Is Masturbation a Sin?

While Christian people of all ages and genders face this issue each and every day I think we could all agree the people who struggle with this the most are Christian teenagers. The sex drive during the teenage years is usually the strongest especially for men.

Young men struggle with not only the physical need to release their semen but also with sexual thoughts that continuously flow their minds.  Even many young Christian women struggle with this.

First let me assure you as a Christian young person (or older person) that you are not abnormal, perverted or weird for masturbating. Numerous surveys have proven that the vast majority of men and also many women masturbate. Another way of saying this is it is a very common and normal human behavior.

In this article I will first debunk some of the most common arguments against masturbation and then I will make some positive arguments for actually encouraging the practice of masturbation.

Do Christian churches condemn masturbation?

The Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is a sin.  I am not a Catholic (I am Baptist) but I have had Catholic friends tell me about this.  Basically the Catholic Church teaches that every emission of semen you have (except for nocturnal emissions which cannot be helped) must be in your wife’s vagina.  This is why the Church condemns masturbation even in marriage as part of sex between a man and his wife and they also condemn oral sex.

But the Catholic Church is not alone in its condemnation of masturbation – there are many Protestant Christian churches and teachers that also condemn masturbation.

Arguments against Masturbation

Now we look at the various arguments that Christian churches use to condemn masturbation and then answers those arguments.

Argument #1 against masturbation – God killed Onan for masturbating

A myth that has been pushed by churches for centuries is that God killed a man named Onan for masturbating.  They even took to calling masturbation the sin of “Onanism”.

In the Old Testament times there was a custom called Levirate Marriage which required a man to marry his brother’s wife if he died before giving her a son to inherit his estate.  The first child he had with his brother’s wife would not legally be his own – but his dead brother’s then other children he had with her after that would have been his.  This is the situation we find with a man named Onan in the Bible:

“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.” – Genesis 38:8-10 (KJV)

So Judah (Onan’s father) compels him to go and take Tamar (the wife of his dead brother) as his wife.  So the Bible says “he went in unto his brother’s wife” – this is direct reference to sexual intercourse.  But then while he was having intercourse with her “he spilled it on the ground”.  This is not masturbation – this was coitus interruptus or “pulling out”.

God was not saying here that either masturbation or even a man pulling out to avoid impregnating his wife was sin.  His sin was in his evil intention to have sex with his brother’s wife but not to give her a child. We find out later in the Scriptures that a man could refuse to take his brother’s wife although she could shame him for it – it was not considered an offense punishable by death.   But if you were to take your brother’s wife as your wife you could not have sex with her with the idea of purposefully denying her the child that you were to give her.  This was Onan’s offense.

So there is nothing from the story of Onan that backs up the common teaching in some Christian churches that God killed Onan for masturbating.

Argument #2 against masturbation – Masturbation is called “unclean” in the Bible

Some have tried to say the Bible calls masturbation “unclean” or in essence “dirty” because of the following passage from Leviticus:

“16 ‘Now if a man has a seminal emission, he shall bathe all his body in water and be unclean until evening. 17 As for any garment or any leather on which there is seminal emission, it shall be washed with water and be unclean until evening.

18 If a man lies with a woman so that there is a seminal emission, they shall both bathe in water and be unclean until evening.

19 ‘When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening.”

Leviticus 15:16-19 (NASB)

When the Bible calls something “unclean” in the Old Testament this did not automatically make the activity that made a person unclean sinful.  The Bible in this passage says three activities make people unclean temporarily until evening:

A man having an emission of semen by himself

A man having an emission of semen by having sex with his wife – she also becomes unclean but getting his semen on her body.

A woman having her period and if her husband comes in contact with her blood during her period he would become unclean.

So if we called a man sinful for having an emission of semen without having sex with a woman(through masturbation or nocturnal emission) then we would have to say a man having sex with his wife was sinful and a woman having a period was sinful.  None of these activities were considered sinful.  In fact the Bible in the book of Hebrews says sex between a husband and wife in marriage is called “undefiled”:

“Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

Hebrews 13:4 (NASB)

The primary purpose of the cleanliness laws of the Old Testament was to prevent diseases but also God used the cleanliness laws to teach his people about holiness.  It did not mean everything they had to wash after was sinful – it was simply a teaching tool.

The point is masturbation is never called a sin in the Bible.

You can read more on the subject of masturbation in my article “Is Masturbation a sin?” But now let’s move on to main question being asked here.

Argument #3 against masturbation – Masturbation is sin because God restricts all sexual activity to sex in marriage

Some Christians will say that masturbation is not wrong when a married couple engage in this toward one another as part of the larger act of sex.  These same people say that masturbating by one’s self whether before marriage or after marriage is sinful because all sexual acts must be when a married man and woman come together for sex.

There is no doubt that masturbation is a sexual activity.  I would even argue that sexual thoughts and fantasies is sexual activity even though it is only mental as opposed to masturbation which is a physical sexual activity.  Often times when people masturbate they are doing both of these activities – thinking sexual thoughts and also physically masturbating.

But the question is not whether masturbation is a sexual activity but whether God restricts all sexual activities to marriage.

I believe the following passage from the book of Hebrews answers this question for us:

“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” – Hebrews 13:4 (KJV)

Hebrews as well as the rest of the Scriptures show us that God restricts all sexual RELATIONS to be between a man and woman in marriage. God condemns other types of sexual relations between persons and even between persons and animals in several passages including Leviticus 18:22-23 & Romans 1:18-32.

This is why cybersex, phone sex and any other type of sexual relations between persons even if the relations are only mental and not physical are consider sinful.

When you masturbate by yourself you are not having sexual relations.  Relations require at least two parties.   Even if you were thinking of a member of the opposite sex and having a fantasy this is not sexual relations.  You cannot have relations with a fantasy – you can only have sexual relations with another living being.  See my articles on lust and sexual fantasy for more on these topics from a Biblical perspective.

Argument #4 against masturbation – We know masturbation is sinful because of the shame associated with it

Some Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) teach that one of the ways we know that masturbation is sinful is because many times people feel shameful about it. They say this is evidence that we know it is wrong even if the Scriptures do not clearly state it is wrong.

But this is a faulty argument. There are some things that we are private about that are normal bodily functions. When we have a bowel movement we don’t want to describe it to others or have them watch us do it.  We want to perform this bodily function in private.

My first wife actually had a great phobia about bowel movements because her mother shamed her about them.  She was so paranoid about leaving any smell in the bathroom that often times she would try to only go to the bathroom at school and other places and not at home.  She was especially ashamed if she was ever constipated and clogged up a toilet and her Dad had to unclog the toilet.

My point is just because we want to do certain things in private and we don’t want the whole world watching us does not make it wrong.  Most people would not want to have describe their bowel movements or have a bowel movement in front of an audience.

So the argument that if we feel shame about some bodily function or want it to be private that it must automatically be sin is extremely faulty.

Argument #5 against masturbation – Masturbation is wrong because we are not please ourselves

Another common argument against masturbation by some Christian teachers is that masturbation is wrong because they consider it to be a “selfish activity” and the Bible teaches that we are not to please ourselves.

The Bible nowhere condemns us a Christians from enjoying physical pleasure.  Whether it is eating foods we enjoy or going to a ball game.  It might be having sex with our wife.  Perhaps we like playing video games or we enjoy painting.  The Bible does not condemn us doing any of these things.

What the Bible does condemn is overindulgence in pleasurable activities and there is a word for this in the older English called “lasciviousness”.  Today we call it “sensuality”.  A person who is living in a lascivious or sensual way is a person who has made pleasure the central focus of their life.  They live not to serve God but only to experience the physical pleasures of this world.

So no you do not have to be ashamed of being aroused by members of the opposite sex or of masturbating because these things give you pleasure.  It is only when these things become the center of your life instead of just a part of your life that you do in moderation that they become sin.

Paul said this about not allowing anything to take over our life and take our focus off serving God and following his plan for our lives:

“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” – I Corinthians 6:12 (KJV)

See these articles “Is God against us enjoying physical pleasure” and “What is Lasciviousness?” for more on this subject of Christians and enjoying pleasure.

Arguments for masturbation

Now that we have examined and debunked some of the most common arguments against masturbation we will now look at positive arguments for actually encouraging people to masturbate.

Argument #1 FOR Masturbation – It could help your future or current sex life in marriage

Masturbation can a help a person to better understand how their body works and make a person more prepared for sexual relations in marriage.  Especially as it relates to women masturbation can be a powerful tool in helping women to understand how they climax as this is not as easy for most women as it is for most men.

Argument #2 FOR Masturbation – It can help keep you from ACTUAL sexual sin

Sexual fantasy and masturbation are not sexual sins – contrary to the assertions of many Christian teachers over the centuries. But masturbation and fantasy can help to keep a person from committing real sexual sins like premarital sex or adultery.

Masturbation helps to relieve the sexual stress that is normal in teens and young adults before they are married.  It can also help these same young people when they are dating if they masturbate before going on dates that this can take the edge off and help to reduce their temptation to have premarital sex.

In marriage masturbation (and by extension sexual fantasy) can help when one spouse is medical unable to have sex and the other needs some relief.  I can also help in other marital situations where sex may occur but it is less frequent than desired or the quality and enthusiasm of the spouse is lacking.

Conclusion

I have shown and answered some of the most common arguments the churches and various Christian teachers use to condemn masturbation. These arguments are all faulty and lack Biblical support. I have shown two strong argument to encourage the practice of masturbation instead of condemning it.

I would also encourage you to read an article I wrote on a little know passage of Scripture in Leviticus 15 about the subject of the cleanup of masturbation.  See my post “Did God command people to offer a sacrifice after sexual activity or periods?”

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