Can We Talk About the M-Word? Masturbation and the Christian

By: ATRI Staff Writer; ©2007
In our modern day and age, pornographic material can be found virtually everywhere: television – even during prime time, the internet, in magazines, on billboards, and in books. What affect has that material had on our society and on our churches?


It has been said that of the nearly 1 million words in the English language, masturbation may be one of the hardest for people to actually say – especially out loud in mixed company.[1] Perhaps that explains why there is much confusion among Christians as to the nature of masturbation. Is it sin? Is it simply a matter of personal choice? How can we know?

Let’s begin with the obvious. The word masturbation does not appear in the Bible. Check any concordance; you won’t find it.


Oh, now wait! Wasn’t masturbation the sin for which Onan was killed by God in Genesis 38? If you look up the word onanism in the dictionary, it will (generally) refer you to this story in Genesis 38 as the source of the word, and the first definition given will most likely be “masturbation.”[2]

But many Bible scholars will argue that the sin for which Onan was condemned was not masturbation. David Guzman explains,

Many Christians have used this passage as a proof-text against masturbation. Indeed, masturbation has been called “onanism.” However, this does not seem to be the case here. Whatever Onan did, he was not masturbating! This was not a sin of masturbation, but a sin of refusing to care for his brother’s widow by giving her offspring, and of a selfish use of sex.[3]

Can we then assume that since the Bible does not specifically condemn masturbation, it is simply a matter of personal choice – and if done in the privacy of your own home, nobody’s business but your own? Most of us would love to think so.

Please, release me!

But let’s be honest. Why do you masturbate? Most of the time, isn’t it to release pent up sexual tension or energy?

What caused that buildup of sexual tension? Was it caused by exposure to sexually explicit material – whether in a magazine, on television, a movie, on the internet? Or maybe you are fantasizing about someone you saw at the office or at church or at the gym?

Houston, we have a problem!

By one estimate, “at least 98 percent of all masturbation involves lustful mental fantasies or pornography.”[4] And the Bible does have a lot to say about lust – nearly all of it negative.

The classic passage on lust is found in Matthew 5:28, where Jesus warns that entertaining lust thoughts makes you just as guilty as if you had committed the physical act: “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

And the book of James offers this caution regarding the dangers of giving in to your lusts: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines lust as:

Sinful longing; the inward sin which leads to the falling away from God (Romans 1:21). “Lust, the origin of sin, has its place in the heart, not of necessity, but because it is the centre of all moral forces and impulses and of spiritual activity.” In Mark 4:19 “lusts” are objects of desire.[5]

Keep your eyes on the prize

At this point you are probably thinking something like, “You can’t be serious! Are you really trying to tell me that I can’t masturbate at all!

Well, based on those verses and others in the Bible, it would seem that unless you can figure out a way to masturbate without entertaining any lustful thoughts – or if you are married, focusing your sexual energies on your spouse, and with his or her permission – the answer is, that’s what we think God’s highest standard is for you.

Well, you’re probably thinking, how in the world does He expect me to do that! The advice that Paul gave Timothy is a good place to start: “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Our guests Steve Arterburn, Fred Stoeker and Shannon Ethridge all contend that you CAN overcome your sinful sexual urges, those youthful lusts. It isn’t easy, but it can be done. In the book Every Young Man’s Battle Arterburn and Stoeker list four requirements for freeing yourself from the masturbation habit.[6]

1.Make a strong decision to no longer ‘stop short’ of God’s standards.

If God’s standard is sexual purity,[7] are you willing to do whatever it takes to reach that standard?

2.Join an accountability group.

Find a group of people with whom you can openly discuss your problems, your struggles, and who will commit to help you reach sexual purity.

3.Continue (or develop) an active, ongoing relationship with God, which includes worship and prayer.

Since the urge to masturbate often springs from an absence of intimacy in your life, try focusing on developing an intimate relationship with your Heavenly Father.

4.Become aware of how magazines, television, videos, the internet, catalogs, music etc., affect your sex drive.

If your sexual appetites are being fed by images in any of these (or other) areas, you need to make a strong commitment to strip them out of your life.

In a delightful word picture, Arterburn and Stoeker suggest your sex drive is like a sumo wrestler who has grown fat and happy on a steady diet of sexual images. As much as you may want to overcome him, you are simply overmatched. He’ll get you every time. But if you put that sumo wrestler on a starvation diet – cut off his supply of sexual images – soon he will become the 98 pound weakling.

In her book Every Young Woman’s Battle, Shannon Ethridge urges:

Place your sexual desires back into God’s hands rather than taking matters into your own. God gave you those desires in the first place, and He longs to help you control them until they can be fulfilled according to His plan. Once you allow Him to prove Himself in this area, you will understand that self-gratification isn’t truly satisfying at all. If you want your body, mind, heart, and spirit to remain pure, strive for God-gratification instead of self-gratification.[8]

For more information on what the Bible has to say about lust and for very practical information on how to overcome the habit of masturbation, we strongly recommend the books following books by Steve Arterburn, Fred Stoeker and Shannon Ethridge. (Please see elsewhere on this site to order these books)

Every Young Man’s Battle

Every Young Woman’s Battle

Every Man’s Battle

Every Woman’s Battle


  1. Jeff Miller, Masturbation, in Sex: A 12-Step Program for Men, online at
  2. See for example, The American Heritage Dictionary, online at
  3. Guzik, David. “Commentary on Genesis 38”. “David Guzik’s Commentaries
    on the Bible”. <>. 1997-2003.
  4. Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, Every Young Man’s Battle (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2002), p. 109.
  5. Easton, Matthew George. “Entry for ‘Lust’”. “Easton’s Bible Dictionary”.
    <>. 1897.
  6. See Every Young Man’s Battle, pages 118-119 for their list.
  7. “You are sexually pure when no sexual gratification comes from anyone or anything but your [spouse],” Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoker, Every Man’s Battle (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2000), p. 133.
  8. Shannon Ethridge, Stephen Arterburn, Every Young Woman’s Battle (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2004), p. 50.

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