Whew, this is a heavy and personal topic, but I think it needs to be addressed. Is masturbation okay for a Christian? Or is it sinful? This is a long debate and I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve thought a lot about. In fact, my views about it have changed over the years, even since starting this website. I’ll give my opinion about it, and then talk about masturbation in relation to crossdressing. There are a lot of views about masturbation among Christians, but there are two general ways of thinking about masturbation that I have wrestled with in my studies. Below, I explain these two opposing views, and my view most closely aligns with view #2. While I disagree with view #1, I appreciate some of their points and believe we should take them into account. At those places in this article, I will note what I appreciate.
1. The first view is that masturbation is good and healthy for Christians. Proponents of this view say that God never forbids it in Scripture. They say that people throughout church history have incorrectly said that the story about Onan in Genesis 38 shows the evil of masturbation.
Genesis 38:6-10 – 6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so he put him to death also.
Masturbation has even been called Onanism. I agree with proponents of view #1 that this story has nothing to do with masturbation. Onan was supposed to have sex with his deceased brother’s wife, Tamar, in order that she could produce offspring and keep Er’s lineage going (Tamar’s deceased husband). But every time they had sex, Onan would pull out at the last second so that his semen would not go into Tamar. Onan was shamefully using and cheating Tamar, and not doing his duty. His actions were sinful and so the Lord put him to death. But his sin was not masturbation.
Some have thought Deuteronomy 23:9-14 has prohibited masturbation.
9 When you are encamped against your enemies, keep away from everything impure. 10 If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, he is to go outside the camp and stay there. 11 But as evening approaches he is to wash himself, and at sunset he may return to the camp. 12 Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. 13 As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. 14 For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.
I agree with the proponents of view #1 that this passage is not talking about masturbation either. The closest thing it mentions is a nocturnal emission. But even so, it does not say that a nocturnal emission is sinful. A nocturnal emission made a Jewish person unclean. But clean and unclean were totally different categories than sinful versus righteous. The person would become sinful if they disobeyed the laws in these passages and didn’t do what they were supposed to do when they were unclean. But being unclean didn’t mean being sinful. The Israelites became unclean from a whole host of activities that occurred in regular daily life. Much of the time they could not prevent themselves from becoming unclean. Clean and unclean is about ritual holiness and keeping things holy and separate. This was to help the Israelites realize how holy and great God is and how to honor his presence among them.
So I agree with proponents of view #1 that there is nothing in the Bible that directly prohibits masturbation.
But these proponents of view #1 go on to say that masturbation is a natural thing. They say it is okay to give ourselves pleasure. God created us with bodies and they are gifts. Our bodies are to be enjoyed. Not only should our spouse enjoy our body, but we can enjoy our own body. Is it wrong to scratch our head or stroke our own hair because it feels nice? Is it wrong to rub our hands up and down our legs because it feels nice? Masturbation is different because it becomes sexual pleasure, but they say it still is just harmless self pleasuring.
They say masturbation like this can be very good and healthy. They say we should expect almost all kids to grow up masturbating and we should not shame them or make them feel guilty about it. We should not be shocked when we find them masturbating and we should talk it through with them to help them understand what they are doing. In fact, they say making kids feel guilty about it is one of the ways to mess them up for future marriage and enjoyment of sex. They then learn to feel shame about their genitals and their naked bodies and learn to feel guilt about sexual pleasure. But when they grow up masturbating without guilt it actually prepares them for marriage. They learn how their bodies work. They learn what their sexual organs do and how they respond to touch. In marriage then they can educate their spouse about what feels good and they will be able to much more enjoy sex in marriage. Especially in the case of women, women who did not grow up masturbating may have serious trouble in marriage learning how their bodies work sexually and learning how to enjoy sex. I disagree with much of this, but I do agree we have to be careful when talking to our children about masturbation so that they don’t attach shame to sexuality as we tell them to stop doing it. And we don’t want them to get the idea that it is some huge horrific sin, when we should expect most children will experiment with it until we talk with them about it.
Proponents of view #1 say that masturbation is the proper outlet for sexual pleasure for those who are waiting to get married. It might be especially helpful for young men and women who are dating and know they are tempted to fornicate. Masturbating regularly before getting together might be one way to diffuse those temptations. They also say it is the proper outlet for sexual pleasure for those who are called to a life of celibacy. It is the proper outlet for sexual pleasure at times in marriage when sexual activity with one’s spouse is not possible because of geographical distance or physical injury.
But even on view #1, masturbation is not seen as a perfect, always good, thing. There are dangers and boundaries. And of course I agree with these points. They say masturbation becomes a problem when –
A. It becomes an obsessive addiction. Masturbation should not be in control of our lives. We should be in complete control of our actions and our bodies. We all understand what addictions are like. They can distract us from things we need to do, they can waste our time, they can harm our well-being, and they can cause us to make unwise decisions. In the case of masturbation one of the biggest effects of overindulgence and addiction is desensitization. More and more (new actions, new fantasies) is needed each time for the same amount of pleasure and it may be hard to adjust to enjoying simple sex within marriage. And the masturbator could be so used to self pleasuring in a quick efficient way through skilled touching and unrealistic fantasy in the mind, that he doesn’t know how to deal with slow love making focused on giving pleasure to another. But the proponents of the view that masturbation is healthy would say that when it is encouraged by a parent and the child doesn’t feel shame and guilt about it, it probably will just be an occasional time of self pleasuring. (I think that is naive). But when a child is made to hide it in secret with shame, it can tend to become a harmful addiction.
B. It becomes attached to sinful thoughts and fantasy. This most often happens with pornography. I don’t know of any Christians who think pornography is okay. It could also be erotic fiction. It could be adulterous lustful thoughts. It could be homosexual thoughts, bestiality thoughts, pedophilic thoughts, or crossdressing thoughts. When the thoughts are not pure, then the activity of masturbation becomes a sinful activity. But then what thoughts are okay? Surely you have to think about something? They say you can masturbate with only the physical touch and actions and there are no real sexual thoughts or fantasies going on. Some also say that it is not sinful when you are thinking about your future spouse while masturbating (which is not a real person, but just a vague fictional image of the man or woman that we will someday meet and marry). But I think this is nearly impossible for most young men without them falling into sinful fantasies or pornography. Further, they can end up developing a thirst for an idealized fantastical body entrenched in their minds that will make them disappointed with their real future spouses.
C. It becomes a distraction or problem in a marriage. They say masturbation can be really helpful in a marriage if the man needs more sexual activity than the wife, or if they are divided by distance due to travel. (This is one place where I agree with proponents of view #1 that masturbation is not always sinful. I think in some cases like this it can be permissible, but not ideal, as long as the husband is only thinking about his wife and not sinful fantasies). But masturbation can easily become a substitute for sexual activity in marriage. If masturbation starts to replace physical intimacy with a spouse, that is obviously not a good thing. Masturbation can become a crutch so as not to face the problems in marriage and work on rekindling the sexual aspect of marriage. Masturbation is easier, but is not a substitute for the bonding that a healthy marriage needs. The healthy bonding takes work, patience, sacrifice, service, and pleasuring the other person. It is not always easy, but it is important. And masturbation should not replace it. They say that masturbation can also become an issue in marriage if either the husband or the wife would rather masturbate than have sex because it is more pleasurable for them than sex.
D. It becomes an excuse to not learn self control. Many people use masturbation because they feel like they could not control their desire for sexual pleasure and they need regular release. But I would say we need to make sure we are learning how to control ourselves, and say “no” to sexual pleasure at times. We can’t use masturbation as a crutch. We must learn self-control. Self-control in sexuality is a first step in learning self-control for other areas of life.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 – 3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Titus 2:12 – 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.
Galatians 5:22 – 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
Now on to the 2nd view. My own view is basically this view outlined below but with a couple caveats, which you may have noticed from my side comments above while explaining view #1.
2. The second view is that masturbation is sinful. Sexual pleasure should be limited to love and physical bonding with one’s spouse. God created sexual pleasure for us as a gift, but he intended it to be only within the boundaries of marriage. Masturbation is wrong then, mainly just because it is sexual pleasure outside the bond of marriage. This is just like other forms of sexual pleasure that are sinful because they are outside the bond of marriage, like fornication, adultery, etc. This is not about legalistic rules. God gave us sexual boundaries because he created us for sexual enjoyment within marriage, and when we go outside of the boundaries he has given to us it does not help our well-being, or our flourishing. Some things like adultery are very common sense in the way that they hurt our well-being and others’ well-being. Other things like pornography or crossdressing or homosexual behavior are not as common sense, and it takes a little more thought to see how why God does not want us to do them. It takes more thought to see why they are harmful to us and others. And when we cannot see why some aspect of sexuality is wrong, we have to trust that God has good reasons for why he has told us it is wrong and not good for us. We have to trust what he has told us in the Bible. We have to trust that the boundaries he has given us for sexuality are good even when we can’t fully understand them. God is infinitely smarter than us.
Masturbation is not wrong because sexual pleasure is bad. Sexual pleasure is good. But it should be within marriage, not experienced by oneself. Masturbation is self-focused. Some would say it is a form of narcissism. Sexual pleasure should be received from one’s spouse and given to one’s spouse. Sexual pleasure should not be given to self. The action of masturbation itself often shows us that it is not what is best. It is a farce, a fake. It is us pretending our hands are the vagina of a woman. Sexual love in marriage is all real. There does not need to be any fantasy. You are really with that other person and bonding. But masturbation is always somewhat of a farce. I think masturbation might be permissible for certain people at certain times and places, I don’t know. But it can never live up to the sexual pleasure that God intended for us to experience in marriage. That is why those that are called to a life of celibacy are truly sacrificing.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 – But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
Another argument proponents of view #2 make is that masturbation is not necessary because of nocturnal emissions. I agree. You don’t need to masturbate for sexual release when you are feeling the pressure. If you exercise self-control and resist masturbation, it will come out at night if necessary. But on this interesting topic, see my post – Nocturnal Emissions vs. Masturbation.
Those that think masturbation is wrong also talk about how easily it is connected with lust and pornography, how it can distract from sex and bonding in marriage, how it can desensitize, and how it easily becomes addiction. I’ve already talked about those concerns which both views agree about.
Regardless about which view you think is correct, I think we can all agree that the vast majority of people who are masturbating are doing so in a sinful way. They are doing so with lustful thoughts or with pornography. And most are doing so because they are addicted to it. Because of this, even if you believe view #1, I think you should still be warning people about masturbation. People need to pursue the Kingdom of God and righteousness over fleeting temporary pleasures. We must put sin to death.
Romans 6:11-14 – 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
Further, even if you think view #1 is true, you should realize that most people will still have to swear off masturbation completely in order that it does not lead them into other sins. This would follow the teaching Jesus gave us in Matthew 5:27-30. For some people masturbation is the hand they have to cut off in order to not give in to other sins.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Last, I want to say since this is such a controversial issue, that even if you think that view #1 makes some logical sense, if the reality is that you feel guilty about masturbation, then don’t do it! See Romans 14, especially verse 23 – 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. Basically this passage teaches us that even if we are wrong in our belief about whether something is sinful or not, if we do an action that we believe is sinful, it becomes sin. Even if we find out when Jesus returns that people were right about view #1, we would still be sinning by giving in to masturbation while feeling guilty about it. All of our actions should be done for Jesus out of faith.
Last, here is a great very strong warning from C.S. Lewis about it – “C.S. Lewis describes the ironic narrowing effect of sexual fantasy on a man’s personal identity and capacity to love. Something that promises limitless frontiers of sexual discovery and satisfaction leads instead into a dead-end canyon. As Lewis describes, ‘For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful [i.e., proper] use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself….After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in.” (I took the quote from the book Divine Sex by Jonathan Grant).
So now, what can we say about crossdressing and masturbation? Well I’ve already said that I think masturbation is wrong, at least in 99% of cases. And clearly masturbation with crossdressing thoughts is sinful. I would expand that to say that doing actual crossdressing and masturbating during or afterwards is sinful. I would say that masturbating while reading crossdressing fiction is sinful. I would say that masturbating while looking at crossdressing pictures and videos is sinful. I would say that masturbating while fantasizing about being crossdressed or someone else crossdressing is sinful. Since I believe that crossdressing itself is sinful and harmful, which I won’t argue for here, then necessarily masturbating while thinking about it in any form is also harmful and sinful. It is sinful in the same way that lustful thoughts are according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 above. If something is sinful in practice, it is also sinful to fantasize about it.
Further, in my personal experience, and what I’ve gleaned from the blogging world, crossdressing and masturbation are almost always linked up in addiction. This is sexual addiction. It is harmful and wrong. We must cut it out of our lives.
I also think connecting masturbation and crossdressing leads to problems in our lives. We learn to sexualize objects like clothing and makeup rather than the female body. Our bodies are the one thing we can’t make feminine, and so we keep our eyes drawn to the feminine clothing and makeup we are wearing. We end up being sexually turned on by those things rather than by a female person. The more we grow in our crossdressing and masturbation addiction, the more we become fixated on objects rather than people. This makes it hard for us to relate to people in real life without fixating on their clothing or makeup, and makes it hard to be attracted to our wives in the right way. Further, when we masturbate and crossdress we are manipulating the woman in the mirror. She will wear whatever we want her to, and pose however we want her to, for us to get pleasure. This does not set us up well for learning how to be attracted to a real person in marriage, a real person that we can’t just manipulate and make pose however we want, and make wear whatever we want. And last, I hate to go into such graphic detail, but by crossdressing and masturbation we can start to be turned on to mixed gendered images. Think about it. You go from seeing yourself as a woman in the mirror, to seeing a woman with a penis hanging out and you are masturbating and being turned on by that image. Perhaps this is how some men find themselves attracted to people known as “shemales.” I don’t know. Further, think about how odd it is to see a woman’s image in the mirror with a very erect penis sticking the clothes out. How can crossdressers have done this without realizing how messed up that is? And think about how easily you could mess up your life. I encourage you to stop crossdressing now and stop risking your relationships, job, or marriage. Let us put masturbation and crossdressing addiction to death.
Now a practical consideration. Should those working on giving up crossdressing substitute masturbation for crossdressing? And of course I refer to masturbation that is done by itself without thoughts of crossdressing and without pornography. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it doesn’t help anyone to trade one addiction for another, or one sin for another. And it’s really hard for people to masturbate without thinking about crossdressing, so it usually doesn’t work. But on the other hand, if a young man fighting against a crossdressing temptation quickly masturbated (while thinking about a generic female body), I do see this as much better than actually crossdressing. This is for a few reasons. 1. It will be less likely to develop into an addiction compared to the crossdressing. 2. Crossdressing or reading crossdressing fiction would not be over in a moment like general masturbation, but could stretch out for hours or a full day. 3. General masturbation is much less risky as far as getting caught by a spouse, a coworker, or a parent. And the reaction of the person catching you in the act will be much softer compared to if they catch you crossdressing. 4. General masturbation will at least help the ex-crossdresser to put his focus on being attracted to women, instead of being attracted to objects. 5. General masturbation will not contribute to identity confusion and gender dysphoria like crossdressing usually does. For these reasons, in counseling others, I will at times go along with their idea to use masturbation as a crutch in this way. But I will greatly caution them to use this crutch as a last resort in times of frightful temptation, and that they be careful that it doesn’t become a regular substitute or new addiction. And I will tell them that since masturbation is also not what God wants for us, that this should be a temporary measure as they wean themselves off of crossdressing.
I don’t want to end this post that way though. Beware of the danger of masturbation addiction! It’s not a small thing! Watch this video which talks about some of the dangers of masturbation addiction, pornography, and our brain.
If I’ve not been clear about anything in this post, please comment and ask your questions. Read the post carefully if you have only skimmed it, because it is a tricky subject.