Bible Question:

Is it a sin to masturbate when your spouse is in prison for many years? It should not be a sin if we both think of ONLY one another when doing so.

Bible Answer:

Masturbation is a serious subject for a Christian. I have had men and women talk with me about their struggle with masturbation. They feel guilty about the practice and consequently, they wonder if masturbating is a sin. It is complicated by the fact they have strong sexual urges. What does one do when the sexual urges are strong and one does not have a spouse with whom they can enjoy a sexual encounter and relieve the tension? Do they “burn” and think lustful thoughts or masturbate? There are many opinions about masturbation among both non-Christians and Christians. However, the question is always what does God want us to do as revealed in the Bible? The answer is that the word masturbation or the concept of masturbation is never mentioned in the Bible. The Bible is silent on the subject.

“Immoralities” May Include Masturbation

Maybe the closest comment about the subject occurs in 1 Corinthians 7:2 and 9. The first verse clearly states that it is better to marry so that a Christian avoids sexual sins.

But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 1 Corinthians 7:2

Without a marriage partner, virtually every male and many females regularly experience strong sexual urges that are extremely difficult to control. It is not true that only men want to masturbate and engage in sexual orgasms. Many women masturbate and want sexual orgasms too!  The statistics reveal that 93.4% of males and 80.3% of females in the 30-39 age bracket have masturbated at least once.[1] Additionally, at least 61.1% of males and 32.5% of females regularly masturbate at least monthly in the 30-39 age bracket and it declines with age.[2] In total, 95% of males and 89% of females report that they have masturbated at some time.[3] The message is that each gender has different sexual drives and needs regarding sexual orgasms.

Consequently, 1 Corinthians 7:2 actually applies to both sexes. The root Greek word that is translated as, “immoralities” is porneia and it has a wide range of meanings. Masturbation could be included, but there is no papyri or archaeological evidence to support that conclusion. In 1 Corinthians 7:9 the Holy Spirit adds this statement,

But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1 Corinthians 7:9 (NASB)

This verse reveals that if a Christian does not have self-control, God wants them to marry. The Greek word that is translated as “burn” is pyroo. The word has the idea of intense, flaming, fiery hot, or burning. That is a good description of strong sexual passion. Men and women who struggle with such passions are driven to masturbate. However, some do it simply for pleasure and habitually by themselves.

God Did Not Give One Spouse All The Genitals

Marriage is the ultimate solution for our sexual needs. God designed males to satisfy females and females to satisfy males. The physical design or anatomy of the male sexual organ fits the physical design or anatomy of the female sexual organs and vice versa. As a side comment, the anatomy of both partners also reveals that God designed our bodies so that sexual intercourse ideally occurs with both partners facing each other. Our anatomy also confirms that God intended sexual pleasure to occur between a male and a female.

When God created Adam’s wife, Eve, He could have made it possible for her to procreate by herself. Adam would have been a spectator and would not have needed genitals. But God gave genitals to both Adam and Eve. God clearly designed Adam and Eve to engage in sexual activity culminating in orgasm for the purpose of bringing a husband and wife together and secondly for procreation. God designed sexual activity to be done together and not solo. This strongly argues that if sexual activity such as masturbation occurs, it should be done together – both spouses participating.

Masturbation Is a Sin – Adultery In the Heart

What is the conclusion? Is masturbation a sin? Masturbation is clearly a sin under certain circumstances. You are encouraged to read the questions “Is masturbation a sin?” and “Is masturbation a sin in marriage?”  These two Q&A teach that masturbation is clearly a sin under certain circumstances. One example would be having lustful thoughts while masturbating. Some men and women intentionally watch porn, look at naked women or men, read sexually stimulating literature, or engage in sexual fantasies in order to enhance their orgasm. If masturbation occurs while watching pornography, looking at images, dwelling on sexual fantasies or lusting over a member of the opposite sex, then sin has occurred. In fact, Jesus says that adultery has occurred (Matthew 5:27-30). He said that if a man lusts after a women he has committed adultery. The same is true for a women lusting after a man.

Masturbation Is a Sin If It Deprives One’s Spouse

Masturbation is also clearly a sin if it denies a marriage partner of sexual enjoyment with their partner (1 Corinthians 7:5; Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:4). In marriage, often males cannot immediately experience a second orgasm for a period of time after the first. Also, they are not as highly sexually motivated for awhile after an orgasm. Consequently, a habitual male masturbator will not be as highly motivated to have intercourse with their spouse. Most females can orgasm again with a slight delay, even though the desire is often reduced. Consequently, masturbation can violate 1 Corinthians 7:5 which says, “Stop depriving one another.”

Masturbation Is a Sin When One Is Controlled By It

One must remember habitual self-indulgence is also a sin (1 Corinthians 7:2, 5, 9; 2 Timothy 3:3-4) since the individual lacks self-control. If masturbation is habitual, then sin has occurred according to 1 Corinthians 6:12.

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12  (NASB)

Notice the Holy Spirit says that we are not to be mastered or controlled by anything, including masturbation. Masturbation is often an addictive sin. The Greek word for “mastered” is exousiazo, which means “to rule, reign or have control.” The test is can you avoid masturbation or do you eventually yield and do it? The core issue is the avoidance of sin. But to dogmatically conclude that masturbation is a sin in every situation is also a sin since Scripture is silent. It is legalism because scripture does not specifically refer to masturbation. Our difficulty is that scripture is silent on the subject. Therefore, we look for principles that reveal if masturbation is a sin.

If Masturbation Is Not A Sin – Things To Consider

Some have dogmatically concluded that since Scripture does not address the topic of masturbation, it is not a sin. The arguments are typically devoid of Scripture and emphasize the physical need for sexual release. But there are a number of reasons why this conclusion is wrong. First, they reason that masturbation could help prevent the sins described in 1 Corinthians 7:2 and 9, but if masturbation is a sin how are we avoiding sin by committing sin and where is the biblical support for this approach? Solid, clear, explicit proof cannot be found. To conclude otherwise is legalism — the sin of the Pharisees. Second, the first and most significant danger is that masturbation is addictive. Some men and women masturbate daily and some multiple times a day. They masturbate for enjoyment by themselves. That is, they lack self-control and so they masturbate again and again while dreaming, lusting and fantasizing and watching porn — sinning! They violate 1 Corinthians 6:12 and the principles already stated. Third, most individuals who masturbate feel extremely guilty which indicates that it could be a sin. More will be said about this later. Ironically, men and women are often encouraged to suppress their guilty feelings by reasoning that they should feel guilty because “everyone does it.”

Nevertheless, some Christians have concluded that the physical act of masturbation is not a sin. Then, if masturbation does occur it should only occur when it is absolutely needed to calm “fiery hot” sexual passion, prevent lustful thoughts and avoid other sexual sins. Masturbation must never become compulsive. It must never be something that is practiced multiple times a day, day after day or week after week (1 Corinthians 6:12). It must not be practiced habitually. Second, if masturbation does occur, it should be isolated acts devoid of lustful thinking or the viewing of sexually stimulating media in order to avoid the sin of adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Its purpose should be to put out the “fiery hot” passion in order to be a godly man or woman. Third, one must guard against masturbation replacing the romp of loving sexual encounters with one’s spouse. If masturbation hinders, delays, or decreases the enjoyment of loving sexual encounters, then sin has occurred and masturbation should be avoided (Ephesians 5:25, 28; Titus 2:4). Each spouse must always be ready to engage in a loving sexual romp, complete with foreplay and orgasm, for the mutual enjoyment of the other spouse. Each spouse should be eager to participate and seek to be creative during lovemaking for the benefit of their spouse (Song of Solomon 7:10-8:4). Then each spouse will mutually and joyfully fulfill the command of 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.

The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (NASB)

Masturbation Is Not a Sin – In the Marriage Bed

So far we have been discussing solo masturbation. Now let’s consider masturbation in marriage, that is, both solo-masturbation and masturbation between husband and wife. It is difficult to believe that mutual masturbation during joint sexual activity in the marriage bed by both spouses is a sinful act for two reasons. First, making love involves a husband and wife touching each other’s genitals with their hands. That is, it involves mutual masturbation. The second reason is that Hebrews 13:4 states that the marriage bed is undefiled.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4  (NASB)

It is important to note that there is no verb in the Greek text. Consequently, it is not clear if Hebrews 13:4 is a command or a statement of fact.[4]  If Hebrews 13:4 is a command to not defile the marriage bed, that would be consistent with scripture that spouses should honor and love one another (Ephesians 5:25, 33; Titus 2:4-5; 1 Peter 3:7) and be holy (1 Peter 1:16). Consequently, certain activities should be avoided on the marriage bed such as rape or anything that is prohibited in Leviticus 18:6-17. We encourage you to read “What does the Bible say about marrying your first cousin.”

Most likely Hebrews 13:4 is a statement of fact since the literal Greek wording is ho koite amiantus, that is “the marriage bed undefiled.” There is no verb in the phrase. If Hebrews 13:4 is a statement of fact then we must insert “is,” and it would read “the marriage bed is undefiled.” That would also be consistent with the fact that Scripture never condemns any sexual activity between a husband and wife anywhere in Scripture. It is important to remember that both must be in agreement regarding what they do since love is to exist between them. The apostle Paul wrote that Christians have great freedom in Christ.

 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things  edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

This great freedom also extends to the marriage bed and could include various sexual positions and other activities as long as both partners are in agreement. For questions about oral and anal sex please read, “Is oral sex within marriage wrong?” and “What does the Bible say about anal sex in marriage?”

Song of Solomon praises foreplay and the climax of sexual intercourse in chapter 4 (Song of Solomon 4:1-5:1). The foreplay starts with praises of the wife’s beauty and ends in climax. The sexual activity described in the chapter also includes touching of the other spouse’s genitals to cause arousal (Song of Solomon 2:6; 4:9-5:1).[5] This is normal and biblical. God approves of this type of masturbation performed on one’s spouse, with or without an orgasm.  It is part of foreplay that leads up to an orgasm.

In the context of the marriage bed, it is difficult to believe that self-masturbation is a sin if both husband and wife agree to include it in their lovemaking. The term self-mastubration is used in this discussion to also include situations where the wife might choose to masturbate herself during sexual activity in an attempt for her and her husband to achieve simultaneous orgasms. That is, some couples report that self-masturbation during sexual activity can be helpful in timing the orgasm of both spouses so that they achieve simultaneous orgasms. This is for the benefit of both the husband and wife. Self-masturbation during a sexual romp between a husband and a wife cannot be a sin given the command in Hebrews 13:4, if both agree and it enhances their lovemaking.

In some cases, a couple may not be able to engage in a loving sexual romp for a variety of illnesses. In such cases, the partners could engage in foreplay by touching each other culminating in orgasm rather than intercourse. In addition, one spouse could stimulate or masturbate just the other spouse until orgasm occurs to relieve sexual tension. Additionally, both spouses could stimulate or masturbate on one spouse together until orgasm. This is okay in the context of the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). In fact, these activities are often part of foreplay. God designed sexual activity to be done together and not solo. For information about sexual activities that a husband wife should not be engaged in read, “What does the Bible say about foreplay and sex in marriage?

Objection –  Doubts Reveal Masturbation Is a Sin

There are four objections to consider. First, some might claim that masturbation is a sin, that is solo masturbation, even when it occurs infrequently. They quote Romans 14:23.

Everything that does not come from faith is sin. Romans 14:23 (NASB)

They claim that since we cannot be confident that masturbation is a sin or is not a sin, Romans 14:23 reveals then that the act must be a sin. Such a conclusion has problems since the discussion before verse 23 is about tensions between a brother who eats meat sacrificed to idols and a weaker brother who thinks eating meat sacrificed to idols is a sin, when in fact to eat such meat was not sin. Therefore in verse 23, the apostle says that if you have doubts about eating meat sacrificed to idols, then do not eat. It is sin for you. The parallel principle for masturbation would be that if your conscience is convicting you that masturbation is a sin, then do not masturbate. It is a warning from the Holy Spirit to stop masturbating. If you continue masturbating you will seriously affect your spiritual life.

Objection –  Christians Should Wait For Nocturnal Relief

Some pastors and teachers claim that “wet dreams” is God’s solution for men. Therefore, men should avoid masturbation and just wait for ‘wet dreams.” They argue that “wet dreams” is God’s natural relief for men. But studies have revealed that only 83% of men have wet dreams.[6, 7] That is, “wet dreams” do not help all men. Also, only 37% of women have nocturnal orgasms.[8] That is, “wet dreams” are not God’s solution for all men or women. Further, wet dreams occur infrequently in comparison to the need for sexual release.[9] Such teaching ignores the obvious. It appears that 1 Corinthians 7:2, 9 teaches us that God has provided marriage as God’s solution for “fiery hot” sexual passion.

Objection –  Christians Can Be Helped By the Holy Spirit

Third, some claim that we should be able to victoriously rise above the need to masturbate by praying and walking in the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-21). If so, then why didn’t Paul recommend walking in the Spirit instead of getting married in 1 Corinthians 7:2, 9? Remember that the apostle also wrote Galatians 5:16-23 in which he commanded us to walk in the Spirit and Ephesians 5:17-21 in which he commanded us to be filled with the Spirit. Therefore, it would appear that the apostle gave us God’s solution to the problem of “fiery hot” passions – get married.

Objection – Guilt Is Present

It is  important to note that the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians who solo masturbate feel guilty about the act. Consequently, we need to remember Romans 2:14-15 which states that God has written the Law or His godly standard into our conscience. As a result, it convicts us of sin unless our conscience is seared (1 Timothy 4:2).

. . . they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-15 (NASB)

Then we need to remember Jesus’ statement in John 16:8-11 that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. Therefore, when we sin, we feel guilty. The fact that guilt is so common among most who masturbate is a strong indication that masturbation is most likely a sin. Even though scripture does not prohibit masturbation explicitly, 1 Corinthians 7:2, 9 most likely includes the subject of masturbation.

Conclusion

In summary, scripture is silent about masturbation. Scripture does not give us specific statements that reveal solo masturbation is a sin. For a husband and wife, infrequent self-masturbation could be God’s relief mechanism in situations where one’s spouse cannot engage in a loving sexual romp in order to satisfy sexual tension, if one’s spouse approves and participates in some way (Hebrews 13:4). We must remember that the wife has authority over her husband’s body and he has authority over his wife’s body (1 Corinthians 7:2-9). Our spouse has authority over our sexual activities.

Single individuals may find it difficult to hear that masturbation is most likely a sin. Since Scripture is silent on the subject, it is difficult to even conclude that solo masturbation is definitely and conclusively a sin even if it occurs very infrequently and exclusively to relieve sexual tension, devoid of all sinful behaviors and sexually stimulating thoughts. However, it is very easy to conclude that masturbation is a sin if it occurs for the purpose of personal pleasure. We must remember that the guilt that is associated with masturbation is a strong indication that masturbation is most likely a sin. The apostle Paul’s solution is the best: get married and do not deprive one another (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9).

 

References:

1. Mona Chalabi. “Dear Mona, I Masturbate More Than Once a Day. Am I Normal?” FiveThirstyEight. (fivethirtyeight.com)
2. Ibid.
3. “Your Guide to Masturbation.” WebMd.com.
4. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Hebrews 13:4). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
5. Song of Solomon 2:1-7 is a dream or a daydream of the Solomon’s bride. In verse 6 she is longing for sexual activity with her future husband. The Hebrew word that is translated as under in the phrase “under my head” means “beneath, below or under” suggesting that they are lying down. We are told that his left hand is under her head and his right hand is “embracing her.” The Hebrew word that is translated as embrace means “to embrace” but it can also mean “to cling, to clasp.” He could be clasping her groin region and genitals.
6. Kinsey, Alfred C. “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male”. 1948. p. 190.
7. “Nocturnal Emission: Normal or Not?” Real Sex Education Facts. N.p., 21 May 2007. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.
8. Barbara L. Wells. “Predictors of Female Nocturnal Orgasms: A Multivariate Analysis”. The Journal of Sex Research. Vol. 22, No. 4 (Nov., 1986), pp. 421-437.
9. Ibid., Kinsey.

Suggested Links:

What does the Bible have to say about masturbation?
Is masturbation a sin?
Is masturbation a sin in marriage?
Walk In The Spirit
Did Onan die in Genesis 38:9-10 because he did not want to have children?
What does the Bible say about different sexual positions?
What does the Bible say about anal sex in marriage?
What is the meaning of the Greek word porneia in the Bible?
Is oral sex within marriage wrong?
What does the Bible say about foreplay and sex in marriage?