1. The story of Onan in the bible is not actually about masturbation. It is about coitus interruptus. Onan was having sex with his brothers widow, as the law required. However, he was pulling out and “spilling his seed on the ground” at the last minute, so that she would not be one pregnant and bear a son to inherit her estate and protect her in old age: he wanted her property for himself. It was a cruel and dastardly action, which is why God killed him for it. He was not struck down for masturbating. 🙄 (Gen. 38:6-10)
2. The Catholic arguments that “spilling seed” is wasteful or even murderous is completely unscientific and wrong.
3. “Seminal emissions” are mentioned in the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. If one has such an emission, they are to wash, and they are unclean until evening. This is exactly the same as regular sex, menstruation, and a host of other bodily functions. Ceremonial cleanliness is not about sin: it’s about “being clean.” These passages do not condemn masturbation.
4. True enough, the pagan nations around Israel worshipped fertility gods, and the Ashera poles were giant phalluses. But their worship involved temple prostitution, and masturbation is not mentioned. This should not be brought up in the current discussion.
5. Both men and women have natural build ups in their bodies, which crave release. Without sex or masturbation, these buildups can make it hard to concentrate, hard to keep ones mind off of sex, hard to resist illicit lustful thoughts, hard to sleep, and can sometimes (for men) become physically painful
6. Making it a sin to masturbate seems to place many people in a “no way to win” situation. If they resist throughout the day, they may have very vivid and potentially troubling “wet dreams,” often with very vivid sexual images, leading to deep shame and confusion.
7. If they find it impossible to resist the urge to masturbate, they may feel that, “well, I am sinning anyways. I might as well enjoy it!” …causing them to engage in lustful thoughts, pornography, or other sinful or unhelpful practices
8. If such a person finds that they are thus caught in cycles of irresistible temptation, they may become far too comfortable with the temptation—sin—shame—repent—feel forgiveness—repeat cycle. This cycle may start to excuse greater and greater sexually deviant behaviours
9. Feelings of shame surrounding ones sexuality may lead to feelings that “sex is dirty,” and that it should be divorced from ones life. Like in Jeckyl and Hyde, ones sexuality could become something hidden, ugly, and shameful. In the darkness, it may grow very dark and twist towards the perverted, the selfish, and even the criminal. Or, perhaps equally devastating, the person may become successful in really killing their sexuality, thus destroying an integral part of what makes them human
10. …it seems like a far better option would be to simply masturbate — with no shame, and without lust or pornographic images — to release the “pressure,” and go on with ones life. Far from encouraging lust, it seems that such an action could be essential in fighting lustful thoughts and porn addiction
11. It is true enough that the more that one masturbates, the more the body will adjust to increase the bodily desires. Excessive masturbation is a problem recognized by psychotherapists and others. This seems to be a reason to have adult conversations with trusted friends or therapists about “how much is too much?” A person may perhaps find the need to work out some guidelines, even rules for themselves. By way of illustration, it may not be a sin to eat the whole box of Oreo cookies…but it may be unwise and unhealthy. Similar guidelines could be made for ones personal practices, without any shame. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12
12. One important factor for Christians to weigh is that masturbation can create powerful links to seemingly unrelated images, thoughts, and even objects. These may also be things to discuss and weigh out carefully in ones own conscience. “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” 1 Corinthians 10:23
13. It is true enough that in marriage, ones body belongs in part to the other, and that masturbation may dissipate important sexual energy that should be directed at ones spouse. 1 Cor. 7:4-5 If a spouse is not comfortable with masturbation, the other probably should not engage. However, this is not a reason to forbid it for all singles. When travelling, masturbation may be a much needed escape from temptation. These are matters to be worked out as a couple.
14. Some have argued that masturbation before marriage will “defile the marriage bed.” Heb. 13:4. There is no indication in the context of this passage that masturbation is being referenced: the danger here is almost certainly adultery.
15. In her book, Pure, author Rebecca Davis did research and extensive research on people raised within the evangelical subculture of the 1980’s-1990’s, which tended to teach a hard line view on masturbation, sex, and even romantic thoughts. She found a very high prevalence of sexual dysfunction in marriage, including erectile dysfunction and vaginismus. One couple who shared their story were only able to achieve sex a handful of times in a decade, and were considering a divorce, since their “love life” had never really worked out. Although not talked about, she found that similar stories were very common. Anecdotally, she reports that health nurses who deal with vaginismus say that there is a very high correlation to religious upbringings. It turns out that attempting to “shut down” ones sexuality during ones formative years, cloaking it in layers of shame, and divorcing sexual thoughts from other positive feelings in life is not necessarily the best formula for the “fireworks” that our pastor promised would happen after marriage.
16. Calling a natural function a “sin” with no biblical basis seems in keeping with the warnings against legalism in the Bible. “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines….men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:1-5
17. It seems to “tie up heavy burdens” on people, especially singles. (Mat. 23:4) One notices that it is mostly married people making these harsh rules.
18. The argument, “We’re not sure if it’s sin. It’s kind of grey. So let’s err on the side of caution and call it a sin.” Is a stupid argument. Grey issues are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8-10, Romans 13-14. We are to consider them carefully and make up our own minds, using our consciences. Those with more rules are called “weak in conscience,” those who can live their life “in of the Spirit” with a minimum of rules are called “strong” Christians
19. Making black-and-white pronouncements on matters of conscience is warned against in Scripture. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for “teaching as precepts the doctrines of men.” (Mat. 15:9) Paul warned his readers “not to let anyone take you captive through…the basic principles of men…acting as your judge [in regards to disputed matters]” (Col. 2:8-23).
20. Rather, he encourages people to weigh matters, and come up with their own convictions. “Each person should be fully convinced in their own minds.” (Rom. 14:5)
…now that you’ve seen my examination of the topic, what do you think? Is masturbation a sin for you, or not? What guidelines might you need to bring into play to make it healthy for yourself? What does your spouse think?
I pray that God’s spirit gives you wisdom, as you seek to honour God with the beautiful and powerful and sexual body that He has gifted you with.