top of page

Masturbation & Christianity: Is it a Sin to Explore Your Body?

The topic of masturbation has long been a point of shock and horror for many Christian circles. The word itself elicits faces of disgust and shaming comments. While off-handedly dismissed as something most teenage boys do, masturbation is rarely accepted as healthy or normal within the larger Body of Christ. And yet… so many of us are still curious. What does the Bible say about touching yourself? Is masturbation a sin? Could it possibly be a good thing? We will get to those questions. But first, let’s understand the context from which many of us are approaching these questions.


Many a men’s conference has rattled the rafters with sermons about lust and pornography, almost always equating those concepts with masturbation. Men have been told to snap their wrists with rubber bands, rat out their sexual arousal, and confess their interest in erotic images— all without one word about the root of those behaviors in emotional attachment. Few honor the design of the body, mind, and spirit to connect. Few seem to recognize the agonizing need to feel seen, known, and loved at the deepest level.


Women hear little, if any, about masturbation. The assumption seems to be that women in general just aren’t sexual. Not normal women anyway. Women aren’t even taught the biological names of their own sexual body parts (i.e. vulva, clitoris, labia, etc.). No one dares bring up the biological function of the clitoris (purely pleasure) or the ease of stimulating it.


The Christian community has thus far failed to learn the function and facts of self-stimulation. We don’t talk about it out loud. We don’t know how it works (outside of experimentation). And we don’t dare value it. Instead, we cut off all discussion by categorically moralizing it with words like sin and lust. I dare you. Right now. Say the word out loud: masturbation.



Defining Masturbation


Masturbation is the technical term for self-stimulation of a person’s own body for sexual pleasure. It is a common human behavior (even for infants in the womb).


In the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health Behavior (NSSHB), more than half of men ages 16–59 reported having engaged in solo masturbation in the prior month. Twenty percent of women across the lifespan reported solo masturbation in the prior month (with rates exceeding 40% only for women ages 20–29).

Sometimes stimulation ends in orgasm, sometimes not. Sometimes it involves other objects and toys, sometimes just a person’s hand. Often it includes the mental element of imagination.



The Legitimate Hesitation


The concern about masturbation is understandable considering how much harm has been done in the realm of sexuality by both the culture and the church. Most people have at least one story of being hurt either physically or emotionally. All of us have been hurt by inaccurate and insufficient teaching. This harm can be intentional, objectifying, or in the form of passive shame or devaluing. The effects of sin on and with a common human behavior are undoubtedly real. Can masturbation be twisted into something harmful? Absolutely. But harm can be done with any human behavior. This is not a good reason to categorically avoid it, but rather a reason to learn how to use it well— to learn how to steward it.



Does the Bible Talk about Masturbation?


By that term? No.


However, we should consider that the Bible talks about humans, sexuality, and morality in a much broader way than just describing physical behavior. The Bible describes the God who made us as benevolent, generous, and graceful. He designs us in his own image, yet with limitations, as valuable partners in the work he is doing. We are not gods ourselves but are given dominion over the earth and our own bodies. We are to steward those things in a way that glorifies our Creator, by being fruitful and multiplying.


Is this what we see humans doing in the Bible? No. Most of the descriptions of human behavior in the Bible actually illustrate what NOT to do. It can sometimes be difficult to determine the morality of specific behaviors because the context of culture is so vastly different from when the Bible was initially penned. There are a few examples of good choices, but even those actors are easily summed up to be less than perfect. There are no such things as “heroes of the Bible” unless you’re counting God himself. We should be careful not to idolize any of them outside of Jesus.


So if most of what we learn about humans from the Bible is their propensity for failure, perhaps our standards of morality need to come from somewhere else. The Creator and his commands need to be our actual compass.



What Does the Bible Say About Self-Satisfaction?


Before we can dive into a specific moral question, we would be wise to remember what God says are his foundational commands: responding to him as he deserves with respect and gratitude and loving one another as we love ourselves. These commands apply to every human behavior, including masturbation. They are not a concrete list of dos and don’ts, but a first-stop filter.


Responding to the Maker of your body with respect and gratitude means acknowledging his good design and good purpose for it. God’s agenda for your body might be summed up as blessing, healing, and stewarding (taking care of) the things you’ve been given, including your body itself! In fact, not taking care of your own body almost guarantees it won’t have the health it needs to bless and care for others.


Our bodies are designed with God-given limits and need to sleep, eat, and move regularly. We can survive temporarily without these things, but we cannot thrive. The story of Jesus’s temptation in the desert demonstrates not only God’s miraculous exceptional provision, but also how inappropriate it is to test God’s willingness to provide! Jesus was not modeling self-neglect, but rather showing us appropriate respect for our limits.


If you respect the Maker of your body, what is one need you often neglect that you could care for better?

Some fear-mongering in Christianity has mistranslated words like “flesh” to mean the physical body, while the root of that word is actually closer to “self-centeredness” or “selfishness.” This deception is frankly very confusing, making it seem like the physical body is somehow in contrast to the spirit, when solid biblical exegesis shows that the physical body and the spirit are inseparable prior to death. Self-centeredness absolutely wars with the Spirit of God, but the physical body does not. Taking care of the self is not the same thing as self-centeredness. Taking care of the self actually refreshes the ability to care for others; self-centeredness drains that same well.



Important questions to ask then, might be…


If masturbating is a behavior that pertains to the self,

does it fill me up (self-care) or drain me of energy to care for others (self-centered)?


Am I better able to engage with others after doing it

or am I less inclined?



But I Feel Ashamed


Is it shame or guilt? Guilt is appropriate remorse for harming others and even helps us to make better choices, but shame tells us we are repulsive and unacceptable, practically unredeemable. It is appropriate to feel guilt for behaviors that steal, kill and destroy. Does masturbation do those things? If it does not, who told you you were bad?


Shame, or the moral condemnation of the self, is in exact contrast to worship of our good Maker. Shame pulls us out of fellowship and into isolation and hiding. It tempts us to revolve around our badness, rather than God’s goodness. We have a sad example of the effects of shame in the creation story when Adam and Eve fall victim to the mentality that there is something wrong with them, that they don’t have enough even in perfect fellowship with God.


Remember what God asked Adam and Eve in the garden… “Who told you you were naked?” His question highlights the lie of the accuser. Their sin was not trusting the goodness of God. They failed to believe that his love and provision were enough. Their banishment was not a shaming punishment, but the beginning of a long-term plan to restore their faith.


If you, as a human, feel hatred toward yourself or others, you misunderstand how highly God values you and how wide open are his arms. If shame has stolen parts of your joy and worship, it is time to ask for healing so you can be set free. If, on the other hand, you are feeling legitimate conviction (guilt) for harming others with your masturbation, it is absolutely appropriate for you to repent. I recommend you connect with other believers to work out what it might look like for you to do better.


Not only does shame steal our joy, but it also makes it very hard for us to have anything with which to love others. How can we love others “as ourselves” if we do not first actively love ourselves? In contrast, loving the self includes listening to the body, the mind, and the emotions and graciously taking care of those needs that arise. Taking care to rest, rejuvenate, celebrate, and enjoy are all ways to care for the self, all in cooperation with the Creator and Healer of our bodies.


When it comes to loving others, we are then able to generously give out of full hearts and energized bodies. We experientially know the goodness of our Provider, and therefore know His resources have no bounds. We are able to do what we can and trust Him to pick up where we leave off.


Loving others also includes releasing them from shame they are not meant to bear. For the human with their head hung low and their life in the closet, we need to create safe spaces where honesty does not equal condemnation, but support! Laying things out in the light, as difficult as it may be, must bring shouts of celebration for the prisoner released. Believe you are worth loving, prisoner! Step into the light because that is where we are healed.



What About Lust?


Lust is an insatiable hunger to consume things that don’t belong to us. This is different from our inherent sexuality. The Maker of our bodies made them well. He designed them perfectly— even the parts we may consider flawed. To respond to our Maker with gratitude would mean being thankful for every part of our bodies, whether they are injured or whole. This includes choosing to be thankful for our minds, our desires (even the sexual ones) and our genitals.



Regarding masturbation, you might consider asking yourself…


Does masturbating make me more thankful for the God who made me

or does it make me more hungry for things I don’t have?



God’s work is so much bigger than we experience in any moment, which means at times only by faith can we recognize his goodness in our limited sight. When we don’t have what we want (e.g. the ideal partner, the engaged partner, the presence of a partner, a safe and committed partner), we may grieve, but in thankfulness recognize that God is doing something even bigger than what we currently perceive.


By choosing to accept what we’ve been given and offering up thanksgiving, we practice the opposite of lust.

We can praise Him for that goodness and celebrate what we do currently have— even if that is not the partner we want, the body we want, or the circumstances we want. Celebration means enjoying. That includes enjoying our own bodies and how they respond to stimulation. We can show gratitude to our Maker by appreciating moments of pleasure.



What about Pornography?


Loving others includes choosing to see other humans as fully human, rather than objectifying them. Worldly eroticism, including much pornography, teaches us to view one another as objects to be used, consumed, and owned. But sexuality as designed by God is meant to enable intimate connection. Intimate connection does not happen between a human and an object. While it certainly can be stimulating, mutual vulnerability is only possible between equals.


To respect the Maker of humans, we must see one another as completely human and equally valuable brothers and sisters. Practicing objectification often makes connection with real humans more difficult and awkward. See the research on effects of porn here.


If you struggle to experience sexual arousal without pornography, you likely need some healing. Please take care of yourself. For help regarding pornography, consider Jay Stringer’s work regarding attachment injuries (as related to sexual desire and behavior).



If viewing pornography is appealing to you, ask yourself the question…


Is using this helping me to connect with other whole humans

or does it make it more difficult?



Choose what helps you to connect.



So Then, Should a Person Masturbate?


Three important concepts need to be considered. First, as Paul says to the Christians in Corinth, “All things are permitted, but not all things are of benefit.” While we experience tremendous freedom in Christ, it would be impossible for one therapist turned writer to judge the myriad of nuances in any person’s life. It’s crucial for each believer to consider their own heart and their connections with community, as we know this is God’s concern.


As our lives are in Christ, a behavior can neither condemn nor save us, but behaviors do have real benefits and consequences. The research on masturbation shows a lot of potential benefits from the behavior, from stress relief and improved sleep to better body knowledge and increased desire for partnered sex (in women).


As it is a very personal and private matter, each person must have a conversation with the Lord about what honors the God they serve. An honest examination of our hearts and lives reveals benefit or harm.



Ask yourself…


Does this experience help me to see and enjoy the Lord more fully, or encourage me to turn away from Him and his agenda?


Is there any method of this behavior that could harm my community?



Many people report feeling uncomfortable and offended faced with uninvited brazen sexuality from another. We would be hard pressed to find a modern community that advocates for public masturbation of any type. Even if you feel masturbation has a ton of benefits for you, make sure you ask the Lord when, where, and with what it is appropriate to practice. We are called to be self-controlled, not victims to every whim and urge, which leads me to the second question…


Does masturbation enslave you?


As with any highly pleasurable activity, masturbation can be a strong magnet for our attention, has an ability to numb, and can enable avoidance. While addiction is more complex than just a lack of self-control, it’s important to acknowledge which behaviors have a tendency to own us. Make choices that keep you free; you were bought with a price. If your heart is longing to escape a necessary chore, such as reconciliation work with a partner or responsibilities, I hope you will not use masturbation to do so.


If masturbation is owning your time and life, pulling you out of connection, or mixed with unresolvable shame or guilt, I hope you will take quick action on some healing work. Get yourself in to see a licensed counselor as soon as possible.


Lastly, as masturbation for many has included pornographic material, make sure your choice of stimulation is not one that objectifies other humans, oppresses those who work in the industry, or pulls you toward images and ideas of harm. With the research available on the effects, I cannot advocate for any use of pornography.


If you choose masturbation, stay focused on the joy found in the gift of your good body and in your connection with your Maker. Practice with prayer and thanksgiving and with respect for your neighbor.



What About the Sanctity of the Marriage Bed?


Let’s remember that the marriage bed is primarily defiled by infidelity and harm, where one person decides to behave in a way that is hurtful to the other. The goodness of what happens in a private sexual relationship between two consenting, committed adults protected by the public commitment of marriage is judged entirely by that couple and no one else. The only time any of the rest of us should be concerned is in the case of abuse or neglect.


Marriage in God’s eyes is designed to illustrate the goodness of intimacy, devotion, cooperation and sacrificial love, none of which are automatically negated by masturbation. In fact, a person who has a healthy relationship with oneself is more capable of healthy relationships with others. However, as some individuals have been brought up believing masturbation is “cheating” or "selfish" it’s important to clarify how each spouse feels and take gentle care not to hurt a partner who isn’t feeling secure. Feelings about masturbation (and its context) should be thoroughly discussed between spouses.



Some good questions to discuss between partners might be…

  1. How does masturbation affect each of you?

  2. How much do you want to know or not know about the individual practice of your partner?

  3. How does masturbating affect your desire for sexual connection with your spouse?

  4. What does your partner feel comfortable with?

  5. How would you feel about incorporating mutual masturbation into your sex together?


Many couples decide together to value masturbation both in their personal sexuality and in their sexual lives together. Self-stimulation can be a fun, valuable part of partnered experience, especially in the beginning when you’re getting to know one another. Showing your partner what works for you is a great way to enable mutual arousal. It can be exciting to see what works for your partner (including the toys they have used!). And partners can’t possibly know what it feels like to be in your unique body unless you share that with them.



Conclusion


Whether you choose to masturbate or not, I hope that moving forward Christians will have more open, honest discussions about their health and wellness. Using your own discernment and careful consideration of God and his Word and current available research on sexual health, it is possible for the answers to be yes or no. As you wrestle in community about sexual ethics and best practices, I hope you will do the work of reflecting on your relationship with God, others, and yourself in order to discover the answers. If you are ready to experience healing and freedom in your sexuality as a Christian, consider The Truth About Holy Sex online course, a workshop to support you in that journey.


Unsplash photo cred: Xylene

670 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comentários


bottom of page