Is masturbation a sin?

Jay Dee

Is masturbation a sin?

Oct 30, 2013

This has been an ongoing discussion/disagreement between Paul Byerly and I for just over a year now.  I have a great respect for Paul, and enjoy our game of theological tennis, even if we don’t see eye to eye on a few topics.  It all started with

Is Masturbation A Sin

Original photo by Flickr user “sunshinecity”

This has been an ongoing discussion/disagreement between Paul Byerly and I for just over a year now.  I have a great respect for Paul, and enjoy our game of theological tennis, even if we don’t see eye to eye on a few topics.  It all started with a post I wrote called Why Do Married Men Masturbate?  And then continues to creep up now and again as the topic is addressed, either directly or indirectly.  We got into the topic again on last week’s post, and I have a sneaky suspicion that his post today was directed at me.  That’s OK.  I like being challenged.  I believe an unquestioned theology is a worthless theology.

So, today I’m not going to discuss masturbating to porn as I’ve talked about that before.  Likewise, I’m not going to discuss fantasizing while masturbating in this post.  We’re going to discuss masturbation, pure and simple.  Assuming no mental imagery, no lust, no porn (even “Christian porn”), just physical release, alone, without a spouse present either physically or electronically.  Why?  So that we can try to make the issue as simple as possible and have as little complication as we can.

My views have been expressed numerous times in posts, as well as in comments, and survey results.  And while I have discussed much of my belief on this subject, there is no one singular place where I have explained the core logic behind my belief.  And so, this shall be my attempt to bring together all this little pieces of my belief floating around the net into one coherent place.  This is not meant to impress, convert, convict or otherwise sway your opinion.  It’s more so people won’t go “that guy thinks masturbating is going to make hair grow on your hands and make you go blind”, and so I can clarify my own thoughts.  If it ends up becoming preachy, I apologize, it was not my intent.  If you tell me you masturbate, I’m not going to point a finger and yell “sinner”!  I’m going to listen and offer my thoughts as I always have.  After all, who am I to point fingers?

So, as Paul as stated many times, the Bible does not explicitly state “Masturbation is a sin”.  No disagreement there.  But there are many things the church upholds as implicitly Biblical that aren’t explicitly stated in the Bible.  The Trinity is a good example of a Biblical principle, not explicitly declared in the Bible (one I believe in, though I know not all of my readers do).  The same can be said for sins. For example: drug use, if the state said it was legal, would it be OK?  Now, I really don’t to get into a discussion on drug use.  My point is, we accept concepts as Biblical, without explicit Biblical reference.  Why?  Because the evidence of a principle is there.  In the case of the Trinity, we have Jesus as God, we have God The Father as God , and we have the Holy Spirit as God.  And we also have “The LORD our God is one.”  Ergo, there must be a three-in-one God, which we named the Trinity.  That is an extremely simplified approach to the Trinity, but again, only to use as an illustration.  So, back to the topic of masturbation, I guess the question is, where is my “evidence”.  What are the principles I draw on to make the conclusion that masturbation is a sin?

Is sex good or bad?

This is a question the church has been struggling over for many years.  Honestly, I don’t know why.  The Bible is pretty clear.

Sex inside of marriage: Good (Hebrews 13:4, 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, Proverbs 5:18-19, Genesis 2:24, Song of Solomon, Genesis 1:28)

Sex outside of marriage: Bad (Hebrews 13:4, 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 1 Corinthians 7:2, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Matthew 5:27-28, Galatians 5:19, etc.)

In fact, as far as I know, every verse regarding sex with your spouse is positive (correct me if I’m wrong), and every verse regarding sex without your spouse is negative.  So, to me this says one clear thing: God designed sex to be shared with your spouse.  It’s not because He thinks is bad, or dangerous, or wants to punish you.  It’s because sex is powerful.  It’s powerful within marriage, where it can do much good.  It’s powerful outside of marriage where it can do much harm (Yes, I am aware, in the case of abuse, sex within marriage can be harmful as well, that is a discussion for another time).

Is masturbation sex?

So, what is sex?  Well, unfortunately, Websters wasn’t around in ancient Israel, and we don’t have a passage in the Bible that clearly defines it.  Today, sex is defined as either “sexual intercourse” or “sexual activity”.  I think everyone of my readers would agree, that when God told the Israelites not to have sex with animals, he included all sexual activity, not just intercourse.  So, if we’re talking about “sexual activity”, then we all agree, I assume, that “sex” includes oral sex, anal sex, manual sex (using your hand/fingers), and any other kinds of sex.  I, then, also submit that “self-sex” is considered “sexual activity”, after all, the same physiological responses happen, the same hormones released, the same feeling of elation at climax, everything is identical from a physiological perspective, whether your partner is your spouse, a co-worker, an animal or solo.  So, I argue masturbation is considered sexual activity, or simply, “sex”.  But even without this argument, I think the concept still stands on it’s own.

Why is sex to be with your spouse?

The Bible gives 3 explicit reasons (though , that I know of, for sex:

  1. To consummate a marriage (Genesis 2:24)
  2. To procreate (Genesis 1:28)
  3. To avoid sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:2)

Now, the first two don’t really enter into this discussion, but the third does, I think.  Paul was responding to

It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.

1 Corinthians 7:1b

Because apparently someone was falsely teaching this in Corinth.  Now, if masturbation was considered a valid outlet for sexual tension, why would Paul not have said “It’s good to marry as well.”  But, instead, he gives a much more in-depth answer.

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

1 Corinthians 7:2-5

To me, this passage makes no sense if masturbation is valid.  Why bother saying that their bodies belong to each other?  Within the context of sexual activity, doesn’t this strongly imply you can’t use it separately?  Why bother telling them not to deprive each other so that Satan will not tempt them because of lack of self-control?  I mean, there are many many benefits to frequent sex, but if masturbation is a valid option, I wouldn’t put sexual self-control in the top 10.  So why go on this lengthy speech about how sex is necessary if there is a alternative that will sate sexual tension?

What DOES the Bible teach?

So, the Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about masturbation, as I said.  I just showed a couple places where I believe it speaks “between the lines”, I’m sure I could find others, but honestly, this is based on what I’ve thought up while sitting here at my computer typing.  I didn’t have the time to dig through the entire Bible to find every reference.  But the Bible does speak on some issues that come along side this one.  We have the famous passage from Corinthians:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Some will say that they have to masturbate, they cannot wait for their spouse, particularly when marriages have a “gatekeeper” or “refusing” spouse, or when the spouse is away for extended periods of time.  But the Bible tells us that love is patient.  It also speaks about self control in a variety of places.

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

Proverbs 25:28

Self control is important.  Lacking it is the gateway to many other problems, just as masturbation can be a gateway to many other sins.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Now, some will say that masturbation is the way of escape for temptation.  I would strongly disagree with that sentiment, and would argue that that is a much larger leap than believing that masturbation is sin.  Given the context, I’d say that Jesus is our escape from temptation.  I believe masturbation is avoiding one temptation by falling for another.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul is very clear: self-control is a major issue, it can lead to your downfall.  Sadly, lack of self-control is the soap box I most often hear people standing on to try and justify masturbation.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

And again, the fruits of the spirit include patience and self-control.  I’d argue faithfulness has a lot to do with this topic as well as I see masturbation as adultery in the same way watching porn is.  You are experiencing sex without your spouse.

Add all this together, and I see sex as something wonderful God designed for us to share with our spouse and only with our spouse.  I believe that when we masturbate, we cheapen what He has created, we side-step His will for selfish gain, and cheap temporary pleasure, because self-control is too much work.

Your Turn

So, that’s basically my beliefs on masturbation in a nut-shell.  I know they are unorthodox (or ultra-orthodox, depending on how you look at it).  I’m also aware that it’s not a popular stance these days, but I hope that helps to clear up some of the statements and comments that I’ve made.  Now, if you want to debate the topic, the floor is open!  What do you believe?  Why?  Let me know your reasons, I love to learn.

If you have questions about masturbation in marriage, you might be interested in these:

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