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Masturbation—is it a sin according to the Bible?

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The Bible does not mention masturbation or self-gratification or “solo sex,” as it’s sometimes called. In its silence on the subject, the Bible does not state whether or not masturbation is a sin. Some people take the view that masturbation is a lustful act and is always wrong; others believe it involves a normal bodily function and has nothing to do with sin.

A passage frequently associated with masturbation is the story of Onan in Genesis 38:9–10. Some interpret this passage to say that “spilling seed”—the squandering of semen—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 often a connection between lustful thoughts and masturbation, it is unlikely that Jesus was alluding to the specific sin of masturbation in this passage.

Though the Bible nowhere explicitly addresses masturbation, it does outline the purpose of sex. According to 1 Corinthians 7:2–5, “Each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Implicit in this passage are these truths:
- God’s plan for sex requires relationship, namely, that of a husband and wife (verse 2). Masturbation is sex disconnected from relationship.
- Foundational to God’s plan for sex is giving one’s body to another (verse 4). Masturbation is the keeping of one’s body to oneself.
- The solution to a time of deprivation is to “come together” (verse 5). Masturbation is done alone, not together.

First Corinthians 7:9 identifies the proper outlet for single people who struggle with sexual desire: “If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Paul suggests that self-control is the best avenue. To singles who lack self-control, Paul does not say, “Let them masturbate”; he says, “Let them marry.” Again, marriage is the God-given outlet for sexual yearnings.

Those who believe that masturbation has no moral or ethical import argue that masturbation is a “need” akin to the need to eat or the need to scratch an itch. However, the Bible never presents sexual fulfillment as a need. On the contrary, Paul says to the unmarried, “It’s better to stay unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:8, NLT).

Certain actions often associated with masturbation are sinful and should be dealt with: lustful thoughts, inappropriate sexual stimulation, and pornography use, for example. If these problems are tackled, masturbation becomes less of a temptation. Many people struggle with guilt concerning masturbation, when, in reality, they would be better off repenting of the sins that lead them to masturbate.

So, is masturbation a sin? The Bible does not directly answer this question, but there definitely are some biblical principles to apply:

(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) “I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Christians have a responsibility to avoid anything that might enslave them.

(4) “I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Self-denial is difficult, but self-discipline is worth it.

(5) “The fruit of the Spirit is . . . self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). Masturbation is almost always a sign of a lack of self-control.

(6) 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 an impact on what we do with our bodies. In light of the above principles, it is doubtful that masturbation can 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.

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This page last updated: June 12, 2023