All over the world, there are males and females of age (depending on their level of maturity and exposure to sensual materials/experiences), who engage in the sexual activity referred to as masturbation. In some instances, it’s not in secret when done by adults to elicit a sexual response from either their partner or from an audience (such as those in so-called “gentlemen’s clubs” and sex parlors). Masturbation is embraced by today’s society as something wholly private—no one’s business but their own. It is often depicted in movies and other media as a release for someone in need. Our question—is masturbation a sin?
Does the Bible Address Masturbation as a Sin?
The Bible does address masturbation, despite what detractors may say. Leviticus 15:1-18 speaks directly to a man’s emission of semen. Verses 13-15 state the one who has been cleansed after the offense is to present either two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest who offers them as a sin offering to the Lord (one is presented as a burnt offering, and both are made as atonement for the sin).
Some may say Leviticus doesn’t apply to us today. But the Old Testament will never be outdated, for all Scripture is inspired and useful (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God gave the Law to reveal sin (Romans 3:20).
Masturbation—there is more at work here than just a robotic act. It is a covetous desire which falls outside God’s loving design. Masturbation is like a pressure cooker. Some pressure is released, but the water is still boiling. One man who was immersed in the sin of porn and masturbation says it’s like gratifying himself to a corpse, using another person’s image as a means to an end. But immersion in the practice becomes an endless cycle of tension, relief, and guilt. There is no fulfillment in the act, unlike the one he gains from a godly and joyful marriage. Sex, as God designed it, is good, and it is to be an honest, relational act of love between and husband and his wife. Those are the boundaries as set by the Lord. Masturbation is a selfish act that satisfies one’s temporal, sinful desires.
What Does the Bible Teach about Sex?
The Bible commands us to be godly stewards of our bodies and our minds. Godly means acting in accordance with God’s intended design. Such a steward does not practice nor justify the habit of selfish, worldly activities such as masturbation.
A look through a concordance offers many passages reflecting how God views sexual immorality, which is any deviation from His intended design for sex (within marital relationships and regarding its method). Its Greek root word is porneía, from which we get the word, pornography.
An in-depth study would be a beneficial follow-up to reading through these verses (There are many more references than included below.):
1 Peter 2:11 - (Abstain from the passions of the flesh.)
Galatians 5:19-21 - Sexual immorality is a work of the flesh and the one who partakes is liable to lack entry into the kingdom of God.)
Hebrews 13:4 - (The marriage bed is to remain undefiled.)
Matthew 15:19 - (Out of our wicked hearts ensues such things as sexual immorality.)
Acts 15:20 - (Abstain from sexual immorality.)
1 Corinthians 5:11 - (Other believers are told not to associate with one who is sexually immoral.)
1 Corinthians 10:8 - (Don’t engage in sexual immorality as some did and 23,000 fell in one day.)
Ephesians 5:3 - (Sexual immorality must not even be named among believers.)
Ephesians 5:5 – (The sexually impure will have no part in the kingdom of God.)
Positive commands and statements regarding sex and sexual behavior from the Bible include:
Genesis 2:22, 25 – (God called everything He made good.)
Genesis 2:24 – (The husband and wife will be united as one, this includes their sexual union.)
1 Corinthians 7:3-5 - (A husband belongs to his wife, and she belongs to him, and they are not to withhold intimacy from each other.)
Song of Solomon – (The whole of this book is centered on the love and intimacy between a husband and wife.)
Ephesians 5:28 – (A husband is to love his wife as his own body.)
How does masturbation affect the one engaged in it and others? Masturbation replaces a healthy sexual encounter between a husband and wife with selfish behavior meant to gratify only the participant. In God’s design, sex is for the other spouse. It’s not for oneself. Masturbation is driven by adulterous desire and imagination. If a husband or wife seeks any kind of sexual gratification involving a lust for another person outside of their marriage bed, they are guilty of adultery. Even if a spouse masturbates to the thoughts and desires of their own spouse, it’s still sinful because it deprives the other spouse as the rightful recipient (as decreed by God) of sexual fulfillment.
The marriage bed is to be kept unspoiled (Hebrews 13:4).
Those caught up in masturbation may also have a desire for a gratification they feel needs met, yet without an image to spur their lustful act. Even if not accompanied by lustful images, the mere act of masturbation is still a sin because it violates God’s mandate for a person’s sexuality.
As far as singles are concerned, the cycle of pornography-fed masturbation destroys the participant’s healthy desire for a real relationship and can also impact their function as a lover if and when they marry. They are required to protect and save their sexuality for their spouse. Desire does not change that; Scripture calls for self-control (1 Peter 4:1-5).
How Can Christians Encourage Others Who Struggle with Sexual Sin?
The Scriptures are very clear about what to do when someone is caught in a sin of any kind. Galatians 6:1 directs the ones who are walking in the Spirit to restore the sinner with gentleness and humility. The sin must first be exposed and/or confessed. If a Christian, they might have a sinful season, but ultimately the love of Christ will cause them to reveal their sin so it can be cut out of their life. It is imperative that the one who comes alongside the sinner is “spiritual” (one who is governed by the Holy Spirit and therefore is not walking in the same sin). Furthermore, it is most helpful to be in close contact with other believers who have overcome the same struggle (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Photo credit: Unsplash/Jonathan J Castellon
How Can We Confront Someone in Love?
We assume that when the sin of masturbation is revealed, it is to a close brother/sister, or to a beloved family member. Whether the sinner is caught or confesses, there will be dismay. Yet the Bible says confession may bring healing, for a righteous person’s prayers are profitable as they work (James 5:16). For our purpose, we will assume an offender is a believing man, (although women may also masturbate). When you discover your beloved one’s sin, the first thing to do is listen. The offending spouse will, more than likely, be embarrassed and ashamed. Tell him he is safe. If you are his wife, think of your vows; you promised before the Lord to love him “for better and for worse.” This qualifies as, “for worse.” It will be hard—very hard—yet hopefully with many prayers, your husband will repent and seek the Lord for redemption and reconciliation. Masturbation is an egregious, selfish act, and your husband has put himself in the place of God and has damaged his own capacity for intimacy. He has also robbed you of the intimacy you deserve as his wife (1 Corinthians 7:3). He has committed adultery. There’s no getting past that.
What do you do next? You forgive him and mean it, and you tell him you do. This does not imply you forget, because measures must be taken to avoid its recurrence. It will be easy to fall into vengeance because the pain of a shattered heart makes a wife lose hope because you’ve been betrayed. Good Lord willing, he will cooperate as you both grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ—together. Your husband has first sinned against God (Genesis 39:9, Psalm 51:1-4). He must “get right” with Him and submit to God’s will, not his. You too, as his wife, if you have valued your husband’s love and care above God’s, must humble yourself before the Lord and ask Him for forgiveness.
Open communication and tenderness are paramount as you work through this. Ask him to confess everything. That’s going to hurt, but for healing to begin, everything must be “laid out on the table.” More often than not, pornography is involved, and your husband will have not only resources but images in his head that are hard to forget. Cut off all the avenues that expose pornographic or suggestive images (internet access, magazines, Smart TVs, etc.).
Proverbs 5:15 tells a man, “Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well.” A husband is to take all his sexual and affectionate delight in his wife. His passion for the outlet of masturbation is to be replaced with the biblical mandate to “rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18b-19, emphasis added).
God is able to keep you from falling. Don’t forget when you walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:15-16).
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes
Lisa Loraine Baker is the award-winning author of Someplace to Be Somebody (End Game Press, February 2022). Lisa writes fiction and nonfiction and is currently co-writing a Christian living book with her husband, and a suspense novel.
Lisa is a member of Word Weavers, Int’l (as a critique partner and mentor), AWSA, ACFW, Serious Writer Group, and BRRC.
Lisa and her husband, Stephen, inhabit their home as the “Newlyweds of Minerva” with crazy cat, Lewis.