Masturbation can be part of a loving relationship between a husband and wife, and in this situation it would be fine; but masturbation as a single person, or between people not married to each other, would be a sin.
Masturbation is stimulating the sexual organs for sexual pleasure:1 outside of a marriage, it is part of the process, or the end result of, inappropriate sexual lust, lusting after people we are not married to.2 Either our inappropriate sexual desires take control of our thinking, so we want to masturbate, or we masturbate and it helps bring inappropriate sexual images and desires into our minds. And, either way, inappropriate lustful thoughts are clearly wrong:
…anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat. 5:28 NIV)
So, we should resist the temptation to masturbate.
…put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom. 13:14)
Masturbation is a symptom of a mind that is feeding the wrong desires (Mat. 15:19). By masturbating we are encouraging – gratifying – our sinful thoughts. Instead, we should both avoid masturbation (so as not to encourage our inappropriate thoughts) and begin to deal with the root problem in our minds, removing our sexual lusts from there, and then it will be easier for masturbation to cease to be part of our life.
Removes sexual tension?
Sometimes it is argued that masturbation is a convenient way to remove sexual or physical tension. However, the body has its own natural ways of dealing with any physical tensions. If it needs to, the body releases semen on its own during sleep.3 The medical name for this is a nocturnal emission, more commonly known as a wet dream. There’s no need, then, to attempt to release tensions by masturbating (the body will sort itself out without our “help”).4
A practical suggestion to help us resist
Psalm 36:4 says:
Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong.
This is talking about far more than masturbation, but its principles can be applied to the topic here. Sometimes masturbation is most tempting when we first wake up or first go to bed; if it’s in the morning, then don’t just lie there — as the psalm says, reject what is wrong and get out of bed. Move on to something else. If the temptation is in the evening, do something else until you can sleep: read, for example. The principle from Ps. 36:4 can be applied to other situations. Part of the idea from Ps. 36 is that the person is dwelling on their evil thoughts, which is something we can do at any time. There might be certain situations when these temptations are stronger than at other; for example, if you are tired or feeling lonely. We need to fill our time – and our thoughts – with something else to remedy the cause of this problem: spend time with friends; enjoy a hobby; exercise; etc.
1. ‘masturbate’, Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English (Oxford: OUP, 2005)
2. Sometimes people say that they can masturbate without thinking about anybody sexually. I find this very hard to believe because masturbation involves the stimulation of the sexual organs so, even if it was not intended for the masturbation to involve inappropriate thoughts, in my experience, inappropriate thoughts would surely follow. And, as we’ll see in a moment in Mat. 5:28, inappropriate lustful thoughts are as sinful as any physical sexual sin. Masturbation that doesn’t involve inappropriate sexual thoughts is something I personally can’t comprehend. My advice here would be that we need to make sure we are being honest with ourselves (and with God!): we have a tendency to want to deceive ourselves (Jer. 17:9), so we need to make sure we aren’t deceiving ourselves into thinking we aren’t doing any harm if we masturbate. It’s better for us to be honest and, with God’s help, face up to the struggle to resist temptation than to deceive ourselves and (using Jesus’ word [Mat. 18:9]) end up in Gehenna.
4. If we have sexual tension then the way to release that is not through masturbation, but through removing the attitudes we have that lead us to feel sexually tense. Feeling sexually tense is not an excuse to masturbate; rather, feeling sexual tension in our bodies is most probably a symptom itself of us having the wrong thinking about sex (we shouldn’t really be feeling sexually tense in the first place!). Christians need to resist the temptation to masturbate and, even more importantly, get to the root of the issue and have our minds renewed (Rom. 12:2).