By Beth Ann Baus, Crosswalk.com
Masturbation has gone from a taboo subject to a hot topic among Christians. Is it or is it not sinful? Are people who are married exempt?
Because the word masturbation doesn’t appear in scripture, some find it easy to argue this act is in no way sinful and can actually be a beneficial practice. While it’s true the word masturbation doesn’t appear in scripture, there are questions we should ask, biblical truths we should dig into, and logic we should consider.
The Problem with Masturbation, Even in Marriage
Masturbation feeds a self-centered desire and is typically something done in private. Because masturbation is essentially having sex with yourself, we must remember that sex wasn’t intended to be a private pursuit (1 Cor 7:2). God created sex to be a beautiful expression of love from one committed spouse to the other, as a reflection of the intimacy that God wants to have with the church. It was not designed to be a solo act.
I would also direct you to Ephesians 5:11-12, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” Perhaps for you, it isn’t private; maybe this has become a normal part of your routine and your spouse knows it and perhaps you’ve even engaged in self-gratification in front of one another.
To you, I ask, why would you choose to gratify yourself when your spouse is there, available, and has been given to you as a gift?
Here’s another example of the self-centered nature behind masturbation. You’ve had a stressful day or you’ve been faced with temptation (1 Cor 7:5), and you decide to engage in self-gratification. What happens next? Your spouse wants to enjoy you, but you can’t respond to your spouse because you’ve already pleased yourself.
Ask yourself, “Am I honoring God with this activity? Am I loving my spouse with this activity? Who am I putting first, me or my spouse?”
What Lies Does the World Tell Us about Masturbation?
First of all, did you know that May is National Masturbation Month? Planned Parenthood is quoted as saying this “holiday” is “a great opportunity to make time for yourself, get to know your body, and prioritize your sexual pleasure.” The world promotes this behavior because there are apparent “health benefits.” For instance, there is no risk of pregnancy or STDs associated with masturbation.
But these health benefits are also available through abstinence before marriage and through a monogamous healthy sex life with your spouse after marriage.
Another lie the world likes to spread, especially to Christians, is that masturbation can keep you from other sins. For instance, those who either use no visual stimuli or use imagery of their spouse, claim that regular masturbation keeps them from looking at pornography or going outside their marriage bed with another person.
The argument has also been made that regular self-gratification, done out of boredom, keeps the person from engaging in all sorts of other sinful activities, from over-eating to excessive alcohol consumption, or even the sin of being idle. To these lies I say, what about self-control?
Where masturbation is an act of instant, self-gratification, self-control is an act of obedience to our Holy God and a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)--an act that requires restraint, thought, intentionality, and delayed gratification.
Proverbs 25:28 says, “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.”
If the only way you can avoid other sin is by engaging in masturbation, I encourage you to find a safe person you can open up to about this, and ask for help finding more godly ways to cope with temptation. We cannot justify one sin by using it to avoid another.
Is it a Sin to Explore Your Own Body When You're Married?
Doesn’t it make sense that exploring your body and learning how to best bring yourself to orgasm would benefit your spouse and increase the pleasure in your marriage bed? Let’s consider 1 Corinthians 7:3-4, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
So, ask yourself these questions, “Doesn’t it make more sense to explore each other’s bodies? Why do that alone? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to do that together as a married couple? Wouldn't that vulnerability and selflessness only breed deeper intimacy?”
An argument that has been made in light of 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 is that if a husband and wife have authority over each other’s bodies, and they agree that masturbation is okay in their marriage, then why would it be sinful? Let’s assume there is no use of pornography or inappropriate mental imagery involved (Matt 5:28); the stimulation coming solely from touch and thoughts or imagery of the spouse.
If you question whether or not this act would be sinful, perhaps another question to ask is, is this wise? The reality is that we can train our bodies to respond to certain stimuli. After extended use of pornography people often find that they are only excited by erotic images and they struggle to respond to their spouse.
This can easily happen with masturbation as well. You can train your body to reach climax only after self-stimulation, which will ultimately leave your spouse disappointed and leave you returning to your self for gratification. To argue that there is no sin or risk of sin in this scenario is feeding a selfish desire.
The bottom line is, we should find our sexual satisfaction in--and only in--our spouse.
What about Sexting or Phone Sex in Marriage?
This is a good question. Let’s say your spouse is out of town and, in flirty fun, the two of you engage in consensual phone sex or something of the like, that leads you both to self-gratification. Is this sinful? Again, I would ask, is it wise?
For some, this occurrence could be harmless, and add a level of excitement to the marriage. For others, this could create an unhealthy desire that leads down a dark road of temptation and sexual sin (James 1:14-15). For specific situations like these, I would advise you to consider any sexual sin that has taken place in either of your pasts, any negative effects this might have on your marriage, and whether or not you are like-minded in your decision to engage in such an activity.
One spouse should never pressure the other to engage in any sexual activity that makes them uncomfortable or that goes against their conscience. Rom 14:23 tells us that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Romans 14:13 says, “let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”
Neither the husband or wife should be guilty of causing the other to sin by going against their conscience. Doing so would be an act of sin against your spouse and an act of rebellion against God.
We Must Remember What the Bible Says about Sex
Where there tends to be shame associated with masturbation, the marriage bed was designed as a place where shame does not exist. The marriage bed should be honored, cherished, and enjoyed as a gift (Heb 13:4). The marriage bed is a place to be visited and enjoyed often (1 Cor 7:5). The marriage bed is a place where unity happens--a place where two become one (Gen 2:24).
In other words, the marriage bed is a place for exploration, pleasure, unity, and delight. For the Christian, sex is an act of worship! Consider Proverbs 5:18-19, “Let your fountain be blessed, and 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.”
John Piper says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God. We are to see it. And worship Him. So it is with the breasts of our wives. Those breasts are telling us about the glory of God, the goodness of God, the beauty of God, and more. We are to see it and worship Him as we enjoy them.” Wives can say the same about their husband’s bodies.
We are to enjoy their bodies, to see the glory of God in them and worship God as we enjoy them! We are not to find fulfillment in our own bodies or through having sex with ourselves.
Saying we can justify masturbation because the Bible never uses the word is like saying we can justify abortion because that word also isn’t in scripture. However, we know that the Bible speaks very clearly on the value and sanctity of life (Gen 1:27), that murder is a sin (Ex 20:13), and that all life is valuable as the Lord God himself knit us together in our mother’s womb (Ps 139:13). With this knowledge, we can clearly conclude that abortion is wrong.
In the same way, we know what the Bible says about sex, that it is intended to be between a married man and woman, and that the goal of sex is to find satisfaction in your partner, not yourself (Prov 5:15-19) and to satisfy your partner, not yourself (Phil 2:3-4). Therefore we should conclude that masturbation is wrong as well.
Romans 13:14 says, “Instead clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don't let yourself think about ways to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Our sexuality is a gift from God and something to be enjoyed, but we must recognize when we are misusing that gift and making it about ourselves and our own satisfaction. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, whom we have received from God.
We are not our own, we were bought with a price. Therefore, we must honor God with our bodies (1 Cor 6:18-20).
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Prostock-Studio
Beth Ann Baus is a wife and mother of two adult sons. She is a freelance writer and author of Sister Sunday, My So Much More, and His Power, Our Weakness: Encouragement for the Biblical Counselor. In her writing, Beth often pulls from her own experiences of abuse, anxiety, depression and OCD. Beth has a heart for homeschooling, women’s ministry, and is an ACBC-certified Biblical Counselor. She loves serving alongside her husband and pointing couples to the Word for strengthening their marriages and home life. You can find more from her at www.bethannbaus.com.