One of the common misconceptions about masturbation is that all religions are against it. However, the answer to the question “Is masturbation a sin?” is more complex than most people think.
For this guide, we will discuss the different religious views about masturbation and how these religious beliefs can affect the way we view pleasure, sex, and our bodies.
But before you proceed with the next section, remember that masturbation being a sin isn’t a black and white situation. We’re not here to tell you that masturbation is good or bad. We’re here to share insights from different religions and religious movements.
Religious Views About Masturbation
Ever wonder what different religious groups think about masturbation? Learn about their general insights into self-pleasure and whether they see it as a sinful activity.
In Roman Catholicism, sexual expression is designed to be enjoyed in “the total meaning of mutual self-giving” (CCC, n. 2352). Sex is perceived as a sacred act wherein a man and woman become “one flesh” in marriage. That’s why followers are encouraged to never have sex before marriage, masturbate, and only engage in sensual intimacy with their other halves.
If you have sexual acts with yourself, you’re seen as breaking the purpose of sex, as you’re not giving yourself to someone and selfishly enjoying it on your own terms.
Masturbation is also considered a sin against the sixth commandment of God, which is “You shall not commit adultery.” As mentioned earlier, sex is meant to be shared with your spouse in this religion. If you’re touching yourself for sexual gratification, then you’re basically performing sensual acts on someone that isn’t your other half and shall be considered a sinner for it.
There’s also an argument wherein masturbation often leads to addiction to it. And because of the Bible’s mandate for their believers to be the master of their own behavior, indulging in activities that are uncontrollable and addicting, such as masturbation, can be considered a sin.
Tale of Onan
There’s no specific passage in the scripture that directly perceives masturbation as a sin. The only part of the Bible that is closely related to masturbation is the tale of Onan in Genesis 38:8-10 NIV.
In this tale, Onan was supposed to sleep with his late brother’s wife to produce offspring for this brother. However, during the deed, he decided to “spill his seed” as he did not want to produce a child that wouldn’t be his.
Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so he put him to death also. – (Genesis 38:8-10, NIV)
Believers are still debating whether Onan actually masturbated or not since he still had sex with his brother’s wife. There are also arguments saying that he was punished for not fulfilling his duty and not necessarily for ejaculating onto the ground.
Modern Interpretation of Tale of Onan
There’s also a modern interpretation of this tale. Some say this story isn’t necessarily about masturbation but about not obliging to your social responsibility and how sinful that is.
Onan’s brother recently died, and during this period, it’s his cultural duty to take his brother’s widow as a wife. He’s responsible now for continuing the bloodline. They’ve agreed on sleeping together for the sole purpose of having children and basically doing their cultural obligations. However, he pulled out and only enjoyed the sexual aspect of the activity.
This tale wasn’t necessarily about how masturbation is sinful. It’s about someone who selfishly chooses to break his promise, turning his back on his family when they need him the most.
About Matthew 5:27-30
Another quote that implies that masturbation is a sin in the Bible is this biblical quote from Matthew 5:27-30. In this part, Jesus was speaking against lustful intentions, stating that “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.”
Aside from the two biblical quotes above, some believers are using other parts of the scripture to determine whether masturbation is a sin or not.
About 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, NIV
Below is an example of a biblical quote often used to argue that masturbation is a sin in the Bible. The quote isn’t necessarily about jerking off, but it implies the holiness of sex and that lack of self-control may lead Satan to tempt you.
“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” – (1 Corinthians 7:3-5, NIV)
About Matthew 5:28, NIV
Then here’s another part in the scripture related to masturbation and pornography.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who has looked at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”- (Matthew 5:28, NIV)
Overall, there’s no direct quote in the scripture that says, “Masturbation is a sin in the Bible!” but it was implied in some parts of the scripture.
Same with Roman Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox Church or Orthodox Christian Church sees masturbation as the distortion of the use of sexuality, which they consider as a gift from God.
They believe that sex should be honored, and the practice of self-pleasure is seen as a disrespectful act. They also believe that the gift of sexuality is supposed to be fulfilled in a marital relationship. When people touch themselves, they misuse the gift, which is considered sinful.
Masturbation is seen as sinful because they believe it’s a “form of sexual pleasure outside of God’s design.” They believe that touching yourself is a sexual “misconduct” and that you should only express sexuality once you’re in a marital relationship.
Protestantism believes that sexual expression should only be done with a couple in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Other sexual activities outside of heterosexual marriage, such as masturbation, are considered a sin.
However, one of the alarming views about masturbation is Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer who started Lutheranism. According to the Wikipedia page regarding Lutheranism’s views about self-pleasure, “Luther saw masturbation as a sin more terrible than heterosexual rape since such rape was considered to be ‘in accordance with nature,’ while masturbation was ‘unnatural’.”
Fortunately, several publications under this religion are now more accepting of self-pleasure; they’re still in the minority, though, as most followers still believe masturbation is a sin.
If you’re not familiar with this branch of Christianity, Restorationism is a movement that aims to restore the Christian values that were established in the early apostolic church. Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, and Armstrongism are all under Restorationism.
Based on their teachings, people that follow this movement believe that masturbation “fosters attitudes that can be mentally corrupting.” It’s also known as a “solitary vice,” and it can prevent you from accessing heaven. Same with the reasonings from other religions, masturbation is seen as a sin because sexual activity is supposed to be a sacred act between heterosexual and married couples.
If we look at the Islamic scripture, no passage specifically mentions masturbation is a sin. However, most scholarly opinions view this practice as forbidden (Haram) and sinful. A few Islamic schools also permit self-pleasure as an alternative to sex if one cannot get married.
For this religion, extracting semen for pleasure is seen as sinful. Even though the Hebrew Bible doesn’t have direct quotes that explain masturbation as a sin, traditional rabbinic sources strictly prohibit male masturbation, as it’s perceived as wasteful spilling of semen. So if you’re a man that follows this religion, then touching yourself is a big no.
On the other hand, female masturbation isn’t as sinful as male masturbation. Still, it carries a stigma, as the act involves “impure thoughts” and creates evil forces (Kelipos).
Hinduism doesn’t condemn masturbation. It is considered a natural act as seeking kama (sexual pleasure) is one of the four permissible goals of Hindu life. Unless you’ve taken a vow of Brahmacharya, which involves practicing sexual chastity, you’re free to express your sexuality.
However, Hindu teachings emphasize the importance of moderation, especially when engaging in earthly pleasures such as masturbation. Balance is the essence of Hindu culture; anything excess is considered bad for oneself.
This religion has mixed answers about whether or not masturbation is a sin. Some say that masturbation is sexual misconduct, while other schools of Buddhism have differing interpretations of what sexual misconduct is.
They also believe that masturbation takes people further away from enlightenment and “keeps us longer in samsara.” Samsara is the indefinite process of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth caused by Karma. According to them, if we refrain from doing sins such as masturbation, we’ll be able to escape the cycle and end the suffering.
However, some contemporary writers about Buddhism now have differing opinions, suggesting that masturbation is harmless for laypeople.
For this religion, self-pleasure is seen as “among the unpardonable sins that one can commit.” They also believed that masturbation can make a man “weaker” as his body will soften up, and his intellect will become dull due to masturbation.
Like Zoroastrianism, Taoism believes that self-pleasure can decrease one’s life force. They believe that it can lower the energy levels in men, as ejaculation through masturbation reduces “origin qi” from dantian, the lower abdomen’s energy center. For women, female masturbation can lose a part of their life force. Though it’s not necessarily sinful to massage themselves, they must do it without sexual thoughts.
Why Do Most Religions Are Against Masturbation? (Theory)
One of the theories why some religions prohibit masturbation is that religion wouldn’t last long if no kids were being brought up by their believers. And if there are no new people in the religion, they wouldn’t be around very long.
Having children is the most effective way to spread out religious teachings. The more kids born under that religion, the more believers in the community.
The theory above is under memetics, a theory that was first proposed by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. He’s the author of the popular 1976 book “The Selfish Gene.”
According to his theory, cultural information (also known as memes) evolves and is transmitted from person to person. Same with genes, these memes reproduce and evolve as well. The strongest memes will be forgotten, while certain memes will be forgotten.
Applying this theory to religion makes sense why some religious groups would promote marriage and prohibit masturbation (as well as birth control) from preserving their beliefs.
Since it’s difficult to pass beliefs on to an adult person and convert them into their religion, they instead procreate and influence children who will create more children with the same beliefs and create more children who will get the same teachings, etc.
Now, take note of the word “theory” here. This section brings an additional perspective on why masturbation is prohibited in certain religious groups. It’s not a universal truth and can be questioned.
What Religions Don’t Mention: Benefits of Masturbation According to Science
While most religions see masturbation as a sin, medical professionals view it as an activity that’s beneficial to one’s health. Some even encourage people to touch themselves and free themselves of the guilt of pleasuring their bodies.
There’s nothing wrong with doing it as long as the person is doing it in moderation and not using masturbation to escape their problems and responsibilities. Here are some of the health benefits that one can get from masturbation:
- It can reduce stress. Orgasms from masturbation can tap the brain’s pleasure reward center, making you feel happy and satisfied.
- It improves your sleep quality. Recent studies show that orgasms can be considered a natural sleeping aid.
- It can help women tone their pelvic floor muscles, which support the body’s pelvic organs, such as the bladder, vagina, uterus, and rectum.
- Limited studies suggest orgasm from masturbation can relieve body pain, such as headaches and menstrual cramps.
- Recent studies suggest that orgasming from any form of activity (sex or self-pleasure) provides “modest benefit” in various aspects of cognitive function in older people.
- Sexual pleasure among young adults is linked with healthy psychological and social development.
- Due to the increased blood flow from orgasm, you may get a youthful glow after masturbating.
Harmful Effects of Stigma Surrounding Masturbation
Due to the religious views about masturbation being a sin, there’s a stigma surrounding it, which leads people to have negative thoughts about self-pleasure and sex, their bodies, and even their feelings. Learn more about these probable effects below.
1There’s a lack of educational discourse about sex and self-pleasure.
Due to masturbation being perceived as a sin in most religious groups, it’s no surprise that most people are extremely uncomfortable with topics about sex and pleasure. There’s also a lack of sex education, especially in conservative countries like the Philippines. No one wants to include it in health classes because of the fear that teenagers will only be “encouraged” to do sexual acts.
However, sex education is vital to one’s wellbeing. When there are good educational discussions about sex and masturbation at home or at school, people will learn the different safe sex practices, understand the concept of consent, and engage in sexual activities safely and within their own terms. It also negates misconceptions surrounding sex, such as the following.
- “You can’t get pregnant if you have sex during your period.”
- “You can’t get pregnant if you’ve only had sex for the first time.”
- “Masturbating can make you go blind.”
- “Having multiple partners can loosen your vagina.”
- “Sexually transmitted infections only affect homosexual couples.”
- “The female orgasm can only occur through vaginal penetration.”
2Some people end up with extreme guilt and shame about their bodies.
One of the common misconceptions about masturbation stigma is that it wouldn’t affect the individual’s sense of self. However, demonizing this activity only puts extreme guilt on a person for having arousal.
The thing is, having sexual feelings is due to biology— not some demonic cause. It’s natural to have the need to satisfy your sexual urges. It’s all because of your hormones.
But because religious groups don’t mention how biology affects our arousal, it results in their followers feeling confused. They may succumb to prayers, chants or even blame external factors, such as the “modern” female dress code.
3Some people may end up with sexual repression.
Sexual repression is a condition wherein people unconsciously stop themselves from expressing their sexual self. People who have this condition feel extreme guilt and shame from having sexual thoughts. If the affected individual is married or in a relationship, they may have multiple sex-related conflicts with their partner. This happens when a person is exposed to beliefs that demonize sex outside of marriage, such as masturbation.
So, Is Masturbation Actually a Sin?
There’s no black and white answer to this question, as we’ve mentioned earlier. It all depends on your faith and beliefs.
If you want to control your sexual urges and not masturbate because it’s prohibited in your religion, then good for you to respect and follow your beliefs. However, remember that repressing yourself from natural urges may result in issues about your body, self-worth, and other related aspects of yourself.
If you see masturbation as a natural way of being in tune with your body and satisfying your sensual desires, keep on unapologetically engaging in self-pleasure. However, remember that too much is bad for you. Using masturbation as a coping mechanism can bring more harm than good.
The only scientifically proven thing regarding self-pleasure is that it can benefit one’s health; it can reduce stress, alleviate pain, and help your skin glow. But just like every other activity, excessive masturbating can also lead to certain psychological and health issues. So it’s important to keep things in moderation and never use self-pleasure as a coping mechanism to life’s challenges.
The question “Is masturbation a sin?” will most likely be a continuous debate in the future. As more people learn about the benefits of masturbation, more people will question the “sinful” nature of the act. Religious groups may also make new points from the scripture, giving a clearer picture if masturbation is a sin in the Bible or not.
What we can suggest right now is to continue having an open mind regarding this activity and not judge people who masturbate and those who choose not to do it. And for those who have partners who grew up with negative beliefs about sex and self-pleasure, it’s best to be patient with them, as unlearning the sexual stigma isn’t easy. Let’s keep the conversation going.