Is it, or not? Is masturbation a sin? Is there even one answer that fits all people? Can we narrow this topic down to one size fits all?

I can only speak for myself, and for men, as I am not a woman, and I do not understand the psyche of women. Men, on the other hand, I understand. Having said that, I will attempt to give a position for both male and female, based upon scripture, as well as human psychology, from a male point of view. Keeping that in mind then, let’s begin.

Is masturbation sin? This is an important question for most Christians, I believe, but one that is rarely dealt with. Ask a pastor what he thinks about masturbation, and he is liable to give you a strange look, or pass his opinion off to an article someone else wrote. Messy Christian asked a number of questions that people might be afraid to ask a pastor, and a few pastors showed up, and answered some of them directly. I found it interesting that when the question pertaining to masturbation was approached, the pastors who commented on Messy Christian’s post referred us to an article written by someone else. All except Sivin Kit, who referred us to a comment he had written on a different Blog pertaining to masturbation. In that comment, the issue of masturbation was touched on, but in the end, our attention was turned to idolatry.

I think Sivin is on to something with that, I believe in fact he hit it generally pretty well. However, I believe this issue can be talked about in more detail, and can be labeled as either sin, or not sin.

First, what is a good definition of sin? The best one I have heard yet is this: Anything that does not glorify God is sin. Alright, does that answer our question? Not necessarily. I think it gets us close, provided one can agree with that definition of sin. But there is much more to this issue for the Christian than just calling something sin, and leaving it at that.

Here is something Jesus said about adultery that I found disturbing.

“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. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you, for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:27 – 30

Can the last two verses be tied in with the first? In other words can we rightfully apply tearing out an eye, or cutting off a hand to what Jesus said about adultery? I believe we can, and must, for immediately following the verse about cutting off a hand, Jesus speaks of divorce, and again, of adultery. It is clear He is still on the subject of adultery when He is talking about the eye and the hand.

For me, the reference to the eye is simple, since I am a man. Men are visually stimulated. Women, I do not claim to know what stimulates you. But, is it safe to say that some visual stimulation also takes place with you?

The eye in that passage is the easy part. It’s the hand that disturbs me. Who believes Jesus was referring to masturbation when He spoke of the hand?

Currently, I do believe He was referring to masturbation. That could change, but I haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary in anything I have read. The context of this passage all the way to the next time Jesus says, “You have heard it said” is the context of adultery, so clearly, Jesus is referring to relationships of an adulterous nature. The eye refers to looking at a woman with lust. Is it possible that the hand refers to acting out that lust? I believe it is.

However, I do not believe Jesus was literally telling us to gouge out our eyes, or cut off our hands. I believe He was referring to making those body parts not available to sin. In other words, if one wants to obey the heart of Jesus’ message, he must make his entire body a vessel for good, not for sin. This is followed up nicely by Paul in Romans and 1st Corinthians, where we are told to not let the members of our bodies be instruments of sin, and other such statements. If masturbation is a sin, it is clear that Jesus and Paul would give us the same message regarding the use of the body parts, what they are intended for, and what they are not intended for. If masturbation is a sin, then the hand is certainly causing us to stumble, but before that, it was the eye, so the eye must go first, and if that does not work, then the hand as well.

I admit that is a fairly simplistic way to look at all of this, so let’s go a little deeper. One comment I read recently on this subject stated that so long as a person didn’t fantasize about someone else, then masturbation was not a sin. I don’t think we can get so far as to give that much thought, unless we can prove that masturbation is even possible without fantasizing. Is masturbation possible without thinking of some sexual tryst? Is it possible for anyone, be they man or woman, to do the deed without engaging their mind? Off the cuff, I want to say “no” immediately. However, I admit there may be circumstances that I haven’t thought of, or know about.

For the male, I must say that I would find it very difficult to believe that one could masturbate without engaging his mind in some sort of fantasy involving someone else. For the woman, I would have to say the same thing, possibly their mind will engage more deeply, if we consider how much more deeply they communicate than men, as well as how much more intimate they desire their relationships to be.

Let me give you an example. If a man goes to a beach, where women are abundant in number, but not abundant in clothes, a man will have a feast of the eyes, if he does not have supernatural control over his mind. For a man, the simple act of looking at a woman can stimulate him. Further, once the woman has left his view, he no longer needs to see her again, he can file the image away for future use, and change that image, even animate that image, all within his mind. He can give words to that image, he can give commands, he can even have sex with her, right there in his mind, and he doesn’t need the woman present after the first glance. She is safely stored away in his memory for future reference. How nasty is that?
Women, if you ever wanted to know why you should probably dress conservatively, reread that paragraph. Men don’t need women to be around after they have had their first glance. In fact, when men do this, we dehumanize women, we treat them like a poster, like a blow up doll, and it is truly a sick thing that we do.

Nevertheless, let’s assume for a moment that a man masturbates while fantasizing about a woman. Clearly that is adultery, as Jesus said it was. But why is that adultery, Jesus? After all, no harm is being done to the woman, is there? Of course there is. If the woman is merely an image at this point in time, then the man is guilty of making that woman a slave to his passion, be she present or not. In essence, he is taking away her life, taking away her personality, and taking away her dignity. He might as well rape her, because in his mind, she has no choice in the matter, nor does she even have the right to a choice. She is a slave that belongs to this man, who in actuality, has no right to make any claim upon anyone who is not his wife. Adultery.

Then, can a man masturbate without engaging his mind? Can a woman do so? I do not believe it is possible. The mind is never at rest, it is always working. The mind is the keyway to sexual stimulation, whether it be through the eyes, by a thought, through relationship, or by physical touch. It all goes through the mind at some point in time, whereby the mind issues the command to follow through with self-gratification. Can a person masturbate without some type of fantasizing occurring?

Maybe a better question would be, can a person love without engaging the heart? Is that possible? We should know the answer is no. If a person cannot love without engaging the heart, how is it possible to self-gratify without engaging the mind? A fantasy doesn’t have to be a roaring sexual tryst. It can be the memory of a touch, or of something said, the memory of a compliment, or a person’s manner towards a woman. It doesn’t have to be a blazing sexual encounter for it to be a fantasy. However, without the mind, stimulation is impossible. Something needs to trigger that stimulation, and the mind gives the order to follow through, it doesn’t ever happen spontaneously.

I do not know what all stimulates women. I do know what stimulates me, and my mind takes over from there, issuing a command here, barking an order there, being the maestro of some grand symphony being played out in my mind.

But there is a simpler way to prove that self-gratification is a sin. It is the simple focus upon it that proves it. Have you ever tried to quit something that you thought you shouldn’t be doing? How hard was it once you started focusing on it? In fact, didn’t it become nearly impossible to stay away from that thing? Didn’t it seem there was temptation everywhere concerning it? This is the way the Law works, and the way our flesh responds to the Law. Especially for believers, where the flesh has set itself against the Spirit, there is a constant battle going on inside. The flesh will incessantly attempt to wrest control away from the Spirit. When the flesh becomes aware of something that is being focused on, the flesh will wage war in that direction. If it is masturbation, the flesh will scream for satisfaction. No matter that the Spirit will eventually win, the guilt left behind by giving in to the flesh is all that is needed for our proof. That, and the act of focusing on the subject matter which makes it so much more difficult to avoid, or cease from.

It almost becomes idolatry, and this is the point I believe Sivin was trying to make. Self-gratification is self-glorification. Recall that sin is anything that does not glorify God. If we are busy gratifying ourselves, are we gratifying God? Is that possible? Can one serve two masters simultaneously? You know the answer to that. It is impossible for us to voluntarily self-gratify, and simultaneously glorify God. The act of masturbation takes place without relationship, it is completely self-serving. That may not be a bad thing, if the self serving thing is something like breathing, or sneezing, or something involuntary that is necessary for survival. But is masturbation something that would fall into any of those categories? Is it something that is necessary, or is there an alternative release already provided for?

For men, the answer is simple. Nocturnal emission are the release God gave us for the “dry” times. I am almost ashamed to say that I do not know what God provided for women, maybe I should brush up on my biology? Am I allowed to not have that answer, seeing as how I flung this together at the last minute?. Please?

In the end, one thing needs to be clear. This is an issue best taken to God, and not to any man or woman, including me. I am imperfect, and not all knowing, my position is based on what I perceive to be the interpretation of the Word. It is not the end of all interpretations, it is only a well thought-out position on a very touchy subject. Keep one thought in mind, however. Masturbation has been declared as a good thing by most psychologists of the world, their basis for that being that “most people do it.” If that is the basis for our position, then we are in trouble. Since when do Christ-follower’s listen to the world for advice on what is right or wrong? Go to God, I believe He will answer this question for you.

I will not leave this subject without reminding you of grace. You are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, and that is going to take place regardless of what you do right now. Take hope in the fact that God loves you, and knows right where you are on this subject. If we be in sin, still, God loves us. Let that spur us on to the truth. He is big enough to handle whatever we bring to Him. But, if we try to deal with this on our own, we will be saddled guilt upon guilt, failure upon failure, and nothing but remorse for the flesh. Remember grace, remember that the changes inside come not by our own hands, but by the very hand of God. Let that be a greater encouragement to you than any worry or guilt over any sin currently in your life. Let grace wash you, as it was intended to. Let it define you as a saint, regardless of the flesh. Keep in mind that God’s love knows no boundaries, and there is always hope in that. This will one day no longer be an issue for any of us. Let’s try to remember that.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I've written about masturbation before. The first time I did, I was intellectually convinced that it was wrong, and stated my reasons:
http://www.ireneQ.com/mt-archives/000606.php (follow-up post)

But it was only 4 months later that I really BELIEVED it was wrong, in my heart. And here is that post:

I don't think there's any provision that grants women "release" during "dry" times. At least, not that I'm aware of.


Elaine said...

Masterbation is a form of lust pure and simple. Lust is a sin unless you are married. Paul also commeted on to men on the subject of burning flesh, I do belive this refers to sexual burning desires and this refers to both sexes. I agree it is a sin, we must learn to control our desires wether it is sex or food or drink or smoking. Theise fall into that "self-control" catigory. quite the intresting post.
God bless

Tom Reindl said...

Elaine, Thanks. Interesting post? I wish it wasn't, I really do.

Irene, Thanks for the support. I read all three of your posts that you provided links for. You've been blogging for two years?! Longer!? Wow! Good work!!

Isn't it amazing, though, how most of our heart wisdom comes from an intellectual understanding first? One thing I forgot to say on this post was going to be a direct address to women. That is, if you are in Christ, you are a virgin, regardless of your past, that is how God sees you. And since God's opinion is the only one that matters, you can trust it, and move forward with it because of Grace.

We can approach any issue of sin from a guilty-as-charged perspective, or we can approach it from a "I've been set free of this jail" perspective. Which perspective will bear more fruit? I believe it is the latter, where we are free to achieve what God wants us to achieve. The former is a jail. Jesus came to set the captives free. That is grace, and we cheapen grace when we believe otherwise, when we believe that we have no other choice but to remain as we are.

Be at peace men and women, and let's allow God the great room required for His awesome power to work in us.

Beloved said...

Wow, you did a really good job tackling that Tom... I especially think your encouragement here: "Remember grace, remember that the changes inside come not by our own hands, but by the very hand of God. Let that be a greater encouragement to you than any worry or guilt over any sin currently in your life. Let grace wash you, as it was intended to. Let it define you as a saint, regardless of the flesh. Keep in mind that God’s love knows no boundaries, and there is always hope in that." is so awesome.

In this struggle, which I think many will inwardly admit to, it takes a submitted effort to remember that we have been called to become living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2)... and we can't be in the flesh and in the Spirit at the same time... so it can be a struggle as you said to die to flesh and stay surrendered. The problem with being a living sacrifice is that we can get up and walk, or run, off the alter at any time. Masturbation is a stronghold... and we are called to "not be subject again to the yoke of slavery" Gal 5:1, because we have been set free in Christ. The "idolatry of self gratification" is a good description.

Tom Reindl said...


Much Thanks!! I really appreciate your comments.

However, I am wondering where all the men are on this issue? Hmmmmmmm :)

Elaine said...

Tom, I do belive the men are having some problem are having some problem responding to this post.