Is Masturbation a Sin?

Pastor Steve Van Nattan and Richard Anthony

This topic promises to get me into trouble :-) Nevertheless, here it is.

It is customary for those who write books for teens and youth to caution them against masturbation. Beyond this, many will even find a way to say it is a sin. So, what does the Bible say on masturbation? There is virtually nothing said in the Bible about masturbation.

Abuse of the Bible on the Subject

This is practically the only text used against masturbation.

Genesis 38:9-10

Genesis 38:9-10, "And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also."

This text cannot be applied to masturbation, because Onan was having sex with a woman at the time, not by himself. In this passage, Onan rebelled against the direct command of his father in Genesis 38:8, "And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother." Onan displayed contempt towards both his dead brother and his wife. Indeed, this was evil in the eyes of the Lord, "therefore He killed him" (Genesis 38:10).

The whole context is in regard to a man trying to engineer which of his wives will give birth to the first son and thus the heir (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Onan displeased God in that God did not want his people manipulating His sovereignty. The point is not wasting the "seed," the point is about cruel control of destiny, degrading of the wife, and disobeying a direct command of God.

Here is what Adam Clarke's Commentary says on this passage:

Verse 9: "Onan knew that the seed should not be his." That is, that the child begotten of his brother's widow should be reckoned as the child of his deceased brother, and his name, though the real father of it, should not appear in the genealogical tables.

Verse 10: "Wherefore he slew him also." The sin of Onan has generally been supposed to be self-pollution; but this is certainly a mistake; his crime was his refusal to raise up seed to his brother, and rather than do it, by the act mentioned above, he rendered himself incapable of it. We find from this history that long be fore the Mosaic law it was an established custom, probably founded on a Divine precept, that if a man died childless his brother was to take his wife, and the children produced by this second marriage were considered as the children of the first husband, and in consequence inherited his possessions.

Leviticus 15:16-18

Another passage that some use against masturbation is:

Leviticus 15:16-18, "And if any man's seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even. And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even. The woman also with whom man shall lie with seed of copulation, they shall both bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the even."

Yes, the "man's seed of copulation" does refer to his semen. However, as you can see, this passage is not in reference to a man copulating by himself, but with "the woman also." This passage is a regulation governing an occasional emission of semen. The practical effect of this legislation was that when a man had religious duties to perform, whether this involved worship or participation in God's holy wars, sexual intercourse was not permitted (Exodus 19:15, Leviticus 22:4, Deuteronomy 23:10-11, 1 Samuel 21:5, 2 Samuel 11:11).

But, let us assume for a moment that verses 16-17 refer to masturbation. Does this passage say it is a sin? No, it does not. Most of the other unclean acts mentioned in the previous chapters stated one must sacrifice an animal to atone for that uncleanness. However, look at the context of Leviticus 15:16-18. No sacrifice was required! No sin offering is required. The man (and woman) had simply to wash themselves in water and wait until evening. That's all!

Remember, anything that is considered a "sin" in the Old Testament requires a blood sacrifice. No exceptions. If a sin is involved, there must be the shedding of blood, period! The fact that Leviticus 15:16-18 does not require even an animal sacrifice is proof that the act mentioned in this passage is not a "sin."

Just because someone is "unclean" it does not mean they committed a sin. For example, it is not a sin if a priest touches an unclean thing, but he would be considered unclean, and he must bathe himself in water and remain unclean until the evening (Leviticus 22:1-7). Menstruous women do not commit a sin every month when they have their cycle, but they are considered unclean. Anyone who touches her will be unclean until evening. Anything she lies on or sits on is unclean. Whoever touches her bed, or anything she sits on, must wash their clothes and bathe in water and will be unclean until evening (Leviticus 15:19-24). But it is not a sin to do so.

Therefore, there are two ways in which this "emission of semen" could happen. The ejaculation could be the result of a nocturnal emission, that is, a wet dream. Or, it could be the result of masturbation. Either way, the man is "unclean" until evening. This unclean is nowhere described as sinfully unclean. Throughout the law, people are called unclean, but they have done nothing evil (e.g. Leviticus 11:24-26, 43; 22:4-7; Numbers 19:7-8, 10-11, 14, 16, 22).

Masturbation is Homosexuality?

Another objection people make is that masturbation is homosexuality. And use verses such as:

Leviticus 18:22, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

However, by using scripture to interpret scripture, to "lie with mankind" does not refer to a lone individual committing masturbation, to "lie with mankind" always involves two people, not one.

Leviticus 20:13, "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

Notice the above verse starts off in the singular sense "If a man," and ends in a plural sense, meaning it takes at least two individuals to commit a sexual sin. All sexual sins must involve at least two.

Masturbation is Fornication?

Some teach that masturbation is self-abuse and sexually immoral, citing 1 Corinthians 6:18. The problem with their use of this passage is that masturbation is never described in the Bible as sexually immoral, or as fornication. The context of 1 Corinthians 6:18 is sex with a harlot (1 Corinthians 6:13-17), which is certainly sexually immoral. But, masturbation is never identified in this way.

Their self-abuse argument comes from "modern dictionaries," because masturbation is given as a synonym for self-abuse in modern dictionaries. But this begs the question at hand. Is it truly abusive, in and of itself? Is masturbation an intended use of the sex organ, or is it abuse? Obviously, some people think so, and so they identify the term synonymously with self-abuse.


Reason is the tool of the apologist from here on out. He will reason that sex is only for making babies during the marriage state. He will not talk about sex being pleasurable. Note Solomon on the pleasures of laying with one's wife:

Proverbs 5:15-20, "Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love. And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger?"

Solomon clearly talks about pleasure in sex, and procreation has nothing to do with it. The fountain is a discreet reference to the man's pleasure in copulation. The graphical language is very obvious. The sin would only be in sharing the fountain with anyone other than the god-given wife. In the right setting, the fountain is to be very busy for a godly man and women who are married (Song of Solomon 3:11; 5:1).

Song of Solomon 1:2,13, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts."

Song of Solomon 7:8, "I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;"

There would be a lot less stress in marriage if husbands and wives talked to each other in these terms. Also, note that procreation is not mentioned once in the Song of Solomon. The satisfaction of laying with one's husband or wife is everywhere in the book, and it is of God and good. So, masturbation cannot be pushed into the sin category by saying that copulation is only for having babies.

Now, some claim that if a married couple has sex for purposes other than to bear children, then they would be defiled. Even though one of the reasons for having sex with your wife is to have children, it is not the only reason. And if it is wrong to have sex with her other than for the purpose of having children, it would contradict Hebrews 13:4, "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled,” which states that having sex in marriage is not defiling. Hebrews 13:4 does not say the bed is undefiled only in situations where the couple is making children in bed.

The next trick the alleged experts will use is that masturbation is selfish. Well then, so is eating a chocolate bar. If I eat a chocolate bar and enjoy it, I am selfish. It gratifies my need for pleasure in food, and that too is sanctioned by David, Solomon, and others as they describe special feast type foods which satisfy them. So, that one won't fly either.

The next trick is to say that there are many things the Bible does not mention, but we know that they are sin by other contexts. Things like smoking and drug abuse will be cited. Well, masturbation was not some late thing to come along which Bible writers did not know about. Adam could have conceivably masturbated if he had wanted to. Masturbation is lawful. There is nothing in the word of God that condemns it. The Lord never even intimates that it is some form of abuse or not according to His purpose. There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), and it is not as if this is a new thing of which the Lord was unaware! Leviticus 15:16-17 addresses the issue, at least the result of it, and no condemnation is given. Therefore, neither should we condemn what God does not (Matthew 7:1-2).

God gave council on much to do with sexual things, and He made it very clear which things were sinful or forbidden:

1. Adultery
2. Fornication
3. Sodomy
4. Women grabbing a man's testicles during a fight
5. Having sex with an animal

I suppose I missed something, but you see the point. Masturbation is so common, and it is available to both men and women, that we must not assume it into the sin category when God made no comment at all on the subject. Scripture does not teach that it masturbation is not according to the purpose of God. Moreover, the Word of God never identifies it as unnatural. Homosexuality is unnatural (Romans 1:26-27). Masturbation is never spoken of in this way. Leviticus 18 and 20 lists every sexual act that God considers a sin. Every one. If a sexual act is not listed here, then it is not a sin. The act of Masturbation is never mentioned as a sexual sin here, or anywhere else in scripture.

Also, young people, as they gain sexual performance in early teens, commonly experiment with the body God gave them. To assume that the playing with one's privates, and eventually masturbation, is sin, is doing violence to what God did. If God did not want kids playing with themselves, God would have commented on it. And, God would have given kids longer to develop so that their ability to perform sexually would coincide better with the accepted age of marriage and starting a family. God is not the author of confusion. The talent of generating confusion is reserved for those who proscribe what God does with man made codes and assumptions.

Can Masturbation be a Problem?

Yes. Jesus made it clear that adultery can be committed in the heart, even though no physical intercourse has taken place (Matthew 5:27-28). "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth," (Genesis 8:21) so it would not be surprising to find evil masturbatic activity rampant in society. Masturbation with evil imaginations, which could include the use of pornographic material, is most certainly wicked and beyond any hope of redeeming value. But, masturbation, in and of itself, does not demand such evil thoughts. To say it does, goes beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6) and adds to the word of God (Proverbs 30:5-6).

All the sex perverts, exhibitionists, and sex criminals of all the ages masturbated before they got around to criminal sex. But the problem with this logic is that so did all the great and godly men (with very few exceptions). We don't need to prove anything, but we do need to stop making cases for morality based on stupid statistics and notions.

Masturbation becomes a problem when boys masturbate together. This kind of social masturbating, or stag party, often leads to acts of sodomy as boys start stimulating each other. The solution is to teach young people that masturbation is a private matter and should not be made public. This will help them to realize that sex in marriage is also a private matter between husband and wife. Neither form of sexual stimulation should be the subject of gross humor and light conversation. Telling jokes about masturbation pushes the thing into the dirty category. Beware of that.

If masturbation becomes obsessive it will lead to a loss of control in the life just like gluttony or any other form of appetite gone astray. The young man or woman should be taught to confess the sin of appetite which is out of control rather than to tell them that they are sexually perverted or nasty. The sin is that of not letting the Holy Spirit lead in appetites. Read that again please, especially if you are more than ten pounds overweight :-)

Another way in which masturbation is wrong is when it is accompanied by the use of pornography, filthy music, or even mental fantasies of certain women (such as those who we are not supposed to have sex with - Leviticus 18). This is so common that it is assumed to be the only method of masturbating. Of course, many young people do not start out in their first masturbating venture with any fantasy. They have no history to work with mentally. They are just playing with their hardware. But the older a man gets, the more he accumulates a mental history which feeds fantasy, and thus, the more tempted he will be to use mental lust as he masturbates. This is why Paul warns Timothy to "flee youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22).

So, it is true that masturbation is easily perverted by fetishes of the mind or magazine. I knew a man who fantasized in lust for a woman in the church fellowship while he masturbated, and whenever he came to church and saw the woman, he blushed with shame. So, this is a danger for sure.

Does Masturbation serve any good Purpose?

When a husband and wife are separated against their will and one is having severe temptations with lust, masturbation can serve as a release for those drives. This has saved many men from infidelity. In that sense, and I suppose I shall be thrashed for this, I suggest that masturbation is a very useful solution. Masturbation is also a release to young unmarried men. We just don't like to admit it. Many a young man has defused a setting for fornication by masturbating ahead of time. Cold showers are fine, but they don't last. Of course, a young man can further help this struggle greatly by making sure he is only found in modest company.

Masturbation can also be therapeutic according to one report I read. It seems that copulation in a man will help to relieve the effects of prostrate problems of middle age. Of course, the ideal is for the man to simply increase his bed chamber life with his wife, but if that is not possible, masturbation could be helpful to keep the plumbing working well. Also, this therapy is no excuse for obsessive behavior, and young men need not think this is a matter of getting an early start on the thing.

Also, ask any Roman Catholic priest how he avoids fornication (if he does, that is). Guess what he will tell you, if he feels free to speak candidly. Rome's celibacy laws are wicked indeed.

Finally, Paul said, "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful." Can masturbation be helpful? Certainly, it can be helpful in alleviating the sexual drive, as long as it is done with pure thoughts, as it is written, "To the pure, all things are pure" (Titus 1:15). Even though Paul says, "All things are lawful for me," he also says, "but I will not be brought under the power of any" (1 Corinthians 6:12). Masturbation should not control the individual. The individual should be in control of any masturbation. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and should be a continual reality in the life of any believer (Romans 8:5-6).


Romans 14:14, "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean."

There is one area we need to beware of. If someone sees masturbation as defeating and unclean, we better be cautious about encouraging that man or woman to just let go on and enjoy it. Enjoying it is also not taught in the Bible. Masturbation is not anywhere spoken of at all. So, we dare not try to deliver someone of their dedication to avoid and flee from masturbation. To them, it is important and related to their victory. Again, this is why the thing needs to be made a private matter for a kid at an early age. If you catch your son or daughter masturbating, do not panic. You don't have a budding pervert in your family. Deal with it discreetly and kindly with a word of advice to keep it very private and personal.

Suzie, "Oh Mommy, I'm so sorry you caught me doing that."

Mom, "Well, you know, God made your body so you could get sexual pleasure at your age before you got married. Sex feels good doesn't it? Sex is not dirty, but sex is the most exciting after you get married. The more of your sexual pleasure you save for your husband, the happier you will be. If you feel you have to play with yourself, just be careful to keep this very private, and don't allow it to be the main thing in your life. God wants you to think on His Word and His holiness as much as you can. He will help you decide what is good and okay for you if you ask Him."

The kid, "Dad-- Is it wrong to jack off?"

Dad, "Son, the next question is important-- What does the Bible say about masturbation?"

The kid, "Dad, I can't find anything."

Dad, "Nor can I son."

The kid, "So, what about it?"

Dad, "If you have to masturbate to get the pressure off of you, then okay, but talk to the Lord about everything in your life. He made you with all this sexual drive. He will help you know what is important. Stay in the Word. Don't let sex ever be the main event in your life. Keep some ammunition for the wife God is getting ready for you. Here is a question son-- What if you found out the lady you are going to marry was masturbating all the time?"

The kid, "Uh, that's a weird question Dad."

Dad, "Well, think of it as saving some of your strength for her and for the honeymoon. But, if you masturbate once in a while, God is not mad at you, or He would have told you about it in the Bible."

If masturbation is a sexual sin to you, well deal with it that way. But, you have no grounds to teach that to anyone else, for God pointedly said nothing about it, and it is the first and possibly the most common form of sexual activity with all of humanity.

Question: "Why did you have to put this article on this Website?"

Answer: I know that thousands of little kids in Christian homes have grown up with a warped and twisted terror of their privates and of sex. Some of these kids have never had sexual pleasure for many years later after they got married. Some of these kids become sodomites as a result of neurotic behavior by their parents. So, after much deliberation, and after some desperate questions from readers, this is needed. I hope it helps some kid grow up without crippling terror, and I hope some Mom or Dad learns to be more wise with the kids as they grow into puberty. It is an exciting thing to see a little kid start looking grownup and act like an adult. How wicked it is then, to twist their new found sexual desires until they are too mutilated to ever give pleasure again. I would liken this to castration. I pray that you see why this discussion is needed.


Not once is masturbation mentioned...not once in the entire scriptures! Some may claim the reason for this is because there was not a word for “masturbation” in the Hebrew or Greek. However, there was no word for “bestiality” back then either, but God made it clear that we are not to have sex with animals (Leviticus 18:23, Deuteronomy 27:21). There was no word for "homosexuality" back then either, but God made it clear that we are not to have sex with those of the same sex (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). There was no word for "incest" back then either, but God made it clear that we are not to have sex with those who are near kin to us (Leviticus 18:6-18).

Likewise, God could have easily said that man must not have sexual relations with himself, or something similar, but God never even hinted at any such act being sinful. If masturbation is a sin, there must be somewhere in scripture where it says that having sex with oneself is a sin, because all sins are mentioned in scripture. If something is a sin against God, He will tell us it is a sin against Him in His Word, and won't leave any sin out.

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