Is Masturbation A Sin? (If I Don’t Look At Porn)

This is undoubtedly an age-old question that has been around for centuries: Is masturbation a sin?  Although there aren’t any perfect answers to this, (If there were then there wouldn’t be so many people asking it) I will try to help you process the question in a way that gives you a better understanding by the time you finish reading this post.

I decided to write on this topic because I know that there are a lot of you out there that deal with guilt regularly because of this, and because it is such a secretive topic in the Church, you probably feel like you are walking alone in it. 

First things first: why are you asking the question?

I am guessing that the majority of you are looking for someone to validate the action (preferably through a Bible verse or lack thereof) so that you can continue to masturbate…sans the guilt! Sounds like a win-win, right?  Although I believe that there is a win to be had here, it may not be what you think.  (I love cliff hangers)

Are there any Bible Verses Condemning masturbation?

Nope.  I’m not going to do what most of the other blogs do and just post a bunch of verses about lust and sexual immorality and attempt to link them together in order to condemn it.  Could masturbation be sexually immoral? Yes.  Is there anywhere in the Bible that makes this explicit? No. I am a very pragmatic person, so I won’t create any assumptions for you.  I will come back to the Bible verses later in the post, but that is all I have in regards to masturbation verses.

What about porn?

Once again, many of the other Christian blogs point to masturbation being a sin because the majority of the time it is linked to some sort of imagery that excites the person and lust is clearly seen as a sin in the Bible. Lust is a sin, and here are just a few verses that back that up:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28

For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 1 John 2:16

Lust and pornography are not a part of the kingdom of God for several reasons, but the issue at the core is that we are made for relationships, and porn shortcuts the relationship in favor of the pleasure that was meant for sex.  Sex was made to be an integral part of healthy marriages, “to become one” with the other.  Porn destroys the respect and brotherhood that we were meant to have with women, and instead turns them into objects to be worshipped.

Here is the thing, though…you have probably heard the porn thing many many times, and you know that it has no place in the Kingdom of God, and yet you are still here.  Why? Because what you really want to know is this: is it ok to masturbate as long as I am not looking at porn?  And then there is the second question that normally comes along with this: Isn’t masturbating a good thing because it fulfills my sexual desire and curbs my appetite for more?  Good questions.  Let’s dive in.

Isn’t masturbating a good thing because it fulfills my sexual desire and curbs my appetite for more? 

I have heard this question many times.  It is an attempt by Christians (especially younger dudes who aren’t married yet) who probably sincerely want to follow God’s commands and see this as an attempt to stay away from other temptations because they are “curbing their appetite.” Sounds pretty wise, right? Well, let’s find out.

A Look at Hedonic Hunger

Although the research on masturbation is limited, the research on eating habits is vast and very informative, and just so happens to be helpful for us with this topic as well.

In the nutritional research world, there are three different feedback controls that humans use for hunger and eating, which are:   homeostatic, hedonic, and cognitive processes.  The homeostatic process simply tells us that it is time to eat; it is the body’s way of keeping us alive by alerting us that we have an energy deficiency and it is time to refuel.  The cognitive process is our ability to learn and grow in our understanding of things like what we should eat, what we shouldn’t eat, and inform us about our eating habits.  The third and final influencer is what scientists call hedonic hunger.  This feedback loop is not based on knowledge or need, but instead it is based on desire.  Hedonic hunger is triggered from the anticipation of the pleasure of eating. It is similar to the effects that are seen in people who are compulsive gamblers or drug addicts.

Dr. Michael R. Lowe and colleagues at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pa., describe it this way: “Just as compulsive gamblers or drug-dependent individuals are preoccupied with their habit even when they are not engaging in it, so may some individuals experience frequent thoughts, feelings and urges about food in the absence of any short- or long-term energy deficit,” they write in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

Not only does hedonic hunger bring the tendency to addiction to food, it also causes us to eat more often than we would normally eat. 

Jane Collingwood from Psych Central, says this:

“They say there is evidence that obese individuals prefer and consume highly palatable foods to a greater extent than individuals of normal weight. People of normal weight have previously been thought to eat less for biological reasons, e.g. feeling full, but the experts now suggest that they more likely consciously eat less than they really want to—that is, they curb their hedonic hunger.

Research has shown that “wanting” and “liking” a substance are controlled by different brain chemicals. In the case of palatable foods, the effects on the brain can be similar to those observed in drug addiction.

Subjective feelings of hunger are more likely to reflect our hedonic hunger level than our body’s actual energy needs, and our body’s hunger signals are not closely linked to the amount of food we are likely to eat at the next meal or snack. Satiety, or fullness, has only a small effect on the pleasantness of foods. Instead, it is the availability and palatability of foods which keep us eating.”

What she is saying here is that people who are not obese do not generally eat less than those who are addicted to food because their bodies say they need less, but they actually control or curb their hedonic hunger.  How do they do this? By staying away from foods that they know are not good for their bodies and will end up being an addiction if they allow it to be.

Lessons Learned

I am hoping that you already know where I am going with this, but here are some of the important lessons that we can take from the research on hedonic eating:

  1. The more someone eats palatable foods, the more they will want. There is no such thing as eating so much that we are then content to stop and start eating normal.   The same is true of any “hedonic” activity, including food, drugs, gambling, drinking, and sex. Within each one of these activities lies the potential for us to be ruled by addiction. God has made sex and food in and of themselves to be good. Food satisfies our hunger and gives us strength, and sex satisfies our need for intimacy with our wives. The pleasure that we normally find in these two activities is a natural, good byproduct. The problem is when we try to shortcut the reason God made sex and food and partake in them solely for the pleasure. Once again, pleasure is a byproduct…not an end in itself.
  2. I think the quote we saw earlier explains this 2nd lesson perfectly: “Just as compulsive gamblers or drug-dependent individuals are preoccupied with their habit even when they are not engaging in it, so may some individuals experience frequent thoughts, feelings and urges about food in the absence of any short- or long-term energy deficit,” they write in the journal Physiology & Behavior.  Our anticipation of our addictions grow the more that we engage with them, and they shrink the less we engage with them.

Alright, I think it’s time to go back to our original two questions:

  1. Is masturbation a sin?

If you are asking this question, then you are probably not on the right path in the first place. Is God looking at individual acts? Sure, but what he really wants to see is the heart behind what you are doing. Check your heart.

2. Is masturbation a good thing because it curbs my appetite for more?

No!  Masturbation will never curb your appetite; it will only enflame it.  So what is the easiest way to stay away from looking at porn and looking at women as objects?  Stop masturbating! Just like with hedonic hunger, the longer you stay away from palatable foods, the less appealing they will become.  This is not to say that it is easy, just that it is really your only option to move away from sin and towards Christ.

Here are some verses that I have found very helpful when it comes to choosing the path that leads to Christ:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12: 9-13

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

Lastly, I want to give you some practical ways to help you move away from sexual sin.

  1. Get an accountability partner.

If you do not do anything else on this list, do this.  The more open you are with someone else, the more likely it will be that you will stick to the things that you say you will do.  This can be a hard one because sexual issues tend to be secretive, but please please do this for your sake.  There is someone in your life that loves you enough to want to help you and can see through the problems that you have, because guess what? We ALL have our own issues and struggles, and Christ has created us to go through them together with other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Tell this person that you are wanting to follow after Christ and you want to let go of the hindrances that are keeping you from doing that.  Be real and honest about what you have been going through and tell him that you want him to check in with you every week at least.  Also, did you notice I am using the word him?  This person should not be your girlfriend! Go to an elder male that you trust and that will give you honest feedback and check in with you whenever you need it.

2. Put filters on your phone and computer.

If you also struggle with looking at porn, then make sure that you do this as well.  Just like in the hedonic food study, the more things are available, the more difficult it is for an addict to stay away from it.  Don’t make porn available to yourself as much as possible. 

3. Stay in God’s Word

Although I gave you a few verses above, there are thousands that help me every day that I read the Bible.  As I meditate on them throughout the day, the Lord will bring back things to me that inform my decision-making and remind me who I am in Christ.

4. Pray

When you are praying, the inclination will be to ask God to “help you not to masturbate.”  A better prayer is to instead continually thank God for His goodness and grace in your life, and to ask for a growing passion to follow in the path that He has set for you.  You don’t need strength to stop something sinful…you need more love for the one who has created you, which in turn will give you a desire to “cling to what is good.”

Remember, the important question is not “is masturbation a sin;” the important question is “will my behavior lead me towards Christ or away from Him?” We face spiritual battles every single day, and it is important for us to have fellow soldiers beside us that are willing to have our backs and “honor each other above ourselves.”  Those that are willing to help us stay the course and see Christ more clearly in the things that we do and say.

Reference

Lowe, M. R. and Butryn, M. L. Hedonic hunger: A new dimension of appetite? Physiology & Behavior, Vol. 91, July 24, 2007, pp. 432-39.

Collingwood, Jane Are We Slaves To Hedonic Hunger? https://psychcentral.com/lib/are-we-slaves-to-hedonic-hunger/

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