Whenever I speak to a group of people about sexuality, I try to include time for an anonymous Q&A session. No matter who is listening, young or old, male or female, married or single, I am sure to be asked about masturbation: Is it wrong? What does the Bible say about it? Many Christians have spoken and written on the topic, some of them with sincere disagreement.
If you want to know how I’ve answered this question in the past, you can read it right here. Rather than repeat those thoughts in this blog post, though, I want to suggest a new angle. What if the question itself is shortsighted?
Have you ever noticed that when people asked Jesus a moral question, He often sidestepped it and brought up a different question? It wasn’t because He didn’t know the answer. It was because He knew the heart of the person asking the question and was more concerned with ministering to their heart than responding specifically to their inquiry.
Chances are, if you’re here, you’ve read other blogs and opinions on masturbation. You probably even have your own opinion. So, why are you interested in yet another take on this age-old question that frankly isn’t even addressed in the Bible? In other words, what is the question beneath your question? Perhaps you want someone to write a blog that will erase the shame you feel about masturbating. Maybe you hope I will confirm your suspicion that self-pleasuring really is a horrible practice. I suspect that no matter what I write about masturbation, you may still feel unsatisfied, searching for yet another opinion on the topic.
That’s why I want to suggest a different question to ask—and, I think, a healthier question. Maybe even a question that Jesus would ask a man or woman seeking His wisdom on this topic. Are you ready?
Why does masturbation matter to you?
I’ve long suspected that masturbation is less a matter of Christian morality than it is a matter of Christian maturity.
When we are immature in our walk with God, we look for rules. Just tell me, how far can I go with my boyfriend? Can my husband and I use sex toys in the bedroom? Is it okay to read romance novels? We may complain about the rules of Christian living, but at the same time grasp for even more of them.
In my past 10 years of working with Christians on sexual topics, I see that we have become obsessed with “the rules” about sex. We argue about the ones we view as unloving and debate the moral lines that seem nebulous. Jesus came to give us freedom, not to make us more focussed on rules.
Paul wrote in Romans 6 that those who don’t know the Lord are slaves to their own fleshly desires. They don’t have the freedom to choose what is right, so they need rules and a punishment for breaking them. Without Christ, we are guilted and shamed into good behavior. Once the Spirit of God lives within us, we have eyes to see a picture greater than the rules. We live by the “law of love” for God and for other people.
Friend, if you know the Lord, you have infinite freedom in how you steward your sexuality. You can respond to your most carnal desires with abandon, all the while knowing the long-term consequences of those choices—a lack of intimacy between God and people. But you can also choose to see your desires in the light of God’s love for you. You learn the self-control to say “no” to what you want in order to say “yes” to a greater pleasure, not out of fear but out of wisdom. Maturing as a Christian is not just about memorizing and living by rules, but inviting God to heal and transform you. As you grow in your Christian walk, the rules become unnecessary because you have internalized the law of love for God and for others.
Christians have freedom to masturbate, just as we are free to choose a lot of things that may or may not reflect God’s goodness. As our journey with the Lord deepens, we should be moving toward the fullness of His design for sexuality. As long as we stay stuck in asking the question, “Is masturbation wrong?” we will never push toward a grander vision for sexual wholeness that helps us outgrow the question itself.
You were created for intimacy: A deep, abiding connection with God and with other people. Masturbation is a temporary way to experience a faint glimmer of pleasure and comfort, devoid of the true intimacy you long for. Like cotton candy, it tastes sweet for a second and then dissolves into a sugary nothingness. Children are drawn to cotton candy. They don’t have the experience to know that the large, colorful appearance is a mirage of substance. Grown-ups know better. Imagine if there were countless blogs debating the wisdom of eating cotton candy. It’s a non-question if you are older than ten.
Although it may not be inherently wrong, masturbation is intrinsically immature. We all begin as children in our walk with the Lord, including how we understand His design for sexuality, but we don’t want to stay there. As the people of God, let’s look past the question and into the deeper longings of our hearts. Does masturbation serve your loneliness? Your anxiety? Your self-contempt? Masturbation is at best a temporary measure aimed to combat temptation. Or perhaps it is a tool to rediscover safe sexual touch and response after sexual abuse. Even so, what is the source of our sexual longings? And what is a more lasting satisfaction for the fulfillment you are searching for?
If we have churches filled with sexually moral but immature Christians, we will fail to bring the fullness of God’s glory to our relationships. God created you to do more than follow a list of “thou shalt nots.” He gave you longings, including sexual desire, as a signpost that you were not made to live in isolation. You were created to be known, to give life, and to experience true unity with Jesus Christ.
What if all of the effort you put toward stopping yourself from masturbating was directed instead toward outgrowing the desire for it? Let me gently suggest that you stop asking others if masturbation is wrong and you begin asking God Himself, “Lord, please lead me to know the intimacy I was created for.”
You may also find the following resources helpful:
Masturbation: Is It Wrong? (blog)
What is the Purpose of Your Sexuality, Really? (blog)
Java with Juli #160: Why God Created You to Be Sexual
You Can Be Single & Sexual (blog)
Photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash