There is conflicting evidence about masturbation in the Bible. It has led to a lot of debate. ‘What does the Bible say about masturbation is one of the most frequently asked questions in online Christian forums.
Because society has made this a wholly acceptable practice that is nobody’s business but the person’s own. Yet, the Bible does have something to say about masturbation. Read on to find out more.
What is God’s Plan for Our Sexuality?
According to the Bible, God has a plan for our sexuality. After all, man is made in the image of God. And so there is an unspoken law written in each person’s heart where God’s designs are imprinted. God’s plan for our sexuality is explained in the Bible in the very first book of Genesis.
Genesis and the Garden of Eden
The book of Genesis opens with the creation of Adam and Eve. The couple receives the instruction to “Be fruitful and multiply.” They are naked in the Garden of Eden, enjoying the garden and the companionship of each other. Everything as God says, “is good.”
After “the fall” where they eat from the tree of knowledge, the first thing Adam and Eve do is hide because they are naked. Shame, finger pointing, and blame arise. Suddenly the very substance of their existence “is not good.”
The trust and comfort they drew from one another vanishes. The unity they shared in physical intimacy disappears. And with it goes God’s plan for them.
Theology of the Body
In his epic work, on Theology of the body, Pope John Paul II explains the sexual complementarity of man and woman. Human beings were made for self-giving love. The act of masturbation is a self-getting love that focuses on one’s own momentary pleasure.
In it, JP II writes that man was never meant to be alone. God says in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” It is precisely why He created Eve, knowing fully well that man needed a companion. The very act of masturbation perpetuates the idea that man can be fulfilled by himself.
What Does The Bible Say About Masturbation?
Several verses in the Bible point to the cause of masturbation. At its very heart, masturbation is an action that results from lustful thoughts. This is a desire that falls outside of God’s plan for our sexuality. As stewards of our bodies, we’re supposed to subject these passions and desires to our will and not be ruled by them. (Gal 5:24)
Biblical Verses Related to Masturbation
An in-depth study of scripture will lead you to fundamentally examine the roots of masturbation.
In Leviticus 15:1-18, the law is laid out for the discharge of semen in great detail rendering any man with an unlawful discharge unclean.
Peter tells early Christians to abstain from passions of the flesh (1 Peter 2:11). Paul directs the Hebrews to keep the marriage bed undefiled in Hebrews 13:4. Jesus takes the law from Moses and makes it, even more, stricter by saying that any man who has so much as looked at another woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart.
And lust leads to the downfall of many. David, Sodom, and Gomorrah, all suffered the consequences of lust.
Another issue is that masturbation is done primarily through the viewing of pornography which in and of itself can become an addiction.
The problem with masturbation is that it escalates with time and frequency. The solo act becomes uneventful precisely because it was never meant to satisfy in the first place. A person that is viewing porn is still simmering in desire.
Masturbation replaces a healthy sexual encounter with an unnatural, solitary one. Lust leads to sexual immorality. In Acts 15:20, Peter advises people to abstain from sexual immorality. In 1 Corinthians 5:11, he tells believers are told not to associate with one who is sexually immoral and further in 1 Corinthians 10:8 and not engage in sexual immorality.
This is because lust and dwelling on sexual fantasies can prompt people to engage in further risky behavior. The Nofap movement gets a bad rap because people assume the only reason they abstain from masturbation is sexual guilt.
When in reality, the “negative” feelings experienced by most masturbators are a recognition of the body of something unnatural, not in keeping with the body-soul relationship that God is calling us to have.
Lust can quickly turn into an obsession. James 1: 14-15, says, “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
The Neurochemistry of Masturbation
It’s easy to think of masturbation as yet another action like eating and sleeping. However, there’s more going on in the brain than we realize. There are various neurochemical and neurobiological pathways involved here. The neurotransmitters are primarily involved with the dopaminergic pathway in the brain.
The Brain and Masturbation
The nucleus accumbens (NAcc) is called the reward center of the brain. It relates to pleasure, reward-seeking, impulsivity, and learning via reinforcement.
The dopamine pathway of the brain connects the reward center to other regions like the amygdala (associated with emotions), hippocampus (involved in the processing and retrieval of long-term memories), and the frontal cortex (which coordinates and determines behavior).
Natural behaviors of eating and sex are all reinforced via the reward system. Usually, humans act through impulsive action based on positive reinforcement. When a person is addicted to pornography and masturbation, the brain shifts to act through compulsive action via negative reinforcement.
A cyclical pattern of addiction develops with binge/intoxication, withdrawal, and preoccupation.
Over time, the NAcc starts receiving a flood of dopamine due to every action that pleases it. However, simultaneously neuroplastic changes occur with each repeated action leading to the release of dynorphin.
Dynorphin, in turn, decreases the dopamine action of the reward system. This leads to a decrease in the reward threshold and an increase in tolerance to the event.
That leads to the stage of withdrawal. The amygdala gets activated. This area is known for processing pain and conditioning fear. With the decrease of dopamine, the brain’s stress systems are activated. Tolerance is higher. This negatively reinforces a person to engage in the addictive behavior.
The impulse now shifts to compulsive behavior. You can easily identify this shift when a person has negative emotions like anxiety, depression, mood changes, and irritability.
Another component here is the dopamine pathway that ends in the frontal cortex. Parts of the frontal cortex, especially the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) are responsible for the part of inhibition and emotional response. Inhibitions are lost.
This is the craving stage. Due to the impairment of the dopamine pathway in the pre-frontal cortex, motivation, self-regulation/self-control, delayed reward discounting, and other cognitive functions are all negatively affected.
The individual is now vulnerable to re-perform the behavior with little reward and so the cycle goes on. Imaging studies have confirmed these findings . The behavior leads to a relapse of the original action, leading to further downregulation of the dopamine pathway.
Over time, the more time doing the action or the frequency of the action fails to achieve the desired effect which is why different stimulation or behaviors become necessary to feel the same reward.
The brain is highly plastic. This behavior emerges from the way it learns behavior. It can be reversed with time by upregulating the pathway.
In addition to this mechanism, there are many other pathways and theories about how these pathways lead to a vicious cycle of addiction and compulsive behavior. Can you imagine all these pathways working in a highly synergistic manner to allow a person to submit to their learned experience? It is frightening to think that gradually, you can lose your mind or control of it by having no control over your actions.
The Bible calls this becoming a slave to sin. In John 8:34, “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” St Paul talks about it extensively in Romans Chapter 6.
Isn’t it Better Than Fornication or Actual Sex?
Like any other addiction, masturbation and pornography addiction will change the way you think and see things. People can identify when this happens. The way you think about your relationships, the way you look at people, and even your speech is affected. Because this behavior affects you at a subconscious level.
Dr. Peter Kleponis, founder of Integrity Restored says you must identify the pattern of escalating behavior. The problem is the same “vanilla” experience will not satisfy the reward center. And so edgier, newer, more violent forms of the very same experience will be needed to fulfill it.
It is not uncommon to find someone viewing extreme and often unrealistic pornography just to achieve the experience of the initial encounter.
Here and Now
Because of the immediacy of the action, an individual has no patience and energy to invest in a relationship that would bring the same reward through positive reinforcing actions. Why bother with a partner when you could have what you want here and now in five minutes?
And if that’s not possible, head out and find the next available person only to engage in sexual behavior that could put your health at risk. Here, the focus is entirely on oneself and his or her own pleasure. The need and the self-giving aspect of and to the other person are eliminated.
What’s the Big Deal?
Masturbation is harmful to an individual and their relationships. Two important studies demonstrate that high rates of masturbation are associated with decreased satisfaction in sexual life and life in general. [1,2]
Compulsive masturbation is found in 30-75% of patients with hypersexuality. This is a chicken and egg situation where it’s not clearly understood if hypersexual patients masturbate compulsively or whether the habit leads to hypersexuality. Yet, the compulsive habit leads to personal distress and reduced social and occupational functioning.
Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is still being investigated and this is just the tip of the iceberg. The effect of masturbation and pornography on relationships, the developing mind, the family, and emotions is observed but not studied.
There are thousands of testimonies, videos, and blogs of individuals who have admitted masturbation can become an addiction and then successfully unlearned their behavior. Yet, they receive a beating from the majority who a) Have lost their sense of self-control and b) those who want to normalize this behavior to remain subjugated to this behavior.
God’s plan for us was to be a victor and ruler of the earth and everything it contained not to become slaves to our own bodies. The big deal is that masturbation keeps us small and chained to ourselves. It makes us selfish and reduces the act of intimacy to just another animalistic habit.
There is Freedom
It is not impossible to overcome masturbation. The Bible considers lust a grave sin and by extension, masturbation as well. Jesus died on the cross to give His people victory. Masturbation can be overcome by subjecting the body to the will.
Masturbation can quickly become an addiction and a gateway to risky sexual behavior. It can become a prison of one’s own making. This is a learned behavior and just as easily be unlearned as well. However, there is freedom through Scripture, holistic positive relationships, self-help resources, therapy, and counseling.
- Brody S, Costa RM. Satisfaction (sexual, life, relationship, and mental health) is associated directly with penile-vaginal intercourse, but inversely with other sexual behavior frequencies. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2009;6(7):1947–1954. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01303.x.
- Långström N, Hanson RK. High rates of sexual behavior in the general population: Correlates and predictors. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2006;35(1):37–52. doi: 10.1007/s10508-006-8993-y.
- Goldstein R.Z., Volkow N.D. Dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex in addiction: Neuroimaging findings and clinical implications. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 2011;12:652–669. doi: 10.1038/nrn3119.