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Embracing Controversy: Christians and Masturbation

September 29, 2021

Masturbation is one of those issues where every Christian seems to have a strong opinion on it, yet nobody tends to discuss it. You may even be reading this thinking one of two things:

“How could someone call themselves a Christian and be pro-masturbation?”

or

“How could someone call themselves a Christian and be anti-masturbation?”

Chances are, as a Christian you fall into one of those two mindsets, and many Christians haven’t heard an opposing viewpoint to their own because of the shame attached with the topic of masturbation.

In this article, we are going to try and break that by presenting two opposing viewpoints, one written by a Christian who is anti-masturbation, and another who is pro-masturbation. The purpose in sharing these isn’t to say either is correct, but simply to start conversation by hearing a viewpoint that may differ from your own.

I also understand that there is more nuance to this topic and that your personal belief may be different than these two, and that’s ok. Read scripture, and seek guidance if this issue is one that you struggle with.

The Anti-Masturbation Argument:

Did you know I can read minds?  No? Well, I can.  I can tell you exactly why you’re reading this article right now and it has everything to do with masturbation.  Let me start off by lowering your expectations.  There won’t be anything in this post you likely haven’t already heard.  That being said you’ve probably come to this article in an attempt to clarify if masturbation is sinful.  Let me answer that in one of the only ways I know how; through memes.

As may be known, the Bible doesn’t speak about masturbation. In fact, the Bible doesn’t specifically talk about a lot of things.  However, the Bible’s silence on this subject shouldn’t be taken as blind acceptance of the act.  So the “Well yes…” comes from the reality that there is a lot behind the idea of masturbation, but the “…but actually no” comes from the reality that the Bible doesn’t actually mention masturbation anywhere within it’s pages.  

Why then is masturbation such a taboo topic that people don’t want to speak about but at the same time are sure is sinful?  It seems to be not the act itself but what is behind the act that drives what is the real issue: lust.  Lust is what can safely be assumed to be the drive behind 99.99% of masturbating experiences.  Even when the person claims to be doing so for health reasons, often times they will admit that in order to achieve their goal they must implore methods that involve lust as a means to an end. This is often done through one’s own imagination or through the assistance of a visual or auditory stimulation.

Lust Is The Heart Of The Question:

While masturbation isn’t spoken about in scripture, lust is. Lust, as well as aspects of human sexuality, is something the Bible speaks about often and gives direction on.  One of the verses that is quoted regularly in this discussion is from Jesus’ sermon on the mount found in Matthew 5:27-28

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

In Jesus’ day adultery was considered an extreme offense that was directly tied back to the commands God had given to His people in Exodus 20:14.  Adultery not only violated(s) God’s commands but also breaks the marriage covenant.  This covenant is seen as something very important as it is reflective of God’s relationship with His people. (Malachi 2:14; Ephesians 5:22-33).  In these verses, Jesus uses the words “epithumeó autos” which means “to lust after” or “desire after”.  

His point here, as well as much of the sermon on the mount, is not to add to the Old Testament law, but rather correctly interpret it.  He clarifies that the sin of adultery isn’t just about the action one commits by doing the physical deed, but rather it is directly tied to a person’s heart.  Lust starts in the heart.  It isn’t enough, Jesus says, to maintain a physical purity if you are still engaging in acts of unfaithfulness in your mind.

Jesus is clear that one commits the sinful act of adultery by allowing lustful thoughts to drive oneself by lusting after another individual.  But does lust automatically mean that one will masturbate? Jesus doesn’t make that connection and as such we should be very careful not to add to the words of Jesus.  Rather, we should take the truth He preaches and keep that in mind when interacting with the subject of masturbation.

Your Body Is A Temple:

So now that we understand that Jesus equates lust with adultery, we must ask the question if scripture says anything about what we do with our body.  If scripture speaks to how we handle our own bodies we will have a clearer picture of how to live out the truth Jesus teaches about lust as well.

In fact, Paul wrote to a number of churches about sexuality and how they handled themselves.  Most notably is the letter to the Corinthians when Paul had to address the topic of sexual purity and one’s own body.  They too lived in a culture that was sexually and morally confused.  Paul on a number of occasions wrote letters to answer the questions or to clarify points he had made in previous letters.  One such occasion we can read about is in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.  “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

There are number of verses here that connect to the topic of masturbation and lust.  The first is found in verse 12, in which Pauls tells them that though everything may be lawful for them not everything is helpful. He further unpacks his point by saying that the reason not everything is helpful to him is because it has the ability, if not checked, to dominate him.  In short, the activity that seems harmless and one has full freedom to participate in actually has the potential to, and in reality likely will, rule over them eventually.

Paul then moves on to explain what the body is for and who’s it is.  The Corinthians had the idea that the body was for pleasure and if one’s body craved something that’s what it was given.  If it wanted food, they gave it all the food they could find.  If it wanted sex, they did what they needed to do in order to fulfill that sex drive.  Get the picture?

So Paul clarifies this with correct teaching.  He explains to them that the body isn’t meant for sexual immorality (porneia), but instead it is to be used for the Lord.  He explains that, as believers, their bodies are members of Christ.  The word he uses for members (melos) communicates the picture of a limb or an organ that is deeply connected to one’s own body. 

He then closes this section by telling them to ‘flee from sexual immorality’ because all other sins are committed outside the body.  Sexual immorality, Paul says, is a sin against one’s own body.  A body that, if in Christ, is inextricably connected to Christ and is a temple for the Holy Spirit.  The assumption here is that when a believer understands that their body is the temple of God they will treat it differently, what they do will honor God.

Conclusion:

There are obviously a number of situations that one could bring into question in regards to masturbation.  Situations such as distance, time, and self-control within a person’s life and marriage are all valid questions that may be asked.  However, in light of what was covered the general answer, though it be a flyover one, is clear.  Does masturbation involve lust? Jesus teaches against lust and equates it to adultery. Does masturbation honor God with your body? One could imagine a number of twisted reasons for how it could, but in the end, one would be hard pressed to prove masturbation is honoring to God.

As believers, honor God with both body and mind.  Live one’s life in a pursuit of holiness so as to be set apart from the World and point to Christ.  This includes, but is not limited to, how the issue of sexuality is handled.

By Michael, aka @honestyouthpastor

The Pro-Masturbation Argument:

Sexual self-care. It’s hotly debated even to this day in some Christian circles. As a matter of fact, I’m told that on this very site wolves in sheeps’ clothing are attempting to deceive you into thinking this form of self care is a sin!

A bit dramatic? Glad you caught that. Please don’t take me seriously there.

The first thing that actually is worth saying on the topic of masturbation is that this isn’t a salvation issue. We can have different opinions on sexual self-care and still honor Jesus with our whole hearts.If masturbating is a stumbling block for you, don’t do it. If however, the stumbling block is the shame you carry from a lifetime of being told that sexual self-care is somehow wrong, then keep reading. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, and it’s time you’re free to enjoy how God created you.

Onanism 

First, let’s deal with the one and only verse in the whole bible that directly addresses anything remotely similar to masturbation. “Onanism” is an old school nickname for masturbation, and it comes from this dude named Onan in Genesis. Onan’s brother died, and according to God’s Law, Onan was obligated to have sex with his dead brother’s widow, in order to give him an heir to carry on his family line. Onan fulfills on the sex part, but he “spills his seed on the ground” in order to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant, because he knows the child would be considered his brother’s, not his (Gen 38:8-10). God is not cool with this at all, and he kills Onan. Some interpret this story as God punishing Onan for masturbating.

We won’t stay here long, because plenty has already been written on this, but most scholars (and frankly, anyone who just takes the bible for what it says here) agree that this story isn’t about masturbation. It’s about Onan not fulfilling his duty to God to carry on his brother’s family line. 

God promised Abraham that He would make good ol Abe’s descendants as numerous as the stars. God had a whole new way to be human that he wanted to demonstrate through the Jewish people, and the very first commandment he gives to humankind is to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). Then here comes this Onan guy, refusing to help Tamar carry on her family line. This isn’t a story about the wrongs of ejaculating on the ground (or into an ancient Hebrew sock); it’s about refusing to help multiply God’s people.  

Common Anti-Masturbation Arguments

So with the only verse specifically about spilling seed out of the way, and not a single other verse in the bible that addresses this topic directly, let’s address some of the most common arguments given for why masturbation is wrong: 

  1. “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a man can commit is outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.” (1 Cor 6:18-20) I have often heard sexual self-care lumped in with “sexual immorality” based on this verse. The argument goes that your body belongs to either God or your future spouse, therefore any sexual pleasure that you aren’t giving to your wife is sin. Frankly, I find this ridiculous. For starters, Paul never defines “sexual immorality” as referring to masturbation. He never addresses sexual self-pleasure in any of his writings. Next, why does being bought with a price, belonging to God, or being a temple of God, in any way equate to sexual self-pleasure being wrong? God made the pleasure you discover within your own body, so wouldn’t it be just as reasonable to take from this verse that we should flee sexual shame, because in rejecting the good gift of sexual self-pleasure, we reject the very way God designed us? Wouldn’t this be a sin against our very own body to reject how it was designed? 

We know that when God created naked bodies he called them “very good” (Gen 1:31) and they felt no shame about it (Gen 2:25). Neither Adam nor Eve is commanded not to enjoy their very good bodies–they are only commanded not to eat from the tree. Is it more likely that as a “temple of the Holy Spirit,” you were built to enjoy good gifts of God–including your own body–or that God wants you to work really hard to never look at, touch, or enjoy the most sacred parts of your temple? I would argue that to reject the good gift of your own sexual pleasure is to sin against your own body. Imagine being given a temple to worship God, filled with all sorts of musical instruments that will make glorious music just by touching them, then being forbidden to make music. That’s effectively what we do when we ignore the sexuality God built into our human temples of the Holy Spirit. If a temple is not used for worship and communion, is it even fulfilling its purpose? Perhaps “glorifying God with your body” means embracing the sexuality he designed you with. 

  1. “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife” (1 Cor 7:4-5) I’ve often heard this verse used in conjunction with the one we just covered to say that your body belongs to your future spouse, and therefore isn’t your own, so you have no right to touch it. So much harm has been done from the misapplication of these verses. The amount of young people I have counseled who believe others can do whatever they want with them because their body isn’t their own–or that date rape means they have to marry or stay with somebody because their body now belongs to that person–is staggering. 

First, this verse is NOT addressing single people at all. When Paul says “your body is not your own…” he is giving specific commands to people already married. Paul later in the chapter says “NOW, to the unmarried I say this…” (1 Cor 7:8, emphasis mine), meaning that up until this verse, Paul is not even addressing how to deal with sexuality outside the context of marriage. He isn’t talking to single people about their future spouses, he is addressing married people about an issue that relates to being married. Let’s not abuse Paul’s words to make them mean whatever we want them to mean.

Next, we need to keep in mind that 1st Corinthians is half of a two way conversation. We do not know what specific issue Paul is addressing within the Corinthian church here, but it would seem that there was an issue with spouses witholding sex as a form of punishment or manipulation. Let me be the first to acknowledge that using sex as a weapon to control is absolutely unbiblical and wrong. This is what Paul is speaking to here, not masturbation.

Last, we are commanded by Christ to love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). Your first responsibility is to your own body, and to loving yourself. How can you love your neighbor as you love yourself if you have trained yourself to ignore self-love? You are a human being with a sexual nature (unless God made you asexual or with the gift of singleness, but that’s a conversation for another day). If I have trained myself that it’s loving to ignore my sexual desires, sexual needs, and the good gift of my sexuality, then how will I one day learn to love my spouse? If we ignore, repress, and deny the good gift of our sexuality our entire lives, then what sort of sexuality do we have left to offer our spouse on our wedding day? If you desire to love your spouse one day, consider learning to love yourself sexually first, so you have a healthy and thriving sexuality to offer your spouse at the alter, You have a responsibility to love, protect, and cherish your entire self–sexuality included.

  1. Since it’s impossible to masturbate without lusting, then masturbation is a sin. Besides the fact that babies masturbate without lusting (more on that later), this assertion simply isn’t true for most human beings. This isn’t a biblical argument either. It’s simply an opinion that someone came up with that stuck. Some have combined masturbation with a porn addiction, and for them that assertion may be true. If you are addicted to porn, there are some incredible resources out there to help you find freedom. As a matter of fact, separating porn from masturbation may very well be a part of healing that addiction in the first place. It is possible to masturbate without lusting, but some folks may have to work at it, because we have been raised to sexualize not only other’s bodies, but our own too. Masturbation and lust are not the same thing, and there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that indicates otherwise. If you personally believe this statement is true, I’d encourage you to find a counselor or sex therapist to help you de-couple lust from masturbation in your own life, so you can enjoy the freedom God meant for you to have in your life.

Designed for Self-Pleasure

So now that we’ve dealt with some of the most common misuses of scripture on this topic, let’s get into how to build a Christ-centered ethic on sexual self-care. Since there are no verses on the topic we can directly point to, we will build this ethic on biblical principals rather than proof-texts. It’s a far healthier approach to scripture anyways.

Psalm 139 says that God knit you together in your mother’s womb, you are fearfully and wonderfully made and he gave you the gift of your body. Did you know that while you were in there being knit together, before you even took your first breath, you were masturbating? It’s true. Masturbation has been observed in utero, and at every age from infancy to adulthood. Saleema Noon, a sex educator based out of Vancouver states that “We don’t have extensive research on infant masturbation, but from the research we do have, we know that it’s common.” She even goes on to say that this self gratification behavior has even been seen via ultrasound in utero. (https://www.todaysparent.com/baby/baby-health/do-babies-masturbate/) Masturbation is more native to the way God made you than speaking is. It isn’t deviant, or a result of temptation or lust. God allowed you to self-soothe, to care for yourself sexually, even while he was still forming your fingers. 

Some folks intent on denying God’s gift of masturbation may reply that this behavior is a result of the fall, and that we only do this because of our “sinful nature” or some such hullabaloo. Alright then, onto the next beautiful bit of creation: The Clitorus! 

Here, in this small bit of nerve tissue, we uncover the mystery of who we were created to be. (Non-clitorus-carrying-folks, don’t worry too much. The penis is just a clitorus that underwent some major testosterone transformation in the womb. Basically, you have one too, it’s just bigger. It’s true! Ask your sex-ed teacher!) The “sinful nature argument” folks typically will admit that the basic anatomy of human beings is God’s design. God made us male and female is a long-running favorite of this crowd! Well, let’s start there then, shall we? The clitorus is not a “deformity” or some part of the fall; it is part of God’s design for a human female body. That said, did you know that your clitorus has absolutely no useful function except to bring you pleasure? It isn’t needed for reproduction. It exists exclusively for the purpose of creating pleasurable sensation and orgasms. The penis combines the function of the clitorus with some good old fashioned urinary plumbing and sperm transportation, but not the clitorus.

In the very foundational design of the human body, God placed an organ that begins bringing human beings sexual pleasure from before even first breath. When God hand-formed Adam from the dirt, God gave him a pleasure-creating penis, and when He hand-formed Eve from Adam, God included a clitorus exclusively so Eve could enjoy her sexuality. Nearly every female bodied human ever since has one too. 

To think of Eve being reprimanded by God for self-soothing by scratching an itch on her back is utterly silly, so why do we assume God would do so if she self-soothed by touching another part of her body? 

Paul tells us in Romans 1 that the divine attributes of God are clearly seen through creation itself (Rom 1:20). The “very good” sexual organs we begin using for sexual self-care as early as the womb are part of that Divine Plan. Their creation reveals that masturbation is not a sin, but a gift. 

Why Isn’t Masturbation in Scripture?

So, if this is the case, why doesn’t God tell us to masturbate in scripture? Well, why doesn’t God tell us to breathe in scripture? Where is the verse where God commands us to drink water, or to enjoy dancing? We see God telling us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) and to ask for a drink of his Living Waters (John 4) but he never directly commands us to do the things which are natural to our humanity. Rather, God gives us the good gifts of our bodies, of each other, of fruit and plants and pets and cheesecake, of warm beach days and soft kisses, of sunrises and Grand Canyons, then sets us free to enjoy them. Scripture says that it is for freedom sake that Christ set us free (Gal 5:1) and that every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord (James 1:17). Your sexuality is a good and perfect gift, given by God, designed for pleasure. You were given this gift before you were even born. It’s a part of your first responsibility God ever gave you: to care for, love, cherish, and protect the Temple of the Holy Spirit called “your body.” 

You were made for sexual self-care, therefore, honor God with your body. Enjoy worshipping with your temple, and love yourself with the same love you hope to one day give to your spouse. 

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He cause His face to shine upon you.

by: Karsten aka @realhoperising

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