Is Masturbation a Sin?

I’m going to post a few blogs on sexual temptation (I’ve already done one). What prompts me to do this is that in the last six weeks a young man asked me, “What do I do about feeling really ashamed?” A young woman asked, “What do I do about my boyfriend who is struggling with porn?” Another young woman asked, “What do you do if you feel really sinful?” Then I got an email from a student saying that he had been looking at some stuff that was “wicked” on the Internet. Then, this morning, I received a note from a fellow who wrote: “I wonder at times if God forgives me still. I don’t want to take advantage of his mercy. I feel very bad. After I sin I either run from God or run to God as in reading the Bible. But then I call myself a hypocrite. I’m emailing you because I need help, I question my relationship with God, and I want to stop.”

I’ve been asked these types of questions many times and my heart really goes out to the struggling Christian. I’d like to have something in print to refer them to. I’m going to need to do this over several blogs because there is much to say.

So why not begin with masturbation?

Statistics. Statistically speaking (yes, I’ve looked up the stats and no I don’t intend to footnote them), a large majority of men masturbate. Even a majority of married men masturbate. Although not a majority in either case, many women masturbate as do many married women. By the way, that married men and married women might masturbate tends to freak out the unmarried: “Why would they need to?!” I’ll talk more about that later. Anyway, that so many people masturbate is helpful to know because many Christians wonder if it is only they. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 13:10: “There is no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” So, if this is a struggle for you—take heart—there aren’t enough stadium seats in the world to hold all the Christians who have struggled with it.

Sin? People ask if masturbation is a sin. The answer to this is a little complex. The reason it’s complex is the Bible doesn’t mention masturbation whatsoever. It is true that some have tried to apply various verses in an effort to make sure everyone thinks it’s a sin but the verses are yanked out of context. I’ll give one example. Many have called masturbation “Onanism” after Onan in Genesis 38 who pulled out of his wife Tamar and spilled his sperm on the ground so he wouldn’t give her a child (he didn’t want to split up his inheritance). That’s not masturbation—it’s a birth control technique (and not a very good one). Anyway, when the Bible is silent on an issue, we shouldn’t be making up our own rules either way. This kind of thing is commonly called a gray area.

That being said, there are other principles that come into play: like lust! Masturbation may not be specifically condemned in Scripture but lust is clearly condemned. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Does that settle it? No. Christians ask if it is okay to masturbate if they don’t lust. For example, when I spoke to our undergrads on sexual temptation, a girl asked, “If a husband was in the military, could he and his wife masturbate while they were talking to each other on the phone?” Umm…

That would depend on another principle: keeping a clear conscience. We must always keep a clear conscience. Paul told Timothy to hold “on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19). So, even though the Bible doesn’t specifically condemn masturbation, if your conscience isn’t clear about it, then you shouldn’t do it anyway. But, as with every gray issue, if the Bible is silent about a particular act, and no other sin is involved with it, and one’s conscience is clear about it, then it wouldn’t be a sin for that person.

One young woman blogged that it would be impossible to masturbate without lusting. Makes me smile. How would she know that? One young man proclaimed to a seminar I was teaching that no one could keep a clear conscience and masturbate. Again I smile (but not at the time because I didn’t want to embarrass him).

But there is one last thing to consider. If a person is married, masturbation could become a substitute for a sexual relationship with that person’s spouse—and that’s bad. Married people should be having sex with each other! As I mentioned above, those who haven’t married are shocked that masturbation could even be an issue for someone who has an available sexual outlet. Well, there’s a problem that relates to sex between married couples that a lot of not-yet-married people haven’t considered. Namely, often married people aren’t getting along with each other and if they aren’t getting along, then sex just isn’t something they are going to want to do with each other. Thus, many married people often choose solo sex. Of course, that’s hurtful to the marriage because, frankly, they need to be motivated to work out their differences and the desire for sex can be a great motivator. Married people need to learn to settle their differences, forgive each other, romance each other, and then enjoy each other. Solo sex is a sign that something needs to be fixed in the relationship.

Thus I am neither condemning nor condoning masturbation. Why? Because the Scripture is silent. Masturbation won’t be an issue once you get control of your lusts and I’m talking about that next.

More to follow.

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


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5 Responses to Is Masturbation a Sin?

  1. Dr. Jones,
    Thank you for posting this. We, as followers of Christ in a community of believers need to be more open and aware of this problem. It’s something the local church is either unwilling to explore or ill-equipped to handle; maybe both. Yet, it’s something which is dealt with and discussed repeatedly in Scripture. I look forward to following this thread!



  2. Brandon says:

    As one who has struggled heavily with this question, I’d have to still say I think its hard to masturbate without having lustful thoughts. I mean think about it, could one desire to relieve themselves without first having something to prompt that desire? Many times, even in my experience, it is lust. A thought comes in to my head that gets me thinking about sexual things, causing lust. If I don’t have those images or thoughts enter my mind, I have no desire to masturbate. They just seemed to be intimately connected in a such a way that one is almost necessary to cause the other. I am thankful for the discussion though. This is something that we as Christians need to be more open about.

    • clayjones says:

      As you’ll see in a future blog, Brandon, that’s why I put the emphasis on contolling lust. If Christians get control of lust then masturbation won’t be a problem.

  3. That Guy says:

    Well, I think we all blushed a little bit reading that, but thanks for being willing to discuss such a topic.

    Question – what if your wife has a lower libido than you do? I know that’s fairly common, but in my case I’d like to be intimate several times a week, while my wife is satisfied if it’s only every 7-10 days. Honestly, I think she could go even longer than that and not blink. I’m a generous husband, I know sex is more often than not a gratifying experience for her. But once the euphoria wears off, it’s hard to get her heated up again, or at least as often as I’d like. If I’m too frisky, I get rebuffed.

    I’ve talked to her about this and it hasn’t seemed to make a difference. Maybe I could stand to work on my romancing skills, but we are both extremely involved with young kids and church life. I just feel stuck. I don’t yield to the temptation to masturbate, but the temptation can feel almost overwhelming at times.

    What I don’t want is for my wife to feel compelled to have sex with me in order to get me to cool off. It should be that to some extent, but I want her to feel wanted for more than just the release I get from being with her and from speaking with her don’t seem to be effectively communicating that with her.

    I think our marriage will be better working through this together, but it’s been years and we just haven’t quite connected around this issues, it’s been a sore spot for some time. Any advice is appreciated.

  4. clayjones says:

    Wow, Guy, that is one common complaint! Advice? Make sure you love her, romance her (don’t let your busy schedule become an excuse not to), when you do have sex make sure she is having as much fun as you are, and then be patient! Don’t let it become a “sore spot” but be thankful for what God has given you. Remember, there are a lot of unmarried men out there and there are a lot of married men who have wives that never want to have sex with them.

    I have a relative who tells other relatives that they don’t greet him warmly enough. Do you know how hard it is to greet someone warmly that is judging just how warmly you greet him? Same with your wife. If she sees sex with you as “he never thinks I do enough for him” then she’s not really going to want to have sex with you at all. See what I mean?

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