, here goes, is masturbation sinful?
Masturbation is defined, by the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary, as;
“erotic stimulation especially of one’s own genital organs commonly resulting in orgasm and achieved by manual or other bodily contact exclusive of sexual intercourse, by instrumental manipulation, occasionally by sexual fantasies, or by various combinations of these agencies”
This post is regarding the act of an individual gratifying themselves, it is not an exhaustive post on the topic and does not touch on things like masturbation between married couples, which is not self-gratification.
The Christian is to use their bodies to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), but we still have natural bodies and our bodies, and our natural self, have sinful tendencies that are a result of the Fall (Genesis 3). One of the lists that we have in the Bible of those ‘works of the flesh’ is found in Galatians 5:19-21, which is then directly contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-26.
Masturbation is a self-centered act of gratification which often goes together with lust (Matthew 5:28, 1 John 2:16), sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13, Ephesians 4:20), evil desires (2 Timothy 2:22, Galatians 5:16, James 1:14-15) and more.
If a person is to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) that cannot include something that the Bible speaks against, because all failure to glorify God is sin (Romans 3:23 and 14:23). Whilst the Bible doesn’t use the word ‘masturbation’ it does speak about the importance of sexual intercourse being within the confines of a married relationship between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:6-9, 1 Corinthians 7:2, etc.). Some may view this as God being restrictive, but enjoying sex according to God’s blueprint is a beautiful thing and sex is a gift to be enjoyed by a married couple. This is not restrictive, instead it is God freeing people to use the gifts He has given humanity well.
Whilst the bible doesn’t use the word ‘masturbation’ it does say that sexual immortality and lust are sins. The Bible also tells Christians to have self-control, to rule over your body rather than for it to rule over you. Furthermore, masturbation can lead to a person objectifying someone else, simply seeing them as a piece of flesh which is there for their own gratification. This is just one of the problems with the porn industry. Humans are made in the image of God, nobody should be objectified, but all people should be seen and treated as beautiful image-bearers of God who all have equal worth and dignity.
In addition to all of this, the Bible calls Christians to be holy (1 Peter 1:13-25). A person cannot be acting in holiness if their focus is their self-centred gratification. A person cannot be acting in a holy way if their lustful desires are being aroused by watching (or thinking of) pornographic material that objectifies individuals. A person cannot be acting in a holy way if their thoughts and actions are governed by sexual immorality and sinful desires.
Is masturbation sinful? I think the answer the Bible pushes us towards is a yes, masturbation is sinful. Whilst this is a big struggle for so many Christians, both men and women, we need to remember grace. Grace does not give Christians a license to sin, but it does remind us that sin and our failure to live holy lives at all times and in all things, does not mean that we are beyond forgiveness and the grace of God. There is hope for the person who is caught in the web of sexual immorality, lust and masturbation and there is grace through Christ.