Is Masturbation Sinful?
I’m going to tackle some difficult questions over the next few weeks. We’ll start with…
Is masturbation a sin?
I get this question a lot. I’ve found that I approach differently than most. I think the “its lustful” approach falls short of answering it in a helpful way. So, here is how I address it:
The most basic problem with masturbation isn’t lustful thoughts. It is true that one of the reasons masturbation is sinful is because it USUALLY requires lust. However, it is POSSIBLE for a person to bring themselves to climax without lustful thoughts. I’ve known individuals to justify the act of self-pleasure on those very grounds. However, it still would be sinful as it is an unnatural act. Natural, of course, is not merely defined by what we observe in creation but by what God’s word reveals regarding the purpose of His design.
Scripture clearly teaches that sexual pleasure is to only be derived in the context of two people of the opposite sex within a lifelong covenant (aka marriage). There are three parts involved for a sex act to be lawful/natural: the number of individuals (two), the sex of the individuals (opposite), and the commitment of the individuals (marriage covenant). Masturbation fails in all three parts. It only requires one person of the same sex and therefore is independent of the marriage bed.
To put another way…
First, masturbation is sinful because it involves a single individual. In this sense, it is an extremely narcissistic act that violates 1 Corinthians 7:1-7. Here we are that a woman has sexual authority over her husband’s body and vice versa. Calvin uses this passage to argue against polygamy:
“For this reason, also, polygamy (tolugamia) is again condemned; for if this is an invariable condition of marriage, that the husband surrenders the power of his own body, and gives it up to his wife, how could he afterwards connect himself with another, as if he were free?”
I agree but also argue in the opposite direction. Sex must not involve more than two people but neither may it involve less than two people.
Second, masturbation is sinful because it involves a single sex. The principle of a male receiving sexual pleasure from a male (or female from a female) being sinful is clearly laid out in Scripture. Part of what makes homosexuality an abomination is that it is "against nature." Sexual pleasure should only be derived from a member of the opposite sex. Homosexuality doesn't do that. In that sense, masturbation is in line with one aspect of what makes homosexuality evil.
Masturbation is, Scripturally speaking, against nature because it is a single sex activity.
Third, masturbation is sinful because it is independent of marriage. The beauty of sex, when engaged in lawfully, is that it strengthens the bonds of a marriage. That fact that sex is reserved for marriage is designed to push a man towards maturity. He needs to become the type of man a woman would give her body to and, in doing so, allow herself to be tied to him forever biological through the creation of a child. The same is true of a woman. She must become the sort of woman that isn’t just attractive physically but also in terms of her character. She needs to be the sort of woman that a man would trust his progeny with and happily lay down his life to defend. Once married, sex then becomes a sort of renewal of this mindset. Masturbation cannot achieve this but rather does the opposite.
There is more to be said but I find this approach think to be a helpful reframing of the conversation.