I have looked for the word “masturbation” in the Bible and haven’t found it. The Bible doesn’t say anything specifically about touching yourself or pleasuring yourself. But I’m convinced that God’s Word tells us everything we need for life and godliness, including potentially uncomfortable topics like this. The Bible’s clear teaching reveals God’s plan for sex and what this means for habits like masturbation.
At Covenant Eyes, our mission is to help people overcome pornography. Struggles with masturbation are often closely related. I want you to know with confidence what the Bible says about this topic so you can live out God’s best for your life.
Where is masturbation in the Bible?
Open your Bibles to 1 Sufferings 24:7, “Thou shalt not masturbate.” Oh wait, that’s not a thing. But two key passages might describe the physical act of masturbation—although these aren’t explicit by any means. (Most passages we’ll look at concern the attitudes of the heart more than physical actions.)
Genesis 38:9-10: The Sin of Onan
Bible interpreters have often pointed to Genesis 38:9-10 as the principal text about masturbation:
“But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he released his semen on the ground so that he would not produce offspring for his brother. What he did was evil in the LORD’s sight, so he put him to death also.”
Onan “released his semen on the ground” on the ground to avoid having a child with his dead brother’s wife. God judged him for what he did, declaring it wicked. Many Christians understand masturbating to be “releasing semen on the ground.” However, some theologians have pointed out that nothing in the passage suggests that Onan was touching himself. To the contrary, Onan simply stopped having intercourse before he ejaculated.
Onan sinned by avoiding the responsibility God gave him to have children with his brother’s widow. In any case, “onanism” now refers to masturbating. Whether or not that’s the point of the text, it’s been an important part of the discussion for Christians throughout history.
Leviticus 15: Laws About Sexual Cleanliness
You might consider Leviticus 15 an awkward section of the Bible. It’s an entire chapter about sexual cleanliness, specifically dealing with bodily fluids. Verses 2-3 say:
“When any man has a discharge from his member, he is unclean. This is uncleanness of his discharge: Whether his member secretes the discharge or retains it, he is unclean.”
It’s talking about semen, of course. The chapter goes on to delineate various circumstances in which a man might have a seminal emission and the proper procedure for handling this under the Jewish laws. Verses 16-17:
“When a man has an emission of semen, he is to bathe himself completely with water, and he will remain unclean until evening. Any clothing or leather on which there is an emission of semen is to be washed with water, and it will remain unclean until evening.”
The passage has separate sections talking about these emissions during sexual intercourse, other emissions a man might have, as well as guidelines for women on their periods. It doesn’t specify laws for someone who is intentionally pleasuring himself versus having a wet dream. Notably, all sexual activity produces ceremonial uncleanliness for the Israelites—even sexual activity that is clearly encouraged in marriage.
Porn and Masturbation in the Bible
Masturbation can become habitual, even addictive, especially when accompanied by pornography. Like “masturbation,” you can’t find the word “pornography” in the Bible. However, there are plenty of places that talk about lust.
The name “Covenant Eyes” comes from Job 31:1, “I have made a covenant with my eyes. How then could I look at a young woman?”
Matthew 5:28 says, “But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
There are plenty of other places in the Bible that tell us we shouldn’t look at things that cause us to lust—and that includes pornography. Although it doesn’t say use the word, the Bible speaks clearly against pornography.
Importantly, all of these passages address the sin of lust. The Bible doesn’t address specific categories of content we can or can’t watch. It doesn’t say it’s fine to be sexually aroused as long as you don’t masturbate. Instead, it gets to the heart of the matter: Are you lusting? The Bible teaches again and again that sin begins with the heart. “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life,” says Proverbs 4:23.
Does the Bible address self-satisfaction?
The Bible does not specifically talk about touching yourself or pleasuring yourself. However, it does have a lot to say about pursuing self-gratification.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”
Jesus teaches that our aim as Christians should be the kingdom of God, not merely our own pleasure. One way of thinking about masturbation—or anything else we’re considering doing—is to ask this: Does this act advance God’s kingdom?
1 Corinthians 7:4
“A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does.”
What does this have to do with masturbation? In context, it’s talking about the privileges and responsibilities of sex within marriage. The Bible teaches that husbands and wives belong to each other sexually. If you’re pleasuring yourself, you’re taking what rightfully belongs to your spouse (or future spouse if you’re still single).
“For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Scripture promises us freedom in Christ! Habits like masturbation and watching pornography can easily take control of our lives. Does your desire for self-satisfaction control you? Galatians 5 calls this “submitting to the yoke of slavery.”
“I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
The Bible describes two fundamental ways of living: walking in the Spirit or walking in the flesh. For Christians empowered by the Spirit, the desires of the flesh no longer have a hold on us and actually run contrary to our new identity in Christ.
“Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.”
One way to think about masturbation is this: Does it help me honor the interests of others? I think the answer is pretty clearly “no.” Solo sex is fundamentally selfish. It means gratifying your own desires and interests.
2 Timothy 2:22
“Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
Too often, when tempted to masturbate, we don’t run from temptation. Maybe we’re not avoiding pornography or other sensual content that stirs up our sexual desires. Or we fail to develop godly habits to replace masturbation. Don’t entertain the thought—flee!
More Bible Verses That Address Masturbation
Many other verses apply to this discussion, even though they don’t mention masturbation directly.
1 Corinthians 6:18
“Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body.”
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery.”
“But among you, as is proper among the saints, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed.”
“Put to death, therefore, the components of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry.”
1 Thessalonians 4:3
“For it is God’s will that you should be holy: You must abstain from sexual immorality.”
Does the Bible say masturbation is a sin?
The Bible doesn’t explicitly say that masturbating is a sin. However, by applying the Bible’s teaching, we can at least say that masturbating is sinful in many situations.
But even if it’s not sinful in every possible circumstance, I believe biblical wisdom teaches that Christians should avoid habitual masturbation.
Do you want to stop masturbating?
If you feel out of control, be encouraged—you can quit. It may feel impossible, but you don’t have to live in bondage to habitual masturbation.
First, you need to identify your triggers. Is it pornography, or even non-pornographic content, that’s triggering your masturbation? For many people, the triggers are not sexual. It may be boredom, loneliness, or frustration. Second, you need to deal with sexual tension. Removing the triggers will help, especially once you get rid of porn and learn to stop thinking about pornography.
Keep reading to learn more effective strategies to stop masturbation.