Is Masturbation a Sin?

Let’s be clear, masturbation is an act of instant, self-gratification. It is quite the opposite of the self-control that we are constantly reminded of in the Bible. Self-control is an act of obedience to our Holy God and a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) an act that requires restraint, thought, intentionality, and delayed gratification.

Heather Riggleman
is masturbation a sin

Ah, the dreaded M-word, masturbation. It has become a hot topic in the Christian community, and, at the same time, it is still very taboo. Our culture refuses to talk about it and those who do assume we already know the definitive answer. We cannot have a healthy attitude about sexuality if we refuse to talk about it. 

Why not elsewhere? Because the culture has not only embraced masturbation, it even has its own month to be celebrated. Planned Parenthood and Cosmo tell the masses to embrace your sexuality and enjoy masturbating because you can avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancy. But they neglect to state that sexual purity and abstinence do the same thing. 

Before we dive in any further, let’s define what masturbation is. Masturbation is the experience of sexual orgasm produced by self-stimulation for sexual arousal and pleasure. There is an old joke, "98% of people masturbate, and the other two percent are lying." But here’s the deal friends; 98% is an exaggerated figure, in recent anonymous surveys, over 70% of men and over 40% of women admitted to having masturbated at some point in their lives. Let’s be clear, masturbation is an act of instant, self-gratification. It is quite the opposite of the self-control that we are constantly reminded of in the Bible. Self-control is an act of obedience to our Holy God and a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) an act that requires restraint, thought, intentionality, and delayed gratification.

Is Masturbation in the Bible?

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.” 

Proverbs 25:28 says, “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls. But where in the Bible does it point to masturbation as a sin? Well, it doesn’t. The closest we can come, in that context, is sexual immorality and lust.

Let’s break these two concepts down before we move on. Sexual immorality is a sin. (Ephesians 5:3, Colossians. 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3) Lust is a sin. (Proverbs 6:25, Matthew 5:28, 1 Peter 4:3). In the books where sexual immorality is outlined more clearly, it clearly defines who to sleep with or who not to sleep with (Leviticus 20: 10-21). God instructs his people not to have intercourse with animals (Leviticus 20:16). God tells men not to have intercourse with women during their menstruation period (Leviticus 20:18). What is the common denominator in all of these sexual acts? Lust and lust happens to be intertwined with masturbation. 

Jesus talks of lust (Matthew 5:27-30) and in centuries past, lust was defined as a strong desire or craving, whether it be good or bad. Lust is desire without restraint and essentially that is what is happening with individuals who choose masturbation. Masturbation most often occurs when a person is thinking sexual thoughts about someone who is not his/her spouse. The "lust of the flesh" (1 John 2:16) is the sin. Masturbation is simply the result of the sin. 

For Men

Men, we value how God created you. We value how you are the leaders of our homes. We cherish the fact you are our protectors and our warriors. We also acknowledge you were created differently. Especially in the realm of sex and your desires. You were wired as visual creatures. You are turned on by the beauty and curves of a woman. What God intended for good our fallen world is twisted for evil, sick purposes in the form of pornography and sex trafficking. 

God created you to orgasm by what is in front of your eyes. He also created the connection between sexual thoughts and orgasms. Therefore, in order to masturbate, it is necessary to get vivid and exciting thoughts or images into the mind. This can be done by pure imagination, by pictures, movies, stories, or real women. And dangerous enough, these images always involve women as sexual objects. This means masturbation can and will lead you down a dark road where you will treat women as objects instead of protecting and cherishing them as God intended. 

So, Is Masturbation Okay If You’re Married?

Once again, we are treading into murky waters. What may be permissible for one person may not be for another. Masturbation is still masturbation if you aren’t with your spouse. However, for some couples, it is healthy when a woman touches herself while in the act of having sex. For women to climax and orgasm, the clitoris needs a lot of attention. It also happens to be placed above the vagina. Therefore, stimulation in the form of foreplay is required. The argument here could be showing your husband how to stimulate you that way. For some couples, wives stimulate themselves with their hands or showing their husbands how. However, for some, the use of a vibrator to stimulate the clitoris and provide more pleasure for the woman is viewed as healthy and good. 

What about Phone Sex with My Spouse?

Where there tends to be shame associated with masturbation, the marriage bed was designed as a place where shame does not exist. God designed sex as a gift and what an amazing gift it is! With that said, the marriage bed should be honored, cherished, and enjoyed as the gift it is (Hebrews 13:4). The marriage bed is a place to be visited and enjoyed often (1 Corinthians 7:5) and it is the place where our souls intertwine, the place where unity happens — a place where two become one (Genesis 2:24). In other words, the marriage bed is a place for exploration, pleasure, unity, and delight. 

And in this day and in age, our spouses travel, often for long periods of time. That’s not to say couples in the Bible didn’t deal with long-distance periods either, however, they didn’t have cellphones and Facetime either. We begin to tread into murky waters. What may be healthy for one couple may not be healthy for another because phone sex (aka masturbating together) could open pandora’s box to masturbation alone, lustful fantasies of other people, and pornography. However, for some couples, it is a part of their healthy sex life. 

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

Masturbation is a tough topic to tackle. It's the cause of guilt and shame and is still oh-so-very taboo. If you're struggling with this issue, talk to someone. Talk to a counselor, a pastor, or a trusted friend who is rooted in God’s word. If you’re married, definitely have a conversation with your spouse. God’s word says nothing specifically about masturbation. This gives us freedom within the boundaries of, possibly, marriage for it to have a place in our lives. And even then, we must tread carefully.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people (Titus 2:11).

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6).

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22).

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Heather Riggleman is an author, national speaker, former award-winning journalist and podcast co-host of the Moms Together Podcast. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 21 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal,  Mama Needs a Time Out, and Let’s Talk About Prayer and a contributor to several books.  Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman, and Focus On the Family. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.  


Originally published January 30, 2020.