Masturbation: A Biblical primer for young men
In My Utmost for His Highest, March 23, Oswald Chambers wrote, “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…”
With that wisdom as a guide, this article examines the question on the mind of every Christian male: Is masturbation a sin? Many older men, including church leaders, owe a lot of boys and young men 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.
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 today’s. 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 to imagine.
If you are already offended at the mere subject, much less me addressing it, you should stop reading. It’s only going to get worse, I guarantee it. If you continue reading, understand that this is very mature subject matter, and that I stand confidently on the Word of God in my apologetic.
So again, the question is: Is masturbation a sin?
First, assuming that the reader is a Christian boy or young man, I encourage you to embrace the subject with courage and chivalry. Know that you are not alone in this wonderment. There’s an old statistic floating around that says 95% of guys masturbate, and the other 5% lie about it. Whether or not the report is true, the math is spot on.
Second, you should talk to a trusted, older Christian man about this, like your father, your pastor, a counselor, or a mentor. Engage him with tact, sincerity, and honesty. Ask him to be confidential. A Godly man of strong character and integrity will gladly talk with you straight up. If he ignores you or starts joking around about masturbation, run.
Third, let’s get right down to it. God created guys to ejaculate semen so we know that it’s not sinful to do so. But God also created guys to eat and grow muscle, which also are not sinful. But gluttony is a sin, and so is enhancing muscle with drugs. All of our bodily functions require holy, disciplined expression and use.
When it comes to ejaculating semen, guys can do it in one of three ways: nocturnal emission, intercourse, and masturbation. Two of these ways are expressly mentioned in the Bible: nocturnal emissions in Deuteronomy 23:9-14, and intercourse in Leviticus 15. Interestingly, the context in Leviticus also includes ejaculating without benefit of night dreams and sex with a woman. That leaves masturbation as the likely act.
The progression of the laws concerning bodily discharges in Leviticus 15 is noteworthy. Simply put, bodily discharges, or runny infections, required a sin offering (verses 1-15, 25-30). This was a reminder of sin and its outcome on the human race as a result of the Fall (Genesis 3). Human calamity, disease, and death should always remind us of our sinful nature: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
However, Leviticus 15:16 begins to describe the God-given capacity for the expression of non-sinful sexuality. Note that in verses 16-19, a sin offering was not required after a guy’s ejaculation or a woman’s menstruation. Here’s the graphic part: Verses 16-17 describe a guy’s ejaculation that gets semen on himself and his surroundings. The guy is apparently by himself during and after the event. The presence of a woman is not mentioned until verse 18 at which time sexual intercourse is described and the subsequent bathing in water of both. A nocturnal emission is not mentioned at all, as it so plainly is in Deuteronomy 23, though a “wet dream” could certainly fall under this Levitical regulation.
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 enjoying sexuality, which did not require a sin offering. Clearly, after a guy ejaculated, either by masturbation or intercourse (or by a nocturnal emission as described in Deuteronomy), he had to clean himself up with water and then go outside the camp for a period of time. For Christian guys today, that’s comparable to washing and then a quiet time to think through the experience; and if necessary, to confess any sin that might have led to the ejaculation, like lust, premarital sex, etc. As for being considered unclean, it didn’t mean that the guy was sinful. Obviously, he wasn’t since a sin offering was not required. There are many instances of unsinful uncleanness in the Bible, just as there are many instances of sinful uncleanness.
As we consider this apologetic, we must also understand the vast physical and cultural differences between a boy coming of age in Biblical times and a boy coming of age in the 21st century. One thing hasn’t changed: the three ways God created a guy to ejaculate. These verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy point to the spiritual discipline God expects of His men as they celebrate their sexuality.
A good exposition on Leviticus 15 is found in The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 (a solid, conservative Wesleyan Holiness perspective on the subject). 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.
The New Testament doesn’t address masturbation at all, much less any of the three ways to ejaculate. We can argue, successfully I think, that Christian men must limit masturbation if they are to grow in spirit. Paul said in I Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Paul was addressing some pretty awful things that were acceptable in Corinth, especially sexual immorality (verses 9-10). Whether or not he agreed with “all things are lawful,” or was just cynically quoting the Corinthians, an emission of semen by masturbation might be okay (lawful for me) but it also might not be helpful or edifying (I Corinthians 10:23) to spiritual discipline and growth, especially if a Christian guy masturbates excessively.
The matter of masturbation being done with lustful thoughts, including the use of pornography, 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 (Matthew 5:27-28). There’s certainly no sin in fighting off the temptation to lust or look with evil intent. 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 look, to join in the crude talk, to behave like other guys around Him, or even to commit sexual sin? Yes, He was.
So what’s a guy to do? As a Christian, he can try to imagine the fantastic blessing of the sexual pleasure that God has created for His sons to experience. There’s nothing wrong with that. He should look forward with anticipation to the day when God brings the right lady into his life; and with that, he should not defile the upcoming marriage bed. Keep it holy. Keep YOU holy. And when the lady is wed, he should enjoy sex with her (and only her) the rest of his life, as God intended.
As for what to do with your raging hormones, which, by the way, are God’s gift too, here are some things not to do:
- 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). It looms before nearly all of you guys. Be excited.
- Do not undress any woman with your eyes or with your mind. Fantasize about marrying her and enjoying life with her, but do not abuse her or her image.
- Do not ignore preparing for marriage spiritually, emotionally, physically, physiologically, sexually, and righteously.
In summary: 1) God created nocturnal emissions. Boys and even some older men ejaculate during a dreamy, usually nighttime, experience. It might lead to some embarrassment but it is not sin. 2) Sexual activity and intercourse between a man and his wife is not only God-created but it is God’s gift to a husband and his wife. Ejaculating during intercourse is just one of the many pleasures in this sexual experience, and it is not sinful. 3) Masturbation, which I believe is included in Leviticus 15, is another way God created guys to release semen. It’s up to the guy, though, to desire Christ, guard his heart, 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.
Well, you’ve read this far and are still waiting for an answer. You’re probably thinking, “Just as I thought… Just like everything else written on the subject… Just like those other writers who don’t know how to let their yes be yes and their no, no.”
Well, having grit with grace is not like anything else. And I’m not like others who don’t know how to say yes or when to say no.
My answer is, no.