Can You Masturbate Without Lusting? What about Matthew 5:27-30?

A reader named David left this comment on my previous article, “What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?”:

Hi Lee,

Thanks for the article. I tend to agree with you. Masturbation seems to be practical outlet for one’s sex drive. Since I come from a more conservative background, the typically verse used to make a case against masturbation is the one in Matthew where Jesus is warns that lusting after a woman is the same as adultery. So the argument is made: “Can you masturbate without lusting?” I would be curious if you have any thoughts on that particular verse since I have heard it used more often than the passage with Onan.

David

Hi David,

Thanks for stopping by, and for your good comment and question.

Now that you mention it, that is a common verse and argument used against masturbation in conservative Christian circles.

It looks like I’ve got some more writing to do . . .

First the short answer:

It’s a weak and superficial argument.

Does masturbation cause lust? Isn’t it actually a way of decreasing our lust so that it doesn’t flow out into evil and sinful actions?

Lust comes from the heart, not from some physical action such as masturbation. And lust has to be dealt with at its source. Blaming masturbation for lust in the heart is a bit like blaming the hammer for hitting your thumb. (“@#%& stupid hammer!!!”)

Now for the long answer.

Lust comes from the heart, not from the eye or the hand

Let’s look at the relevant verses from Matthew:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:27–30)

Clearly Jesus is not speaking literally here. He is not commanding us to literally tear out our physical right eye or cut off our physical right hand, nor is he saying that these physical body parts are what cause us to sin.

For one thing, nowhere in the Gospels, or anywhere else in the New Testament, did Jesus’ followers take his advice literally, and physically maim themselves in order to avoid sinning.

But more than that, we have Jesus’ own teaching that sin does not originate in our body or in our outward actions, but in our heart:

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” . . .

“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” (Matthew 15:10–11, 17–20)

So it’s clear that in Matthew 5:27–30, Jesus was speaking metaphorically about removing any part of our character that causes us to sin:

  • He used “the right eye” as a metaphor for our thinking mind, which is our mental “eyesight.”
  • He used “the right hand” as a metaphor for the intentions of our heart, which is the source of everything we do with our hands.

If we have thoughts and desires that are leading us to say and do evil and sinful things, it is those thoughts and desires that we must remove from our character.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Jesus’ overall message is that our evil actions come from our heart and mind, not from our physical body. Though we can attempt to suppress evil thoughts and desires from coming out into action, the only way to fully and radically deal with them is to deal with them at their source—which is our “heart,” meaning our loves, motives, and intentions.

Applying this to the subject at hand, the act of masturbation does not cause lust, nor is it sinful in itself. Rather, it is sinful or not depending on the thoughts and motives we are immersed in when we do it. As Jesus says, adultery comes from the heart. So the important thing is not the masturbation, but the thoughts and feelings behind it.

Our built-in sex drive

Now let’s get practical.

As I pointed out in the previous article, the reality is that we come equipped with sexual drives, and a desire to have sexual intercourse.

That’s for a very good reason. Without our natural sex drive, the human race would quickly die out, and there would be no new angels-in-the-making to populate heaven. So God has provided that whatever the quality of our mind, heart, and character may be, we humans will mate and reproduce when we have the opportunity. God has provided for this by giving us the aforementioned biological sex drives, and making them very powerful in us.

As I also pointed out in the previous article, in a normal, healthy teenager or adult, these sex drives are going to keep right on driving whether or not the person happens to be married (which teenagers generally can’t be anyway), and whether or not the person is in a sexually active relationship.

So the question isn’t whether we’re going to have sexual desires and urges. The question is what we’re going to do with those desires and urges.

Suppressing them altogether just isn’t realistic or practical. Religious conservatives who preach that we must completely suppress and deny our sexuality until we are married are themselves in a state of denial about the realities of the human mind and heart.

But more than that, by urging young people and unmarried people to suppress all of their sexual desires, and close off every outlet, they are causing those natural, biological, and very human drives to build up (in people who listen to their preaching) until the sexual desires become overwhelming, and burst out into much more destructive behavior. Their harsh and puritanical preaching actually turns normal sexual desires into lust! It also causes a huge amount of completely unnecessary emotional pain, anguish, guilt, and suffering.

Jesus, in his statements about the origin of lust, is simply being realistic. He recognizes that we have these drives, and he points to their source: the human heart. And he tells us that to deal with them, we must deal with them within our hearts and minds, rather than thinking that if we simply engage in “proper behavior,” the problem will be solved.

Adultery in the heart

Jesus was also raising the Ten Commandments to a higher level.

He was saying that although correct behavior is good, it’s not good enough if we want to become truly spiritual and Christian people. We must also work on our inner motives, desires, attitudes, and beliefs.

And that is a lifelong process.

Let’s face it: we’re not perfect, and we never will be perfect. Every one of us has all sorts of wrong and destructive thoughts and desires popping in and out of our head throughout the day.

The first line of defense against them is to stop ourselves from acting on them in ways that violate the Ten Commandments, not to mention the Bible’s general discouragement of promiscuous relationships. When it comes to our sexual desires:

  • We should not allow ourselves to commit actual adultery, even if we feel the “lust,” or desire, to do so. If a relationship you desire would be an adulterous one, just stay away, and don’t tempt yourself.
  • We should think twice before engaging in (non-adulterous) extramarital sex, because it might lead us down a painful and depressing path. For more on this, please see my article, “Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?

So the real question, once again, is what do we do with our less-than-noble sexual desires?

First, we don’t go jumping right into bed with people whenever we get the hots for them. Those who operate in this way inevitably end out crashing and burning.

Suppressing our sex drive is a recipe for disaster

But completely suppressing our sexual desires simply isn’t a good solution.

Our sexual thoughts and feelings don’t go away just because we don’t act on them. Instead, they keep getting stronger and stronger, and harder and harder to deal with. That’s because they are a basic part of our character as human beings. They’re not something we can “repent” from and stop having.

If we do try to completely suppress them or “repent” from them, what might at first be relatively harmless sexy daydreaming can easily develop into full-blown, irresistible lust that sooner or later will break out in a highly destructive way. And when it does, it can wreck our lives, and the lives of others around us.

Masturbation provides a morally harmless way to release our natural sex drive without engaging in illicit or unwise sex. It allows our sexual desires to subside so that they don’t build up in us until they become a raging torrent that we can’t control.

Masturbation also provides a way to keep our natural sex drives reasonably satisfied while we work on any deeper issues we may have with desires for adulterous relationships and other types of illicit and damaging sex.

Jesus is absolutely right: adultery comes from the human heart. But the human heart is a stubborn thing. And our sexual and romantic feelings are some of the most deep-seated drives in the human psyche. Our sex drive can trump even our fear of death.

These are not issues that can just wave a magic wand over and Presto! we’re clean, pure, and innocent in all of our sexual thoughts and feelings! Rather, these are issues that we must work on within our mind and heart for months, years, and decades—in fact, for our entire lifetime. Becoming sexually pure in our mind and heart is a lifelong process. Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27–30 are a long-term spiritual challenge to us, not something we can patch up with a quick fix.

In short, it’s silly to think that not masturbating is going to somehow cause us to be less lustful in our hearts. In fact, it’s likely to cause just the opposite. With no outlet, our “lust,” or sex drive, will burn even hotter, and become even more uncontrollable. And without any outlet for it, our mind and heart will tend to stray into more and more desperate and destructive desires as we block and thwart the more healthful ways of expressing them.

In short, conservative Christians’ use of Matthew 5:27–30 as a way to forbid masturbation is not only mistaken, it’s destructive. It is likely to increase the lust in the human heart until that lust comes out in highly immoral actions that, unlike masturbation, are clearly prohibited in the Bible.

It’s no coincidence that conservative Christian preachers and politicians are regularly caught with their pants down. Often it’s the ones who shouted the loudest in denouncing lewdness and immorality who are themselves caught consorting with prostitutes, or sleeping with the church secretary or the young, naïve political intern, or engaging in other highly immoral sexual behaviors.

Perhaps if those preachers and politicians had not bound such heavy burdens, and hard to bear, on others and on themselves, they would have expressed their natural sexual drives and desires in a healthier way. Instead, they’ve imposed harsh strictures that are impossible to abide by, and they’ve suffered the consequences in the form of destroyed ministries, political careers, lives, relationships, and families.

Masturbation, lust, and fantasy

Now more specifically about the thoughts and fantasies that people engage in while masturbating:

First of all, fantasy is not reality. Daydreaming about having sex with a woman (or man) is not the same as having a real desire and intention to actually have sex with her or him in real life if possible.

People fantasize about all sorts of things, such as jumping off a cliff or murdering their boss in an especially creative way. If we acted on all of our fantasies, this world would quickly descend into a chaos that would rival the situation on earth before the Noah’s Flood, as described in Genesis 6!

Everyone fantasizes. The acid test is what we actually do in our real lives.

It’s inevitable that a heterosexual male is going to see a pretty woman and fantasize about sleeping with her. It only turns into a real problem if he doesn’t recognize that it’s just a fantasy, and get on with his life—and treat her with basic human decency and respect if he happens to encounter her during the day.

And of course, when people masturbate, they’re going to fantasize about various sexual situations and encounters. Once again, the first thing is to recognize that these are just fantasies. You’re not really going to have hot sex with that knockout you saw walking down the street yesterday.

Moving our heart and mind toward marriage

The second, and deeper, thing to do is:

  • Keep your mind and heart moving away from any desire for adulterous, promiscuous, shallow, and destructive sexual relationships, and:
  • Keep your mind and heart moving toward the ideal of a committed, loving, faithful, monogamous marriage.

Okay, okay, that’s two things! But it’s really two sides of the same coin.

It is the direction that our mind and heart takes, either toward or away from healthy, monogamous, spiritual marriage, that will determine whether our masturbation, and every other sexual activity we engage in, is innocent, good, and healthful or dirty, foul, promiscuous, and adulterous.

The articles about masturbation linked to in my previous article point out that masturbation can actually help people in long-term, committed, monogamous relationships to improve their sex lives and their lovemaking with one another.

Similarly, when we are not married and not in a committed romantic relationship, masturbation can actually help us to move psychologically and emotionally toward a healthy sex life in a committed relationship rather than pulling us away from such a relationship.

As Jesus said, it all depends on what’s coming out of our heart.

So here are my practical suggestions related to lust, fantasy, and masturbation:

  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone fantasizes.
  2. Don’t act on your adulterous and promiscuous fantasies in ways that violate what the Bible actually commands us not to do.  (Hint: masturbation is not actually on the Bible’s naughty list.)
  3. Don’t beat yourself up if you have lapses into dirty, unworthy thoughts. Just let it go and move on.
  4. Keep your mind and heart focused on and moving toward a healthy, spiritual marriage, even if you’re not currently in one.
  5. Over time, move your fantasies while masturbating away from unhealthy ones, and toward healthier ones, such as having loving, mutual sex with a future marital partner.
  6. And remember, nobody’s perfect. The only sinless person ever was Jesus Christ (see Ecclesiastes 7:20; Hebrews 4:14–15).

If we approach masturbation with these things in mind, always making the effort to move our mind and heart toward healthy, loving, monogamous marriage—even if it’s sometimes a two steps forward, one step back process—then masturbation can be a useful and constructive part of our overall process of overcoming the lust in our heart, and moving our heart, mind, and spirit toward the blessings of real, spiritual, loving marriage.

In other words, if we look more deeply and realistically at what Jesus said in Matthew 5:27–30, it leads straight to the conclusion that masturbation done in a balanced and thoughtful way actually helps us to cleanse our hearts of the lustful and adulterous desires that might otherwise build up, burst out, and wreck our lives both socially and spiritually.

For more on real, spiritual marriage, please see my article, “How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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29 comments on “Can You Masturbate Without Lusting? What about Matthew 5:27-30?
  1. Markak says:

    Good article sir. I believe this can also apply to video games and when people say you’re sinning when you murder some one in a game. Thanks for the help sir

  2. rob says:

    What if you lust over a married woman? I heard someone say that the prohibition against lust was to those who would if they could.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Ideally, we would not feel sexual desire for someone who is married to someone else. But being imperfect humans, unfortunately it does happen quite frequently. So at that point, yes, the main issue is whether you would actually act upon that desire if you could.

      If, given the opportunity, and if you believed you could get away with it, you actually would have sex with someone you desire who is married to someone else, then that is a serious issue. If that’s how you think, you’re going to be keeping your ears out for an opportunity, and sooner or later you’re probably going to go ahead and do it.

      Even if you don’t, the very fact that you think there’s nothing really wrong with it, and that you should be able to do it, and you shouldn’t get into trouble for it, shows that you are supporting and justifying your adulterous desires and your right to act upon them if the opportunity ever arises. In other words, you are an adulterer in your heart, even if you don’t ever get what looks to you like a good opportunity to act upon it.

      On the other hand, if you have those desires, but recognize that they are wrong, and that it would be absolutely wrong for you to act upon them, that is not so serious. Still not good. But by recognizing that acting upon those desires would be wrong, and passing up and refusing any opportunities to do so that might arise, you are following the Ten Commandments in action, even if you’re not able to do so perfectly within your mind and heart. And God will accept that commitment on your part not to break the Commandments in act because you recognize that doing so would be wrong, evil, and a sin against God.

      Eventually we may be able, with God’s help, to cleanse our thoughts and desires as well. But that is a much longer and more difficult process. So in the meantime, we should discipline ourselves not to act upon our wrong thoughts and desires—especially the ones that break the Ten Commandments—until such time as our process of spiritual rebirth and growth has gone far enough that we no longer even have those wrong desires.

  3. benedict says:

    Really nice article!
    but isn’t a sexual fantasy when you masturbate still lust?
    can you enlighten me. btw, i’m not married.

    • Lee says:

      Hi benedict,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. Glad you liked the article!

      About your question, sexual fantasy may be lust, or it may not. It all depends upon the circumstances, and on where we’re going with it.

      First, human sexuality is not inherently evil. It is a good thing created by God to accomplish some of the highest and best of God’s purposes for humanity. So thinking and fantasizing about sex is also not inherently evil. Rather, it is a normal and healthy part of being human. Our sexual drives and desires are basic, and very powerful, parts of who we are. To attempt to deny them altogether is simply not healthful physically, emotionally, or spiritually. (And no, celibacy is not a better or more spiritual state than marriage.)

      Having said that, it is quite true that we’re not always at liberty to express our sexual drives and desires in the best and most healthful way, which is in a committed, faithful, monogamous marriage. And when that expression of our sexuality is not available to us for whatever reason, our sexual desires don’t just go away.

      So then the question becomes how best to deal with them. As I’ve said in these two articles, masturbation is one of the better ways. As for the fantasies that often lead to and accompany masturbation, those, as I said, are a normal part of being human. And the question, as I also said, is where we’re going with them.

      Of course, we’re never going to be perfect. Few if any of us ever get our sexual drives fully cleaned up and directed entirely toward their healthiest outlets. But we do have some influence and control over what fantasies we entertain. And we can move our fantasies away from the more unhealthy ones, and toward healthier ones that involve fantasizing about good, loving, and mutually consensual sex with a long-term, committed partner.

      But the main thing is what we do in real life. Fantasies are one thing. Actions are another. If, not only in our thoughts and intentions, but especially in our actions, we prefer and move toward finding and engaging in a good and loving marriage, and avoid casual and promiscuous sexual encounters, then our sexual fantasies will also help to move us in that direction, as we envision and imagine what it will be like to be with the person we will share our life with. Even if that doesn’t happen for us here on earth, if we truly want to be in a good and loving marriage, God will provide one for us in the afterlife. See my article: How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?

      So I would suggest not getting too worried about your sexual fantasies. Maybe (probably?) there is some lust involved. But we have a lifetime to work on ourselves. And as long as we’re generally moving in the right direction, I believe that God is smiling upon us, and forgiving of the fact that none of us is perfect.

      Use your abilities, as hit-or-miss as those abilities may sometimes be, to direct your own mind and heart in shaping your thoughts, feelings, and fantasies as much as possible into good and loving ones that value marriage, faithfulness, and love. In time, your efforts, as imperfect as they may be, will move you toward what you seek.

      • benedict says:

        Thanks for the clarification 🙂
        it was a big help

      • Kaitlyn says:

        Hi I have struggled with this problem causing question for awhile now. I have read so many different answers and still don’t know what to do and think. Some say it is healthy and normal and others say it is a sin and bad. I do not want to go to Hell for masturbaton. I pray for forgiveness if this is a sin. When I masturbate I make sure to not to fantisies anyone? I don’t really think of anything for the longest time I have thought it was normal but know I am not sure.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Kaitlyn,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Of course, I invite you to read all three articles here about masturbation. And yes, it is a difficult issue for many people. In the end, you’ll have to make up your own mind about it. I would suggest that a main consideration should be: Is what I’m doing causing any real damage? If you find it dragging you down in one way or another, or hindering your life in some way, then perhaps it’s a problem. But if it doesn’t actually seem to be doing any real harm, then why beat yourself up about it? Once again, only you can make these decisions for yourself.

  4. Doug Webber says:

    Well Lee, at this point it may be advisable to look at forms of eastern meditation, such as Kundalini, as a form of outlet for sexual energy. It is a spiritual practice that avoids the lust, and although Swedenborg was probably unaware of it there is a passage where he briefly (and obscurely) describes the practice. Some may consider masturbation as just physical, and that it is “OK” to fantasize with a fictional character, but in the spiritual world, even if its just a fantasy, one’s mind can become conjoined with a spiritual harlot that corresponds to that activity. The more one becomes conjoined with one woman in marriage in love, the less there is a need for such an outlet. This may sound a bit draconian, but once Swedenborg overcame it, his internal vision was opened, not before then.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Doug,

      Perhaps so. But it’s unrealistic to think that the average Joe or Jane is going to take up Kundalini yoga as a way to channel the ol’ sex drive into something healthy and pure.

      And about Swedenborg, you’ve got the cart before the horse. According to his account, his strong sex drive subsided to something manageable as a result of his spiritual eyes being opened, not the other way around.

      But beyond that, there is a strong element of prudery masquerading as chastity in much of the “Christian” literature about sex.

      In Marriage Love and elsewhere, Swedenborg completely rejected the traditional definition of “chastity” as “abstinence from sex,” and redefined it as engaging in healthy, spiritual sex—which, of course, he said was possible only within a monogamous marriage. But even that he qualified by saying that those who engage in (non-adulterous) extramarital sex, but with a strong preference and tendency toward monogamous marriage, do not destroy chastity within themselves, even if their current sexual expression is not entirely chaste because not within monogamous marriage.

      From these and similar statements in Marriage Love, I conclude that even many traditional Swedenborgian ideas about sex are far too draconian, to use your term. They are still tainted by the old “Christian” idea that anything the least bit sexual other than missionary position sex within a legal heterosexual marriage blessed by a minister is terribly evil, and puts people at high speed on the highway to hell.

      That is a major fallacy.

      The idea that people, both male and female, are not going to have sexual fantasies, and are not going to find some way to express their sex drives, is dreaming. It’s wishful thinking. It has no relationship to reality.

      Traditional Christian society in Swedenborg’s day was scandalized by Marriage Love precisely because in it, Swedenborg took a pragmatic approach to sex and the human sex drive, and spoke frankly about the ways unmarried men (especially) satisfy those sex drives, and which of those ways are better and worse. This flew directly in the face of the highly unrealistic (and hypocritical) stance taken by the Christian churches and preachers of the day that anything but man-on-top sex within a church-sanctioned marriage is evil, evil, evil!

      It’s time we left that old fallacy and prudery behind, and recognize that God created us as sexual creatures. And it’s time we recognize that even if the ideal is sexual intercourse within a monogamous marriage, that is not the only way that our sex drives are going to be expressed. We are going to have sexual fantasies, and we are going to masturbate and engage in sexual activities other than sex with our marital partner. And not all of these fantasies and activities are necessarily evil.

      If you look up some of the articles about masturbation that I linked from the first masturbation article (in the section titled, “Does masturbation damage your health?”), you’ll see that many psychologists and doctors have come to the conclusion that fantasy and masturbation can be and often are good even for people who are involved in faithful, loving, monogamous marriage; that fantasizing about sex can help to overcome some of the emotional and psychological problems people have about sex, and bring greater closeness and intimacy when having sex with one’s marital partner; and that even masturbation can form a healthy part of a marital relationship.

      So although I do understand what you’re saying, I believe it is based on an unnecessarily strict definition of healthy human sexual thoughts and activities. I simply don’t think that all fantasizing and all masturbation is somehow deleterious to a good, healthy, and spiritual sex life. Just because there are some truly unhealthy and even evil types of sexual fantasies and sexual behavior, that doesn’t mean all sexual fantasies are evil, nor does it mean that all sexual behavior other than missionary position sex within a societally sanctioned marriage is evil.

      As Jesus said, the church lays heavy burdens, and hard to bear, on its adherents (see Matthew 23:1–4). But that’s not what true Christianity, or true religion, is all about. True Christianity is about lightening people’s burdens, not making them heavier. And although of course we need to keep leading and encouraging people toward healthy, spiritual, monogamous marriage, I believe that the area of sexual fantasy and sexual behavior is one in which the church needs to do a whole lot more lightening of the heavy burden it has historically laid on people’s shoulders.

    • Stephanie says:

      Actually, one way to receive the kundalini awakening for yourself is to have sex with one who has had an awakening. It isn’t the easiest method. I know!! I’m old rainbow family& still Very grateful for this article & every point he’s made in his letters. Just saying. Namaste

  5. Tom says:

    So what I’ve gotten out of this and the previous article, if you

    a) Don’t use porn,
    b) Focus on sex with a monogamous partner,
    it’s ok?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. In response:

      a) As I stated at the beginning of the first article, these two articles specifically don’t dear with the issue of pornography.

      b) Yes, focusing on sex with a monogamous partner while masturbating is preferable. However, the human sex drive is a stubborn beast. We can’t always fully control our sexual thoughts and fantasies. So the recommendation of this second article is that over time we move away from unhealthy fantasies and move toward healthier ones while masturbating. And especially that we avoid actual adultery and promiscuity, and that we continue to value, prefer, and if possible seek out a healthy, long-term, committed monogamous relationship.

      As to what’s okay for you when it comes to masturbation, that’s a matter that must be settled between you and your conscience.

  6. Good day Sir,
    A few days ago, while chatting in a fellowship WhatsApp chatroom, I entered into a passionate discussion with a brother on the sinfulness or otherwise of masturbation. Personally, I believe it is generally a sinful (tainted with sin at the least even if it is not a sin by itself) act since, to the best of my knowledge and experience, it is usually precipitated by lust, except in some specific contexts. Since my position is based on deductive reasoning and not any express command against it in the Scriptures, I keep it personal between me and God. I judge it to fall in the grey areas of Christian living that your conscience and conviction regarding it is what the Lord expects you to follow. So if you are convince inside you that it is good then TO YOU it is good, and if you feel otherwise then it is so TO YOU. No one, however, is permitted to use his/her conscience to declare it good or bad for all others. Everyone is to look to the word of God and find their convictions concerning it.

    This brother evidently was of the persuasion that it was not sinful and so we got to engage each other on the pros and cons for our positions. At some point I asked the very question you take on in this article. I stated that if it was possible for a person to masturbate without lusting then maybe I’d consider it for that person as not a sinful act. This was because my core persuasion concerning its immorality was based on the belief that it could only proceed from lust. It was then he espoused along the lines of thinking that I find here expressed by you.

    Somehow, I felt that he might not be the original author of the logic behind his arguments even though he was quite fierce in defending it. After what was a display of bad attitude from him culminating in him removing himself from the group, I decided to do a search on Google for the subject and this article was this second in the list returned. From first reading, I had a strong feeling the bulk of his materials were drawn from your article. Now after reading through your article like 3 or 4 times more, I am 99% sure he at least borrowed your words to express his position, that is if his position was not also formed or consolidated from reading your article. His arguments, sequence, analogies and statement constructs match yours too much for it to be mere coincidence.

    Now, my main dissent with him was not on the issue of masturbation being sinful or not (that conclusion I believe is personal) but on the justification of it by “redefining” lust as not bad. I find you expressing the same sentiments here in your article but later in one of your replies to a comment I find you seemingly contradicting your position. This was what motivated me to read your article over and over again to try to make adequate sense of your position and then I found what appears to me to be the possible mix-up or technical ambiguity responsible.

    I write now to bring your attention to this and hope that may be you could clarify your position better for myself and everyone else. I am presently now of the opinion that you do not mean what my dear brother infers but your presentation is possibly giving people the impression that you are permitting what you in fact are denouncing.

    Firstly, I start from the question comment that prompted you to write this article. From what I see, the reader’s question was essentially about conservative Christianity’s belief and teaching that masturbation proceeds from lust (lust as situated in the context of Matt. 5:28) and therefore wrong by it. In your “Simple Answer” you however inverted the question by asking rhetorically “Does masturbation cause lust?” I think this is a disservice to the position of conservative Christianity that you set out to prove wrong because it seems to suggest that they believe or teach that masturbation causes lust and for that reason it is sinful, which is not true. Rather conservative Christianity believes that lust, generally speaking, is at the root of masturbation as a cause, not the inverse. This is the implicit position behind the question “Can you masturbate without lusting?” I however do not think you mixed these up deliberately but it still does not reduce the damage to the position.

    Now, under the section “Lust comes from the heart, not from the eye or the hand”, you began your explanation of what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:28, by using the symbolism and hyperbolism of verses 29 to 30 to dismiss it also as not to be taken literally. In other words, Jesus never literally meant that “to look” at a woman to “lust after/for” her is adultery. I think that was quite “superficial,” to use your own words. I’m sure a cursory look through the chapter and many other teachings of Jesus’ would show that he often said and meant one thing literally while speaking on a related thing in symbols. The symbolism of a part does not of itself dismiss the literality of a related part. Such is the fluidity or bane of human language and communication, depending on how a person perceives it. I will not dwell on this.

    At the end of this section, after arguing that sin does not come from our physical bodies but from within our hearts, which argument is consistent with conservative Christianity but erroneously targeted at answering your own question of “Does masturbation cause lust” rather than the real implicit question of “Does lust cause masturbation?” you said:

    “Applying this to the subject at hand, the act of masturbation does not cause lust, nor is it sinful in itself. Rather, it is sinful or not depending on the thoughts and motives we are immersed in when we do it”

    From the above, I get the impression that you accept that masturbation is sinful if the thoughts and motives involved with it are sin. Your wording is that it is not “sinful in itself”, rather it is “depending on”. If I am correct, your position is not that masturbation, under any and every condition, is not sinful, but that when sinful thoughts and motives are involved with it then it becomes sinful. If this understanding is true to your thought then I submit that you have just agreed implicitly with conservative Christianity on the moral texture of masturbation. Their implicit premise for teaching that it is sinful is that it is intimately twined with sinful thoughts and motives. Your difference from them would then be that you believe masturbation can be done without sinful thoughts or motives and so not be sinful, which they do not believe, in general that is. So let’s consider what constitutes sinful thoughts that may make the act of masturbation sinful. More particularly, let us consider if “lust,” as used in Matt 5:28 by Jesus, passes for a sinful act, so that if it is found as the motivation for masturbation makes the masturbation also sinful.

    Under the section “Adultery in the heart”, which follows your affirmation of the fact of our being creatures made by God with sex drive as a natural thing, suppression of it being impracticable for that reason, you stated as follows:

    “We should not allow ourselves to commit actual adultery, even if we feel the “lust,” or desire, to do so.”

    I totally agree with you that we are created by God with the capacity to have sex drive and that suppression is not realistic, except of course it comes as a gift from him. I also agree that “we should not allow ourselves to commit actual adultery, even if we feel the “lust,” or desire, to do so”. However, as used in this context, I take it that you mean “lust” or “desire” in its passive form as a “feeling” or “urge” or “instinct”, whichever word we may use. For both words could denote either a feeling or act. The point here is that we mean something passive.

    For clarity, let me use our thoughts as an example. Thoughts can be passive and they can be active. They are passive when they just occur to you or appear in your mind without your conscious effort. They are active when you consciously invoke and/or contemplate them. Given the right stimulus or combination thereof, you can have virtually any kind of thought occur in your mind unsolicited. A touch, sight or sound can induce a thought. In this sense or in a similar way, you can “feel” lust. A man may see a woman, who by his standard, is of attractive persona, for instance, and feel lust (sex drive) as a reflex or instinct towards her. One could also hear a word, voice or song and get unconsciously aroused. This, I believe, is not sin. It is just a feeling; it is a passive feeling. What such a feeling is doing is no different from someone suggesting to you to do something. The difference is just that the “someone” suggesting things here is your own body, you base bodily instincts. Thus far we agree, I suppose.

    With the section “Masturbation, lust, and fantasy”, you begin as follows:

    “Now more specifically about the thoughts and fantasies that people engage in while masturbating:”

    I suppose you are not aware of it, but when you say “the thoughts and fantasies that people engage in”, you are no longer talking about a feeling but a doing. To “engage in”, in your construct, means to “participate in” or “occupy oneself with”. The thoughts and fantasies are not just happening to them but they are participating in them. The thoughts you refer to then are active thoughts, they relate to the exercise of the will; they are not innocently occurring thoughts. As a matter of fact, even your choice of the word fantasies says that much. I believe you know sir that words are not all the time just about meanings, they sometimes have connotations, which are implicit suggestions that go together with the explicit meaning of the word. So the word imagination, for instance, is just involved with meaning, there is no connotation of the disposition of the one having it towards it. Fantasy however does have a connotation imbued with it in addition to meaning. Fantasies, in this context, are not dispassionate images; they are those you take pleasure in. The fact that you are using them to power masturbation is proof you are taking pleasure in them. Thus, to “engage in” is not a passive experience or a base instinctive urge, it is an active choice.
    So when you next say:

    “Daydreaming about having sex with a woman (or man) is not the same as having a real desire and intention to actually have sex with her or him in real life if possible.”
    And further add:

    “Everyone fantasizes. The acid test is what we actually do in our real lives.

    It’s inevitable that a heterosexual male is going to see a pretty woman and fantasize about sleeping with her. It only turns into a real problem if he doesn’t recognize that it’s just a fantasy, and get on with his life—and treat her with basic human decency and respect if he happens to encounter her during the day.

    And of course, when people masturbate, they’re going to fantasize about various sexual situations and encounters. Once again, the first thing is to recognize that these are just fantasies. You’re not really going to have hot sex with that knockout you saw walking down the street yesterday.”

    I got totally confused. Your words were no longer definite for me and your communication uncertain.

    How do you daydream about having sex with someone and it is not the same as real desire or intention to have sex with the person in real life? How do you know it is not real desire? Because you are not seeking to satisfy it physically? It may not be real desire to have it in real life but it surely is real desire to have it in the heart. I’m sorry sir, desire is not real because it is intended to be satisfied outwardly, it is real even if it is intended to be satisfied only in the secrecy of the heart. Fantasising is acting, though inwardly. I take a woman in my mind, strip off her clothes in my mind, make her compliant to my sexual advances in my mind, fondle her breasts in my mind, penetrate her in my mind, I practically do all things allowed only in marriage to her in my mind, expressed and accompanied by my physical simulation of these by masturbation and it is not a real problem so long as whenever I meet the object of my sexual fantasies in real life I “treat her with basic human decency and respect”. How? Is not the masturbation happening in my real life? My thrusting and moaning in masturbation, is it not in simulation of me doing it with her? My fondling of my privates in the real life, is it not in simulation of her privates around mine? What! I can drool over her and ejaculate in her in my closet but as long as when I meet her I greet her respectfully and decently and that means I “treat her with basic human decency and respect”. I don’t know how many women will know that they are objectified that way in someone’s heart and used as a tool to masturbate and still consider themselves being treated decently and respectfully. By extension then, even as a married person, you can fantasize about having sex with another person’s spouse or some hot babe you saw at the office and masturbate over the person and it’s not a real problem. I could even be using such fantasies to power sex with my spouse and it is no real problem. After all, I am not just “focused on and moving toward a healthy, spiritual marriage”, I am in it, and I am not pursuing physically copulation with the person of my sexual fantasy. Am I the only one seeing something unhealthy in these?

    Then, when you say it is not a “real problem”, are you merely saying this kind of thinking poses no risks in terms of human relations or that it is not a sin, or even that is not a real sin as in absolute sin but relative?

    Furthermore, how do you know “you’re not really going to have hot sex with that knockout you saw walking down the street yesterday”, but whom you now fantasize having sex with to the point of masturbation? How do you know that you will not accept the offer to satisfy it physically? Just because you are honest with yourself and promise that you will not pursue it or accept the offer if it presents itself in real life? Says who? What you take pleasure in internally you will take pleasure in externally; you only need the right conditions, the very same conditions that you found in your heart that made it comfortable for you to do it in your heart. You may not know the exact match of those conditions and so think you will not under any condition. This, Sir, is the real reason why we all are not acting on all our fantasies. Moreover, the physical act of masturbating over the fantasies is the proof one is going to act it out given the right conditions. Or how many fantasies induce and sustain a rigorous and pleasuring physical act like masturbation for the one engaged in it that do not involve a real desire?

    Having made all the above statements you concluded boldly that masturbation done within these contexts is not wrong but good.

    I however was bewildered even more when in your reply to Rob in the comments section on the question of “lust over a married woman”, you wrote:

    “Ideally, we would not feel sexual desire for someone who is married to someone else. But being imperfect humans, unfortunately it does happen quite frequently. So at that point, yes, the main issue is whether you would actually act upon that desire if you could.”

    Here again you reverted to talking of lust as a “feeling” and then say “the main issue is whether you would actually act upon that desire (which is a feeling) if you could.” I know you meant the “acting on the desire” in a physical way but l insist that it need not be done physically for it to be acting. The main issue really should be if you would act on it, not how or where you would do the acting. We can act on things inwardly. If a man, for whatever reason, for instance, feels like cursing God, but does not act on the feeling outwardly by verbally cursing God but acts on the feeling in his heart by saying a curse directed in his heart towards the image he has of God since he has not seen God physically, would we say he has not acted on the feeling? Or would we say that it is not a real problem yet? I don’t think so! Same applies where a man curses another in his heart, even if he would never do it in person. He did it in his heart because he knew he could get away with it there. So to now say that unless he will be ready to say it in person if he could get away with is not a real problem is inconsistent. Asking a person to judge if he would really act something out that he already acted inwardly if he could is just vain rhetoric to me. He already proved he would act on it if he could when he acted on it in his heart when and where he could, saying one would not is just self-deceit and overconfidence in the human heart.

    Given the foregoing, it is just redundant saying:

    “If, given the opportunity, and if you believed you could get away with it, you actually would have sex with someone you desire who is married to someone else, then that is a serious issue.”

    The opportunity given is in the heart and the getting away with it is in its privacy. And again, saying that the “wouldness” to “have sex with someone you desire who is married to someone else…is a serious issue” does not do justice to the “wouldness.” The “wouldness” is sinful. We are no more considering a feeling or urge here, we are talking about willingness, an exercise of the will.

    Strangely though, you subsequently wrote:

    “On the other hand, if you have those desires, but recognize that they are wrong, and that it would be absolutely wrong for you to act upon them, that is not so serious. Still not good. But by recognizing that acting upon those desires would be wrong…”

    What “desires” do you mean which you say if one has and recognizes are wrong? Do you mean the same feelings of lust? Or do you mean the willingness to act on the feelings of lust outwardly? I would have assumed that by “desires” you mean the feelings of lust, but since you already pronounced those as not wrong but say the “desires” you mean here should be recognized as wrong I cannot. On the hand, I cannot also assume that by “desires” you mean the willingness to act on the feelings, since you say these “desires” are “not so serious” though “still not good” when you previously said that the same willingness made one “an adulterer in…heart”, and I cannot see how being “an adulterer in…heart” could be “not so serious” and just “still not good.”

    My point sir is that I think you have got the usages of lust mixed up. The word lust can refer to feelings or acts when used as a noun and one must look to the context to determine which is intended. As a feeling or strong craving for sex, it is what it is, a feeling. It Is a base bodily feeling natural to us and not sinful. However, when used as a verb, it always means an act. Consequently, when used within reference to of a man in the context of a sexual act, it is no more neutral but is imbued with a negative connotation. Technically it till means the exercise of sexual urge towards a person, but connotatively an unacceptable sexual drive is implied. This is the sense in which the Lord used it in Matt. 5:28. He said “anyone who looks” (an act) to “lust after” (an act) a woman has (not will) committed adultery with her in his heart. These are not passive feelings or thoughts but conscious actions.

    Now, true, the Lord was not implying that such an act is the equivalent of the physical one but that it is of the same class with it. For instance, in human laws, murder exists at varying degrees – first, second, etc. No one is more or less murder than the other, only differences of how and what emotions were involved exists. Similarly, Jesus was invariably saying that the act of lusting after a woman by look is adultery, albeit adultery of the heart. How then can the act of visualizing a woman and having sex with her not be wrong? Visualizing is looking, albeit internally.

    Lastly, as regards masturbation, can you honestly say it is not having sex? I simulate the motions of sex, enjoy the pleasures of sex, experience the ecstasy of sex but just because it is not physically having it with a person, I say it is not sex. I guess you would approve of phone sex too since it is does not involve physically penetrating another person.

    Thank you sir.

  7. Best explanation I’ve ever heard. Thanks!

  8. Jon says:

    Don’t you think that we should avoid masturbation all together because it can become more than just a fantasy. I feel like it’s an open door. The devil is just gonna try to use it to bring you down. He doesn’t sleep. Isn’t the Holy Spirit enough in our lives. God has given us a spirit of self discipline.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jon,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      If for you (or anyone else) it is better to avoid masturbation altogether because it involves too much temptation, then by all means, don’t masturbate. But for many people masturbation serves as a means of avoiding the temptation to do things that, unlike masturbation, actually are discouraged or forbidden in the Bible.

  9. Rodney says:

    It seems to me this has been compared to sodomy. It bothers me a great deal because I had that bad habit from a very young age, even before puberty: my parental grandmother druged me an molested me repeatedly about age 5. I am now 74 years old, having a deep hatred of what I have done. God has taught me to use His strength for self control rather than the masturbation thing.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rodney,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. As I’ve said to a number of people here and elsewhere, if you have no need to masturbate, there’s certainly no need to do so. However, “sodomy” has nothing to do with masturbation. I am very sorry to hear about the sexual abuse you suffered as a boy.

  10. Stephanie says:

    As a divorced twice Christian(1was a pastor w/ porn addiction, the other abusive), I am very picky who I date. I am older& have obviously had urges to masturbate& have. But, I would spend days or weeks beating myself up afterwards. Thank you so much for this article. It has freed me, not to sin, but has reminded me that I am not sinning& God loves me. I am weeping tears of joy. You have lifted a tremendous weight off. Now, I am free to seek the healthy spiritual relationship bc I am not burdened by guilt. God bless you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m very glad to be able to lift a big burden off your conscience.

      We humans do enough things to hurt ourselves and one another without adding even more things (like masturbation) that, if done in balance with an overall good and healthy life, don’t hurt anyone and are in fact much better than other things we could be doing.

      Besides, the church is supposed to lightening our burdens, not laying on heavy burdens hard to be borne.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        Can you elucidate (or refer me to where it’s elucidated) on the perspective you take on Matthew 11:28-30, which you’ve referred to here and earlier in this post? It seems you bring this up when addressing the idea of people imposing upon others un-Biclical restrictions on for things that aren’t necessarily wrong. But most commentators remark that this passage is referring to the labour and burden imposed upon the consciences of people by the Pharisees, who were overly legalistic and taught that observance of the law was both necessary for salvation and something that could be maintained if worked at hard enough (not to mention very manipulative about what those laws actually were). Of course people would toil amongst all these impossible and innumerable laws and wind up both miserable and no closer to salvation.

        So the message here is that all these laws exist as hardships because observance of the law- which exists to show us our sinfulness- is not something that humans fulfill, and cannot earn one salvation. That is the burden. There’s more to the message, but If that’s one of the the main points, does it make sense to quote it when talking about people who weigh us down by guilting us for sins that aren’t necessarily sins?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          I was referring to two passages. The one you mention is:

          Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)

          The other, related passage is:

          Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:1–4)

          This second one is the beginning of an entire chapter (Matthew 23) in which Jesus upbraids the scribes and Pharisees for their lack of any real religion, and for having corrupted the religion that they did have.

          The interpretation you mention of Matthew 11:28–30 is primarily a Protestant one. It is not based on anything said in the Gospels, but rather on the usual Protestant misinterpretation of Paul’s writings, especially his letter to the Romans. In Romans, Paul engages heavily in his favored rhetorical flourishes in making an argument that, if taken out of context—as it is by Protestant theologians—becomes completely misleading and confusing, and has nothing to to with what Jesus taught in the Gospels.

          There was indeed a transition going on from law-based religion to faith-based religion. But this was not some sort of artificial thing in which God tricked humanity by giving them a whole raft of laws that they couldn’t possibly keep just to show that obeying the law doesn’t work, but that they need Jesus Christ for salvation. Rather, humanity had been in a very low spiritual phase in which strict obedience to strict behavioral laws was the only thing that could keep us in line. But eventually even that ceased to work, and it was necessary for God to come personally as Jesus Christ to clear the corrupt spiritual atmosphere and create a new basis for the relationship between humanity and God.

          That new basis would no longer be strict adherence to external behavioral law. It would instead be one of “faith,” or as it really should be translated, faithfulness to God from an inner understanding and acceptance of God’s truth and a willingness to live according to that truth. As Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). And Protestant fallacy to the contrary notwithstanding, this faith, or faithfulness, would still require obeying the basic laws of good behavior as outlined in the Ten Commandments. It’s just that instead of doing so out of mere unthinking behavioral obedience, and fear of the consequences of disobeying, we would do so out of an inner understanding, conviction, and faithfulness to God and to God’s eternal commandments.

          Obviously I can’t do justice to this in a comment. Perhaps one day I’ll take it up in an article or a series of articles. Suffice it to say that the scribes and Pharisees were not merely strictly applying the Law of Moses. They were insisting upon all sorts of other laws that had grown up around the Mosaic Law, without any understanding or appreciation of “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23). They had corrupted the law because:

          They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. (Matthew 23:5–7)

          In other words, they did everything for their own glory, wealth, and power rather than to lead the people on the path of life. And because these were their motivations, they corrupted and destroyed the Law of Moses both in letter and in spirit, until it completely lost its power to guide people on a path to salvation.

          Jesus lifted off the people’s shoulders the heavy, arbitrary, and false burdens that these so-called “religious leaders” had laid on them.

          And I aim, in my own small way, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and lift off the shoulders of many people today the heavy, arbitrary, and false burdens that our present-day scribes and Pharisees have laid on the shoulders of the people, even though “they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them,” and commonly break in private all of the rules that the preach to the people in public.

          Notice, for example, that Stephanie in, her comment just above that started this thread, mentioned having been married to a pastor with a porn addiction. This sort of personal hypocrisy of pastors who do not practice what they teach is far more common than most laypeople realize. And just as with the ancient, hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, it corrupts these pastors’ view of the Bible and leads them to teach and preach rules and doctrines that have nothing to do with what Jesus taught and preached in the Gospels. They justify their private sins by preaching that we are “saved by faith apart from the works of the law,” thinking this means that it’s only what we believe, and not what we do, that saves us.

          Their condemnation of masturbation when the Bible itself never condemns masturbation is just one of dozens of examples that could be brought forward of how these modern day scribes and Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” I would be willing to wager that most of the pastors and priests who preach the loudest about the evils of masturbation go home afterwards, pull out an old Playboy magazine or load up their favorite Internet porn site, and go at it with abandon themselves. Their personal dishonesty is a testament to the falsity of their preaching.

          Traditional Christianity as a body has become precisely the legalistic, hypocritical, and spiritually bankrupt religiosity that Jesus preached against.

  11. Chan says:

    Is looking at the picture of a girl in bikini while masturbating is a sin?

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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