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.


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 we 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:


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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95 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.

    • Joshua says:

      People keep saying that masturbation was not the way that God intended sex and defies the unitive and procreative aspects of sex. What do you have to say about this? I’ve read so many articles and from many people but I don’t know which is the right thing.

      For me, I’ve been struggling. I rather not masturbate but the things you mentioned on how it does build up to the point where it’s uncontrollable and what’s wrecking me is what is happening to me. The only realistic scenario I see myself in is letting off steam without lust in order to carry on with my day.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Joshua,

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

        Of course, sexual intercourse within marriage is the ideal. But just because something isn’t the ideal, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s evil. Just because you can’t have a sumptuous feast, that doesn’t mean it’s evil to eat grits and gruel.

        The unitive and procreative aspects of sex are great! But as covered in these articles, there is also simply a biological sex drive that wants to be satisfied—and it is not healthful to continually suppress and deny it. For people who, for one reason or another, cannot have sex within marriage, or at least within a committed long term relationship, masturbation is the most healthful way to satisfy that pesky biological sex drive so that folks can go about their day and get their work done without thinking about sex every second.

  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

        • rahul dutta says:

          thank you.this articles changed my views on this whole topic,i think after this i will not have any problems related to this topic of lust,masturbation,adultery etc.thanks a lot.yes

        • Lee says:

          Hi rahul,

          You are most welcome. I am glad the articles here have helped you so much.

          Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

      • 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.

      • Steven says:

        I agree with all of this except Jesus clearly says there will be no marriage in heaven that’s false teaching to say He will provide someone in heaven.

  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?

  12. Paul says:

    When I first got saved,God put the hammer on me to deal with sins in my live. Masturbation was NOT among them.
    I think it’s foolish to assume our sexual appetite all the sudden comes alive when we marry.I just know I’ve tried to stop and could not.I actually backslid as a result of my failure. Was it God or just condemnation?.I admire Pastor Lee for his opinion on this taboo subject few other pastors would dare touch.”If you look at a woman with lust” this can also apply to a married man lusting after his wife.I’m tired of pastors preaching hellfire for doing this act…if God wants me to stop he will have to take the desire.I’ve bound devils,took cold showers,you name it.failed at every attempt

    Married men have sex drives,single men deal with even stronger urges not having a wife to share them with

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad this article has been helpful to you. It’s a little unclear what your exact situation is. However, as this and the related articles on masturbation point out, it’s a complicated issue—and our sexual drives in general are some of the more difficult ones to get under control, and moving in a healthy direction.

      Yes, single men (and women) continue to have sex drives that will be satisfied in one way or another. Masturbation in moderation is, as the articles say, one of the healthier and more morally sound ways of satisfying those natural, God-given sex drives when a sexual partner is unavailable.

      For married men (and women), the ideal is a healthy sexual relationship with one’s spouse. However, even then there are sometimes issues preventing a healthy sex life, so that even married people may sometimes engage in masturbation to make up for what isn’t present in the marriage.

      However, masturbation should never itself become a reason or an excuse not to engage in loving sex with one’s partner. If masturbation is getting in the way of a healthy sex life within a marriage, then it’s time to do whatever personal work may be necessary to wean oneself off the masturbation and move over to mutual sex with one’s partner. For some people this may be difficult, but it is necessary for the health of the marriage.

      Of course, every situation is different. Each person, and each couple, must work these issues out for themselves and within their own marriage.

      Still, the general rule is that where our sexuality can be expressed with a committed, loving partner, ideally within a marriage, this should take precedence over, and largely or wholly supersede, masturbation. Masturbation should not itself become a stumbling block to marriage. It is a way of tiding ourselves over until we can have a healthy sexual relationship with another person.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      About looking at one’s own wife with lust: Of course, if a man sees his wife primarily as an outlet for his sex drives, and doesn’t love and respect her as a person, then it certainly is possible for him to look at his own wife “with lust in his heart.”

      However, having sexual desire for one’s wife along with loving and respecting her as a person is not “lust” as the Bible uses that term. A man’s wife is the woman he is supposed to feel sexual desire for, and with whom he is meant to have sex. Of course, this means mutually desired and mutually loving sex. There is no warrant for a man to force sex on his wife when she does not want to have sex.

      Once again, this is a complicated subject. For more on “lust,” do see the follow-up article: “Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?

    • Wayne Kasmar says:

      Married men are required to resist lascivious impulses towards all women. That includes their wives. This means they are not to think of them sexually in just physical terms, as though they are just sex objects. Unless there is a feeling of love in the sexual relationship, both mental and physical, there is spiritual danger here. There is exemption to this, though, in early marriage. Here, until the lust naturally diminishes, the sexual drive is overwhelmingly powerful and this is permitted.
      But generally, don’t let your eyes and mind dwell on her erogenous parts, but rather, think of her as a whole person that you’re blessed in having to love.

  13. Paul says:

    Pastor,let me explain my last response more clearly. When I first got saved,God very quickly revealed a few sins he wanted me to deal with right then and there. Masturbation was not among them

    Paul told us if we burn in lust,not to pray more,fast,castrate ourselves BUT to marry. If masturbation were a sin,I think he would have mentioned it there The bible very clearly gives us a huge list of sexual perversions from bestiality to homosexuality we are to avoid.I don’t see masturbation mentioned
    It wasn’t until I hooked up with church men’s groups I began feeling condemned about it. After all,everyone else considered it sin,so it must be.I even witnessed one pastor cast out a spirit of masturbation.Interesting as I never knew one ever existed. How embarrassing to the brother this was done too in front of an entire group. What really made me sick was seeing Lisa Bevere condemn it on James Robinson.It’s not a woman’s place to discuss men issues no more than I will tell her what to do at her time of the month

    Religionists can take any scripture out of context and apply it to the M word. God as a result may be getting the last laugh. Hey,I never told you masturbation was wrong,in fact I grave you a sex drive
    If I’m going to go out with an attractive woman and I feel an urge,pardon me for being crude but I’m going to relieve that BEFORE we meet so I don’t fall into temptation while were out. Not try to bind spirits of lust,take a cold shower..that just pure stupid

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for clarifying your meaning. That all makes sense. I would urge you not to listen to the people in that church men’s group about masturbation. They are caught up in a man-made doctrine that is taught nowhere in the Bible.

    • Boluwade Kujero says:

      Hi Paul

      I ask the following question simply because of your deductive logic from Paul’s words:

      If indeed masturbation were okay, do you not think Paul would have recommended it to solve the issue of burning instead of marriage?

      Is it not clear from the context that he thought singleness was expedient for their time?

      Why would he give burning so much attention that marriage is the recommended solution, when masturbation would easily do and the singleness which he espoused as higher discipline would this be preserved?

      Again, I ask simply because of your deductive logic?

      • Lee says:

        Hi Boluwade,

        It’s somewhat unlikely that Paul will see your reply to his comment, since he’s not a regular here. Meanwhile, I’ll offer a quick response:

        In general, getting married is much preferable to masturbation. It’s just that marriage is not currently possible for many people, while one’s sex drive continues unabated.

        Also, many men are not going to be satisfied with masturbation, but will go ahead and have sex with a woman one way or another, regardless of any commandments or moral implications. For these men, marriage is the only ultimately sound solution.

  14. Kevin says:

    I think that this article is very helpful thank you good sir

  15. Thanks. I generally agree. My only digression is on sexual fantasy — it seems incontrovertible to me that imagining yourself having sex with someone (perhaps unless you’re married to them) is lustful. The definition of lust is a strong sexual desire for someone. That appears practically identical to sex daydreaming to me.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Scientific Christian,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. On the meaning of “lust” as used in the Bible, please read the third article in this series on masturbation:
      Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?

      “Lust,” as used in the original languages of the Bible, is a very strong word. It is not mere fantasy or daydreaming. It is a burning desire that will drive one to actually commit the action if one can find or make an opportunity to do so.

      Having said that, as I also said in that article, it’s generally not a great idea to fantasize about having sex with someone you know. If you persist in it, it can cause problems in your real-life interactions with that person.

      • I’d have to push back on that. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus distinguishes between actually committing adultery with your action, and merely lusting after a women in your mind, which still qualifies as adultery. Thus, you don’t need your thoughts to manifest in an actual action in order to qualify it as a sin.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Scientific Christian,

          No, lust in the mind doesn’t have to manifest as an actual action to qualify as sin. Sometimes actual action is impossible. If a person would act on the desire if it were possible or if he or she didn’t fear the consequences, then it is “adultery in the heart” even if no action follows. But if the person knows it is wrong and would therefore not act upon it, or if it is mere fantasy and daydreaming with no intention at all to act upon it, although it may still not be a good thing, it is not “lust” as the Bible uses that term.

          The reason “coveting” or “lust” (not just for adulterous sex, but for anything that one is not allowed to have or do) is forbidden both in the Ten Commandments and in the Gospels is that these burning desires within us are what lead us to commit evil and sinful actions. In other words, they are the intention behind the action. The intention is wrong even without the act. But if our fantasies and daydreaming would never lead us to act upon them, then they aren’t “coveting” or “lust,” because there is no intent to actually engage in those actions even if it were possible to do so.

        • That’s a reasonable point to make, but I would suggest that it’s impossible to actually know whether or not you actually have the intention of doing something.

          Many people *assume* they wouldn’t do X if the circumstances played out, but actually *do* do it when the circumstance does play out. Thus, you may think you don’t have any intentions of doing something (like, say, watching porn), but when tempted, you could easily lapse back into it, which is actually what makes positive feedback loops so problematic — the more you do them, the harder it is to stop. Since you can’t know what you’d do in those circumstances, actively feeding your imagination cannot positively have any good effects on when the opportunity actually comes.

          What I’d suggest is, as you also did, simply masturbating to cease the desire you’re having. Daydreaming is the product of desire, of course.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Scientific Christian,

          Yes, life is complicated. We do often fool ourselves about our intentions. And if we do, eventually our actual intentions will come out into action in one form or another, showing what our real intentions are in contrast to what we’re telling ourselves our intentions are. That’s when we have a choice to make.

        • Yes, so it appears you agree with me — we can’t genuinely know whether or not we would commit an action in a scenario. That means, if we are actually willing to say we don’t want to commit that action, we must be willing to take steps to decrease the probability that we would ever do that in such a circumstance. When it comes to something like porn, not sexually daydreaming (which is, as I just realized, just porn in your mind rather than on a screen) is a pretty good step.

  16. Kenny Ford says:

    Years ago as a teenager I had an addiction to masturbation, 6-7 times a day. It was actually causing me physical pain. I knew something was not right with it. It took a few years I think but one day God broke the chain of addiction during church one morning.
    Over time I have been thinking that it was not the act itself but maybe the frequency and thus addiction that was the sin. The sex drive is something I cannot seem to get rid of.
    Today I do it but with nowhere near the frequency I did before and have no physical pain from it. I flee from pornography and other things often associated with it and try to carefully manage my thoughts when doing it.
    It is not the best situation but as a single person there seems no other outlet. I have been told to find other activities to relieve the energy but it is like, “Well, I have to lay down at some point though to sleep!” I cannot escape from the biological urge it seems.
    I have been told I am going to burn in Hell for this and it got me to asking God questions to see if my thought on it is wrong
    I have a hard time settling on things and it is causing me angst and worry. If it were practical I would just get a vasectomy or whatever is necessary to get rid of the drive altogether and be done with the problem.
    I am familiar with some passages people use, like 1 Cor. 6:9-11 that show adulterers do not go to Heaven and the one in 2 Peter about the pigs and dogs going back to the ways of the world. But I am of the firm belief that these are referring to lost folks as after all God’s kids are not dogs or pigs.
    Actually the thing that got me onto the topic was Paul’s mention of being better to marry than to burn, or as some translations have it, to burn with passion.
    The passion has no outlet aside from masturbation most of the times. after it is done, I have no urge to fantasize or anything so it seems to reduce the urge.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Kenny,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for telling your story.

      It sounds to me as if you have done the right thing, kicking the addiction with God’s help and settling into a reasonable practice of masturbation to release your sexual desires without doing any harm to yourself physically or morally.

      Don’t listen to those people who tell you you’ll burn in hell for masturbating. They are adding human commandments to the commandments of God. As I said in the first article in this series, “What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?” the Bible never even mentions masturbation, let alone condemning it. If masturbation were such a terrible sin that you’ll go directly to hell for doing it, why didn’t God say one word of warning about it anywhere in the Bible?

      The answer is that masturbation is not a sin. It is, as I say in these articles, a harmless and even healthy way of expressing our sexual drives when, for whatever reason, we are not in a sexually active relationship—ideally a committed, monogamous marriage.

      And yes, 2 Peter is about people who are bent on evil and falsity, and are flagrantly violating the Word of God. Since masturbation (in moderation, of course) is not condemned or even mentioned in the Word of God, 2 Peter doesn’t apply to it. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 mentions fornicators and adulterers. But both of those are illicit sexual relations with other people. Masturbation is a way to avoid engaging in illicit sexual relations with other people. In other words, masturbation is not a sin; rather, it is a way to keep oneself from sinning.

      Those preachers who condemn masturbation are putting a stumbling block in the way of people who are walking the path toward heaven. For that, and for preaching many other things that are human inventions and not the teachings of God, they will receive their punishment when it comes their time to figuratively stand before the throne of God. 2 Peter 2, in fact, is precisely about the punishment that will befall false prophets who preach things that do not come from God, but from their own false opinions.

      It is not necessary for you to have an operation to take away your sexual drives. That would be piling error upon error. Masturbating as needed to release your sexual drives is a far better and healthier solution. In relation to this, you might be interested in my most recent article (as I write this): “Didn’t Jesus Say it’s Better to be Celibate than Married?” It takes up Jesus’ statement about eunuchs in Matthew 19:12.

      In short, Kenny, you are doing the right thing. Of course, masturbating to the point of physically harming yourself is not good. But in moderation, masturbation is a good and healthy thing for people who are single—and in some circumstances, as covered in these articles, even for people who are married. “Other activities” do not satisfy our sexual drives. Masturbation does, while helping us to avoid both adultery and fornication.

      If you have a hard time settling on things, perhaps you need to do some introspection or career counseling to get a clearer sense of your direction and purpose in life. But that is something we all must go through from time to time as we travel the path toward heaven.

      Meanwhile, I hope this helps. Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  17. Griffin says:

    Really well-articulated piece, Lee. You have to wonder if the Catholic Church’s approach to sexuality might be partly responsible for the horrible cases of child sex abuse that have been in the news lately (not to shift blame from the perpetrators of those acts themselves, of course).

    • Lee says:

      Hi Griffin,

      I suspect that the Catholic Church’s views of human sexuality made it more possible for it to turn a blind eye to the sexual predation that was being perpetrated by a significant minority of its clergy. Meanwhile, the predation itself is a crime by the individuals involved. Such individuals will engage in those acts if they are able to find a way to engage in them. They happened in the Catholic Church because that church provided them safe haven, cover, and access to victims. Other institutions that have provided that cover and access have also been infested by sexual predators.

    • Wayne Kasmar says:

      To my mind there is no doubt that the vow of chastity that Roman Catholic priests and religious take screws them up badly. This is talking generally, so it may not include every single one of them, but to believe that it is possible to live a life in which you can completely repress your sexual urges, including no masturbation, is the height of fantasy. I went through the Catholic school system here in Australia and there was only one of all the Christian Brothers I knew who didn’t seem to have a personality quirk of one sort or other. That one brother was one of the first to be convicted of paedophilia in this country. I reason that the personality quirks are a psychological result of the repression they engage in and, he failed to do that. And they engage in it because they are seen as special people in the eyes of fellow Catholics. They are above bodily impurity that engaging in sexuality involves.
      Anyway the principal of the Christian Brothers school I was at is now behind bars because of his fondness for fondling the genitals of the younger boys he was in charge of at that time. This was about 45 years ago and attitudes probably have changed within that church, but I don’t know how life would have turned out for me if I hadn’t soon after come across Lee’s brand of Christianity which proved the ideal antidote to all the destructive conditioning that I was put through in Roman Catholicism.

  18. Christopher says:

    Thanks Lee! I finely found a minister that gave me good advice about my natural and God given sexual disires. God Bless you and yours.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Christopher,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. You are most welcome. I’m glad to help. If you have further thoughts or questions, please don’t hesitate to leave another comment. Meanwhile, Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  19. Brandon says:

    Hi, I’m a teenager looking for guidance, I am catholic, and researching shows that some Catholic Churchs state that it is a sin, and other don’t. What do I do? Is it a sin? Is it not?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brandon,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. I am not Catholic, so I can’t give you advice from a Catholic perspective. For that you would hove to go to your priest. My understanding, though, is that the Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is always evil and sinful, and that it prohibits its members from engaging in masturbation. I believe this is an unbiblical, incorrect, and damaging teaching, but this, as I understand it, is what the Catholic Church teaches.

      Of course, overdoing anything can be harmful. Even drinking too much water can kill you—and nobody would say that drinking water is harmful and wrong. People who are frantically masturbating at every opportunity do have a problem that they need to address.

      But my belief is that masturbation in moderation, to satisfy our normal sexual desires as needed when we do not have a partner with whom we can express them in the best and most fulfilling way, is a good and healthy practice. It helps in keeping us from committing actual sexual sins that, unlike masturbation, are discouraged or prohibited in the Bible. The idea that we can pray to Jesus and our sexual drives will magically disappear in a puff of spiritual glory is wishful thinking at best, and very destructive at worst. It causes those drives and desires to build up until they break out into actual sexual sin. Catholic priests are not immune from this, as is well-known from the news. In my view, on this issue the Catholic Church has “tied up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laid them on the shoulders” of its people (Matthew 23:4).

      For more on this subject from my perspective, in addition to the above article please see these related articles:

      The above article is the second in the series of four articles on masturbation here.

      Just be aware as you read that this is not Catholic teaching. And though the Catholic Church believes it has the right to tell you what is right and wrong, virtuous and sinful, ultimately you will have to make up your own mind what you will believe and how you will live. And if you decide you disagree with the Catholic Church on this and other issues, it may require you to leave the Catholic Church if you are unwilling to submit yourself to Catholic teaching and discipline.

  20. Kabir Handa says:

    Hey, so in short masturbating is a sin, yes?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Kabir,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question—on which please see the previous article in this series:
      What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?

      • Kabir Handa says:

        Well as the bible does not say anothing about it, then it really isn’t a sin

        • Lee says:

          Hi Kabir,

          Well . . . it’s not quite that simple.

          The Bible is not a catalog of all evils that we can use like a dictionary to look up a particular behavior and find out whether it’s a sin. There are many things that are evil, and that for most people are sinful, that are not prohibited in the Bible. For example, the Bible never prohibits polygamy, but for most people on earth polygamy is wrong and sinful. The Bible also never prohibits slavery, but as we now know, slavery is evil and dehumanizing.

          Something isn’t evil and sinful because God woke up one day and decided to issue a commandment against it. Something is evil if it does harm, and it is sinful if we know it’s destructive, wrong, and against God’s commandments, and we do it anyway. When God commands us not to do something, it’s because God knows that doing that thing will hurt us both here on earth and in the afterlife. When God says “Thou shalt not,” it is because God loves us and cares about us, and doesn’t want us to get hurt.

          Polygamy does harm because it cheapens marriage and devalues women. Slavery does harm because it devalues, dehumanizes, and damages people who are held as slaves, not to mention dehumanizing and desensitizing slave owners.

          Even though masturbation is not prohibited in the Bible, it could be evil and sinful if it did some real and significant harm to the people engaging in it, and/or to the people around them. And of course, overdoing it can and does do real damage—just as overdoing almost any good thing does. Even drinking too much water can kill you. And no one would say that it’s evil to drink water.

          However, despite various religious prohibitions against it, there is simply no good evidence or reason to believe that masturbation does any real and significant harm to anyone when it is done in moderation to satisfy normal sexual drives by people who do not have a better outlet available to them—ideally a loving, faithful, monogamous marriage.

          No, masturbation is not the ideal. Good and loving sexual intimacy with a partner is far better in every way. And if masturbation is a person’s primary sexual release for a long period of time, it can cause some challenges in switching over to a healthy sexual relationship with a partner when that becomes available, simply because the brain wires itself to respond to the situations and stimuli that it is used to. But with some persistence, that transition can be made, and the brain can be rewired. It’s mostly just a temporary annoyance and inconvenience.

          In short, not only is masturbation not prohibited in the Bible, but it does no real and significant harm, and even does much good if it is engaged in reasonably in order to satisfy normal sexual drives and desires when a better outlet isn’t available. That’s why it is not evil.

          And as explained in this series of articles, it is sinful only if a particular person believes it is wrong, and does it anyway. But it would be better and healthier for people not to believe it’s wrong. Because in fact, there is no real harm in masturbating, despite the medieval old wives’ tales that became church doctrine in the old, corrupted Christian Church.

  21. Kabir handa says:

    You are amazing really thanks alot Lee

  22. norcalsuz says:

    Thank-you for this article! best I’ve ever read on the subject!

  23. Jay hadison says:

    So when I masturbated, I didn’t think of women but the problem is…. Is it a sin and am I doing damage to the holy Spirit ? Let me know

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jay,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. Although this article happens to be the one that dominates in search engine results, and is therefore the article most people see first, it is actually the second in a series of four articles. For an answer to your question, please see the first article in the series:

      What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?

      The other articles in the series are linked from the end of that one. If, after reading these articles, you still have questions, please feel free to leave another comment.

  24. RandomGuy says:

    So, the point here is with no visual images or any fantasies in mind, masturbation just by releasing your sexual urges because of your hormonal activities, is not a sin? Please answer with yes or no and explain it with much details. Thank you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi RandomGuy,

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

      In response, no, that’s not quite what I am saying. I’m saying that masturbation is not a sin at all, whether or not it is accompanied by visual images or fantasies.

      There is nothing in the Bible prohibiting masturbation, or saying anything about it at all. See: “What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?

      Further, it is natural for people to have visual images and fantasies when they masturbate. There is nothing evil and sinful about that. Fantasy is not the same as reality.

      Of course, some fantasies are not good, such as fantasizing having sex with a married woman or man, or fantasizing other things that would be very wrong if we actually did them. But the acid test is whether we actually would do them, and whether we do do them if we can find or make an opportunity.

      Meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with single people fantasizing about having sex with a beautiful woman or handsome man. This is simply the mind and heart longing for beautiful intimacy with another human being.

      For more on these subjects, please see the articles linked for further reading at the end of this one.

      • Carla says:

        Hi thanks so much for this article. I believe i am easily aroused and i may not think about anything at all especially when im on my period but it still happens. I used to watch porn a lot to satisfy my lust but never masturbated cause it felt wrong. After two years free from it my arousal level has risen and i cant control it. No matter what i do. It hurts really bad and is uncomfortable and it goes on for 20 minutes at a time.I am waiting until marriage and do not want to engage in any sexual activities until im married as i want to follow in that path. I have read many articles saying it is bad and horrible but it is not self-inflicted in my case. I think im going to just dry hump my pillow with no thoughts of sex as i am able to do so. I think i should do that because it is very tempting for me when im around boys as i have no outlet. I have talked to people who wanted to wait till marriage but couldnt because they held in their energy far too long and just caved in. That itself is a problem.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Carla,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for telling your story. Yes, the whole point of masturbating as needed is to keep your natural sexual drives and desires satisfied in a harmless way so that you don’t “cave in” and engage in actual sex when that’s not your ideal. Of course, what you do is entirely your choice. But if you feel that you’re not going to be able to make it to marriage, you might want to think about this possibility.

  25. Juergen von Hammerschmidt says:

    Masturbation is a grave sin. Please refer to the perverted faculty argument. It is, according to natural law, a frustration of the sexual faculties. Aquinas, knowing human concupiscence, does argue that prostitution, grave evil that it is, should remain legal or else the world would convulse in lust. Permissiveness is not the same as sanction.

    Culpability for a sin is also a factor. If someone is so inflamed by his passions that it blind his intellect and takes the will captive, this may reduce the culpability. But it is nonetheless an evil act as such.

    And so, I would argue, that it is actually more evil to masturbate with full assent than it is to do so under the influence of a strong passion.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Juergen,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      I am aware that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is a grave sin, and that other churches have followed its lead. But that is simply the opinion of the Roman Catholic Church and its theologians, based on non-biblical arguments such as “natural law.” Unfortunately, these arguments are full of rational errors and steeped in fallacy and ignorance of the realities of human life, both spiritual and physiological. There is very little that’s “natural” about “natural law” as held to among Catholic theologians. In fact, most of their conclusions are highly unnatural—one of them being their utterly unbiblical assertions that masturbation is a grave sin and highly damaging. The Bible says no such thing, and medical science simply doesn’t support the Catholic Church’s arguments about masturbation being physically or socially harmful.

      Such human-invented assertions are fine examples of heavy burdens, hard to bear, that our modern day Scribes and Pharisees lay on the people under their care. And given that Roman Catholic priests are required to be celibate, I would bet you my bottom dollar that the majority of them hypocritically engage in masturbation themselves, while condemning it in others.

      If you truly believe that it is better and more allowable to sleep with a prostitute than to masturbate, then the false and non-Christian doctrine of Catholicism has infected your mind, causing you to condone what the Bible condemns, and to condemn what the Bible never even mentions, let alone condemns. I agree that given the physical-minded and unregenerate state of much of humankind today, it would be futile and even destructive to attempt to stamp out prostitution. But that is a matter of tolerating a necessary evil.

      Masturbation, by contrast, has no significant harmful effects on society or on the individual. Of course, overdoing anything is harmful. You can even die from drinking too much water in too short a time. But masturbating in moderation to satisfy one’s God-given sexual drives without either fornicating or committing adultery is a good, not an evil. And its overall effects upon society are good, not evil. It enables many people who cannot currently satisfy their sexual drives within a loving, monogamous marriage to satisfy them in the privacy of their own homes without doing any harm to anyone else or to themselves.

  26. K says:

    In Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg says there’s no shame with the nudity of the innermost heaven. I guess by “shame”, Swedenborg did not mean “arousal” (there can be good arousal), but actual shame associated with nudity on Earth?

    Also I guess that even in the more outer heavens, spirits don’t wear clothes literally all the time (just like on Earth), right?

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      In the innermost heaven, Swedenborg says, not only is there no shame in nudity, similar to the situation in Genesis 2:25 when man and woman were first created by God, but there is also no sexual arousal at seeing other people naked, except toward one’s own spouse in the course of marital intimacy.

      That’s because the innermost heaven is the heaven of innocence and love, and especially of marriage love. The people living there are fully one with their own husband or wife, body and soul. Their thoughts about marriage and sexuality are also holy, pure, and clean. They therefore do not and cannot look at anyone other than their own partner with any romantic or sexual desire. If such an idea is suggested to them by some outsider, they become cold to their very bones. This is one of the reasons outsiders are rarely allowed into their heavens. The atmosphere surrounding people from lower parts of the spiritual world clashes with their atmosphere of innocence and love, and takes away their joy in life.

      Ever since the Fall, there has been shame in nakedness, not because nakedness is intrinsically shameful, but because the human mind and heart have become tainted with evil. Notice that as soon as Eve and then Adam ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they “knew that they were naked,” clothed themselves, and hid themselves from God (Genesis 3:6–8).

      Nakedness in a good sense, when there is no shame associated with it, means innocence. Innocence is a combination of having done nothing wrong, a lack of desire to harm anyone, and a willingness to be led by God. As long as we are in this state, and everyone else with us is in the same state, there is no need for clothing because there is no evil in anyone’s heart or mind. In this state we can be fully open to one another without feeling the need to hide anything about ourselves. For angels of the innermost heaven, hiding parts of themselves from each other by wearing clothing creates unpleasant barriers between them. Being fully open to each other is part of the joy and innocence of their lives together. That openness and innocence is represented by the nakedness in their communities. However, if they ever travel to other communities of heaven that are not so innocent and loving, they do wear clothing.

      Nakedness in a bad sense means shame at wrong thoughts, desires, and actions. In order to hide these shameful parts of ourselves from other people and from God, we figuratively “sew fig leaves together and make loincloths for ourselves” (see Genesis 3:7). In other words, we cover our bodies (and minds) with clothing (or coverings of outward goodness, politeness, and modesty). When we are in a state of being tainted with evil, and our clothing (physical or psychological) is removed in a public place so that our secret parts become visible to other people, we feel shame at the exposure.

      When we are aware of evil in ourselves and are in the presence of people who will judge and condemn us for it, or if we are innocent of evil, but we are in the presence of people who have evil or condemnatory intentions toward us, we feel shame at being physically or psychologically naked.

      This is why, from ancient times right up to the present, punishments for wrongdoing have so often included involuntary partial or full nudity. It is why in some cultures and eras victorious armies stripped conquered enemies naked in order to humiliate them and assert their dominance over them (see, for example, Isaiah 20:3–4). It is why some criminals strip their victims in the course of their crimes. And it is why criminal organizations and corrupt governments routinely keep captured rivals and opposition figures, both male or female, naked for extended periods of time during transport, imprisonment, interrogation, and torture as a way of breaking their spirit (not that it always works).

      All of this is the expression of the negative meaning of nakedness, which is shame and humiliation due to the presence of evil and falsity.

      Though it may be hard for us to believe in today’s highly sexualized society, forced public nakedness in the course of a punishment has not always been a matter of sexual shame, nor was it an occasion for arousal on the part of onlookers. Many societies were quite pragmatic about sex and about male and female bodies. Rather, the clothing one wore denoted one’s status in society. Fine clothing meant high status. Common clothing meant common status. Poor and tattered clothing meant low status. No clothing meant no status. Involuntary public nakedness was reputational death. It reduced a person to a status lower than beggars in the street, and lower even than the lowest slaves—who at least had loincloths to cover their nakedness.

      In short, apropos of your question, shame and sexual arousal are two distinct things. Nakedness in a negative sense always involves shame, but it doesn’t necessarily involve sexual arousal. In a positive sense, nakedness involves no shame, and arousal is not associated with it except between intimate partners.

      When shame and sexual arousal do get mixed together, this foul combination leads to some of the most evil, destructive, and profane abuses that humans are capable of. That’s because these desires and behaviors are a corruption of the deepest love and closest relationship possible between human beings: spiritual marriage, which is a oneness of minds and hearts between two people. This is why the chapter on “The Craving to Commit Rape” in Swedenborg’s book Marriage Love is one of four chapters on obsessions that he says are “even more serious” than the kinds and levels of adultery, from mild to serious, that he has already covered in previous chapters.

      This is also the reason that ultimately, nakedness in both a positive and a negative sense involves the baring of the reproductive organs. It is why in any culture that doesn’t go fully naked, it is the genitals that are covered first, and for women, the breasts next. Spiritually, our reproductive organs correspond to marriage love. The highest, deepest, and closest love possible between two human beings occurs in a true spiritual marriage. When our hearts and minds get corrupted with evil, our marriage love, and physically our reproductive organs, are the first parts of us that must be covered to protect them from being corrupted and abused by other people or by ourselves.

      The loincloth that is our first and most basic article of clothing is precisely a protection against shame and arousal getting mixed together. Though there have always been exceptions, such as certain rituals in traditional cultures, communal same-gender bathing and grooming in some cultures, and various medical examinations and procedures, in general the loincloth or its equivalent is removed only in the presence of one’s marriage partner or lover. Especially in present-day sexualized but not clean-minded culture, this protects our marriage love and our sexuality from getting too badly corrupted by a toxic mixture of shame and arousal.

      I should add that I believe the reason today’s culture has become so sexualized compared to most previous cultures is that spiritual marriage has begun to re-emerge in society, having been absent for many centuries. Today people commonly seek “true love” and “soulmates,” whereas in earlier cultures sex and marriage were mostly about reproduction and about advancing one’s social and financial position. Though much sex today is not particularly spiritual, many people do now associate sex with an inner love and connection between two people in a way that earlier cultures did not. Because of this, there is intense interest in and desire for sexual intimacy even when it has nothing to do with reproduction or with social and financial climbing.

      Unfortunately, all manner of advertisers and hucksters have picked up on this powerful human desire for intimacy, and have adventitiously turned it into a sex-saturated society in order to sell their products. This is an unfortunate but probably unavoidable result of being in a mixed time of transition from a largely external culture that has a physical and external view of sex and marriage to a more internal culture in which sex and marriage are part of a deeper connection between two people.

      Meanwhile, the very same people who feel great shame at having their naked body accidentally or unwillingly exposed to random people will feel no shame or embarrassment at all when they are naked with their romantic partner. That’s because spouses and lovers who are close to each other in mind and heart have love and innocence toward each other. They do not focus on and condemn each other’s faults, but look for the good in each other, focus on that, and love each other for it.

      Similarly, to answer your other question, though the angels living in the more outward heavens are not as innocent, loving, and pure-minded as the angels living in the inmost heaven, and therefore do wear clothing in public, they will feel very comfortable being naked with their husband or wife in the privacy of their homes and when they are engaged in marital intimacies, just as people do here on earth. These angels still have their faults, and they can still get critical of each other’s faults if they are displayed publicly, so they cannot be naked and fully open out in the community as the angels of the innermost heaven can. But when they are with their beloved marriage partner, they do not pay attention to each other’s faults, but look for the good in each other, and raise it up to a higher level.

      I hope this sufficiently answers your question! 🙂

      • K says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        I guess that if one is single here on Earth, merely being aroused by nudity but not having desire for sex that isn’t marital isn’t bad?

        And in the innermost heaven, I also guess that an angel can get aroused – from marriage love of course – looking at their spouse even if they aren’t “in marital intimacy” at the moment?

        (I distinguish “making love” from other forms of sex – it’s what Swedenborg called “chaste sexual love”.)

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          Here on earth, we are driven not only by our inner loves, but also by our biology. The reproductive drive in animals is so strong that it commonly overrides even the survival instinct. Few to no people who have ordinary biological reproductive drives are able to fully control their sexual desires and responses. For most, it is a matter of keeping them within reasonable moral boundaries, which is easier for some people, and harder for others.

          For single people who want to be in a good and healthy marriage, it can be quite a challenge. In general, it would be too much to expect that a decent single person in today’s society would be entirely unmoved by nudity or sexual enticement, even if he or she has a strong desire for and commitment to marriage. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen and mixed world, in which the human situation, especially in relation to sex, love, and marriage, is far from ideal. For more on this, please see:

          Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?

          My guess would be that in the innermost heaven, angels do not get aroused by their spouse’s nakedness when they are out and about in the community because then their interactions include other people with whom they have non-marital relationships. (I should say that it is somewhat uncertain, based on various statements in Swedenborg’s published and unpublished writings, whether they go entirely naked in their communities, or whether they wear something like a loincloth. I lean toward thinking that they go entirely naked in their own communities, and wear basic garments when they leave their communities.)

          When spouses are alone with one another, I presume that they could find one another arousing even if they aren’t engaged in marital intimacies at the moment. However, in the innermost heavens, angels act very spontaneously in the moment. If they do feel a sense of attraction and arousal toward one another during their alone time, it probably wouldn’t be long before the intimacies began.

          Still, they have their lives to live, their work to do, and various activities that occupy them during the day. It is unlikely that they would be aroused by each other all the time, even when they are alone together, or they would never get anything done. Their minds go in cycles throughout the day just as ours do here on earth. They aren’t thinking about sex all the time, even if they are alone with their spouses.

          They do sleep together in bed. One passage in Swedenborg’s unpublished draft on marriage even suggests that they sleep in sexual embrace, though the Latin is somewhat difficult to interpret. Perhaps it just means that they sleep in close contact with one another.

  27. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    I’ve always been a bit curious about the relationship between our rational and spiritual faculties and our biological drive. As you say in this post, the simple fact is we are driven by our biology, and this is something that has been recognized by both philosophers and theologians for centuries (though they might refer to it as something else).

    Of course, these groups- and others- have offered various solutions to conflict that’s often created when our biological drive clashes with our better judgment. Some have argued that we need to shun and suppress these impulses, others that we need to transcend them, and others that we simply need to temper and control them, this being the most popular position from both lay-people and theologians alike.

    I myself certainly do not believe in self-denial and suppression, nor do I believe in ‘transcending’ our impulses (which to me sounds like a variation on self-denial), yet I believe there’s something both insufficient and unsatisfying about merely controlling them. While self-control is obviously a critical part of any healthy attitude toward our base drives, feel like more broadly we ought to ‘harmonize’ higher selves with our animalistic drives, and I place the idea of ‘harmony’ higher than ‘denial,’ ‘transcendence,’ and even ‘control.’

    My initial impressions are because the idea of ‘control’ still feels like it involves some level of denial and suppression, and ask anyone who’s ever dieted about how these things seem to invariably result in bad outcomes.

    Is there a way to fully integrate and embrace these base impulses in which they’re always flowing freely and naturally, without becoming a harmful and destructive wildfire? Basically, harmony?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      You don’t believe in self-denial and suppression? I’m shocked. Shocked! 😛

      Yes, the idea of a conflict or rivalry between the body (biology) and the spirit (the mind) goes back not just centuries, but millennia. The Bible itself speaks of the flesh vs. the spirit.

      However, from a spiritual perspective, rather than harmonizing our higher selves with our animalistic drives, our task is to harmonize our animalistic drives with our spirit. And from a Swedenborgian perspective, this is not impossible, since our biology corresponds to our psychology. Our body, complete with all of its drives, is a reflection of our spirit. We don’t have to suppress everything our body wants. Rather, we have to direct the body’s drives into healthy channels.

      The problem is that our body has gotten out of phase with our spirit due to the Fall. Instead of seamlessly expressing our spirit, it has a will of its own, which often goes contrary to our spiritual will. For example, our body drives us to have sex with multiple partners, whereas our spirit seeks a deep connection with one partner, which will be expressed in a monogamous marital and sexual relationship.

      The only way to get the body into harmony with the spirit is to go through a lifelong process of regeneration, or being “born again.” The body and its drives must be ejected from its position of calling the shots, and become instead a servant responding to the will and promptings of the spirit.

      None of us does a complete job of this. But we can make great strides, to the point that our body no longer puts up a significant fight against our spirit, but largely does its bidding.

      • Rami says:

        Yeah, well, my history of sexual indulgence is no secret, for sure. But when I say ‘I don’t believe in self-denial and suppression,’ that’s not to say that my promiscuity is an expression of that. Rather, I don’t abide by this old-timey puritanical belief that we need to deny our sexual selves and shun it as evil, and that trying to stuff down our sexual impulses as far and as deep as they can go is just a recipe for an eruptive disaster.

        But I think what you said puts it all into focus. That is, our spirit and our bodies are in a state of disharmony, and a body properly aligned with the spirit (not the other way around) lends itself to a sexuality that’s naturally honed toward the drives of the spirit, rather than the spiritually disembodied wildfire it so often appears to be.

        • Speaking the truth says:

          I think we should not sugar coat what Christ said. When you look upon a woman and lust you have committed adultery in your heart. When we choose to fantasize about a woman and lust by the physical act of masturbation that fits the bill. It’s very clear. Now I do believe if one can masturbate without fantasizing about a woman to get a release then I’d say do that to suppress acting out, but I would even keep that to a minimum. Jesus said, be holy as your father is holy… Our DNA does not determine our actions. We have a mind, a soul, and a heart that we must allow the spirit to guide. This is truth.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Speaking the truth,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

          It is important to understand what the word “lust” in the Bible actually means. In the original Greek it is a very strong word. It does not mean mere daydreaming or fantasy. It means a burning passion or ardent desire—one that will lead us to engage in the activity we are “lusting” about if we can find or make an opportunity to do so. On this, please see the next article in this series on masturbation:

          Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?

          If there is no intent to actually engage in sex with a woman, but merely a fantasy about it, that is not “lust” as that word is used in the Bible. It’s not a great thing, but it is fantasy, not lust.

          The reason lust is prohibited in the Bible is that it will lead to actually committing the sin if the person follows through on it. The question is, then, whether a person masturbating with thoughts of a particular woman, or while viewing pornography, would actually have sex with that woman if there were the opportunity to do so.

          If the answer to that question is yes, then it is indeed lust. It is adulterous and sinful because the intent in the person’s heart is to go ahead and commit adultery if that becomes possible. This is what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 5:27–30.

          However, if the answer to that question is no, then it is not lust, but fantasy. While it is not ideal, it is not adulterous and sinful because the person has no intention of actually engaging in illicit sex, and would not do so if the opportunity arose.

          When we are talking about lust and adultery in the heart, we are talking about a person’s intentions. We therefore have to consider what a person’s intention is in engaging in masturbation accompanied by thoughts or visuals of an actual or fantasized person. If the intent is merely to satisfy one’s natural sexual drives and desires without actually having sex with a woman (or man), then that is not “lust,” nor is it adultery in the heart.

          As for not being driven by our DNA, good luck with that. Plenty of Christian pastors who believe that sort of thing have been caught with their pants down and disgraced. It is better to be realistic about the power of our physical drives than to live in a fantasy world in which we think we can always control them through spiritual willpower. Paul himself could not always control them (see Romans 7:14–25). What makes us think that we’re going to succeed where the Apostles themselves failed?

          This is why it’s important to have a fall-back such as masturbation so that our physical drives and desires don’t build up so high that they break out into illicit sex that actually is prohibited in the Bible.

          In short, it is important to pay attention to exactly what the Bible says.

          The Bible does not forbid masturbation, nor does it forbid fantasizing about a woman. It forbids “lusting” after a woman, which means having a burning desire to have sex with her. The average Joe who masturbates to porn or to fantasies of some woman he knows or some movie star is well aware that he’s never actually going to have sex with the woman in his fantasies. In fact, he would probably get highly embarrassed if she were to suddenly walk into his room in the flesh, sans clothing. He is not lusting. He’s fantasizing. Once again, please see:

          Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?

  28. Ruth says:

    I wanted to say thanks. Thanks for your honest and realistic perspective on these topics. I am from Spain, a country where there are few christian men, which causes us women to suffer a long time of singleness till an available christian man appears and we are able to get married. For those who are married, it is easy to say that we can´t ever masturbate. They obviously can´t understand how difficult it is to keep waiting and waiting and at the same time, supressing all of your feelings and desires. They , obviously, only think of themselves.
    May God bless you. I´ll keep reading your articles.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ruth,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad this article was helpful to you. As you say, there is no warrant for married people to lay heavy burdens, hard to bear, on unmarried people. Our prayers are with you to find the right Christian man. Meanwhile, Godspeed on your spiritual journey.

  29. John Gavins says:

    Hello sir! I’ve struggled with masturbation for a while and this article opens me up a bit but I’m still cautious. I have a sort of unique attraction. It is an object. Now let’s say I masturbate to pics this object and story’s of this object. Now let’s imagine that one day in an ideal situation I end up getting this object myself. Have I lusted over this object? The debate stems like this, if you masturbate to just fantasy’s of a women for example but have no desire to act on them, your fine but if you have desires to act on them it’s a sin. Now let’s apply this to an example situation. Let’s say you mastirbate to fantasy’s of earrings. And one day given an ideal situation you end up getting your ears pierced as opposed to it just being a fantasy. While this does parallel acting on the desires, having sex with the woman is a direct sin and can cause harm while getting your ears pierced is not a direct sin and does not cause harm and it could be argued it is unhealthy (because it inspires more masturbation) but maybe also healthy (an outlet possibly). So if my fantasy has a possibility of me actually getting the object in the real world, have I listed over the object? Thank you so much for answering.

    • Lee says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. I’m glad you are finding the above article helpful.

      In response to your question, it’s important to understand that when the Bible condemns lust, it is not about avoiding “sexual sin.” It is about avoiding adultery.

      The present-day “Christian” church has expanded the Bible’s commandments and prohibitions into all sorts of extra areas that the Bible itself says nothing about, just as the Jewish religion of Jesus’ day had expanded the Law and the Prophets (what Christians call the Old Testament) into all sorts of extra laws that are never commanded in the Jewish Bible. In speaking of “lust,” “sexual sin,” “fornication,” and so on, and giving them broad and expansive definitions, present-day Christian preachers are distracting their flocks from what the Bible actually, unequivocally condemns, which is adultery. Even “fornication” in the Bible is mostly about adultery. The very word for “fornication” in Greek comes from the word for “prostitute.” Its original meaning came from married men committing adultery with prostitutes, which is what was specifically being prohibited. It does have a somewhat broader meaning than that in the Bible, but it’s good not to lose sight of its original meaning and derivation.

      In Bible times, it was assumed that most men and women would be married at a relatively young age. That’s just how the culture worked. There were exceptions, of course, especially among men. But not many women remained single very far into adulthood. Even before they were married, they were commonly promised in marriage to a man once they reached marriageable age. This was considered binding, such that a man who had sex with a girl or young woman who was pledged in marriage to another man would be considered guilty of adultery. It wasn’t like today where people fall in love and get married. Marriages were arranged, and the primary “value” of daughters was to marry them off to some man who would pay her family a bride price.

      There were not many women who weren’t either married or promised in marriage to some man. Therefore, if a man had sex with any woman who was not his wife, it was very likely that he was committing adultery, either because he was married or because she was married or promised in marriage, or both. When Jesus says that when a man lusts after a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart, the “adultery” was literal in the sense that the man was most likely desiring to have sex with a woman who was either married or promised in marriage to another man.

      Further, the word “lust” in the Bible does not mean mere sexual fantasy, as is commonly suggested by present day “Christian” preachers. No, it means a burning desire to have sex with a woman that will drive a man to actually have sex with her if he can find or make an opportunity to do so. For more on this, please see the sequel to the above article:

      Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?

      Now let’s apply all of this to your question, using your example.

      If you have sexual fantasies about earrings, and masturbate while picturing earrings in your mind, or while fondling earrings in your fingers, are you engaging in lust as the Bible uses that word?

      No, you are not.

      Earrings are not a woman. No object is a woman. The Bible specifically condemns lusting after a woman. And the purpose of that condemnation is to stop men from even starting down the road that will lead to adultery. The whole purpose of telling us not to lust after women in our heart is to keep us from committing adultery.

      You can’t commit adultery with earrings, or with any other physical object. You can commit adultery only with another human being. (Or perhaps with an animal, which is also prohibited in the Bible, but there’s no need to delve into that issue here.)

      In short, biblically, having a fetish for earrings is not “lust.”

      Does that mean that having an earring fetish is A-OK?

      Not necessarily.

      While it is not “lust” as the Bible uses that term, it could be a form of idolatry. That would be the case if it actively pulls a person away from living a good, useful, and loving life according to God’s commandments. If it is just a somewhat distracting tic of the mind, but doesn’t seriously disrupt a person’s life and relationships, then it is not even idolatry, biblically speaking. Idolatry is worshiping something else besides God either literally, or figuratively in the sense of making something (or someone) else more important than God in one’s life. If a fetish doesn’t do that in a person’s life, it may be an emotional and psychological issue, but it is not a sin against God.

      The main problem with sexual fetishes is that they can get in the way of having a good and healthy romantic and sexual relationship with another human being. If having a sexual thing for earrings makes it impossible to make love with an actual woman (ideally one you’re married to), then that’s a problem. And it might require some time with a therapist to sort it out.

      For more about fetishes, please see:

      What if the Right Woman has the Wrong Feet?

      I hope this answer, and the linked articles, are helpful to you. However, I do understand that this can be a complicated and difficult issue. If, after reading the suggested articles, you still have questions or concerns, please feel free to leave another comment on any of these articles.

      Meanwhile, Godspeed on your spiritual journey.

  30. K says:

    So if I understand right, “lust” in that verse on committing adultery in one’s heart means an actual adulterous desire – “coveting” an adulterous act – and not mere sexual arousal?

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