You probably didn’t hear a lot about masturbation growing up—at least, not at church. It’s an uncomfortable topic that many Christians would rather just ignore than address directly.
But masturbation—physically stimulating yourself for sexual excitement, usually to orgasm—is a big deal. It corrupts the healthy, God-given desire to experience oneness and mutual pleasure with a spouse, making it self-focused. It turns the God-given gift of imagination into an incentive to isolate. Thanks to powerful chemical releases in the brain’s reward center, it's incredibly habit-forming. It's a spiritual battle involving both the flesh and the mind.
The biggest myth about masturbation is that it “doesn’t hurt anyone.” Masturbation harms the object of your attention—whoever or whatever you sexualize, whether you consume pornography or fantasize about people you know. It reduces people to objects for your sexual gratification. If you are married, masturbation harms your spouse and your marriage. It creates distance where there should be intimacy, brings other people into what should be a joyfully exclusive relationship, and feeds passivity and strife. Even if you are not married now, the habits you begin now will not be easy to shake later, especially since sex with a spouse requires effort and selflessness. Giving in now is setting yourself up to fail in the future.
But the person you harm most deeply when you masturbate is yourself. It separates you from God’s comfort; He is light and has no fellowship with darkness (1 John 1:6). It also stunts your emotional, relational, and spiritual growth, hindering your ability to live in the real world. When you respond to stress or sadness by masturbating, you rewire your brain to default to this quick chemical fix when life is hard. It captivates the reward center of your brain just as powerfully as substances like cocaine or heroin, and can leave you just as cripplingly dependent.
“For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite [sex] which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete…his own personality in that of another…and turns it back: sending the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifice or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among these shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification is ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself.”
To find your way forward from a struggle with masturbation, you need to realize that:
- Your body is not your own. If you’ve trusted Christ, your body is a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It belongs to God, and you’re meant to glorify Him with it. If you’re married, your body also belongs to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:4), and pleasuring yourself deprives your spouse of the chance to experience intimacy and pleasure with you. To gain any ground in this fight, you need to unlearn the concept of your body as “yours.”
- Life within God’s design is best. God is not trying to keep something good from you; He’s trying to protect you and give you the life-giving gift of sex in the way that it was meant to be experienced. Whether you’re married or single, you can save yourself heartache and pain by disciplining your body and relying on God to sustain you and meet your needs. And if you’ve already messed up, there’s hope! God can transform you if you are willing.
- This struggle is common. You are not alone. Lust and masturbation are pervasive issues that almost everyone, male or female, struggles with at some point. Remember, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Don’t let shame keep you in the dark. Confess, repent, and ask others to hold you accountable. Victory is possible!
- Temptation is an opportunity. Temptation is an opportunity to be transformed by the renewing of your mind and to deepen your dependence on God. It’s an opportunity to examine yourself and make yourself vulnerable to others. And it’s an opportunity to be faithful—to your spouse or future spouse, and most importantly, to God.
Though the Bible never specifically talks about masturbation, and any time an issue isn’t directly addressed in Scripture, it’s important to look at it through the lens of 1 Corinthians 10:31 and 1 Corinthians 10:23. Is it glorifying to God? Is it not only permissible, but actually beneficial? In rare circumstances—for example, as a way for spouses to share intimacy while separated, or as part of fertility testing—masturbation might pass this test. But this isn’t a decision you should make lightly or in isolation. We are very good at deceiving ourselves.
Remember whose you are and that His design is intended to bless you, not cheat you. Glorify God in everything you do, setting your mind and heart on things above, filling your thoughts with praiseworthy things. Draw close to Him when you face temptation and invite others in to know and strengthen you. He will use this and every struggle for your good and for His glory.