The Bible does not mention masturbation or state whether or not masturbation is a sin. The passage most frequently associated with masturbation is the story of Onan in Genesis 38:9–10. Some interpret this passage to say that “spilling your seed” is a sin. However, that is not what the passage is saying. God condemned Onan not for “spilling his seed” but because Onan was rebellious. Onan refused to fulfill his duty to provide an heir for his deceased brother. The passage is not about masturbation but about fulfilling a family obligation.
A second passage sometimes used as evidence that masturbation is a sin is Matthew 5:27–30. Jesus speaks against having lustful thoughts and then says, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” While there is clearly a connection between lustful thoughts and masturbation, it is unlikely that Jesus was alluding to the specific sin of masturbation in this passage.
The Bible nowhere explicitly states that masturbation is a sin, but there is no question that the actions that usually lead to masturbation are sinful. Masturbation is nearly always the result of lustful thoughts, inappropriate sexual stimulation, and/or pornography. It is these problems that need to be dealt with. If the sins of lust, immoral thoughts, and pornography are forsaken and overcome, masturbation will become much less of an issue and temptation. Many people struggle with guilt concerning masturbation, when, in reality, they would be far better off repenting of the sins that lead them to masturbate.
With that said, is masturbation itself a sin? While the Bible does not directly answer this question, there definitely are some biblical principles that can be applied to the issue:
(1) “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). If we cannot give God glory for something, we should not do it.
(2) “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). If we are not fully convinced that an activity is honoring to God, it is a sin.
(3) “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 at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Our bodies have been redeemed and belong to God.
(4) “The fruit of the Spirit is . . . self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). Masturbation is almost always a sign of a lack of self-control.
(5) Do “not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want“ (Galatians 5:16–17). We are called to self-denial, not to self-gratification.
These truths should have a powerful impact on what we do with our bodies. In light of these principles, it is doubtful that masturbation could ever be a God-honoring activity. If masturbation could be done with
• no lust in the heart
• no immoral thoughts
• no pornography
• no self-gratification of the flesh
• full assurance that it is good and right
• thanks given to God
then perhaps it would be allowable. But those qualifiers seem to negate the very meaning and purpose of masturbation.