May a Christian masturbate? May a Christian use porn? Questions from a divorcee…

QUESTION: I am a divorcee and I miss having sex very much. When I feel the urge (sexual desire), I watch porn and masturbate.  No, I am not a sex addict and I am not a porn addict.  This may happen once or twice a month and even sometimes a couple of months go by and it doesn’t happen. As a Christian woman, I feel horrible when I do this.  I think that masturbation is a sin, but I can’t back it up with Scripture.  I am under the impression from reading your blog that you do not think it is sin.  Can you please clarify this for me using Scripture?  I read on a Christian web site that singles who masturbate do not sin because masturbation is the outlet they can have for their sexual desires since they do not have a wife/husband in their lives. Also, if masturbation is not a sin in and of itself, does it become sin when porn gets added into the mix?  And this may sound like a stupid question, but why is watching porn sin?  Can you back it up with Scripture? Thank you.  God bless.

ANSWER: Unfortunately, I discovered that I started to answer this in October 2011 but somehow lost track of it. Now, a year later, I finally respond. Forgive me please.

It appears that a great percentage of the evangelical community considers masturbation a sin. However, on the rare occasion when I get to query one of them about this belief, it becomes apparent that though they argue against masturbation, in reality their opposition is to lust. When I offer scenarios in which masturbation has no connection to lust for someone that a person has no right to, some continue to categorize masturbation as sinful, some retreat for further consideration, and some have a light go on.

Our Catholic friends view masturbation as sinful because it precludes the possibility of pregnancy. By their view, any sexual act that does not involve possible procreation is not as God intended. If you are Catholic, you know that. If you are not Catholic, likely you are familiar with their opposition to birth control which is the logical extension of their sexual view. Most Protestants (actually, since we are well-distanced in time from the protestation against the Catholic church that led to the plethora of Christian churches existing today, we probably are better described as non-Catholic rather than Protestant) do not hold the Catholic view about sex. We believe that a married couple may enjoy each other sexually even without the possibility of making a baby and, therefore, freely participate in contraceptive methods and devices.

However, some non-Catholic Christians believe the Bible condemns masturbation because of a story in the Old Testament about a fellow named Onan. In some dictionaries Onanism is defined as another word for masturbation, though that does injustice to what actually occurred in the Biblical account. More accurately, most dictionaries now add coitus interruptus as a definition of the word. Good, because THAT is what Onan actually did.

You may read the story in Genesis 38.  Under their law if a man died childless, his brother had to marry the widower and impregnate her to provide an heir for the dead brother. Judah commanded his son Onan to do that on behalf of his dead brother Er. Therefore, Onan married Tamar, his former sister-in-law but was not happy about it. Verses 9-10 read, Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.” He practiced coitus interruptus, which is accurately defined by dictionary.com as “withdrawal of the penis in sexual intercourse so that ejaculation takes place outside the vagina.” The man did not masturbate; he sinned by refusing to impregnate Tamar to give his deceased brother an heir. Using his story to condemn masturbation stretches far beyond the Biblical text.

Interestingly, masturbation is never mentioned in the Bible in any verse of either the Old or New Testament. Therefore, the question “may a Christian masturbate” is one that must be evaluated on principle, rather than reading verses directly about it.

When I ask enthusiastic evangelicals if a husband or wife may masturbate as part of the sexual encounter with his/her wife, they typically reply that would be okay. When I take it a step further and ask if that same married couple could masturbate while speaking to each other via phone if one of them were away on a business trip, they tend to hem and haw for a while and then, grudgingly, admit that would be okay. When I ask if they were not speaking directly with each other via phone, would it be okay if they both masturbated at a prearranged time so that each could focus their thoughts on the other who was doing it simultaneously, they usually change the subject.

My point is that masturbation is only one of many sexual acts a person can do, and that it is not the act that should be judged but the relationship. Kissing my wife is acceptable. Kissing someone else’s wife is not.

(I recognize certain limits to this approach. There are some sexual acts that I believe are off limits because of the harm they do to the body. In those cases, I believe that the relationship may be right, but the act wrong because it harms one’s body, God’s temple. However, I cannot see masturbation limited in this way. It is common for a man or woman to masturbate themselves or their spouses as part of foreplay; it does no harm while increasing sexual arousal.)

So, yes, you are correct in that I do not believe masturbation to be sinful in and of itself.

However, if masturbation occurs in combination with lust for a person to whom one has no right, then the lust is wrong. Jesus condemned lust in Matthew 5:28. Therefore, my belief is that a single person may masturbate while concentrating on the sensations of his/her body but must not include lusting after a person to whom s/he has no right. Lust is wrong whether accompanied by masturbation or any other act. It is the relationship, not the act of masturbation, that makes the act okay or not okay.

Now, to your specific question about masturbating while watching pornography.

You are not alone in seeking this solution to your sexual drives. An increasing number of single women in America purposely seek a pornographic site for the purpose of sexual arousal. Many women seek titillation because they do not have a partner, or because the partner is not available physically and/or emotionally. Therefore, do not think of yourself as abnormal. However, you also state that watching pornography arouses you so that you can satisfy your sexual urges. I do not know another word for that other than lust. According to Jesus, that is not allowable for those who follow him.

Though typically single Americans ignore his direction, Paul wrote in the early verses of 1 Corinthians 7 that if we cannot contain our sexual desires, we should marry to fulfill them. I realize that is easier said than done, and that the number of reasonable marriage partners fall within the old descriptor “slim to none.” That presents a problem of major proportions. However, at the risk of sounding as if I do not appreciate your plight or your desires, to be true to the Bible I say that porn usage is not a valid option. IF, on the other hand, you can teach yourself to masturbate to orgasm by concentrating on your body’s sensations, I do not condemn masturbation as an outlet for your sexual needs. In that sense, done in that way, I think those who call it a valid outlet for sexual urges are correct.

Again, I apologize for taking a year to answer. I also am sad that you are in this plight and certainly understand the sexual urges that drive you. Paul indicated in 1 Corinthians 7 that he was able to live the celibate, single life because he had a spiritual gift to do so. It seems few of us have that…

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7 Comments

  1. Deborah

    Explanation is well done. Thanks for posting this.

    Reply
  2. Harold

    This was a very good study of the subject based on inspired scriptures. Sometimes we forget to use talking with God in prayer and listening to His Spirit when dealing with difficult needs and their satisfaction. I know He can guide us in satisfying our needs without sinning if we follow his leads. Sound miraculous? Well, who else but God.

    Reply
  3. Daniel

    Well said. It’s also of note that coitus interruptus was not the SIN of Onan, but his refusal to provide an heir for his brother. It’s the tool he used to sin, but the tool is not inherently sinful.

    Reply
  4. Kevin

    In my opinion, Jesus would say “it was not so from the beginning”. The point of sex is more than procreation. It is part of the bonding process of 2 into 1. I honestly believe that without a sex drive most men wouldn’t get into families and would miss so much because they can survive and even thrive alone – think mountain men…..

    Masturbating alone doesn’t join anyone and it opens us up to emptiness because the mutual fill isn’t there. It also creates selfishness and self-pleasure instead of mutual giving and serving.

    So while it isn’t listed as ‘sinful’ I believe it is more detrimental than helpful. We live under grace not law – not rules but the spirit of the Lord. Which is why Jesus pointed to original creation instead of Laws of Moses. What is the spirit of the use of sexual organs – for self or for mutual partnership?

    The main reason masturbation seems ok is because the emptiness and lack of mutual partnership is occurring instead of what was designed from the beginning. So don’t read me saying if you do it you go to hell – that’s the wrong spirit – of law not of the Spirit.

    We do what draws us closer to the Lord and into his light. I think the sense of guilt we often feel with the act has to do with the reality of moving away from the Creator in it rather than ethical codes socially engrained in us. It’s not that we don’t know any better but that our spirit knows better than our mind does. We can justify anything, can’t we – murder, stealing, abuse, etc? I try to avoid this process and encourage others to do the same – drawing near to God who can fulfill all your needs and satisfy all your desires… “All my fountains are in you” (Ps. 87.7). Perpetually step into the light of the Lord and find peace, healing and hope!

    Reply
  5. Chris

    I would disagree that the Bible does not forbid masturbation. It is curious (and possibly significant) that Leviticus doesn’t mention it but in the New Testament we find:
    Matt 5, 28-30. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away, it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away, it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell”. (There is a similar passage in Mark)

    I had always thought that meant masturbation – as a cross-check I asked our (Anglican) priest what he thought the right hand did to offend in that passage. His answer was that masturbation was the obvious thing, but other interpretations were possible. He also pointed out that the language was hyperbolic and not intended to be taken literally. (I should perhaps mention that he and I are old friends, going back before his ordination.)

    We know that the Jewish talmudic literature, dating from a couple of centuries after Christ, condemned masturbation in language that even 19th-century American doctors and preachers didn’t match! So such notions were very likely current in Christ’s time.

    Reply
  6. Raj

    Chris, would not the right hand also be used to seal illicit deals, wield a sword in anger and caress another man’s wife? Far too many immoral things could be done with the right (or left) hand for someone to say that Matthew 5 is specifically about masturbation. I find it interesting that so many people want to know how far they can and cannot go towards sin rather than how close they can get to God.

    Reply
  7. Paul

    Raj, well put. I believe that the single most important facet in this debate is to put God first, and to wholeheartedly seek after His will. If this is a stumbling block for you, it is then up to you to set your standard and live by it! As an added note, remember your standards may not be everyone elses. Therefore, be considerate of your Brother or Sisters standard.
    Keep in the Faith. In Christ, Paul

    Reply

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