Masturbation is a topic that many wonder if the Bible addresses, especially given how commonplace and taboo it remains across faith traditions. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The Bible does not explicitly mention masturbation.
However, there are principles and interpretations that faith leaders have used to shape perspectives on it.
In this comprehensive article, we will analyze what the Bible does and does not say about masturbation. We will explore the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, unpacking verses that mention sexuality and lust.
Given the Bible’s silence on masturbation specifically, we will also look at different theological positions on it – from permittance to prohibition.
What the Bible Says About Sexuality and Lust
Old Testament Verses on Sexual Immorality
The Old Testament of the Bible contains several verses that address the topic of sexual immorality. In Leviticus 18:22, it states that “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” This verse is often interpreted as a prohibition against same-sex sexual relationships.
Additionally, in Exodus 20:14, the seventh commandment states, “You shall not commit adultery.” This commandment emphasizes the importance of fidelity and faithfulness within marriage. These verses, among others, provide guidance and standards for sexual morality in the Old Testament.
New Testament Verses on Sexual Immorality and Self-Control
The New Testament of the Bible also addresses the topic of sexual immorality and self-control. In 1 Corinthians 6:18, it states, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
This verse emphasizes the importance of avoiding sexual immorality and highlights the consequences associated with it. In Galatians 5:22-23, the concept of self-control is mentioned as one of the fruits of the Spirit.
This suggests that self-control is an important virtue when it comes to sexual desires and behaviors.
It is important to note that while the Bible does not directly mention masturbation, it does provide principles and guidelines for sexual behavior. The overarching message is one of abstaining from sexual immorality and exercising self-control in all aspects of life, including sexuality.
Each individual should prayerfully consider these biblical teachings and seek guidance from trusted religious leaders or mentors.
Theological Perspectives on Masturbation
Views Permitting Masturbation
Many modern Christian theologians and denominations take a permissive stance on masturbation, arguing that the Bible does not explicitly prohibit the act. Here are some of their key perspectives:
- Masturbation is a private act that does not harm anyone. The Bible emphasizes loving others, and masturbation does not contradict this principle.
- The story of Onan in Genesis 38 has been incorrectly interpreted as a prohibition of masturbation. Onan was punished for disobeying a command to provide an heir for his deceased brother, not for masturbating.
- Jesus’ teachings to look at a woman lustfully being akin to adultery (Matthew 5:28) refer to objectifying others, not private sexual behavior.
- Paul’s instructions to avoid porneia (sexual immorality) in 1 Corinthians 6:18 refer to exploitative sexual practices like prostitution, not masturbation.
- Masturbation can provide a moral alternative to temptation and sexual exploitation.
Groups and leaders who permit masturbation include the Catholic Church, James Dobson, Joshua Harris, and ethicist Scott B. Rae. They generally recommend moderation and that it does not become compulsive behavior.
Views Prohibiting Masturbation
Some traditional and conservative Christian groups argue that masturbation is a sinful act. Here are some of their typical arguments:
- Masturbation constitutes adultery with oneself according to Jesus’ teaching that lust is equivalent to adultery (Matthew 5:28).
- The story of Onan (Genesis 38) demonstrates that God condemns “spilling seed” through any sexual act not intended for procreation, including masturbation.
- Masturbation is a selfish act focused on physical pleasure that does not honor God or one’s future spouse.
- Masturbation can become psychologically and physically addictive, controlling people’s thoughts and behavior.
- Church tradition historically condemns masturbation as sinful, including early Catholic theologians and Protestant Reformers.
Groups that prohibit masturbation include the Assemblies of God, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Catholic Church’s Catechism prior to the 1970s. They encourage prayer, fasting, and accountability to resist temptation.
Masturbation in Judeo-Christian History and Tradition
Masturbation has had a complex history in Judeo-Christian traditions. While the Bible itself does not explicitly prohibit or condemn masturbation, interpretations of certain biblical passages have led some Christians throughout history to view masturbation as sinful.
However, perspectives on masturbation have varied significantly across different time periods and denominations.
Early Jewish Traditions
In early Jewish traditions, masturbation was generally seen as inappropriate and impure. The spilling of semen other than for procreative purposes violated religious law. However, masturbation was not treated as a major sin, and rabbis emphasized restraint over punishment for the act.
Some later rabbis also conceded that masturbation could serve as an alternative to more egregious sexual sins like adultery.
The Catholic Church has traditionally viewed masturbation as sinful based on the biblical story of Onan (Genesis 38:9-10). Catholic theologians sternly condemned masturbation as an unnatural and selfish act throughout the medieval and early modern periods.
However, views began changing among some theologians in the 20th century, and modern Catholic teachings emphasize moderation over condemnation.
While some early Protestant leaders like Martin Luther and John Calvin condemned masturbation, others believed it was not strictly prohibited by the Bible. Puritan preachers fervently warned against the evils of masturbation.
But by the 19th century, attitudes began to relax as masturbation was seen as a possible medical solution to prevent more serious sexual sins. Today, Protestant views vary greatly from denomination to denomination and individual to individual.
Contemporary Christian Debates
Contemporary Christianity is divided over theological and ethical debates regarding masturbation. Some see it as inherently sinful, others as acceptable in moderation, and still others as fully permissible based on their interpretations of scripture.
Increased medical and psychological understanding of masturbation has also influenced perspectives. Ultimately, Christian views remain diverse, personal, and reflective of broader cultural attitudes about sexuality.
Addressing Common Questions and Concerns
Is Masturbation a Sin?
This is a complex question that does not have a simple yes or no answer according to most modern perspectives. Historically, some faith traditions have condemned masturbation as sinful. However, today many religious leaders and scholars have adopted more nuanced views.
Most agree that masturbation in and of itself is not inherently sinful. However, they advise that it should be done in moderation and that one should avoid lustful fantasies that objectify others. Ultimately, one’s conscience and faith convictions should guide whether masturbation is right or wrong for them personally.
There are also health perspectives to consider. Many health professionals view masturbation as a normal and healthy practice. According to a national US survey, 95% of men and 89% of women have masturbated at some point in their lives.
Evidence shows that occasional masturbation can relieve stress and has certain medical benefits. However, too much masturbation may cause relationship or psychological issues for some people. Moderation and self-control are wise approaches.
Is Masturbation Normal and Healthy?
Research has shown that masturbation is quite common, especially among teens and young adults. According to a national survey, 74% of U.S. males ages 14-17 have masturbated at least once, as have 48% of females in this age group. Rates remain high but decline somewhat for older age groups.
So masturbation seems to be a normal part of human sexuality.
|Percentage Who Have Masturbated
|14-17 years old
|74% male, 48% female
|18-24 years old
|85% male, 63% female
|25-29 years old
|82% male, 58% female
In moderation, masturbation is considered healthy and can have benefits like improved mood, stress relief, better sleep, and increased self-knowledge. However, excessive masturbation may cause soreness or skin irritation. Pornography addiction is another unhealthy extreme to avoid.
How Can I Stop Feeling Ashamed?
It’s understandable to feel embarrassed or ashamed about masturbation at times, since self-pleasure is a sensitive topic. Here are some tips that may help:
- Remember that masturbation is normal and common for both males and females. You are not alone.
- Try to replace feelings of shame with self-love and self-acceptance. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Focus on the positive values like good health, self-care, and sexual self-knowledge.
- If excessive masturbation is causing you problems, seek help from a counselor or support group.
- Avoid making masturbation the center of your life. Keep your focus on meaningful relationships and pursuits.
Being open about your struggles with trusted friends or mentors can also reduce shame. Shame thrives in secrecy and isolation. Counselors stress that self-acceptance is an important part of a healthy attitude toward your sexuality.
The Bible does not explicitly mention masturbation. There are references to sexual immorality that faith traditions have interpreted in various ways regarding self-stimulation. While some permit and others prohibit masturbation, most agree bonding and intimacy solely with one’s spouse is the ultimate ideal.
Rather than focus on shame or doubt, reflect deeply on how to grow in self-control and save sexual connection for marriage. If you still struggle with compulsion or shame about masturbation, seek counsel from a pastor or therapist you trust.