Some people claim that it is a natural response to natural desires. The Bible challenges us to think differently.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

You may have heard of masturbation (self stimulation) being presented in a positive way as a normal healthy activity. It is claimed that it can help young people ease anxiety and, after or even during puberty, relieve sexual frustration. So is there anything wrong with this teaching? What is a Christian perspective on this?

Our authority for what is right and wrong comes from God through His Word in the Bible. The Bible does not directly mention the subject but, as with other ethical issues, all the principles are there for us to draw firm conclusions. The Bible uses the Greek word “porneia” to describe any sexual behaviour outside sexual intimacy between a husband and wife, and teaches that we should run away from such behaviour [1]. Masturbation or self-stimulation falls into this category of behaviour.

Separating arousal from sexual intimacy

Masturbation removes arousal from the relationship context that God designed. Arousal enables and encourages sexual intimacy within marriage. Masturbation changes sexual intimacy into a solo activity consisting of a biological arousal/release rather than the intended purpose of becoming “one flesh” with a person in a relationship which is emotional and spiritual as well as physical.

Whilst sexual arousal is designed to be shared in the mutual sacrifice of sexual intimacy in marriage, masturbation is obviously a self-centred and self-absorbing action. It is important to remember that self control is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. Developing the self-discipline required to say “no” to masturbation before marriage will help develop the strength needed to keep a marriage pure.

Adultery in our heart

Jesus made it quite clear that all sexually arousing thoughts as well as actions outside marriage are wrong [2]. They are a form of mental adultery with the person who is the object of those thoughts – which, in effect is being committed against a future (potential) wife or husband.

Some claim self-stimulation doesn’t need to be accompanied by sexually arousing thoughts. In such a way they maintain that they are not guilty of such mental adultery. But even if this were possible, something very unnatural is going on. We are not designed to separate the physical from mental aspects of sexual arousal – and when we attempt this, it is likely that future sexual intimacy in the God-designed context of marriage may be negatively affected. When we distort God’s designs, we often end up damaging ourselves and others, sometimes way into the future.

Rather than releasing or easing sexual tension, self-stimulation often inflames sexual desire…

A dangerous and addictive habit

For many, however, self-stimulation is accompanied by sexually arousing thoughts. It can become a habit that is unfulfilling but hard to break. Rather than releasing or easing sexual tension, self-stimulation often inflames sexual desire and makes it harder to contain sexual desires outside of marriage. It is often accompanied by the use of pornography, which is highly spiritually dangerous and damaging, and also potentially addictive.

The witness of conscience

In assessing whether self-stimulation is right, it is also important to remember the witness of our conscience. Many would testify to a strong sense of guilt and shame associated with it (which secular psychiatrists may attempt to analyse away). The subject is rarely written or talked about in Christian literature for the very reason that it seems embarrassing and shameful. Is this guilt a trick of the evil one to put us off something beneficial or is it the Spirit within us causing this sense of moral unease? There is sufficient clarity from God’s word to believe that it is the latter.

If you are tempted in this way, it is important to remember that God promises His strength and help:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

  1. 1 Corinthians 6:18 “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
  2. Matthew 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”