Masturbation is not wrong for a Christian, in fact it is right and healthy for a Christian (as well as non-Christians). Masturbation can be abused, or used in conjunction with sinful activity, but masturbation in and of itself is not a sin.
Let’s address the Onan in the room
In the Bible there is a character named Onan. He was one of the sons of Judah (a father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Onan broke God’s law and God struck him dead for it.
The law that Onan broke was the law of Leveratite marriage. Hundreds of years before God had Moses write the first written law of God, God’s law was known only through oral transmission, but his law was known.
The law of Leveratite marriage said that if a man married a woman, and then died before they had any son’s to bear his name and take over his property then one of his brothers would be required to marry her and give her a son. Her first born son would legally not be the son of the brother who married her, but he would be the heir of his sister-in-law’s dead husband. Any children they had together after that could be consider their children together.
Just as a side note, there is no exemption in the Law of Moses for if the brother already had a wife. The Old Testament did not forbid polygamy, it allowed it, and in the case of Levirate marriage it commanded it in the case of a brother already having a wife.
So with all that as backdrop here was the sin that Onan committed:
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.
7 And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him.
8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.
10 And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also.
Judah’s first son was wicked (we are not told how) and God struck him dead. Then Judah commanded his second son Onan to go in to his sister-in-law, Tamar, and “raise up seed to thy brother”, a direct reference to Leveratite marriage. But he knew the child would not be his, and he did not want to give his brother an heir.
The next part is critical – the Bible says he “went in unto his brother’s wife” – this is a direct reference to sexual intercourse. The Bible typically uses two phrases to denote sexual intercourse – phrases like “he knew his wife” or “he went in unto his wife”. What Onan did here when he “spilled it on the ground”, was literally to pull out before ejaculating. This was not masturbation, it was pulling out.
Even if someone could try to show that he did masturbate (which the context clearly shows he did not), that was not the sin God struck him dead for. He was struck dead for violating the Law of Leveratite marriage and also for his attempted deception. He was willing to enjoy the pleasure of his brother’s wife, but he was not willing to fulfill his duty to give her a son.
There is no other passage in all the Bible that talks about a man spilling his seed. But that does not mean that many Christians throughout the centuries have not tried other routes to try and make masturbation a sin.
Aren’t we supposed to deny ourselves?
Some would make the argument that the very definition of masturbation is “self-gratification”, therefore it must still be sin. The Bible talks often about self-denial a lot. Here are few passages:
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
Let’s just take these two Bible passages as they are great examples to begin this discussion. In Matthew 16 Jesus is talking about the cost of following him while he was on earth. The disciples gave up their homes and everything they had to follow him. Is there some spiritual application as well?
Yes – God does call us to deny ourselves in his service, but what we are denying is our sinful nature. We are not called to deprive our body of food and water (except if we willingly decide we want to fast for a short time).
Not all the desires of the body are sinful, we hunger, we thirst, we desire sex, we desire to have children, we desire to work and have purpose in our lives. Any normal desire can become sinful, when we become unbalanced. We can become gluttons if we eat too much. We become whores when we sleep around and have sex outside of marriage. We become greedy when we work too much and neglect our families.
But what is “living after the flesh”?
In the Bible sometimes the flesh just means, the human body. The Bible says Christ came in the flesh, that he became flesh and dwelt among us. So there are many times when flesh does not have a negative connotation. But other times, “flesh” can be a euphemism for the sinful nature. Those things which we are tempted to do, which would violate God’s law. The Bible lists many of the sins of the flesh in this passage:
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
I don’t see masturbation in that list – do you?
It is one thing to lie together with the sole will of generating: this has no fault. It is another to seek the pleasure of flesh in lying, although within the limits of marriage, this has venial fault.
– St. Augustine, one of the most famous Ascetics in history
Asceticism occurred in Christianity as well as other cultures and religions around the world. Just think of monks, whether Christian or Hindu, other similar groups. Asceticism is the idea that by denying one’s self of all or most worldly pleasures, that one can attain a greater spiritual level. Christian monks believed it would bring them closer to God.
So they ate very simple foods, abstained from marriage and many other worldly pleasures. They even taught people who were not monks and who were married, that they should have sex only for procreation and then take vows of celibacy within marriage(yes that is totally crazy, but married couples did take vows of celibacy).
The Apostle Paul was fighting against asceticism rising up in the churches when he wrote these words:
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ…
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Colossians 2:8 & 20-23(NIV)
Although the primary reason for the next passage from Paul was about his rights as an apostle, it also talks about the basic rights any man has:
4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?
I Corinthians 9:4(NIV)
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
I Timothy 4:1-5(NIV)
It is unfortunate that right after the Apostles died the war against asceticism in the church was lost and many of the early church father’s came to embrace asceticism. This asceticism reigned supreme throughout the Catholic Church, and even when the Protestants came to question many Catholic teachings, they left much of the church’s asceticism intact.
When Paul talks about “in later times”, he was referring to his own time. Paul truly believed he was living in the last days before Christ’s return. He is talking about the asceticism that had already come into the church. He holds no punches and calls this out as evil and wicked.
I think a key phrase here can be found in I Timothy 4:4, when Paul says “For everything God created is good”. When God created man and woman in the Garden of Eden, as fully sexual beings, he called his creation “good”. Christian asceticism teaches men to treat their bodies “harshly”, it tells them to “touch not, handle not, taste” not. The problem is these are based on human tradition and not God’s Word. God has given us food, drink, sex and children, and the satisfaction of a hard day’s work for our own pleasure. These are not things to run from, they are things to embrace.
Now are some people, a few specially chosen people, called by God to live celibate lives as both Christ and Paul told us? Yes. But they are the exception, and not the norm. No person should embark on the celibate life without a lot of prayer and consideration to make sure they truly have the gift of celibacy.
The rest of us, the majority of us, do not have the gift of celibacy, but instead we have the gift of sex.
But isn’t sex reserved for marriage?
Yes and No. Yes – Sexual intercourse, oral sex or any other sex between a man and woman are reserved for marriage. Homosexuality and sex with animals is completely forbidden. But nowhere is the act of giving one’s self an orgasm forbidden anywhere in the Bible. This act used to be called masturbation and in recent times is called solo-sex.
As I said earlier, the false teachings of Christian Asceticism taught that God only created sex as a necessary evil for procreation. They taught that God only made sex for having babies and that was it.
But the truth is that God created our sex drive, and our subsequent ability to have an orgasm for these three reasons:
- Pleasure, and relaxation. Viewing the opposite sex, especially for men, can be very pleasurable. Having an orgasm can relieve stress and relax a person.
- In the context of marriage, sex goes even further than pleasure and relaxation, and draws a couple closer together. It helps them to express their love, it takes on a spiritual meaning in representing the oneness of Christ with his church.
- Also in the context of marriage, sex is meant for procreation. God never intended for couples to get married and purposefully never have children. While having children is certainly not the only reason for which God designed sex, it definitely is one of the primary purposes he had in mind.
Sex and Communion have something have in common?
Yep I said it and now I will back it up. The desire to have sex, and the desire to eat are either called “base” or “primal” urges. They actually originate in the same part of the brain. The same area of the brain that makes a man hungry when he sees an image of food he likes or smells food he likes is the same area that gives him pleasure when he sees a beautiful woman, or smells her perfume, or even natural scent.
Normally when we eat, it is to sustain us, but often times it is purely for pleasure (i.e. junk food). We try to choose foods we like, or we see or smell some food we would like to try and we eat it.
But when we take communion, it takes on a spiritual meaning. Yes we are still eating, but in communion this eating takes on a completely spiritual meaning. Here is a “base” operation of our body, being used to represent a beautiful spiritual symbol. It represents the unity of the church, as well as the remembrance of Christ’s broken body and shed blood for us.
In a similar way, sex in the context of marriage takes on a dual meaning. Communion only has one purpose, and that is to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice for us and the unity of his church. But sex (another “base” desire) has dual purposes and meanings. In one sense it is meant for physical pleasure and relaxation and also to draw us closer to our spouse. But it also has a second meaning, a spiritual meaning. In marriage it represents the unity of Christ and his church.
So how does this relate to masturbation?
The point is that masturbation is purely a physical expression of our sexuality, and it does not take on the dual meaning of sex within marriage. Basically masturbation is not much different than having a bowel movement.
The only difference between a bowel movement and masturbation is that masturbation not only relieves physical stress, but also helps to clear the mind as well.
Can masturbation be unhealthy or wrong?
Masturbation can be unhealthy or wrong under these circumstances:
- You are compulsively masturbating to the point that it interferes with your job or other interpersonal relationships.
- If it stops you from seeking out relationships and ultimately marriage to the opposite sex.
- If it interferes with intimacy in your marriage, or makes you somehow unable to perform sexually with your spouse.
- You are watching people looking at bad porn(group sex, homosexual sex, rape sex, violent sex, as opposed to normal heterosexual sex as God designed it).
What are healthy ways a Christian can masturbate?
The first thing to realize is that it is very difficult for many people, especially men, to masturbate without some sort of visual stimulation (either in print, or using some images in our mind). In fact it can be a down right grueling experience without these things.
Certain types of porn – those of just naked women or couples engaging in normal heterosexual sex as God designed it are an option. I realize what I just said probably made you fall out of your chair. Let me refer you to the topic Christian porn(porn that falls within Biblical boundaries) as discussed on a great Christian Porn site(one the only ones I know of):
The Bible does talk about us not “uncovering the nakedness” of our close relatives. But this was a euphemism for incest. The Bible was forbidding sex between close relatives. There is also a famous story about Ham seeing his father Noah naked, but this was not a command about nakedness. The issue was that he was mocking his father’s nakedness after he got drunk, that was his sin.
But isn’t looking at nude pictures lust?
Biblically speaking lusting is thinking about possessing someone or something that does not belong to us. For instance if you look at a young woman and are sexually aroused by her, or imagine how she looks naked, there is no sin. Actually having sex with that young woman, is reserved for marriage. You cannot possess her sexually without first marrying her. To think thoughts of how to entice a young woman to have sex with you outside of marriage is a form of covetousness.
Even when viewing someone married to someone else, the sin is not in the arousal or the imagination of that person, it is in the coveting. If you begin to have covetous thoughts about how you may lure them to have sex with your or leave their husband you have sinned.
So yes it is healthy for you to masturbate using nude pictures, paintings or drawings, or even porn(that stays within the heterosexual bounds(one man, one woman), not group sex or homosexual sex).
I have pretty much have covered the issues surrounding how to masturbate in a healthy way. Now I want to cover healthy reasons why we should masturbate.
What are healthy reasons why we should masturbate?
- To relieve the various stresses of life, work and other issues (as long as it does make us remove ourselves from interpersonal relationships.)
- To make up for differences in sexual drive between a husband and wife. Even in a healthy marriage, there times when our sex drives just don’t measure up, but we don’t want to bother the other spouse. In these times it is ok to masturbate to balance out the differences in drive.
- When married couples are separated by long distances – a good example would be when men are in the military.
- For married men to fulfill their need for sexual variety. It is not wrong for a married man to view nude images (not fornicating images) of various women and masturbate.
- For single Christian men and women to avoid fornication. This is one of the biggest reasons young teens and adults should not be shamed for masturbating, but should in fact be encouraged to masturbate. Many a teen or young adult would not have had pre-marital sex if they felt masturbation was an acceptable alternative.
The four reasons I give above are primary reasons why we should masturbate. There is one other that I wanted to treat separately because it is more complicated. More often than not this issue affects women more than men. Some women simply have a hard time having an orgasm through intercourse. It is just a medical fact. Even after exploring all the possible physiological and physical issues it just is difficult for some women.
These same women don’t feel like asking their husbands every time they have sex to manually stimulate them or perform oral sex (but husbands should be willing to do this if asked). So at some point these women may go off on their own and masturbate to give themselves some relief. Some women don’t need this, or rarely need it, others need it almost every time.
There is no sin in this behavior. Ladies, I would just give a word of caution that you make sure you have tried everything first with your husband to try and have orgasms with him. Many women find, (and their husbands do as well) that when they both take the pressure off her to have an orgasm during intercourse she actually has one!
Conclusion and Application
It is not a sin to masturbate. Masturbation can be abused like anything else (including eating). But when done in a healthy way, and for the right reasons, masturbation can be wonderful part of the gift of sexuality that God has given us.