Navigating masturbation: a consideration for Christians

If you are a person of faith, you should continue reading this because you believe in a Creator God, and as such, you are interested in what the Bible, the Word of God, has to say about how you live your life. If you are not a person of faith but are somewhat curious about what the Bible says about how you live your life, then you may also benefit from reading this. However, if you have no interest in what the Bible says and don’t believe God has anything to do with your sexuality, then this will probably not make much sense to you. 

This article does not discuss what medical professionals, sociologists, psychologists, or sex experts say. While not discounting these professionals, we want to first elevate God’s Word above all others to see how God wants us to understand our sexuality. Then, we may consider other recommendations if they align with the Bible. So, we invite you to read this article with openness and humility. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart to receive what God wants you to hear, not just about masturbation but about your sexuality overall.


Masturbation, defined as the act of self-stimulation leading to sexual pleasure, is a practice that spans cultures, generations, and belief systems. In today’s world, it is touted as a natural part of human sexuality and serves as an outlet for sexual urges and desires and a healthy expression of sexual autonomy. Many experts say it is an excellent way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unwanted pregnancy, and infidelity. But how should a Christian view masturbation, and what does the Bible say about it?

What exactly is Masturbation?

Masturbation is the experience of a person giving themselves sexual pleasure by touching their own sexual organs, which often leads to orgasm. Some have argued that since God created us as sexual beings, masturbation is the most natural act for humans to explore and embrace one’s sexuality. Even so, it still is an act of self-pleasuring and self-gratification. Does this mean it is inherently sinful?

Christian perspectives on masturbation vary widely across denominations and individual beliefs. Sadly, erroneous and guilt-laden teachings about sexuality from well-meaning Christian parents, teachers, pastors, etc., have led many to separate their sexuality from God and turn to more secular teachings. While the Bible does not explicitly speak about masturbation, it does give unambiguous instructions about sexual activity and how Christians are to approach their sexuality.

God invented sex

God invented sex. It’s His perfect gift to humankind—initially to Adam and Eve, a couple united (or married) by God. Ideally, God desires that this gift provides the security of oneness, permanence, and no shame (Genesis 2:24, 25). It is an act of intimacy between two people—husband and wife—and is the ultimate act of giving oneself to another person, which requires absolute trust and safety. 

To be sure, God made sexual organs for more than procreation. The male and female organs are complementary and provide profound physical pleasure between husband and wife (Genesis 24:67; Eccl. 9:9, Song of Songs). However, the nature of this pleasure is also spiritual as it consummates God’s intent for husband and wife to experience the depth of spiritual oneness during a most intense climax of physical pleasure (Matt. 19:4,5; Mark 10:9). Sexual intercourse involves not just the physical body but total mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the husband and the wife. 

For many adolescents, male and female, masturbation is a passing phase of understanding the body’s response to being stimulated and a release from a pent-up drive for sexual intimacy with another person. This in no way justifies, condones, or endorses masturbation but simply describes what often happens in adolescent growth and development. However, the real drive for masturbation stems from a deep need for intimacy with another person and for sexual fulfillment. But once this quick gratification is achieved, it can easily become an addiction to simply pleasuring oneself rather than being with another person. As such, masturbation often becomes a compulsive habit that can be detrimental for one to have a healthy sexual relationship later on in marriage. It also often leads to addiction to pornography and other lustful behaviors. In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus talks of lust which can be defined as a strong desire or craving; it is desire without restraint. Compulsive behaviors often lack control and always demand immediate satisfaction.

Although contemporary culture has embraced masturbation as a regular part of sexual exploration, it is still not spoken about openly in most circles, Christian or non-Christian. It continues to be a solo act conducted in private. It often carries a great sense of guilt, shame, emptiness, isolation, and lack of fulfillment. No number of clever slogans or motivating campaigns can assuage the unfulfilled, or empty, feeling of masturbation, no matter how nonchalant a person is expected to be about it. Why? Because the human sexual drive is a deep need for intimacy with another person.

What Does the Bible Say About Masturbation?

While the Bible doesn’t specifically address masturbation, we can’t separate sex from God. And since God gave the ultimate sexual experience for a complementary man and woman to experience it together, masturbation robs one of the full blessings God wants for our sexuality.

To masturbate, you must get graphic and exciting thoughts and images into your mind. This is usually done by imagination (but usually based on things previously seen or heard), watching videos, staring at pictures, or lusting after real people. This means masturbation can lead you down a dark road where you become addicted to pornographic images of real or make-believe people. This is what’s called lust, and Jesus condemns lust in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman [man] with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her [him] in his heart.” To be clear, it is not called lust if you are married to that man or woman. But if you imagine having sex with someone you are not married to, then that is lust, and Jesus further says it is adultery. Lust begins within the heart and in the mind. Masturbation begins with and requires lust (see also Proverbs 6:25).

God wants sexual intercourse between husband and wife to be satisfying and respectful. As such, before marriage, it is good to develop healthy habits around your sexuality. Masturbation leads to an obsessive focus on your own touch and your own pattern of self-pleasuring. Again, God made sex to be a two-person activity; sex is not a solo sport. When you get married thinking only of your own pleasure, you create false expectations that will eventually interfere with your sexual enjoyment and connection with your spouse. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and is needed in every area of our lives, especially in our sexuality.


God wants us to honor him with our whole body, mind, and soul. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God…” (1 Thess. 4:3-5, ESV). God understands that the human sex drive is one of the most potent urges in the human arsenal and is very difficult to manage. Hence, he gave humankind marriage. Sexual intercourse, sexual pleasure, and orgasm are experiences to be shared with your life partner in marriage. 

Of course, one should not rush into marriage solely for this reason; instead, everyone needs to better understand how and why their bodies and their sexual organs were made by God and for what purpose. From a young age, all must learn what healthy sexuality is from a Biblical perspective—which encompasses biology, sociology, psychology, neurology, and ethics. “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:7-8, ESV). God loves to give good gifts to His children and promises He will not withhold any good thing from us if we trust Him. Furthermore, He promises to provide us with His Holy Spirit power to exercise self-control in all areas of our lives, including our sexuality.

Note: Parents, teachers, and other Christian leaders should focus less on answering the question of masturbation being evil and help young (and old) people develop healthy and responsible attitudes toward their bodies and sexuality. Perspectives that remind them they are fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator who has great plans for their lives are helpful. Remind them that the absolute truth is that God’s way is freedom and not guilt.

By Willie and Elaine Oliver, Directors of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Images: AI-generated, Freepik

Related Articles