What Does the Bible Say About Masturbation? Is Self Satisfaction a Sin?

The subject of masturbation is frequently avoided or ignored, particularly in discussions involving youths and young adults.

Yet, it’s so important to have an open and honest conversation about this act that so many grapple with.

In this post we’ll look at masturbation in the Bible, talk about whether or not touching yourself is a sin, and offer some hope for those who feel stuck in a cycle of self gratification.

Masturbation and Self Satisfaction in the Bible

The Bible doesn’t explicitly mention masturbation or self-satisfaction. But there is one place where some think it may be alluded to in the Law:

If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water and be unclean until the evening.

Leviticus 15:16

This certainly refers to what happens as a result of masturbation (explicitly referring to men here), but also what happens during sex, as well as wet dreams. It’s more likely that God and Moses were referencing sex here, but I suppose there’s a chance it was referencing masturbation.

It’s also really important to note that this is a purity law – having an emission of semen didn’t make someone unholy, it made them unclean. We’ll look more at this below.

Is Masturbation a Sin in the Bible?

So is masturbation a sin?

First, let’s address the text above from Leviticus. An emission of semen made an Israelite man unclean, and there’s a clear distinction throughout the Torah between an act that makes one unclean and a sin. There’s a difference between cleanliness and holiness. Sin makes us unholy, while acts that reveal our human weakness or have us brush shoulders with death make us unclean. This is a deeper conversation for another time, but we wanted to make that clarification.

Now, back to the question at hand.

Is it wrong to masturbate, or in other words, touch yourself in a way that feels good? We would say yes, the Bible depicts masturbation as sinful. There are a few reasons we believe this to be true.

It’s Tough to Masturbate without a Lustful Thought

Jesus makes it clear that our lustful thoughts are as sinful as actually committing adultery.

“You have heard that it was said,  ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Matthew 5:27-28

To experience the pleasure of masturbation, people often imagine situations that are sexually exciting. This can be fueled by thoughts, pictures, movies, stories, or even real individuals. Unfortunately, these thoughts often involve objectifying men or women, treating them as objects rather than real people with feelings. In a respectful relationship, a woman would be an active, consenting participant in our thoughts, which isn’t the case in masturbation.

Is it possible to masturbate without a lustful thought in mind? Perhaps. It’s certainly up for discussion. But I would say it’s unlikely. This could be debated all day, but it’s not the only reason we feel masturbation is unwise for the Christian.

God Designed the Marriage Bed for All Righteous Sexual Acts

Sexual expressions are a good gift of God (1 Timothy 4:2–5) that men and women are to enjoy only in the context of marital intimacy (Genesis 2:23; Song 8:4–6; 1 Corinthians 7:2–3; Hebrews 13:4).

When people reach for orgasm outside the covenant of marriage, it becomes separated from the intimacy-creating act it was meant to be.

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

Hebrews 13:4

For those who are married, masturbation may certainly fuel some desire for a spouse, but it also takes sexual energy (among other things) away from the marriage bed. It robs the spouse, and it reinforces the idea that, “I am in control of my own pleasure and satisfaction. I don’t need my spouse.”

The Answer to Sexual Desire is Self-Control or Marriage

Although Paul doesn’t specify masturbation anywhere in the New Testament, he repeatedly tells the church to flee from sexual immorality at all costs.

  • “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5)
  • “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:5–6)
  • “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:5)

So whether it’s oral sex, heavy kissing, or heavy petting / touching outside of marriage – Paul tells us to steer clear. And Paul is clear that in this effort to flee or put to death immoral sexual desires, the answer is not to take things into your own hands. He puts two solutions forward: self-control and marriage.

‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . . Come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

1 Corinthians 7:1–3, 5

What’s So Wrong with Touching Yourself?

Okay, so maybe you agree that masturbating as a married person can be sinful, and masturbating while lustfully thinking about people who aren’t your spouse can also be sinful – but what’s the big deal? Can’t I touch myself a little bit, feel a little pleasure, and move on? Doesn’t God want me to experience pleasure?

In addition to the three points above, we’ll offer one more here: masturbation and touching yourself can be slippery slopes into more and more sexual immorality. There’s no denying it “awakens” sexual desire in us and stimulates the mind and body. With masturbation comes big releases of serotonin, making it enjoyable and addictive – and leaving us wanting more.

So what starts as harmless “exploration” can quickly turn into darker and more harmful sexual acts.

Don’t Be Bound to Masturbation

The Bible speaks strongly about making room or giving way to fleshly desires.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.

Colossians 3:5–6

If you feel “stuck” – first of all – know that it’s okay. Occasionally stumbling doesn’t make you a terrible person, disqualify you from following Jesus, or even from ministry. But if you find yourself bound to it, unable to go a few days without masturbating, our first advice would be to seek help. Make sure you’re not hiding it in the dark. Confess and repent.

Second, lean into the Holy Spirit’s power. Ask Him for help. Beg for self control by the strength of the Spirit.

Third, put up some guardrails for yourself along the way. Try not to be alone at home for long periods of time. Avoid shows, movies, and social media that might lead you into temptation. Keep an open dialogue with friends who care for you.

There’s plenty of hope. Don’t despair.

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