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Is Masturbation a Sin?

Hey Joshua,
So, we had a big debate in the halls last night about masturbation. What’s your take on it? 

Well done for asking an awkward question a lot of Christians are too nervous to ask and even fewer pastors want to answer. I guess the question is a bit a handful. Attempting to answer this publicly does seem to rub some the wrong way.

I’ll answer first as a Bible teacher, then as a pastor. 

With my Bible teacher hat on, I have to tell you that Scripture is silent on the issue. Now that hasn’t stopped people on both sides of the debate from relentlessly and creatively seeking for a verse to support their view. But there is none. And that’s not because the Bible doesn’t talk about sex or sexual sin. Scripture describes sex as a good gift. Sin perverts sex and is therefore evil. The Bible cites fornication, adultery, bestiality, rape, pornography, homosexual acts, polygamy, polyamory and many other such activities as unfitting for the people of God. But on masturbation – the Bible utters not a whisper.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
- Ecclesiastes 9.10
[NOT a verse endorsing masturbation]

It is important for you to know that masturbation is not clearly condmened in Scripture. Some have heard it is and the guilt they feel in association with the practice is largely unnecessary. For many, it is not masturbation that is destroying them – it’s the sense of guilt that goes with it. They need to know they don’t stand condemned under God’s law.

Understand? I hope you've got a good grip on that.

BUT – and this a big but... I cannot lie – I generally advise against the practice as a pastor. I am not pontificating law here, but rather sharing the wisdom of a man who has carried a robust sex drive within him since the days of his youth. So…why should you avoid making this a regular habit?

First of all, in our day, masturbation and pornography often go (ahem) hand in hand. I have worked with many Christian guys - and occasionally a gal - who want to kick the habit of porn. For many, if they want to get free of porn, they found that they needed to get rid of the habit of masturbation as well. In previous generations porn was harder to come by and few Christians would risk losing face to go to a store and buy a one-handed lad’s mag. Now it’s on our phone and everywhere. It’s the petrol that fuels most people’s addiction to the idol of orgasm. Some try masturbation to understand and experiment with their bodies. Fair enough. But instead of being able to control it, some end up being mastered by masterbation. 

When it comes to anything involving our sex drive, we are playing with something powerful - something that not all of us can easily control. Hence Scripture warns us 'do not awaken love making'* at the wrong time. It IS possible to live without masturbation and have a healthy and happy life. In some cases, it may even help.

For married couples, masturbation can become an easy substitute for marital sex - if you’ve been married for more than a couple of years, you know what I mean. When a Christian couple first gets married, sex is usually new and exciting. But over the years, sex gets intertwined with many other issues. If the marriage as a whole isn’t working well, then sexual intimacy doesn’t work well either. When this happens, finding sexual release by taking matters 'into your own hand' can be much simpler. This is a sad state for Christians as our God rejoices in a married man and woman sharing erotic love with each other.

I’m not saying that masturbation is always wrong in marriage – but it often leads to things that are wrong or unhealthy. I know of one couple where the man has to take long business trips. When doing so, he takes sexy photos of his wife with him (with her knowledge) that he uses to masturbate with. When he returns from his trip, they resume normal marital intimacy. As a couple, they find this arrangment rather 'handy'. And if this practice helps him avoid the temptation of surfing the net for porn, hooking up with a girl in a bar or hiring a prostitute - and if it doesn't hurt their marital intimacy upon his return - then I see no reason to disuade him. Simply, be careful, as the practice can become addictive.

As many Christians do have questions about this - and other sexual issues - it would be good if pastors were willing to address them on occasion. Palm Sunday?

Often lust, sexual sin, or unhelpful sexual habits express themselves because other issues are not quite right. People who are lonely or lacking in healthy, intimate relationships are more prone. Their lack of healthy relationships make them prone to seek affection and security in other, unhealthy ways. Sometimes habitual masturbation isn’t so much the problem as it is a false solution. 

Jesus died a shameful death in order to remove our sin and shame. Finding health in a daily relationship with God through the forgiveness Jesus brings - and healthy, affectionate and transparent relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ - strengthens you. This makes the addictive hold of unwanted sexual habits weaker.

So, in short, I don’t want the Christians I pastor to come under a cloud of condemnation for masturbating, but I would advise them to avoid it as a habit as it can easily lead to other things that really are sinful and destructive. If you are in sexual sin, repent. Give Jesus your sin and he will give you forgiveness. There is no sin that Jesus cannot forgive and he will accept everyone who comes to him humbly. 

*Song of Songs 8.4

bkFor more about healthy friendships between Men and Women check out Forbidden Friendships available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK

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