It is a most common practice that stretches back to millennia. Yet, when a high-profile television personality was caught doing it on Zoom – not realising the camera was still ‘On’ – he was sent home in disgrace to have some ‘personal time.’ Many people, including Christians, want to ask about this subject but are afraid to ask. How do we handle it from a Biblical perspective?
The ‘subject’ is masturbation, also known as ‘self-stimulation.’
Before we address the issue itself, be assured that it will be handled in a pastoral manner. The goal is to help, not hurt nor condemn, people along the way. No doubt, some who read this article are engaged, casually or regularly, in this practice.
It’s time to have a much needed chat. What are we to make of it?
First, by definition, masturbation (from now on referred to as SS – ‘self-stimulation’) is ‘stimulation of the genitals by hand for sexual pleasure,’ in order to reach a climax – ejaculation or orgasm – without the involvement of their spouse or partner. It is a form of solo-sex. It is mostly done by men but woman can do it, too.
What do we know about this practice? It is a very widespread, involving young and old, single and married, Christian and non-Christian. The fact that people are delaying marriage in our sex-saturated popular culture – with plenty of visuals – means that SS is being done at record levels. With 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns, one can imagine that possibilities.
SS provides a quick and easy ‘release’ if one is feeling aroused but does not have a sexual partner available. It is even considered ‘safe-sex:’ you cannot get someone pregnant or contract STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases) by SS. Furthermore, on the surface, it appears that the Bible is silent about it.
The one Bible story that seems to refer to it involves Onan and Tamar in Genesis 38:9. His older brother, Er, who married to Tamar first, was so wickedness that the Lord slew him. As was the prevailing custom at the time, when a man died childless, his brother married the widow and the first child born was dedicated to the deceased. It is called Levirate marriage and described in more detail in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. It was a form of familial social welfare. Onan did not want to ‘do his duty’ so he spilt his seed en route to Tamar. As a result, the Lord slew him, too — Genesis 38:10.
In times gone by, preachers used this story to scare the daylights out of people if they practiced SS – or even contemplated doing so. Some referred to SS as ‘onanism.’
Yet, in all honesty, the reason Onan was judged was his failure to fulfil the mandate.
Does this mean that it is okay to practice SS? Let us consider the following:
- Human sexuality, as the Bible and particularly the New Testament teaches, is an expression of physical love to our spouse. The command that husbands ‘love their wives’ (Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:19) includes all areas of being: mental, spiritually, emotional, and physical. The idea is that the couple seeks to fulfil each others sexual needs, not just their own.
- On the surface, SS seems similar to sexual intercourse but is actually very different. It strives to fulfil one’s own need without any reference to another. The accent mark of SS is ‘self.’ We are made in the image of God, Who loves and seeks the welfare of the ones He love. With SS, love has nothing to do with it; it is a self-centred mechanical solo act.
- Unfortunately, SS often involves lust, either mentally or in visual form like pornography. The Sermon on the Mount teaches that lusting after someone, who is not your spouse, is the same as if they committed the illicit physical sexual act, be it adultery or fornication — Matthew 5:27-28. Please consider.
- SS can be very addictive and a difficult habit to break. The more we feed the lust, the more it grows, and the more entrenched the habit becomes. It is the opposite of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ which includes ‘self-control’ — Galatians 5:22. In other words, SS does not eliminate the lust problem; it exacerbates it.
- A sad by-product of SS is a feeling of guilt after the climax, something that doesn’t happen with Biblically ordained sex. The person knows that something is wrong, even if they don’t know why.
- Finally, there could come a time when SS is simply no longer satisfying, and the person reaches out for more. The danger is that it could lead to other sexual expressions that are condemned in Scripture, like 3D fornication or prostitution.
- In summary, the Bible does not directly talk about SS, but it does deal with lust, lack of self-control, and guilt. These factors make SS a troublesome proposition.
Sometimes, it is possible to have a ‘release’ without any touching and any lustful thoughts. These are called nocturnal emissions or ‘wet dreams.’
Human sexuality is a wonderful gift from Almighty God but it has to be on His terms, not ours. Think of it like electricity: handled correctly, it harnesses beneficial power. Mishandled, it can be deadly.
Now that we have spoken about the problem, in our next article, we will look at tips to lead us to a fulfilling solution. TO BE CONTINUED