Many Christians are confused about what the Bible says (if anything) about masturbation. Is it always a sin? Or is it sometimes morally acceptable? In my book on sexual ethics, I survey the landscape in this way:
Dennis Hollinger relates the following statistic in his book on sexual ethics: “90 percent of adolescent boys masturbate; the other 10 percent are liars.” Hollinger delivers this factoid tongue-in-cheek, but his point is well-taken. This kind of activity is in fact ubiquitous among the male population, and not just among adolescents. Surveys indicate that over 60% of males ages 18-59 have masturbated in the last 90 days. Male solo sex rates are highest—at 95%—among men ages 25-39 who are single and dating. Surveys also indicate that a sizeable percentage of women participate in solo sexual activity. Over half of women ages 18-49 report having masturbated in the last 90 days. The highest rates—at 94%—are among women ages 25-29 who are single and dating. Unmarried persons are not the only ones facing this temptation. The same surveys show that married persons are struggling with it too. This issue is too common to be ignored and can hardly be avoided in articulating a faithful Christian sexual ethic.
Christians have disagreed with one another in their moral assessment of solo sex. Opinions fall into three basic categories: (1) total acceptance, (2) total rejection, and (3) modified acceptance with qualifications. Lewis Smedes comes close to the “total acceptance” position when he says, “It is not morally wrong,” and when he counsels Christian parents to help their child “see and accept masturbation as part of his growth as a human being.” Daniel Heimbach advances the “total rejection” view, arguing that solitary sex “opposes every positive moral characteristic revealed to be essential in God’s design for sex.” Dennis Hollinger aligns himself with the “qualified acceptance” view, arguing that “if one is able to use it to release built-up sexual tension without the lust, it is less morally problematic.”
In the book, I defend the “total rejection” view. I think it is the only one that can be squared with what scripture teaches about sexual purity and marital fidelity. And that is why I am happy to see Jason DeRouchie’s really helpful essay on the same topic: “If Your Right Hand Causes You to Sin: Ten Biblical Reflections on Masturbation.” The article gives ten guiding principles from scripture that help to promote holiness and marital fidelity vis a vis the question of masturbation. Here are his ten biblical reasons for understanding masturbation to be sinful:
- Raising up godly offspring is a primary way to make disciples. Masturbation belittles God’s passion for global praise.
- God purposed that all righteous forms of sexual expression be for the marriage bed. Masturbation hijacks intimacy.
- Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife points to the love between Christ and his church. Those who substitute masturbation for marital intimacy undervalue God’s glory.
- Preserving sexual expression for the marriage bed nurtures intimacy and a heart of service for one’s spouse. Masturbation undermines both.
- Jesus urged his followers to guard themselves from lustful masturbation, and Paul called Christians to control their sexual parts in holiness and honor.
- Masturbation outside the marriage bed does not glorify God because evil desire always fuels it.
- Paul declares that the answer to sexual desire is either the marriage bed or self-control, not masturbation.
- Masturbation outside the marriage bed witnesses a lack of self-control and is therefore sin.
- Forsaking the sin of masturbating can nurture greater God-dependence.
- One’s thoughts and actions display what one treasures. It’s impossible to say, “Follow me in masturbation as I follow Christ.”
Read the whole thing here.