Masturbation: Good or Bad?
The purpose of this page is to explain why masturbation can be detrimental to life and to encourage people to abandon the practice. Granted, masturbation may bring temporary pleasure, but it often comes with the long-term cost of addiction and other sexual problems. Because many people reading this page are not Christians, I've created a separate section for the spiritually-based points. If you are a Christian, I encourage you to take a moment to ask God to show you the truth concerning masturbation.
Non-spiritual points about masturbation
1. Masturbation is addictive! I encourage anyone who doubts masturbation is addictive to see how many weeks or months they can go without masturbating. We know now that sexual addictions are in fact self-induced drug addictions. The chemicals our bodies release during sexual arousal create the same effect on the brain as drugs. Repeated masturbation reinforces a brain chemistry loop of addiction. (ref: Exposing Porn: Science, Religion, and the New Addiction, Paul Strand. www.cbn.com, April 2004) As with drug addiction, masturbation requires an increasing amount of stimulus to achieve consistent levels of pleasure. This can lead to both an increased frequency of the habit and a never-ending search for new material to enhance the experience.
2. Masturbation conditions our bodies to respond to self-stimulation, which is self-centered. This damages our ability to relate to another person sexually. Sex is a relational experience, where we give attention to another person's needs at least as much as to our own. If we've been serving our own desires habitually, we may find it difficult to give our partner the attention he or she desires. Additionally, the hormones released in the brain during sexual arousal cause a bonding to whatever we are looking at and/or thinking about at the time. This can cause us to be more sexually responsive to masturbation (and its associated fantasies) than to real sex.
3. Masturbation causes sexual imbalance: Masturbation stirs up our sexual emotions and trains our bodies to seek sexual release more frequently than normal. Common sense tells us that there should be a balance between sex and the other activities in our lives. Masturbation disrupts that balance by training our bodies and minds to expect gratification more frequently than normal. Like a feedback loop in an amplifier, the imbalance between reality and fantasy can likely drive a person further into the addiction.
The sexual imbalance can also affect other areas of our lives by diverting energy, time and resources into sexual activity. For example, a man stays up late each night to surf for porn to masturbate to. His job performance suffers because he can't stay awake during the day, his family life sours because he's grouchy, his wife is alienated from him by his lack of affection and interest in her, and his debt increases because of the credit card charges from the porn sites he's visiting to feed his habit.
The people most likely to suffer from the imbalance are people who don't have a regular provision for sexual intimacy (e.g. teens, singles, divorced persons, widowed persons, persons in sexually dysfunctional marriages). Ironically, these are the same people that may be strongly tempted to indulge in porn and masturbation. If they whet their appetite by indulging, chances are that they could easily get hooked in the addictive cycle that the imbalance creates.
Spiritual points about masturbation
For Christians, there are some important issues we need to address concerning masturbation. The foundational question is, “Are you committed to honoring God with your life?" If you are, then I urge you to carefully consider the points presented in this section.
Let’s first examine the typical sins that accompany masturbation: lust and sexual idolatry. These may not be involved in every case, but they usually are.
Definitions from Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary:
• (n) Intense or unbridled sexual desire, lasciviousness...an intense longing: craving
• (v) to have an intense desire or need, crave
Obvious examples of lust during masturbation include looking at pornography and fantasizing about sex. As we can see from the definitions, lust can simply be an intense longing or craving. It may not even be a conscious thought, but simply a gut feeling of the flesh.
Definition of idolatry from Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary:
• (n) Immoderate attachment or devotion to something
Definitions of idol from Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary:
• A likeness of something
• A form or appearance; visible but without substance
• An object of extreme devotion
• A representation or symbol of an object of worship
• A false conception; fallacy
When we look at porn or form sexual images by memory or imagination during masturbation, we are basically feeding an immoderate attachment or devotion to the idol of sex. Such attachment and devotion is greatly reinforced by the pleasurable brain chemicals released during sexual arousal and orgasm.
Idolatry is sin (Exodus 20:3-5) and it can bring unpleasant consequences, such as demonic oppression and generational curses. God's primary command to us is that we love him with all our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:36-38). I suggest that it is impossible to love God with all our heart, soul and mind when we are idolizing sex images in our eyes and thoughts!
Having discussed lust and sexual idolatry, we can now explore the spiritual impact of masturbation.
1. Masturbation causes you to be "mastered" by sin: The Bible says that there are only two things that we can be a slave to: sin or righteousness. There are no other masters. Paul wrote:
Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? Romans 6:16 NKJV
Which master does masturbation bring us under? In almost every case, it is used to complement sins of lust or sexual idolatry and will therefore enslave us to sin.
God does not want us to be mastered by sin. For example, he told Cain, "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it" (Genesis 4:7 NKJV). Cain failed and sin ruled him for the rest of his life. After killing his brother, he lost his job, his peace, his home, and his blessing and spent the rest of his days as a "restless wanderer" (Genesis 4:12).
Likewise, we have the same opportunity to choose our master. If we choose sin as our master, our life will bear the fruit that sin brings - i.e. destruction, sorrow, dissatisfaction, death, etc.. If we choose righteousness as our master, we will reap life! Paul wrote:
20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:20-23 NIV
2. Masturbation uses your body as an instrument for sin: Your body is to be presented and used as an instrument for righteousness, not sin. Paul wrote:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Romans 6:12-13 NKJV
God can best use us when we keep our "vessels" (body, soul & spirit) free of sin. Paul wrote:
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:20-22 NIV
It is our responsibility to cleanse ourselves from sinful motives and purposes with the help of the Holy Spirit. Practicing masturbation is the exact opposite of fleeing evil desires because it involves setting our minds on the evil desires and using our bodies to act them out. In so doing, we are hindering the usefulness of our vessels for God.
3. Masturbation defiles God's temple and grieves the Holy Spirit: As believers in Jesus Christ, our bodies are literally temples for God's Holy Spirit, who lives in us. Sexual sin is unique in that it damages this special union we have with God. Paul alluded to this when he wrote that sexual sin is sinning against our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:18). He even compared it to trying to unite Jesus with a prostitute (1 Corinthians 6:15-16). Since masturbation rehearses sexual sins (e.g. lust or sexual idolatry), it will likewise damage our relationship with God and defile his temple (our bodies).
God commands us to "honor God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:20 NIV). This is a form of spiritual worship that we do physically:
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:1-2 NIV
4. Masturbation reinforces "carnal-mindedness": Masturbation sets our minds on gratifying our sinful desires and in so doing we become "carnally minded." Paul wrote:
Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want Galatians 5:16-17 NIV
Carnal-mindedness destroys our life and peace and keeps us from pleasing God. Paul wrote:
For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God Romans 8:5-8 NKJV
5. Masturbation brings you into deception and corruption: Masturbation opens the door to the deceiving influences of lust. Paul wrote about this deceit in Ephesians 4:22-24 NKJV:
Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Embracing lust or sexual idolatry through masturbation will therefore hinder any progress we want to make in becoming the "new man" God created us to be (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our repeated practice of lust through masturbation will also bring about a "hardening" of our spiritual heart toward God (Hebrews 3:13). This could ultimately cause us to turn away from God completely.
6. Masturbation molds your mind into the world’s pattern of thinking: The world’s pattern is largely based on lust (1 John 2:15-17). Masturbation rehearses lust in our thoughts and reinforces it with physical pleasure. Using pornography or recalling sex memories while masturbating further ingrains the world’s pattern in our thoughts.
The consequence of embracing the world's pattern (i.e. the pleasures of sin), is that we will block God’s love from operating in and through us:
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. 1 John 2:15-17 NKJV
God wants us to no longer conform to the world’s pattern of thinking, but be transformed in our thinking:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 NIV
One of the questions that we frequently hear is, "Is masturbation without lust or sexual idolatry wrong?" I'm skeptical that this is even possible, yet for the sake of discussion let's say that it is. Masturbation clearly sows to the flesh and its desires (see point #4 above). God commands his followers to sow to the Spirit's desires and not the flesh's desires (Galatians 6:8). While it may be permissible for a Christian to practice masturbation, how could it be beneficial since it sets the mind on the flesh's desires (1 Corinthians 6:12)?
Overall, masturbation can rob you of many of the blessings God has planned for your life. If you are a Christian, you have an obligation, not to live focused on fulfilling your fleshly lusts, but rather, to live focused on fulfilling the Holy Spirit's desires (Romans 8:12-13). Masturbation poses the threat of lifelong bondage and a handicapped spiritual walk. Jesus was resurrected so that you also could live in a new life, free from the slavery of sin.
Visit porn-free.org to learn more truth about porn and sex addiction.