Is masturbation selfishness for a Christian?

Man looking in his underwear

Is masturbation a selfish activity for a Christian? Does it violate the Biblical concept of putting God first, others second and ourselves last?

As believers in Christ, one of the first Biblical principles we learned growing up is that true joy comes from putting God and others first. We were taught this simple acronym:

Jesus first: Jesus Christ, his will, and his glory should be the first concern we have as make our daily decisions and plans for life. In fact Jesus said if we loved others more than him, even our family more than him, we were not worthy of him.

Others second: The second group is others. This would be your wife and children, parents and then all others. In other words you take care of your family before you take care of yourself, and then you take care of brothers and sisters in Christ before yourself, and then strangers before yourself.

Yourself last: What I always found interesting in church is, when they got to the “You” part of joy, they rarely said much and moved on, it was simply a place holder, to remind us we always come last before Christ and others.

The JOY acronym is a very Biblical and Christian concept that we find all throughout the Old and New Testaments, here are just a few passages from the Gospel of Matthew which illustrate these important truths:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40(NIV)

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Matthew 10:37(NIV)

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16:24(NIV)

There is absolutely no question that God calls on us a believers to put him first, others second and ourselves last.

In fact in Matthew 10:37, we are called to “deny” ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ.

Doesn’t putting yourself last and denying yourself make masturbation wrong?

In light of the Scriptures I have just presented, many Christians throughout the centuries and still even today have believed that Christians must deny themselves all forms of pleasure, whether it be having sex with our spouses, eating foods we enjoy or participating in sporting or leisure activities.

Masturbation has been has been seen by many Church leaders and Christians as the antithesis of the “self-denial” that we are called to in the Scriptures.

But before I answer these weighty charges against masturbation from a Biblical JOY perspective, let’s look at some other Biblical passages:

“Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.”

Exodus 23:12(NIV)

 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Leviticus 19:18(NIV)

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I Corinthians 10:31(NIV)

For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

Ephesians 5:21(KJV)

While there are many passages in the Bible that illustrate the JOY principle, there are also many passages that address us taking care of our bodies, as the care of our bodies is indeed important to God. Throughout the Old Testament we see the God is interested in the health and cleanliness of our physical bodies.

God did not rest on the 7th day because he needed to, he rested to provide an example for us, as physical beings to give our bodies the refreshment, and nourishment they need. While we are no longer under the Sabbath law, I believe the principle of the Sabbath still remains, that we are to give our bodies the proper rest and refreshment they need.

God does not say it is wrong to love or care for or meet the needs of our body. Where we sin is when we abuse our bodies with drugs, alcohol or unbiblical Christian activities amongst other things.

In fact when I deny my body the rest it needs, by constantly working 7 days a week, and months on end with no rest, I am dishonoring God by neglecting the needs of my body.

It is one thing to fast and pray for a short time, and fasting can actually cleanse the body. But fasting for too long can cause great harm and damage to the body. So even fasting, when abused, can become a sinful and dishonoring activity to God.

The body needs a sexual release, and when it does not get one sinful thoughts can begin to creep in. I wrote an entire post on the subject of how Masturbation can actually help to keep you sexually pure. When we neglect our bodies the need for sexual release, even through masturbation, we dishonor our body, and we dishonor God.

Let me ask you something, if you purposefully withheld having bowel movements, or urinating, for days or weeks on end, and thus hurting your body, would you think this somehow honors God?

Anything that is not sinful, that our body needs to perform, whether it is eating, drinking, bowel movements, urinating, passing gas, having sex with our spouse and yes even masturbation by ourselves brings honor to God. Why? Because we are using are bodies as they were designed to be used, we are caring for our bodies and meeting the needs of our bodies, in ways that are not sinful.

Now even the natural needs of the body can abused, when we do things out of place or in the wrong way.

Passing gas with just family or friends might be amusing, but passing gas in front of strangers or in the middle of a church service would not be honoring to God.

Having sex with our spouse honors God, but if I start sticking my tongue down my wife’s throat in front of her parents, that may not be so honoring because of the time and place.

For masturbation it is the same, in the privacy of my home it is one thing. To just jump out in front of visitors or others and start masturbating would be wrong, again it would be the wrong time and place.

An illustration from massage

Many Christians will say that the only legitimate God honoring way to relieve sexual tension, or sexual hunger is through intercourse with our spouse when we are married, they say to masturbate is the just pure selfishness.

Imagine if we applied this same principle to those who have neck and shoulder tension. That would be like saying we can only get relief by having our spouse rub our neck or shoulders, and it would be wrong to use some massage device on ourselves, or get a massaging chair and have that work out the tension for us.

Many Christians simply refuse to look at masturbation as a legitimate means by which God gave man the ability to relieve sexual as well as other stresses that we may face in life.

Conclusion

It is absolutely true that God calls us to put him first, others second and ourselves last. But this principle does not make masturbation anymore wrong than us eating or having bowel movements is wrong.

It is not wrong to take care of the needs of our body, whether it getting proper rest, eating, having bowel movements, having sex with our spouses, and yes even masturbating when we need sexual relief, in fact I would say that we are honoring God when we take care of these various needs of our physical body.

When I get proper rest each day – I am honoring God because I am caring for the body he has given me.

When I take a day, or even two days off (when I don’t work Saturday) – I am honoring God by giving my body the refreshment and rest it needs.

When I eat my favorite foods, I am honoring God by caring for the body he gave me. (Obviously if I eat too much of my favorite foods then this same activity can become the sin of gluttony).

When I have sex with my wife, I am honoring God by giving her my body, as well as the sexual release that both our bodies need.

When I have a bowel movement, I am honoring God, by relieving my body of the waste that it needs to.

And yes, even when I masturbate, if it is done in a correct way, and under the right circumstances, I am honoring God by relieving the sexual tension that has built up in my body.

Not only are things like eating, sex with our spouses and masturbation needs of our bodies, but God has also given us these things for our joy and pleasure.

God calls to put him first, and to deny our SINFUL desires, he does not call us to deny the legitimate needs and desires of our bodies, we have only to keep them in balance, and do things in the proper time and place.

Masturbation is not a selfish activity anymore than eating food is selfish, it is all how much, when, where and under what circumstances it is done.

14 thoughts on “Is masturbation selfishness for a Christian?

  1. The First Commandment is clear we are to put God First. Any habit / lifestyle that detriments our bodies mentally or physically, eventuates in creating a distance from Him. I appreciate your point that masturbation can be used to honor Him, as well. I wouldn’t exactly equate masturbation with a bowel movement. I believe God provides for all our needs. Hence, masturbation is a wonderful gift and provision to help us avoid sin. In speaking for myself, it’s nice to attend mass each Sunday without asking God’s forgiveness for having masturbated the week before. To the contrary, I thank Him for it along with all His other blessings. I can only pray the mainline clergy will embrace the positions you espouse. Privately, I think many do. They’re missing a wonderful opportunity in using the pulpit to change masturbation from a selfish act to one of praise.

    1. Tintagelxo,

      I can understand how my equating masturbation with bowel movements might be misunderstood. I don’t think the two are exactly equivalent, but I see some relation in this aspect, that their are certain natural releases the body needs, or else we will have problems, and this is one of them. But that is not the only way of seeing masturbation. You are absolutely correct that masturbation is also a gift. I also equate masturbation with eating, in the sense that God has given us two types of hunger, a hunger for food, and a sexual hunger and neither should be looked down on. They are made for our enjoyment.

  2. Great post. I loved your last point and I have often thought the same.

    To use the food analogy further, there have been a few times I have invited friends back to my house for lunch after church but they were all busy and I went home alone. But I still need to eat but I had to eat alone and my only company was the TV. Using the logic of the Anti-masturbation Christians (AMC), I should have refrained from eating at all – and from watching a film – because it was a “selfish pleasure”. Perhaps they’d have been happier if I was suffering hunger and loneliness.

    Many people who masturbate would prefer to be enjoying marital intimacy but for whatever reason this has been denied to them. Perhaps they are single though no choice of their own, or perhaps they are working away on business or their wife just isn’t in the mood. The AMCs really have not thought it through and just judge people for making the most of a situation.

  3. Sarah brown

    I understand that masturbation isn’t wrong, but what about being married, having sex whenever your husband wants it, catering to all his needs, but he doesn’t cater to yours, and he also has tons of pictures of naked women of his phone, now he has put a password on it, and won’t tell me what it is? I’ve only been married for 1 month, and I don’t know what to say or how to handle this. I’m starting to feel like a slave to his sexual needs and also for doing his laundry and making food and whatnot, rather than a wife. 😦

      1. I referenced this in other comments to you, but the short answer is that if your husband is masturbating to those nude pics there is no sin in that by itself. Now if he is masturbating so much, that he is not having sex with you, or it somehow is making him not be able to meet your needs in bed then you need to address that.

        As a newlywed wife, you are so excited. To put it bluntly, you want every orgasm he experiences to be with you, rather than him masturbating. But this is simply not the case with most men, even with many newlywed men. See my earlier comments about men and our need for “variety”.

    1. Sarah,

      I can see the pain in your comment and the frustration you are feeling with your husband.

      First of all, let me applaud you if you are truly trying to meet all your husband’s sexual needs(like wearing lingerie, or just presenting yourself naked, giving him oral sex, initiating sex some of the times, and accepting his sexual advances the majority of the time).

      You say you have been married only one month, and I hope you will be unlike many other wives(christian or otherwise) who loose that passion to fulfill their husbands sexual needs within one or two years after marriage. Never ever loose that.

      If you read many of the posts on this site, as well as posts I link to from this site, you will see that men are naturally wired for variety. Even some Christian books acknowledge this. By “variety”, they don’t just mean a variety of sexual positions, or lingerie from the same woman, but they mean a “variety of women”.

      Men are truly naturally polygamous beings. Now in our modern society, unlike Biblical times, men are not allowed to practice polygamy. So that means they are only allowed to “look but they cannot touch”. I totally realize that does not sound romantic to you as a new bride. I get that you want him to only want to look at you naked, and you want all his sexual fantasies to only about you. But this is simply not the way that men are wired. Even the men who act disgusted at other men for admitting this, have only conditioned themselves, or been conditioned by their parents, church or others to believe that they must be monogamous in their thoughts.

      I totally understand that at first glance might make you angry, upset or hurt. But mark my words, if you try to control you husband, and try transform him into having monogamous thoughts(where you are the only woman he ever thinks of naked or sexually), you will only frustrate him and yourself.

      My niece is a prime example. She is young Christian newlywed, she will be celibrating her second wedding anniversary this next year. At first she was very angry when she found some naked pictures of women on her husbands phone that he had downloaded. I know her husband well, and I know he is faithful to her and would never physically touch another woman. I explained this to her, and explained to her his natural male need for “variety” as I explained above.

      She is now happier with her husband, and basically has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with him about the images he may look at. She gives him privacy and does not try and snoop around his phone or computer, and he agrees to try and be discreet about it and lock these images with passwords.

      Now I am not giving your husband a complete free pass. I have said it many times on this site that while masturbation, and even looking at nude images and masturbating to them is not sin just by itself, it can become sin if the images are things like swingers, orgies, homosexuality, beastility and behaviors that are clearly forbidden in Scripture. Masturbation and nude images can become wrong if they become an obsession to the point where you ignore your job, your children and most importantly your wife.

      He needs to be trying to meet your sexual needs, as well as your other needs to the best of his ability.

    2. I wanted to address this issue separately – especially as newlyweds(I was young once), we sometimes come to marriage with very idealistic expectations that neither match Biblical roles for men and women, nor do they match the real world.

      With that said – how do you think your husband could treat you as a wife, rather than slave? How do expect to be treated as a wife?
      This is not a trick question, please give your honest thoughts. I promise not to pounce on you.

  4. Sam

    I can understand that people want variety and I think it is natural to dream or fantasize about others from time to time, even if you are in a relationship. Your mind is private and apart from the real world, but when you have pictures on your phone the fantasy enters the real world. In my opinion a relationship or marriage where both are accepting and allowing each other to masturbate, or get sexually aroused, while looking at pictures of different naked men and women is pretty strange. What is the purpose of marriage or relationships if variety is that important?

    To Sarah Brown: You have to listen to your body and your feelings. Be true to yourself. If you don’t want to have sex, make food and do laundry every time your husband wants you to: It’s completely OK and normal to say no. Do not force yourself to have sex just to please your husband. That is fake, dishonest and it can create more distance and frustration in your relationship. Of course doing things for each other is great, but be careful not to cross your own limits. I wish you all the best in the future.

    1. Sam,

      There is ample scientific evidence and studies to prove that men are naturally polygynous and their minds are wired for a variety of women(few women are polygnous, and the vast majority are monogamous in their nature). I agree that men need to be discreet about any photos of other women they keep, but what would be worse for a man, to be keeping physical mistresses, or simply photos of random women?

      Too much of these discussions center around the modern notion that marriage and relationships between men and women are meant to be mutual and equal, therefore monogamy has become a central tenant of modern marriage, and our laws now restrict polygynous marriage. However all the laws in the world against polygynous marriage will not, and have not changed the polygynous nature of men.

      Most men simply have gotten better at hiding their polygnous nature so as to get along in our modern world, and not offend the romantic notions of modern women that their husbands should only have eyes for one woman, them.

      Wives need to be understanding of this fact that most men, if they were financially and legally able to, would have more than one wife. I agree that men should be discreet with looking at of pictures of other women, and try not to offend their wives with these things, but women need to be equally understanding of their husband’s nature.

      You asked what is the point of marriage if variety is so important?

      Biblically speaking, the point of marriage was not for men to learn to be constricted to a monogamous relationship with one woman. Biblically speaking, one of the points of marriage was to make sure men made a commitment of support to women before they had sex with them. It was to assure the woman(and her father) that she and any offspring she might produce would be properly protected and cared for. Sex of course was not the only point of marriage, the production of heirs was also a reason, as well as giving the man a helper.
      Ephesians 5 gives us other points of marriage, for a man to demonstrate God’s leadership, provision and protection roles, and for a woman to represent the people of God in her submission to her husband.

      So those are the “points” of marriage, but teaching men change their nature from polygynous to monogamous was never one of them.

      Your advice to Sarah will not make her marriage stronger, it will make it weaker. She should listen to her body and her feelings? Where is that found anywhere in Scripture? In fact, even outside of scripture if we were to apply that to other areas of life where would we be? If

      If I “listened to my feelings” and did not go to work when I felt like it, my family would starve.
      If a husband or wife, “listened to their feelings” and allowed themselves to have an affair with someone, would that be good? After all they were listening to their feelings and their body, so that makes it right?

      A husband or wife that lives their life according their feelings, only doing things(including sex, but other things as well) in marriage when they “feel like it” will have a failed marriage.

      Role and duty based marriages last, marriages based solely upon feelings(romantic notions) never last. Romance can sometimes result from a role based marriage, but romance can never be the foundation for a strong marriage.

      1. Sam

        Thank you for answering!

        So it is normal and good if a polygnous woman and a polygnous man is in a relationship together, and they both have naked pictures of others? And if the laws were different they would both have others in their relationship? Because then they both get the variety they want/need.

        Sexual intimacy is nothing like going to work.
        Sarah says she feels like a slave to his sexual needs! That is terrible wrong. Nobody with a normal amount of empathy would want to have sex with somebody who did not want to do it. It is awful to become a sexual object with no control over ones body. Sexual intercourse without consent is rape. I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about your job! I’m saying if your wife commanded you to do all of the housework and did not care if you wanted to have sex or not, you should speak up so the two of you could solve the problem in a natural and calm way. Honesty always last longer than pretending.

        From my experience romance have been the foundation for many strong, long-lasting and healthy relationships. Role and duty is important for many, but if a relationship last only because of role and duty, it sound better to be single. My opinion is that it is better to live a life in harmony with a partner and with your self, than to life a miserable life behind a fasade, a mask, of lies and pretending.

      2. Sam,

        Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as a “polygynous woman”.

        The Bible tells us that our nature as men and women, has been corrupted by the fall, by the sin of Adam. So as a man, or a woman, we must measure each part of our individual natures by God’s Word, only then can we separate out what is part of God’s original design for our nature, and where our nature has been corrupted by sin.

        God made woman for man, not man for woman.(Genesis 2,I Corinthians 11:9). God forbade, and would have a woman executed for sleeping with any man other than her husband and she was married, she could not marry another man while he lived, or unless he divorced her. So polyandry(a woman having multiple husbands at the same time), was clearly forbidden by God’s law. Polygyny(a man having many wives at the same time) was allowed and regulated under God’s law.

        So if a woman has polygynous urges(the urge to be with many men simultaneously), this is sin for her, God created her mind and body to be monogamous(this is why a woman can only bare one child from one man at time). On the other hand, God created man with the mental and physical capacity for polygyny, he has the capability of fathering multiple children with multiple women at the same time. The only boundaries that God placed on man’s polygynous nature was that he must only exercise the physical aspects of his polygyny within the bounds of marriage(no out of wedlock children) and that he may not horde wives(such as Solomon did with his 1000 wives). But God had not problem with men having multiple wives, such as Abraham having many wives, Jacob, Gideon, and David, as long as they were not hording wives.

        “Sexual intimacy is nothing like going to work” – Really? Biblically speaking it is a duty to have sex with your spouse, it is not something you do only when you feel like it, and it is only one of many duties within marriage. So yes it is in fact, exactly like going to work and performing the various duties your manager gives you to do.

        Sam you are not presenting to a Sarah a Biblical worldview, but a worldview based on “feelings”, “do whatever you feel is right, when you feel like it”.

        Sam the Bible is crystal clear that a woman does not in fact have control over her own body when it comes to sex, and neither does her husband have power over his body, there bodies belong to one another when they need them. If the wife needs sex, then the husband must give it to her, if the husband needs sex, the wife must give it to him.

        “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
        I Corinthians 7:4(NASB)

        When it comes to house work, the Bible again is crystal clear that a wife(not the husband) is in charge of the domestic responsibilities of the home:

        “4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
        5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
        Titus 2:4-5(KJV)

        “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”
        I Timothy 5:14(KJV)

        “27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.”
        Proverbs 31:27

        Sexual intercourse without consent is always rape? That’s your opinion, and may be the opinion of modern western nations. God’s Word however has a very different definition of rape. Rape is when a man forces a woman to have sex with him that does not belong to him. A husband has ownership over his wife’s body(this supported both in the New and Old Testaments) so he could never rape her.
        Now abuse? Yes that is possible. Might a husband be too rough with his wife, yes and that would be wrong. But if a man is too forceful or rough with his wife sexually, this abuse, but NOT rape.

        Rape does not occur within marriage Biblically speaking.

        I understand from your experience that romance based marriages(or marriages based on feelings, rather than duty) have been the foundation for long-lasting and healthy relationships. However, from a Christian standpoint, our feelings and experiance is not what determines what is right and wrong. God’s Word determines right and wrong.

        And even from a purely secular(non-biblical) worldview point, only in the last century has the western world turned from role based marriage, to romance based marriage the results do not match your experience with marriage either. The results are that we went from about a 5% divorce rate at the turn of the 20th century, to now a more than 50% divorce rate(because marriages are based on feelings, not duty). In some would estimate we have as high as a 70% divorce rate, when you consider that cohabitation is up, and marriage is down, and many couples that live together for 5 or 10 years break up as well, but they are not counted in divorce stats.

        So I believe that both from Biblical point of view, as well as looking at the cold hard stats on divorce and cohabitation we now have, that romance(feelings) based marriages have proven to be an utter disaster for Western Civilization. This is why we have ever growing welfare states, to help take care of all the single parents with kids as the family unit crumbles before us.

        It is not a “lie”, or “pretending” to do your duty in marriage, whatever that may be . I do believe we are pretending deceiving ourselves that romance based marriages are better for society than role based marriages, when the evidence is right in front us that is not. Divorce and Cohabitation stats present a very different picture.

        Sam

  5. Mandy

    What about the verse where Jesus clearly states that anyone who looks at a woman with lust is committing adultery in his heart? You are completely misleading women by telling them that it is okay for men to masturbate to pictures of women because they desire “variety.” This kind of pagan advice is why so many people can’t take Christianity seriously. I would rethink how capable you are of giving advice to others, since you obviously don’t have your own sin in check! To all the men and women reading this article, do NOT for one moment think that the advice in this article is biblical!

    1. Mandy,

      If you were to examine many posts on this site, as well as ones I link to you would see that I talk about the passage where Christ talks about lust.

      “27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

      28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28

      Mandy – the Apostle Paul defines for us what lust is in his letter to the Romans:

      “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” – Romans 7:7

      Mandy to lust is to covet. To covet is to have thoughts about how you could gain possession of something, or someone that does not belong to you. Covetous thoughts always proceed the sins of theft and adultery.

      It is very possible for a Christian man to look at nude images of a woman, experience the pleasure that God designed his brain to receive from the beauty of a woman’s body – and even for him to masturbate to a fantasy of having sex with her and he has not lusted after her(coveted her) – unless he is actually fantasizes about looking this woman up and seducing her into having sex with him outside of marriage.

      Let me re-frame what I have just said in slightly different way.

      I don’t know if you are married or not. But let’s say a good Christian man is dating you. Your relationship grows serious and he asks you to marry him. Would you say if he took a fully clothed picture of you, imagined you naked and masturbated to fantasies of what he though sex would be like with you on your honeymoon that he has committed adultery with you in his heart?

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