Is Masturbation Sin?

Most people aren't willing to even say the word, much less willing to have a discussion about it. Two of our writers, Jesse L. Eubanks and Josh Hatcher, address the issues of lust, sexual immorality and ultimately whether masturbation is sin.

About the Authors

Jesse L. Eubanks is the worship director for The Port Community Church in Philadelphia and a musician.

Josh Hatcher is the father of three small children, and the husband of a hard-working stay-at-home-mom in rural Pennsylvania. Josh is a freelance writer, graphic designer, musician and youth leader.

Editor's Note: Comments are enabled at the end of the article (page 2).

Dear Josh,

Thank you for being willing to discuss a subject as taboo as masturbation. I'm hoping our conversation will lead both of us to a clearer understanding of the role (or lack thereof) of masturbation in the life of a Christian. It is my hope that nowhere in this discussion will Scripture be used out of context or become victim to personal interpretation, but instead will be the definitive and powerful source of Truth that it is. Though neither of us approach Scripture with a scholarly background, we both approach it as common believers empowered by the Spirit who we believe will reveal truth to us if we seek for Him to do so.

I realize my opinion is not a popular one in Christian culture, but as I examine Scripture I would have to contend that it cannot be found anywhere that masturbation is a sin. Sexual immorality is a sin. (Ephesians 5:3, Colossians. 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3) Lust is a sin. (Proverbs 6:25, Matthew 5:28, 1 Peter 4:3), but masturbation, in and of itself, is not a sin. There are righteous, healthy ways in which it can take place and there are sinful, unhealthy ways in which it can take place. I believe that most often people directly couple masturbation with lust and sexual immorality, but I do not believe they go together necessarily.

I believe that masturbation can take place without any lust or sexual immorality present. What is lust? In centuries past and even in the Old Testament, lust could be defined as a strong desire or craving, whether it be good or bad. In today's society however, and definitively in the Christian world, it carries a negative connotation. Lust means a few different things. It means to desire something that is not intended to be ours and it can also mean to desire something healthy and God ordained, but to desire it at inappropriate times or in ways that do damage to other areas of our lives. Lust is desire without restraint. Masturbation however, can take place without succumbing to these lustful infidelities.

There is no way around the fact the majority of Scripture that discusses sexuality does it in two ways — 1.) the celebration of sex within marriage and 2.) the inflammation of sexual desires from sources outside God's design of a man and a woman united in marriage.

I believe that masturbation can take place with a pure heart and mind. Lust is often associated with fantasy. I do not believe fantasy is deadly to our mind or is full of corrupt realistic expectations when these fantasies are based on healthy, potential realities. I believe that God granted each of us an imagination and the ability to dream. Masturbation coupled with fantasies about a loving future relationship with a long-term marriage partner can be healthy. They remind the single that we are sexually designed to be physically, emotionally and spiritually connected with someone else on an unparalleled human level, and that, even though we may not currently be part of such a relationship, we are already anticipating its coming day. I will not try to hide the fact that coupling masturbation with healthy fantasies is an extremely difficult task that requires discipline, grace and prayer. However, it is not impossible.

There are many, many contexts and situations in which masturbation becomes unhealthy, and more importantly, sinful. It is easy to couple masturbation with lust and sexual immorality. An image on TV, a thought from an old magazine, a complete stranger—they can all make their way into our fantasies. A boyfriend or girlfriend can also make their way into our fantasies, or our realities. Sex was designed to take place within a committed relationship with a single life partner. For the single, that committed relationship could begin long before we ever meet that special someone.

Addiction is always possible as well. Masturbation can be used as an escape. That's not always bad. Sometimes we need something in which its enjoyment greatly exceeds its physical demands. But when we begin to use it to regularly disconnect from the realities around us, it is no longer healthy. When we begin to take the realities around us and harm them, either by placing individuals we know in non-consenting, uncommitted sexual situations or from trying to escape our responsibilities, we have crossed the line into being mastered by something other than God. When we begin to depend on the chemicals that masturbation releases into our bodies, we must step back and seriously ask ourselves if we have become addicts.

Masturbation has no place in the life of a person who has taken the vow of life long celibacy. They will not be marrying and will not be engaging in sex. All of their fantasies would be based on non-potential, unrealistic ideas. It would be breaking the vow of celibacy for masturbation to take place.

Masturbation is not designed to be our drug of choice. It is not designed to bring sexuality into pre-marriage relationships. It is not even a necessary or unavoidable part of living. Our bodies naturally take care of themselves through their cycles. It is, however, a potentially enjoyable and intimate expression of our desire to love and be intimate with another human being. It is a natural way to respond to the sexual design of our bodies. Much as sex is symbolic of God's intimate love for His children, so it is also on a lesser level with masturbation.

I would comment on the role of masturbation in marriage, but I feel that because you're married Josh, I might hear your opinion on the subject first. Once again, thanks for being willing to share your thoughts on the subject. I eagerly anticipate your response. Grace and peace to you through our Lord.




Well, we agree on many points, and I think that I should retouch them briefly to establish some common ground.

Our culture (especially our Christian sub-culture) refuses to talk about masturbation. Taboos are a dangerous social curse. We cannot have a healthy attitude about sexuality if we refuse to talk about it. The church is the first to ignore something that is uncomfortable to discuss. I think that the lack of healthy and honest communication about sexuality and its place in the lives of Christians is a large part of the pedophilia scandal and part of the reason that the national divorce rate is as high among Christians as it is among non-Christians.

We also agree that sexual immorality is wrong, that lust is wrong, and that masturbation in the lives of those called to celibacy is wrong. Sexuality does have its place in all our lives, but along with that comes a lot of warning labels, and some of them glow in the dark like the Mr. Yuk stickers that tell you which bottles under the bathroom sink are poisonous. But every now and then, we come across a scenario that is not as clearly written in stone, and we must turn on our spiritual goggles and tune in to the word of God to determine what is safe.

For as much common ground as we have, every debate must have a topic that is debate-able. I will have to say that I can't separate masturbation as an acceptable practice in the life of a Christian.

I don't think the question that we should ask is, "Is it possible to masturbate without lust?" because the answer of course is a resounding yes, with the proper conditioning, anyone can do a mechanical bodily function and keep a completely clear head.

The questions we should ask are, "What is sexual immorality?" and "Does masturbation fall into that category?" and "Is masturbation really a healthy practice, considering the fine lines of lust, and addiction that surround it?"



Dear Josh, 

In Scripture, sexual immorality is sometimes discussed in terms of specific behavior (Leviticus 20:10-21). However, sexual immorality was perhaps so well understood in the Hebrew culture that the authors of many of the books of the Bible had little reason to define it. We find it used most often in a very broad ways—language that implies the recipients already understood the expected behavior (1 Corinthians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 6:18, 2 Corinthians 12:21, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6). Now though, we live in a society and world far removed from those days, where sexual immorality has been defined time and again, now leaving us with a muddy picture of unclear outlines. In the books where sexual immorality is outlined more clearly, it dives into the realm of who to sleep with or who not to sleep with (Leviticus 20: 10-21). God instructs his people not to have intercourse with animals (Leviticus 20:16). God tells men not to have intercourse with women during their menstruation period (Leviticus 20:18). Jesus talks of lust (Matthew 5:27-30), Paul of sexual offenders and adulterers (Ephesians 5:3, 1 Corinthians 6:9-13). 

Sexual immorality is not completely outlined for us in Scripture. I offer the previous verses as pieces to the picture. They show us some of the things that are clearly black or clearly white, but they also remind us that much of the specifics we search for are somewhere in the gray area. They also leave room for the extremely unpopular belief among modern Christian culture that there are some cases where things are not universal—some actions are sinful for some and not sinful for others. 

I do not see evidence that the sexual practice of masturbation necessarily falls into the category of sexual immorality for everyone. I am no fool though. I do see that it walks a fine line—a fine line because of the necessary discipline of the mind it requires. And the thoughts of the mind should not be questions of, "How far can I go?" but rather seek the desires of "Lord, I want to offer you all of my being." Anything desired more than God himself, any sin we are willing to commit knowingly to obtain something, any thought that if committed would be a sin, is still wrong and contrary to God's commands for his people. It is sin. 

How does this relate to masturbation? Any fantasy or thought that comes into our mind must come under the question, "If I really did what I'm thinking, would it be sinful?" If we answer yes, then our mind and heart have faltered and we must seek forgiveness and repentance. If we find compulsion or "need" beginning to attach itself to our relationship to masturbation, then we have strayed from Paul's command telling us that we should "not be mastered by anything" (1 Corinthians 6:12). 

The guidelines and warnings go on and on for why people should steer clear of this sexual practice. There are many who have chosen to abstain, and in many cases, they have made a very wise decision. However, masturbation can be healthy and acceptable for many others. Whether someone is married or single, they remain a sexual being. Whether they are able to have sexual interaction with another or not, they remain a sexual being. Masturbation is an optional outlet for that sexuality. 

So, to answer your question, "Is masturbation really a healthy practice, considering the fine lines of lust and addiction that surround it?" There are many people that are over eaters. They eat too much. They are food addicts. That does not mean all people should shut down eating food all together because of the potential dangers involved. It means that we should guard what we eat and balance our eating habits with the rest of our lives. It means that those with eating problems should receive encouragement, help and support and continue to ask for God's grace and mercy. On a lesser level the same principles apply to sexuality. (I say lesser level because sexuality is not essential for survival and life in the same way that food is.) 

We cannot stop being sexual beings. For many, masturbation is not an option simply because it could or has led to addiction. It is not an option for others because, for them, it is a sin. They cannot reconcile their hearts to God while having that practice in their lives. Just as any other activity has the potential for sin and discord, sexual activities have the same potential. Some greater, some less. Masturbation has the potential to be healthy and even a continuation of worship in our lives. It also has the potential to destroy life and fellowship with God. Yes, the line can be fine, which is why many choose not to walk it. But many others choose to and are able to do so clear of conscience, with a pure mind and a heart eagerly seeking the presence of God. 




What our whole debate comes down to, and what will be the subject of many message board debates is the age-old question regarding moral absolutes and where the fall in relation to life. The truth is, I waffle in my understanding of right and wrong frequently. I believe that there must be moral absolutes, or none of it makes sense. But to say it is always wrong to kill someone takes on a new meaning when the lives of my family are threatened, or when our country must defend itself. So in procession, I need to define my own convictions and explain them in common sense. In other words, you will probably not hear me say, “The Bible says...” I do believe that the Bible is our standard, as God’s holy Word. But the minute I start to comb through it looking for a verse that tells me to do or not do something, I have slipped in my understanding of “living by the law” versus “living in the Spirit.” Paul’s explanation is that all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. 

According to your earlier explanation, people called to lifelong celibacy should not participate, married people should not participate, and people who struggle with it as a lustful practice or sexual addiction should not participate, so for the very select few people that fall into that category, this is my response. 

In general terms, we are all sexual beings, and each of us has sexual desires and hormones that define our buttons for what turn us on and off. That is the way we were created. That cannot be changed. A large debate could be made specifically about the reason that sexuality itself was created, but to steer clear of another endless debate, lets just assume the common position that sex was created to bring a married man and woman closer together as one flesh. In that, there is also a picture that reminds us of Christ’s level of intimacy and self-sacrifice for the church. 

As a married man, there are a few things I have learned about women. One is that sexually, they have the same desire and need that men do. The second is that the similarities end there. It takes a bit more effort, and a lot of practice to get a sex life running smoothly than it does to masturbate. In fact, masturbation technically conditions both males and females to a particular neurological/physical path to easy orgasm. 

When that conditioning meets a married relationship, look out. The man has conditioned himself in such a way that endurance is minimized, and the woman has conditioned herself to a certain rhythm or pattern, and the result is both parties are incapable of enjoying the same satisfaction as they would have had they not been conditioned. 

Assuming that no patterns of lust or addiction have been formed, and masturbation as a mechanical body function is present in one or both partners before marriage, it is not beneficial to their sex life. Although the conditioning can be reversed and sexual behaviors re-learned, it basically builds walls that are dangerous to marital intimacy. 

In the life of a single person, with no intent to marry right away, it may seem harmless and even enjoyable. However, it’s like playing with fire. In proverbs, while speaking about an adulterous woman, the writer said, “Can a man scoop a fire in his lap without being burned?” And in common sense that applies to any dangerous activity. Can a man play Russian roulette without shooting his head off? Sure, if he’s lucky. 

I guess from a married perspective, seeing the end result of a pubescent pastime only reinforces to me that masturbation leads to destruction, rather than wholeness. Ultimately, the decision must be made between the individual and God. That is what living by the Spirit entails—individuals seeking God’s direction one step at a time. Many claim to masturbate, with a clean conscience, and my mind cannot help but to ponder is the conscience clean, or seared? 

Did we get anywhere with this debate? Basically I wonder if we did any more than get people to feel free to talk and think about it. That’s the first step. Taking it out from under the covers and into the open. If we hold the whole thing up to the light, and examine it with a willingness to keep it or let it go, only then can we really see God’s will on the issue. We have cloaked individual sexuality with such shame, that those who do struggle with sexual sin can’t seek help. Millions of Christians struggle with sexual addictions, lustful attitudes and other sexual sin. There is hope. 

Top Comments



Ben commented…

I like what Megan said about drawing closer to the heart of God... I think that's what it boils down to -- at least for me. I find that as I grow closer to God, masturbation comes up as something that shouldn't be there. It's true that you can masturbate without feeling anything, but that's also kind of messed up too. I think that's the issue -- it's not being shared with someone, and because it's not being shared with someone, it's selfish and unhealthy for yourself (and possibly your future mate). When you weigh all the pro's and con's, it seems like there are a ton of con's and hardly any pro's (if any). It's not an issue of pleasing God in a law sense -- it's an issue of walking with God in a heart sense. I think God wants what's best for us, and you're not sinning if you do it, but I think that if you bring the issue to God, He will show you that it's not the best thing for you or even "beneficial."

KenTara John


KenTara John replied to Andrina's comment

Wow. I am so sorry about your past. You are in my prayers...


R. W. Pennington


R. W. Pennington commented…

Please forgive if this seems to go a bit far in places. I'm trying really hard to reign in how I talk here and dance around the bluntness that may offend, but there's only so much that can remain unsaid and still get my point across.

Take it from a psychology student who just finished his abnormal psychology class, and has had an introduction to sexual disorders, and some of their treatments and theories; Masturbation is not healthy for any Christian.

The thing about Masturbation is that, like the article said, it physically conditions a quick route to an orgasm. It makes sex in marriage bad, and puts up walls that are never good to have in a marriage.

However, it conditions the mind as well. We know this, because we know that successful treatments for sexual disorders like pedophilia make use of masturbation as a tool of conditioning. Masturbation, in almost every case, involves the use of mental images of the opposite sex (for those who are straight). Unless you're married to that person of the opposite sex, we know that it is a sin. ("You have heard that it was said, `YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27 & 28 NLT). Sexual behavior, especially in males, is also escalates to a degree. Let me explain.

When a man looks at a woman in skimpy clothing, he might be aroused. However, the that woman(and others like her in skimpy clothing) only releases a certain amount of chemicals that register as "pleasure" into the brain. Eventually, the brain becomes immune to that dosage, just like it does to beer and drugs, and that amount of pleasure chemical will no longer have the same effect. He will have to move on to something more. So, he looks at a woman with less clothing on, until his brain over time becomes immune to the dosage of chemicals that are released by that image, moving on into images of the opposite sex naked, and then further into performance.

If you are married to that person in your mental images when you masturbate, then it causes the physical problems that have already been mentioned, and that is harmful to your marriage.

It is possible to not imagine a person at all when masturbating. However, that conditions the mind into a whole new set of problems. I've heard the argument "Well, I like to imagine a bowl of fruit when I masturbate. That's not lusting after a woman, and is therefore not a sin." That may be true, but that practice will condition the brain into a fruit-philia. With enough time, the person who practices this will not be able to be aroused without fruit. I can't imagine how it would hurt my future wife to know that I am more aroused by an orange than by her. That is unhealthy to any sex life. It is possible to think of nothing while masturbating. No thoughts, no images, and to be completely absent in mind. This is called "disassociating." However, given time, the person who practices this will not be able to have an orgasm or arousal without disassociating, even when they are with their spouse. They will be conditioned to that. I can't imagine how hurt my future wife would be if she knew that I was never there when we had sexual intercourse. She was psychically (not meaning ESP, but meaning "mentally"), and physically connecting to me, and I was psychically and physically connecting to nothingness.

Yes, there are sexual stresses and frustrations in the world, but masturbation is not a "release" from them. It is giving in to them, and it feeds these desires and frustrations and causes them to grow and become harder to deal with. I am of the opinion that if we are to "beat our bodies and make them our slaves," like Paul did (1 Corinthians 9:27 NIV), then we are to realize that the sexual frustrations and stresses and desires of our bodies are only beneficial when a husband and wife are having good and healthy sex with each other (as opposed to alone.) This, too, is enjoyable (do I hear.) While I disagree with the comparison between masturbation and eating found in this correspondence, I was reminded of another comparison that I have heard. "Sex within a marriage should be like eating; three times a day, plus snacks."


Guest commented…

I am finally glad that someone mentioned the long lasting affect on a persons life and marriage. I was just 12 years old when I first started masturbating (I'm 21 now). I can honestly tell you that there was no lusting behind it back then. It was my drug of choice. I never saw it as a sin because I wasn't hurting anyone. But in reality I was hurting myself. After doing this for nearly 8 years of my life on a daily basis I have become pretty good. As I look forward to marriage life in the future I realized I have put a challenge in the path of my husband. Obviously with all things practice makes better outcome. For my husband this will be the first touch but not for me. It is my greatest fear that I will not be satisfied because I have damaged my purity in that area. It is my prayer every single day that I will forget all of that in my past.

I am not sure if I have made any sense but I wanted to express this aspect of masturbation and the affect it has had on my life, both now and in the future. There are consequences for everything even if they are not immediate.

Tabetha Anderson


Tabetha Anderson commented…

Oh, man, I tried to keep this short, but that did not happen.

Calling masturbation good, healthy, and safe is so dangerous for Christians. I guess it is a possibility to do it with a clear head and thinking only of Godly things, but it is much easier for our demented, sinful minds to go to the ugly, dangerous thoughts.

I have never thought about masturbation in the terms of anticipating my future husband. In my life it has been because of something I have seen or heard or because of a thought that has gone through my mind. And isn't wanting someone simply for sexual reasons bad? Like, if I were thinking of my future husband while masturbating, wouldn't that be lusting (even though I have no idea what he looks like now?) I have trouble with that idea of thinking of your future partner. Because that's not what our minds go to. They go to images that are not healthy. Not to mention the fact that our minds need new, improved, and different was of stimulation. This leads down a slippery slope.

And I completely disagree with you that it can be a form of worship. Masturbation is the epitome of selfishness. How can we worship God simply for who He is by such a selfish act?

You guys talk about how when it becomes an addiction it becomes a sin, and I have to discuss that as well. Masturbation was never an addiction for me. It was a time waster. It was simply because I thought God was never going to send me someone. It was because I was lonely. Which was an issue because I was not trusting God in those areas of my life. I also found I would masturbate when I was bored, when I couldn't find anything else to do. And, since I have decided not to, I have found way more productive things to do with that time. I take that time to build my relationship with my ultimate Lover. I take that time to read and delve into His word and to meditate on the spectacular love that He has for me. And, wow, I don't even need that anymore. My life is so much brighter.

I don't want to sound clich. And I know, a year ago, I would have read what I just wrote and been skeptical about the person but, trust me guys, it is the truth. Why do we have to masturbate? Why is it such a right? My body does not belong to me. My body along with every other part of me belongs to the Creator. Who am I to abuse it?

Thomas Lee


Thomas Lee commented…

1 Corinthians 6:12-20:

12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything. 13 dFood is meant for the stomach and the stomach for foodand God will destroy both one e?and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but ?for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and ?will also raise us up ?by his power. 15 Do you not know that ?your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined? to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ?The two will become one flesh. 17 But he who is joined to the Lord ?becomes one spirit with him. 18 ?Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin? a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or ?do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 ?for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 10:31-33
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or ?whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 ?Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

As Christians living in a postmodern culture, in which everything we do is "from my point of view", we need to be careful to weigh all our actions against Scripture. In Corinthians, Paul is dealing with a church that is abusing its God-given freedom. Just because we have freedom, does not mean that everything we do is good. It may seem good for our selves, but is it good for others? Masturbation is a SELF-gratifying act. As Rob put it, "Yes, there are sexual stresses and frustrations in the world, but masturbation is not a "release" from them. It is giving in to them, and it feeds these desires and frustrations and causes them to grow and become harder to deal with." Christ makes it clear that a lustful thought is the same as committing adultery. Paul, as stated above, equates adultery with forcing a prostitute onto Christ himself. Yes, all things are permissible, but is masturbation beneficial? As verse 20 above says, "Glorify God with your body." Can I really, honestly say that I am glorifying God when I masturbate? Even when I think about a girl or fruit or nothing at all? Scripture is clear that while our conscience is between the individual and God, it is also very clear that our actions do not affect just ourselves. The law is a tutor that leads us to Christ.

Galatians 5:16-20
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify ?the desires of the flesh. 17 For ?the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, ?to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, ?you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: [i]sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality[/i], 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, ?divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

Just as T says, "My body does not belong to me. My body along with every other part of me belongs to the Creator. Who am I to abuse it?"



Liane commented…

I don't think that masturbation separate from lust is impossible -- see Sidney's post. However, I don't see it as being beneficial, and in more cases than not, it can very easily become an addiction, or it is a manifestation of another sin.

I don't feel comfortable saying masturbation is wrong for every Christian every time. But if masturbation separates us from the Holy Spirit, causes us to feel shame, allows us to rely on something other than Christ for satisfaction in our single lives, is a way to revisit past sin, or hurts the way we view people of the opposite sex, then it's something we probably shouldn't be doing. Because of those consequences, it's not okay for me.

I think this is a question we should wrestle with. Look at the consequences (or potential consequences) in your own life, see if your thoughts and deeds line up with Scripture, and determine whether it's possible for you to masturbate without sinning. For most people, I personally think the answer would be no, but as the Bible does not say "thou shalt not masturbate," I'm not going to make the call that says it's always wrong.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In