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 masturbating 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 non-Christians and Christians; but the question is always: what does God communicate 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, if not almost impossible, to control. It is not true that only men want to masturbate and engage in sexual orgasms. Women masturbate and want sexual orgasms too! However, this is true of fewer women than men. 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] 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 puroo. The Greek 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.

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. But this also reveals that God intended sexual pleasure to occur between a male and a female.

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  and 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, or engage in sexual fantasies in order to enhance their orgasm. If masturbation occurs while watching pornography, looking at images 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).

Masturbation Is a Sin – Depriving Spouse

Masturbation is also clearly a sin if it denies a marriage partner sexual enjoyment with their partner. 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 after an orgasm for awhile. Most women can perform sexually, repeatedly, with some delay and slight drop in desire. Consequently, masturbation can violate 1 Corinthians 7:5 which says, “Stop depriving one another.”

Masturbation Is a Sin – When Controlled By It

One must remember that the sin of habitual self-indulgence is also a sin (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9; Colossians 2:23). If masturbation is habitual, then sin has occurred.

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. 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. It is legalism because scripture appears to be silent. Our difficulty is that scripture is silent on the subject. Therefore, we look for principles that reveal if masturbation is a sin.

If Masturbation Might Not Be Sin – Then a Warning

But what should happen if your partner is not available or cannot satisfy your sexual need? Maybe he or she is ill, on extended travel or unable to perform, for example. One must ask how can a male or female respond to strong sexual tensions day-after-day and the accompanying struggle against sinful thoughts and desires? Both males and females can struggle with overwhelming emotional urges and lustful thoughts. As 1 Corinthians 7:9 states, “fiery hot” passions.

Some pastors and teachers refer to “wet dreams” as God’s solution for men. They argue that “wet dreams” is God’s natural relief for men. But studies have revealed that only 83% of men have wet dreams.[3][4] That is, “wet dreams” do not help all men. Also, only 37% of women have nocturnal orgasms [5] 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. [6] Such teaching ignores the obvious. Is it possible that God has provided masturbation as God’s solution for “fiery hot” sexual passion? If that was God’s plan, under what circumstances would masturbation not be sin?

Masturbation could help prevent the sins described in 1 Corinthians 7:2 and 9. If we conclude that masturbation is permitted in order to avoid the sins described in 1 Corinthians 7:2, 9, then when would masturbation not be sin? Before we explore the answer, lets acknowledge that there are serious dangers with masturbation. The first and most significant danger is an addiction to masturbation. 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. They violate 1 Corinthians 6:12 and the principles already stated.

If a Christian concludes that masturbation is not a sin, then masturbation 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 viewing sexually stimulating media in order to avoid the sin of adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28) and 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 couple. Each spouse should be eager to participate and be creative unilaterally during lovemaking for the benefit of their spouse (Song of Solomon 7:10-8:4). Then each spouse will mutually 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 self-masturbation and mutual masturbation between spouses. It is difficult to believe that mutual masturbation during joint sexual activity in the marriage bed by both spouses is a sinful act since 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.[7]  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). 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.” If Hebrews 13:4 is a statement of fact, that would also be consistent with the concept that there are a wide range of sexual activities that are okay between a husband and wife if both are in agreement. The key is that both are in agreement. 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

That great freedom also extends to the marriage bed. But both partners must want to join in the sexual experiment or participate in the lovemaking activity plan.

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 face 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).[8] 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 refer to 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 mutual foreplay and perform mutual masturbation on each other culminating in orgasm rather than intercourse. This is okay in the context of the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4).

Objection –  Doubts Reveal Masturbation Is a Sin

There are three objections to consider. First, some might object to masturbation, 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.

Objection –  Christians Can Be Helped By the Holy Spirit

Secondly, 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 Romans 7:2, 9? 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 habitually solo masturbate feel guilty about the act. Consequently, we need to remember Romans 2:14-15 which states that God has written a moral standard into our conscience. Therefore, when we sin, we feel guilty. The fact that guilt is so common among those who masturbate is a strong indication that a habit of solo masturbation is most likely a sin. Even though scripture does not prohibit masturbation explicitly, Romans 7:2-9 most likely includes the subject of masturbation.

Conclusion

In summary, scripture is silent about masturbation. Scripture does give us guidelines that reveal masturbation is a sin under certain circumstances. Infrequent 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. It is difficult to conclude that masturbation is a sin when it occurs exclusively to relieve sexual tension, devoid of sinful behaviors. However, it is easy to conclude that masturbation is sin when it occurs for the only purpose of personal pleasure. 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. Kinsey, Alfred C. “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male”. 1948. p. 190.
4. “Nocturnal Emission: Normal or Not?” Real Sex Education Facts. N.p., 21 May 2007. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.
5. 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.
6. Ibid., Kinsey.
7. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Hebrews 13:4). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
8. 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.

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 marrying your first cousin.
What does the Bible say about anal sex in marriage?