Masturbation: A Biblical primer for young men

VolcanoIf you’re reading this page, then I just want to say right off the bat that the following is my opinion, and the volcano picture is meant to lighten things up a bit.  If you are already offended, then you should stop reading and leave right now.

If you are a preteen boy, teenager, collegiate, or other age of young man, then you probably want answers, or at least one answer.  Many older men (and church leaders) owe you an apology for being too afraid or too embarrassed to address this subject, much less to speak as frankly and as graphically about it as you’ll read below.  To make matters worse, many men disagree with each other on the answer.  Some disagree on asking the question in the first place.

And if you are one of these older, wiser men, then you will very likely disagree with the answer that’s coming from me.  It’s probably because of your traditional upbringing in a culture having a worldview and world outlook that is far different than our boys and young men face today.  Or, you’re just smarter than me.  I respect either one. But let’s not mislead our boys and young men for the sake of decorum or spiritual tidiness.  These guys are not the enemy.  And they are in a battle greater than some men dare imagine.

So another caution:  If you are already offended,

stop reading…


It’s just going to get worse!

YOUNG CHRISTIAN MEN, here is the question you desperately want answered:

Is masturbation a sin?

Here is MY answer:

But don’t stop here.  This is a Bible study so read on.

First, you should talk to a trusted, older Christian man about this:  your father, your pastor or priest, a counselor, a mentor.  Find a strong Christian man who will not ignore you, one who will not beat around the bush to answer you and who will not joke about it.  Engage him seriously, and with tact, sincerity, and honesty.  Ask that man to be confidential.  A real Godly man will gladly walk and talk with you.  I did this with my son and to this day we can talk man to man about this and any subject.

Second, if this is something that a few of your Christian friends are discussing with you privately, then ask them if they think a group would benefit discussing this with a pastor or other trusted Christian man.  My son did that.  I talked with him and his accountability group about masturbation when they were teenagers.  After that, they had our pastor and me talk with the group at another time.  Both times were away from church.

Third, let’s get right down to God’s Word:  God created guys to ejaculate in three ways:  nocturnal emission, intercourse, and masturbation.  In context, two of these ways are mentioned in Leviticus 15:  masturbation and intercourse.  The third type, nocturnal emission, is specifically discussed in another passage (Deuteronomy 23:9-14).

These three ways of emitting semen are distinguishable occurrences, none of which are sin.  However, ejaculating in the act of rape, prostitution, adultery, and homosexual activity is sin and these are dealt with in other passages.

The progression of the laws concerning bodily discharges in Leviticus 15 is noteworthy.  Simply put, bodily discharges (or perhaps better said, infections) required a SIN offering.  This was a reminder of the failings of the human body as a result of the Fall (Genesis 3).  Our bodies are now temporal, weak, frail, and subject to disease and death – all a result of sin.

However, Leviticus 15:16 begins to describe the God-given capacity for human sexuality, and that is not a sin, that is, a sin offering was not required.  Here’s the graphic part:  Verses 15-17 describe a guy’s ejaculation that gets semen on himself and his surroundings (note that a woman’s presence is not indicated).  That sounds a lot like what happens when a guy masturbates.  Verse 18 specifically describes another type of ejaculation:  sexual intercourse with a woman (and only your wife, guys).  Then, verses 19-24 describe a woman’s regular (monthly) menstrual cycle which also did not require a sin offering.

Verses 31-33 state that this is how one separated men and women who had bloody, infectious discharges – which required a sin offering – from the normal, God-given capacity for sexuality – which did NOT require a sin offering.  Clearly, if a guy ejaculated, either by masturbation or intercourse, he had to clean himself up with water (like we would today) and go outside the camp for a period of time (for guys today, that would be a cooling off period to think through what just happened, and to confess any sin that might have led to the ejaculation, like lust, premarital sex, etc.).  A guy in the Old Testament, under the Law, was simply considered unclean when he ejaculated, not sinful.  Being unclean in this condition means that you need to get cleaned up.  It does not mean that a guy committed sin, which needs to be forgiven.

A cautionary note is due here:  Remember that guys in Bible days likely “became a man” much sooner that we think a guy comes of age today.  As a boy sexually matured then, he often married at an early age, thus not having to deal with a lot of the sexual pressure that our guys go through now.  Still, many were spiritually disciplined in sexual matters, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus comes to mind.

A good exposition on Leviticus 15 is found in the The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 (a solid, conservative Wesleyan Holiness perspective).  On the whole, I agree with it:

Leviticus 15:1-33.  Religion and Sex.  This chapter is concerned with secretions connected with the sexual organs.  We may concur in Christopher North’s comment that “on the whole, true religion is sound hygiene;” we may note, too, with Driver and White that “a sense of natural disgust or shame has been developed into an ethical and religious feeling of uncleanness.”  But, in fact, there is an almost necessary connection between religion and sex because both belong to the sphere of the sacred.  There have been those who have sought to live as if the sexual had no place in their lives.  This leads to disaster.  Not less disastrous is a purely materialistic or purely physical notion of sex. Man is neither an angel nor a beast, but a person compact of body and soul in indissoluble union while life lasts.  The consulting rooms of the psychoanalysts are thronged with people who have failed to see the connection between religion and sex.  The ancient rules of this chapter have no direct relevance for us.  A guiding principle for Christians is that the sexual nature of man must be frankly recognized by him and accepted, and must also be kept in its due place by reverence for his spiritual nature.  (emphasis added)

Fourth, the New Testament doesn’t address ejaculation, much less masturbation, at all.  We can argue (successfully, I think), that masturbation is one of the struggles we as believing men must tame as a personal discipline if we are to grow in spirit.  Paul said in I Corinthians 10:23, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.”  In this passage, Paul seems to be speaking of the Law (Old Testament); therefore, the Old Testament Bible study above about “emissions of semen” seems to apply here in that masturbation might be “okay” (lawful for me) but it also might not be helpful or edifying to spiritual discipline and growth, especially if a Christian guy masturbates excessively.

Fifth, the matter of masturbation being done in company with lustful thoughts is sin.  Jesus said that if it’s in your heart, you’ve already committed adultery.  This applies to both married and single people lusting after any person.  Call it adultery for married guys or fornication for single guys.  Either way, Jesus said it is sin.  See Matthew 5:27-28.

There’s certainly no sin in fighting off the temptation to lust.  Jesus understands that struggle, not just as Lord but as having been a human man Himself (Hebrews 4:15).  Dare I say that Jesus was tempted to lust, to join in the crude talk and behavior with other guys around Him, or even to commit sexual sin?  Yes, He was.

Furthermore, masturbation being done in company with porn is sin.  You can call it lust but in reality pornography is idolatry“You shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Exodus 20:4).  Porn is using a “carved” image, that is, a man-made idol, for sinful pleasure.  Guys, I know it’s all around you.  It was in Jesus’ day, too.  He saw it (unintentionally, of course) but did not sin.  You can do likewise.

Sixth, fantasizing is a fine line.  We can, and do, imagine the blessing of sexual pleasure that God has created us to experience, but to do so without sinning requires great discipline.  As a young man, you should look forward with anticipation to the day when God will bring the right young lady into your life.  Being a disciplined, young man of honor right now will make the “marriage bed” much more meaningful and enjoyable.  That, my young friends, is God’s intended purpose for you.  Do not ignore or “unthink” until your marriage day the second greatest pleasure that the Father has given men (the first pleasure is knowing Jesus).  Spiritually, emotionally, physically, physiologically, sexually, and  righteously prepare yourself for sex in your future marriage.  Don’t ignore this.

Seventh, when a man and woman are married, they become one in the flesh (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:7-9; I Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:28-31).  Any sexual activity between the two of them can be enjoyed.  Anything, as one flesh.  The question is:  As a husband and wife enjoy sinless sexual pleasure as one flesh, can a single man enjoy sinless, sexual pleasure in his own flesh, before marriage and within a moral, Biblical framework?  Be cautious with your answer.  A Christian guy is the temple of Holy Spirit.  He sins against his own body – and the Temple – when he commits sexual immorality (I Corinthians 6:18-19).  But ejaculating is not necessarily sexual immorality.  It turns into sin when it turns away from being holy like God is holy.

In summary:

  • Nocturnal emissions are created by God.  Boys and even some men ejaculate during a dreamy (usually nighttime) experience which might lead to some embarrassment but it is not sin.
  • Sexual intercourse between a man and his wife is not only God-created but it is God’s gift to a husband and wife.  Ejaculating during intercourse is just one of the many pleasures in this sexual experience – and it is NOT sinful.
  • Masturbation, which I believe is alluded to in Leviticus 15, is another way God created guys to ejaculate (who else could have designed it?).  In context, it is not sinful.  But guard your heart, desire Christ, think only holy thoughts, and wield the Word.  This will help make the desire to masturbate more controllable, less frequent, and exclusively private and reflective.  THIS IS WHY I BELIEVE MASTURBATION IS NOT SIN…  and the only time it is not sinful.

Finally, let me speak as a Christian father to a Christian son:

“Masturbation is not a sin.  Keep it limited, porn-free, lust-free, and private – no circle jerks.  If you’re doing it a lot, talk to me or at least talk to our pastor or other Christian mentor.  If you can’t get lustful thoughts out of your head or porn is a problem, speak up.  Son, not every young man has the advantage of freely and openly discussing this matter with his father.  But son, you do, as do numerous young guys here at our church, as you know.  So relax, son, masturbation is not a sin.  But it can be.  So let’s talk.”

Let me conclude by sharing a real letter I sent in reply to a young Christian friend who asked me about masturbation.  May this letter uplift and encourage you, too, as you grow to be a strong disciple of Jesus and soldier for the Cross.

Hey __________ (name confidentially withheld but insert your own name here if you’d like),
We all have our spiritual ups and downs.  When a Christian guy lusts and masturbates, it exemplifies what Paul was saying in Romans 7:  In the flesh, we do what we don’t want to do which suppresses the doing of what we know we must do in the spirit.  But here’s the thing…  We serve a great and might Heavenly Father who sees our weaknesses and NEVER changes His mind, heart, love, and care about us.  The carnal things we do seem ugly to us but in His sight, they are our human, manly weaknesses for which He sent Jesus to die.  It doesn’t matter if it’s lust-full masturbation, lying, uncontrolled anger, adultery, gossip, or whatever.  Because we belong to Him, we are simply His sons stumbling a bit on our way to His kingdom, which, by the way, Jesus declared, “It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
But right before those words, Jesus said, “Do not fear, little children.”  So don’t get worked up about your weaknesses.  You’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you will have many times of Paul’s I-do-what-I-don’t-want-to-do-and-don’t-do-what-I-know-I-should-do.  That’s not meant to be discouraging.  I join Paul in reminding all guys that we’re just going to have days like that, but there should be more and more time between every one of those occasions, because one day, when we’re in the kingdom, that, my young friend, will be changed forever.  We will be clothed in His righteousness and living forever as His image and glory, pretty much like it was meant to be pre-Fall.  Each battle we fight as a good solider here in this earthly life will make the glorious Kingdom-prize so much more enjoyable when we attain it.
Let me say something that probably no other pastor or other Christian man will say:  The pleasure we Godly men experience at the moment of UNSINFUL ejaculation (as God created us) is nothing compared to the infinite pleasure we will experience in the kingdom – and do not read sex into that statement.  So don’t worry (don’t fear, as Jesus said) about feeling aroused in those moments of tempting lust.  Also remember that you’re mostly dealing with temptation.  It’s sometimes hard to distinguish between that and full bore lust.  Read James 1:12-18, with a focus on the words “drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (verse 14).  You are learning to control your desires and limiting the enticement thereof.  When lustful thoughts tempt you, stop and consider your desires – your true desires for Christ and His love for you.  Then go to battle.  Treat lust as the gates of hell.  It will not prevail with Jesus as your King, you as His prince, God as your and His Father, the Spirit as your sword, and your believing brothers in your posse.  Wow.  You almost want to say, “Bring it on!”
Speaking about carnality, in My Utmost for His Highest, March 23, Oswald Chambers said:
“If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light, and He will put it right.  A child of the light confesses instantly and stands bared before God; a child of the darkness says, “Oh, I can explain that away.”  When once the light breaks and the conviction of wrong comes, be a child of the light and confess, and God will deal with what is wrong…”



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