FAQs About Sexuality
Is Masturbation Wrong?

QuestionIt seems to me that most husbands want intercourse more often than their wives do. My husband and I have a pretty regular sex life, but he occasionally resorts to masturbation when we've been apart due to illness, business travel or whatever. Is it wrong for a Christian to masturbate? This really bothers me, since I feel that our physical lives should be something we share together, not separately.

AnswerFirst, not all husbands want intercourse more frequently than their wives. Generally, half the couples who seek sexual therapy because of lessened desire report that it is the husband who lacks desire. What differs is the reason men and women want intercourse. Surveys indicate that a man's drive for sex is more often associated with desire for release while a woman desires physical intimacy, warmth and cuddling.

Your husband desires release more often than you do, and to get that release he sometimes masturbates. Many women report that their husband's masturbation makes them feel guilty for not taking care of his needs. However, that "duty" approach to sex distorts what we believe the Bible teaches about the sexual relationship in marriage.

It is true, as 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 teaches, that our bodies are each other's to enjoy and we are not to withhold sex from each other except by mutual agreement for a time set aside for prayer. But that is a mutual command for both spouses--not one for the wife to provide release for the husband. That concept of mutuality underlies every New Testament passage that teaches about the sexual relationship in marriage. So if one spouse desires sex more than the other, we don't withhold ourselves, nor do we expect to engage in an activity that would not be desirable for the other. We both look on the other's needs as more important than our own (Phil. 2:3).

The primary question you are asking, however, is whether self-stimulation is an appropriate way for your husband to take care of his needs when the two of you are not available to each other for intercourse. The Bible offers no direct teaching on masturbation. Most teaching has been based on the story of Onan, the son of Judah, who was obligated to produce an offspring for his deceased brother's wife. But "Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, so it came about that when he came to his brother's wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give off-spring to his brother" (Gen. 38:9). Onan's behavior displeased God, but the displeasing behavior was that Onan refused to provide offspring as God had commanded. Similar passages have been construed to teach that masturbation is condemned by Scripture, but all of those are dependent on the reader's interpretation. There is no direct teaching against or for masturbation.

When the Bible offers no direct teaching on a subject, we must apply other biblical principles to help us prayerfully discern God's will for us. So, on the subject of masturbation, a couple should answer these questions:

First, is the self-stimulation harmful to your mutual expectation to be available to one another sexually? If one spouse masturbates instead of being available to the other, then he or she is violating the relationship.

Second, is the masturbation associated with lust? Lust is the desire to have something or someone that is not ours. Self-stimulation often becomes connected with a desire for a person who is not your spouse or for a certain body type that is different from your spouse's, and that is absolutely wrong. It is possible for self-stimulation to be a mere physical response to a sexual urge without any thought of anyone or for the activity to be accompanied by images of being with one's spouse. In those situations, there is no lust associated with self-stimulation.

Third, has masturbation become an addiction or enslavement? If a person is controlled by masturbation he is enslaved by or addicted to it. Many behaviors become sin when they enslave a person. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul says, "'Everything is permissible for me,' but I will not be mastered by anything" (see also 1 Cor. 10:23-31).

Fourth, does the masturbation involve self-abuse? Occasionally, people who have been abused in the past may abuse themselves physically or emotionally when they masturbate. This is always wrong. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and should be cared for and protected.

We should not be possessed, mastered or enslaved by our sexual drive. Nevertheless, the sexual drive that is in us is a natural, God-given drive. Keeping these two facts in balance will help you and your husband decide how to think about masturbation in your marriage.

For Further Exploration:
The Gift of Sex

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