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Attitudes Of Christians Who Masturbate

Many Christian JackinWorld readers have reconciled their sexual practices with their faith. Here's what they have to say on the topic.

By Mike

[Mike has been JackinWorld's Assistant Editor since 1997. He has two grown children, a daughter and a son.]

Editor's note: Since this article was first published, we've received numerous letters describing different "Christian" perspectives on masturbation. Some of these letters have been extremely long, with numerous references to the Bible and other religious texts. Rather than attempt to keep up with the various and shifting attitudes of religious organizations and individuals, I will just say this: If your religion or your religious leaders have a problem with masturbation, my advice is either to move on to a belief system that's in tune with the 21st century, abandon your supernatural beliefs, or if your faith is that important to you, simply learn not to masturbate. We at JackinWorld consider it a huge waste of one's time and energy to attempt a tortured reconciliation in this area where no reconciliation is really possible — or necessary. That said, we present the original article below for archival purposes and do not represent that the views expressed within are accurate or complete. -M.J. Ecker

Some time ago, we raised the question of how Christian men reconcile masturbating with a teaching that often labels masturbation as sin. The 89 responses to our invitation provided plenty of detail for us to summarize various perspectives on masturbation by Christians. The responses came from teens and adults in various Protestant denominations as well as the Roman Catholic Church. Here is a summary of what they had to say.

The Bible & Masturbation

People who commented about the Bible believe it is silent on masturbation, even though those who preach against the practice have long interpreted verses to support their claims. The best known of these is the story of Onan, who "spilled his seed" to avoid impregnating his dead brother's wife and so God had him killed. Religious authorities who oppose masturbation have interpreted "spilling his seed" to mean that Onan masturbated. But many who have studied the story academically think it makes more sense that "spilling his seed" refers to withdrawing from intercourse before ejaculating (coitus interruptus) rather than masturbating. God punished Onan for disobeying His law, not for masturbating.

There is a general tone in Biblical scripture, particularly in the letters of Saint Paul, that we were created by God and therefore belong to Him, so that everything we do should glorify God. Our bodies are temples of God and we should respect them as such, avoiding all sorts of immoral and impure excesses. Traditional religious teaching has interpreted these concepts to include masturbation. It holds that God created sex to continue our race, so God favors only heterosexual intercourse sanctified by marriage because that is what makes babies and thus continues the race. Any other sexual behavior, such as masturbation or homosexuality, would be sinful because it leads us away from behavior that God approves.

Masturbating without lust seems to be
the biggest area of conflict for Christian men.

The Problem With Lust

Other people see the main religious problem being not so much with masturbating as with the lust that often attends it, particularly when pornography is used to aid arousal. (Lust is defined as an intense sexual desire or longing. The Greek word for lust means intensely wanting something that is forbidden.) A few respondents said that they can masturbate successfully without fantasizing about other people. They concentrate instead on their own bodies and the pleasant feelings that self-stimulation brings. But more respondents described repeatedly failing to avoid sexual fantasy. Masturbating without lust seems to be the biggest area of conflict for Christian men who seriously try to follow the teachings of their faith.

Some respondents resolve this dilemma by ignoring it — or, by reasoning that masturbation is a smaller sin than creating an unwanted pregnancy or contracting an STD. Others resolve it through the understanding of humans as imperfect and sinful by nature — it is human nature to sin, so if masturbation is a sin, then we are just being our imperfect, sinful selves. The best we can do is to pick ourselves up each time we fall and keep on trying to avoid sin. Moreover, we'd still be sinners even if we didn't masturbate.

The Catholic Church's Position

Although some religious denominations have changed their stance on masturbation as a sin, the Roman Catholic Church continues to classify the practice as venial sin. One respondent described learning that the Church's reasoning for proscribing masturbation is based on the idea that ejaculating semen outside of a woman's vagina wastes human seed. The theory, however, does not account for the millions of sperm in an ejaculation into the vagina that die after one sperm fertilizes an ovum. Nor does it account for the millions of sperm that die within a male's body every day even when they are not ejaculated.

Our Loving God

People said that they see God as a loving God who would not have given His people the blessing of sexual pleasure and then denied them access by calling it a sin. Some used the rather specious reasoning that because God made our arms long enough to reach our genitals conveniently, He must approve of us masturbating. Many think that God intends masturbation for those who cannot satisfy their sexual needs within a marriage — teens, single adults, widows, and widowers. Other respondents think that all sexual response celebrates God — orgasm brings us into oneness with self and God in solo sex, or with self, partner, and God in partnered sex — and God likes oneness. According to this view, solo masturbation — like partnered sex — is God's gift to His people.

Learning About Masturbation

Some boys discover masturbation on their own — often as young as 3 or 4 years old and usually without attaching any word to it. The Judeo-Christian culture teaches children to hide their genitals from others, so when a young boy in this culture discovers masturbation by himself, he would naturally assume that it also should be concealed because it involves his genitals. Boys who discover masturbation by themselves often think they are the only ones in the world who do this.

Other boys learn about masturbation from friends, relatives, or observation, often near the onset of puberty. A very fortunate few people reported having a parent or other trusted adult share with them the realities of masturbation — that almost everyone does it, and that people continue to masturbate throughout their lives, even if they are in a committed relationship, verifying that the practice is common and harmless. For some respondents, discovering that many of their friends also masturbate was enough for them to conclude that if it's so common, then it couldn't be a sin. When teens hear that their parents have continued to masturbate, that serves even more to dispel the notion that masturbation is rare, weird, or sinful — even if for some teens, knowing this might give them more information than they really wanted to know about their parents.

Masturbation Versus Sexual Intercourse

Some men see married sex as God's preference for us, but they acknowledge that not everyone is ready for or can be in such a relationship. Still, single people have sexual needs. Masturbation is a way to satisfy these needs without running the risks of promiscuous partner sex — disease, pregnancy, and emotional complications. This view of masturbation may assume that in normal growth and development, masturbation is preliminary to a more mature form of sex (sexual intercourse with a partner). When a man begins to have sex with others near his age, then he would leave masturbation behind. But other married men think masturbation and sexual intercourse can coexist. Sometimes a spouse is not available for intercourse due to being ill, away, or "not in the mood." A husband's sexual drive may be stronger than his wife's, so he masturbates to balance the different needs. Even in marriage, then, some men continue to masturbate when they are temporarily single. Others, however, continue to masturbate in marriage right along with satisfying and frequent sexual relations with their spouse, seeing the two experiences as different, even though similar. Some couples agree to include masturbation and mutual masturbation into their sexual activity, often as foreplay.

Responses to some Questions of the Week have commented on the difference between sex with oneself and sex with a partner. When masturbating, a person can concentrate solely on self-pleasuring, whereas partner sex presents the challenge and satisfaction of satisfying another person as well as oneself. Moreover, a lubricated hand stimulates a penis differently than a lubricated vagina; vaginal tissues are much smoother and softer, thus more slippery. Viewed this way, masturbation could be seen as different from intercourse, equally desirable and satisfying.

Changing Attitudes

Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, religious institutions and the medical establishment condemned masturbation as a sinful vice that would lead to grave consequences. Around the middle of the 20th century, medical authorities began to relax their views on masturbation, seeing it as probably not harmful as long as it wasn't practiced to excess and didn't cause great feelings of guilt. In 1949, Kinsey did his famous study on human sexual behavior, which led him to estimate that upwards of 98% of all American males have masturbated at one time or another. But generations of adults had grown up with a more restrictive view of the practice inherited from earlier times, and it wasn't until the latter third of the 20th century that parents and some religious denominations began to relax their own views of masturbation.

Today, many Christian parents still take a more restrictive view of masturbation. But more and more people are coming to see it as a normal part of the human sexual response — part of the gift of sexual pleasures from God to His people, not only to continue the race, but also possibly to gather them closer to Him in the experience of orgasm.


The Bible

One respondent discussed pertinent Biblical references:
Regarding discharges of semen:
Genesis 38:7-10, the story of Onan spilling his seed
Leviticus 15:16-23, concerning regulations for cleansing from discharge of semen or menstrual flow
Regarding lustful thoughts:
Job 31:1, committing not to look lustfully at a girl
Matthew 5:28, looking lustfully at a woman means committing adultery in one's heart
Colossians 3:5, put to death what is your earthly nature; lust is idolatry
1 Thessalonians 4:4-5, learn to control your body in a holy and honorable way, not in passionate lust like the heathen
1 Peter 4:3, avoid lust, debauchery, drunkenness, and idolatry
2 Peter 2:18, beware of false prophets...who appeal to the lustful desires of sinful human nature
Regarding addiction:
2 Peter 2:19, you are a slave to whatever has mastered you
1 Corinthians 6:12, I will not be mastered by anything

Web Pages

Focus on the Family — Breakaway Magazine (second article on the page)
Boys Under Attack, or Big M-Word [Note: JackinWorld disagrees with this site's teachings about homosexuality. -Ed.]
What the Bible Says About Masturbation

These are 3 of the many Web pages devoted to religious or Biblical views of masturbation. Enter "masturbation" and "Bible" into any search engine and you will find a wealth of reading, from conservative to liberal religious perspectives.
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