Scripture on Masturbation

wadded tissue

The dreaded “m” word.

There are so many colloquial labels for the act. My personal favorite is used at my church’s men’s groups: “Taking matters into your own hands.” The strangest I’ve heard comes from There’s Something About Mary. “Flogging the dolphin”? Really?

But regardless of whether the label draws a guilty chuckle or a raised eyebrow, they all amount to the same thing: sexually stimulating yourself.

A Biased View

Now, before I delve into this uncomfortable subject, let me be clear: I’m a guy. My perspective is that of a male, my desires are those of a male, my tendencies are those of a male, my biology is that of a male, and my experience with the topic at hand (sorry, I couldn’t resist) is that of a male.

That said, I believe my view on the subject transcends gender, applying to both men and women, though I recognize that my X chromosome makes anything I have to say inherently suspect for some of my less chromosomally diverse readers.

Still, I’m going to try to be as intellectually and spiritually honest as I can about this subject that has become so awkward to so many.

The “Christian” View

Christians — particularly young male Christians — have long been the target of misinformation about masturbation

No wonder it’s awkward. Christians — particularly young male Christians — have long been the target of misinformation about masturbation. For centuries, well-meaning leaders in the church formed their viewpoints from a variety of sources , resulting in a number of quirky beliefs and scare tactics.

There’s the classic wives’ tales, which would have you believe almost every male over the age of fifteen should have a seeing eye dog almost as hairy as their palms. To be clear, I’ve yet to see results from a study that link masturbation to going blind or growing hair on the front or back of your hands.

Then there’s the far more harmful — in my humble opinion — misquotation of Scripture. I have heard a number of men I respect quote a “Scripture” that says something along the lines of: “It’s better to spill your seed into a harlot than onto the ground.” When queried, none of these men have been able to provide an exact reference. And so far, I have yet to find it. Perhaps I’m incorrect, but I don’t believe it exists. And if not, it’s a tragedy that people are putting words into God’s mouth.

Most likely, this is an egregious presumption on a story also cited as a prohibition on masturbation in Genesis 38. With the bloodline of Judah (and therefore this guy named Jesus) threatened, and in accordance to local law, Judah arranged for his son Onan to sleep with Onan’s sister-in-law after her husband’s death. When the moment came, Onan pulled out; he “wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother” (NASB). So, he dodges his familial responsibility (according to that culture and time) but still gets to sleep with this woman. And God killed him for it.

Despite the frequent citation of this story as a condemnation of masturbation (and even “pulling out” or coitus interruptus), such interpretations aren’t corroborated by any other Scripture. Even the traditional biblical scholar Jerome stated it was “obvious” this passage condemns Onan’s disobedience and avoidance of responsibility rather than the waste of his seed. This makes sense, since occasional nocturnal emissions are a natural and unavoidable part of every male life, resulting in a lot of wasted seed, not to mention the untold billions of sperm excreted in urine. If God was concerned about wasting of seed, why would He create a human body that perpetually and uncontrollably releases itself in these ways as part of its natural process?

My Take

The truth of the matter is that, so far as I can tell, Scripture is silent on the specific topic of masturbation.

Forgive me, though. I’m going to fall short of a ringing endorsement of carnal self-love. I still believe it’s a slippery slope, and it’s something married Christians need to consider prayerfully.

Photo credit: Andrea Schwartz / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
About Phil (251 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.