Recently we got this question on our forum:
“I have asked several pastors/mentors/friends about masturbation and whether it is sinful or not. I do not watch pornography, however, sometimes when I wake up and have an erection I will begin thinking about my fiancé sexually and masturbate. These fantasies are not ‘out of the ordinary’ in the sense that it is not like the pornography I was formally addicted to. For example, I often just imagine us cuddling and making out and then move on to intimate touching and then penetration. I don’t mean to be crude or anything…I’m just not sure if this is sinful and if it is harming me.
“The responses I get seem to be in both extremes. One guy says to pray and stop because it’s lust, which means sin. The other will say it is a natural reaction to sexual attraction, plus she is going to be your wife. Can anyone offer a biblical response to this that will not just brush it aside like something simple? ‘Just stopping’ hasn’t worked. I can’t make myself not get an erection, so I’m not sure what to do.”
What I’m about to offer is merely my own opinion, but I hope it serves as a help.
Nowhere in the Bible is physical act of masturbation (that is, the solo kind) labeled a sin. It is my opinion, therefore, that the physical act itself should not be the focus of our attention when it comes to asking about what God thinks.
That said, here are some critical questions I would ask you regarding your personal habit.
1. Is the act of masturbation tied to sexual lust?
If it is for you, then it is wise to avoid masturbation (Matthew 5:28). In your case, you say that it involves fantasies of the person you are planning to marry, which certainly qualifies as lust.
2. Do you fantasize about being loved or adored or desired when you masturbate?
If yes, then it is wise to avoid masturbation. Your desire for intimacy is meant to propel you towards a loving marital relationship, not a fantasy world where your pleasure is the focus.
Winston Smith does an excellent job in his little book about masturbation, It’s All About Me. He has readers examine their own sexual fantasies and ask, “How do the people populating my fantasies relate to me? What are their attitudes in my fantasies? How do they behave towards me in my fantasy world?” Much of the time, the fantasies are less about those people and more about the person who is fantasizing. In your sexual fantasies, you tend to take center stage. The plot and characters revolve around you. It is the world where all the characters are you-centered and play to your desires.
Smith calls this habit of fantasy “playing god.” “No matter how widely your fantasies may vary,” Smith writes, “in every instance you play god with people. You reduce those made in the image of the true God to mindless robots who serve your whims.”
Idols are not merely made of wood and stone. The Bible speaks of the “idols of the heart” (Ezekiel 14:1-8). In this case, masturbation becomes the way we eroticize self-idolatry: We are turned on by a fantasy world where we are the center.
3. Is your habit of masturbation conditioning you to be selfish?
If yes, then it is wise to avoid masturbating because your sexuality was meant for bringing you close to another person in love, not close to yourself.
Like it or not, our fantasies and the activities of our heart reflect the truth about who we really are. “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19). The real harm masturbation fantasies cause is this: they train the mind to be self-focused, pleasure-seeking, and escapist. This runs contrary to the attitudes of love and service that are modeled for us in the life of Christ (Philippians 2:6-8).
In other words, what makes the fantasies behind masturbation wrong is that they are attitudes that run in the opposite direction of Christlike love: a love that was willing to lose its life for others.
Winston Smith’s comment about this is fitting:
“This isn’t just about kicking a bad habit….God’s love is sacrificial. He puts our needs first even though it costs him a high price. Your basic compass heading for love is to do what is best for others even if it costs you. Your initial sacrifice will be your own comfort and lusts. When you are tempted to escape, look around and notice what others need in that moment and serve them.”
4. Is masturbation mastering you?
Is it something you feel you are enslaved to or becoming enslaved to? If yes, then it is wise to avoid masturbation so your freedom does not become slavery (1 Corinthians 6:12).
What to do about it…
If, after reading this, you believe masturbation is sinful for you, then please remember that the answer isn’t “pray it away.” Your physical urges are, in a sense, completely natural, but what you do with those urges is another thing altogether. Merely calling sexual arousal “natural” is not a license to lust. That’s like saying our natural drive for self-preservation gives us license to be greedy, or our natural drive for food gives us license to be gluttonous. No. Your natural desire for love, intimacy, and sex are built into you by God, but the Maker never designed us to be slaves of our passions, but to be masters of them.
If you get an erection (which is as normal as the day is long) then this is not your body’s signal telling you to masturbate. This is your body’s reminder that you are a sexual being, but your appetite for sex needs to be weighed in the balance of God’s design for sex.
This is difficult because you’ve built up a habit that when you become aroused, your brain immediately begins sending signals that it’s time for masturbation. The solution is in replacing this habit in an act of surrender to God. Tell yourself and God, “I thank you that you have made me a sexual being, capable of experiencing and giving sexual pleasure. I surrender this desire to you now knowing my sex drive is meant for oneness with another person, not merely self-pleasure and self-centeredness. Instead, I choose to not retreat into the world of fantasy but put my energy to good use.”
With each moment of arousal, take it as a new cue to do something productive: pray for someone, call someone, write someone an encouraging e-mail, engage in a project that blesses someone, physically exercise. Don’t wait to figure out what those things could be until the moment of temptation, but plan your “escape route” beforehand. Know that each time you choose not to masturbate but instead do something loving and good, you are training a new habit.
What do you think? How would you respond to Emanuel’s question?