What About the 'M Word'?
Honest Talk About Masturbation
Question: What do I tell the guys I’m discipling about masturbation? I’m just not sure how to counsel them on this issue. And now a girl in my youth group told me she struggles with this too.
Answer: Christian leaders don’t agree about masturbation and whether it is sinful. This is because (1) it is not specifically mentioned in the Bible and (2) it is not directly condemned. (True, but neither is smoking pot or shooting heroin!) And many big denominations including the Southern Baptist Convention do not have an official policy on masturbation. It is something many Christians never address. It’s seen as a very private and embarrassing topic.
But let’s face it: A lot of guys do it, even married guys. And many Christian guys who masturbate feel ashamed of their habit. Here are a few principles I think we can agree on as we develop a healthy view of masturbation:
1. It is normal for young guys to explore their bodies and experiment with masturbation.
Many teenagers engage in masturbation because they are learning how their bodies work sexually. God created sex, and the only way a guy will understand how to have sex when he gets married is if he is familiar with his sexual response. It’s okay for you to understand the biological impact of sexual stimulation. It is normal for a man to have an erection, or to have wet dreams in his sleep. This is part of growing up. It is not healthy for us to tell teenagers that having an orgasm is sinful, or that they will go to hell if they masturbate.
2. Masturbation can become an addiction.
Some people end up getting obsessed with masturbation because it relieves stress, helps them overcome loneliness or because they get addicted to the pleasurable feeling. This is not healthy because it can cause a person to become selfish and focused on self-gratification. It can also open the door to lust and sensuality. Our goal is to grow up and become mature men of God. Paul the apostle said in 1 Cor. 13:11 that when he became a man he “put away childish things.” Masturbation is childish. Your goal should be to grow up and channel your sexual energy in a mature way—either through sex when you are married or through celibacy if you are single.
3. Masturbation is often accompanied by pornography, and this is not acceptable behavior for a Christian.
The Bible clearly condemns immorality, which is sexual behavior with a person who is not your husband or wife. The Greek word for immorality used in the Bible (1 Cor. 6:18; Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:3) is porneia, which is the root word for "pornography." If you view pornography you are allowing sexual sin to contaminate your spirit. You are participating in the sins of the people who are performing in pornographic photos or videos. You should get rid of any pornography you own and make every effort to resist looking at it.
4. A husband should not masturbate as a way to avoid sex with his wife.
Some married men who are addicted to masturbation actually prefer to gratify themselves instead of having sex with their spouses. This is often because they have looked at a lot of pornography, and they cannot be fully aroused without it. This is selfish and immature, and it can lead to serious marriage problems. A man who does this is withholding what is due to his wife. The Bible tells married people in 1 Cor. 7:1-4 that they have a sexual obligation to each other.
5. Masturbation can cause a person to develop a bondage to the flesh.
Romans 8:6 says: “The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” One goal of the Christian life is to develop a life of purity in heart and thoughts. Although masturbation may not be sinful in all cases, it is best to avoid it so you can learn to master your sinful desires. If you want to grow in your relationship with God, then you must yield your body and your mind to God in every area.
6. Masturbation is really about the mind.
When we are tempted by sexual thoughts, these can pull us in the direction of masturbation. So if you want to live a life of sexual purity, learn to control your thoughts with the Word of God. Philippians 4:8 says: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” That means you should not be allowing lustful thoughts to fill your mind. Ask God to help you think pure thoughts, and masturbation will not be as much of a temptation.
7. You can find cleansing from God if you have become a slave to masturbation.
If you do masturbate and feel guilty, run to Jesus and confess your weakness to Him. He will cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and restore you to close fellowship with Him. If you find that you cannot break free from your habit, and you want freedom, you need to confess your problem to a stronger brother. James 5:16 says you can be healed if you confess your sins to someone else. Be honest and seek help.
There are still other questions that haven’t been answered:
- Is it okay for a married man to masturbate if his wife is sick or unable to please him sexually?
- Is it okay for an older Christian guy to masturbate if he is single?
- Is it possible to masturbate without thinking of immoral thoughts or looking at pornographic images? And if so, is this sinful?
A few years ago, respected Christian family counselor James Dobson said he felt it would be better for a young guy to masturbate before a date (if he feels really aroused) than to risk getting involved in sex with his girlfriend. Dobson’s view was that he would rather his son masturbate than to commit fornication or get a girl pregnant. I would agree with Dobson that fornication is a much more serious sin than masturbation.
Bottom line: In cases like these, the best answer is to allow your conscience to guide you. If you feel condemned or separated from God because of masturbation, then you should seek to overcome this habit and pursue a life of purity. Spend time in prayer, develop close friendships and give yourself to the work of God so that you don’t have time to waste doing things that are questionable. Most of all, seek to grow in your relationship with Christ so that you will glorify Him in every way. I have found that guys who are filled with the Holy Spirit and who throw themselves into evangelism and the work of the ministry do not get easily sidetracked by habits like masturbation. The best solution is to cultivate a strong relationship with God so that nothing can distract you!