***Update from 10-12-16 – Added a quote by C.S. Lewis to this post about why masturbation is problematic and dangerous.
**Update from 12-8-13 – This video pushes me much farther toward the view that masturbation is harmful in general, even if not connected to pornography. It binds us to something other than a person that God has brought us together with. Nocturnal Emissions should be enough to give us release.**
Well I said a while back I would write a post about masturbation, and now I have finally got around to it. So is masturbation okay for a Christian? Or is it sinful? This is a long debate and I don’t have all the answers, but this is a topic we talked about in seminary, and is a topic I’ve thought a lot about. I’ll give some general thoughts about it, and then talk about masturbation in relation to crossdressing. If you disagree with me, fine; I am not an expert, but perhaps these thoughts will help some of you. Keep in mind that I was a slow learner with masturbation. I had sexual pleasure and erections in childhood, and wet dreams, and became addicted to crossdressing at the end of middle school. But it wasn’t until my friends explained to me more about masturbation in later high school that I had my first ejaculation while awake through masturbation. So again, I’m definitely not an expert.
There are a lot of views about masturbation among Christians, but there are two general ways of thinking about masturbation that I have wrestled with personally. These are the 2 views that make the most sense to me below, and they are opposing views. I used to believe view #2, but now agree mostly with view #1.
1. The first view is that masturbation is good and healthy for Christians. God never forbids it in Scripture. Some in church history have incorrectly said that the story about Onan in Genesis 38 shows the evil of masturbation.
Genesis 38:6-10 – 6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. 8 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.” 9 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. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so he put him to death also.
Masturbation has even been called Onanism. But this story has nothing to do with masturbation. Onan was supposed to have sex with his deceased brother’s wife, Tamar, in order that she could produce offspring and keep Er’s lineage going (Tamar’s deceased husband). But every time they had sex, Onan would pull out at the last second so that his semen would not go into Tamar. Onan was shamefully using and cheating Tamar, and not doing his duty. His actions were sinful and so the Lord put him to death. But his sin was not masturbation.
Some have thought Deuteronomy 23:9-14 has prohibited masturbation.
9 When you are encamped against your enemies, keep away from everything impure. 10 If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, he is to go outside the camp and stay there. 11 But as evening approaches he is to wash himself, and at sunset he may return to the camp. 12 Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. 13 As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. 14 For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.
This passage is not talking about masturbation either. The closest thing it mentions is a nocturnal emission. But even so, it does not say that a nocturnal emission is sinful (which is good because that happens to me periodically still!). A nocturnal emission makes a person unclean. But clean and unclean were totally different categories than sinful versus righteous. The person would become sinful if they disobeyed the laws in these passages and didn’t do what they were supposed to do when they were unclean. But being unclean didn’t mean being sinful. The Israelites became unclean from a whole host of activities that occurred in regular daily life. Much of the time they could not prevent themselves from becoming unclean. Clean and unclean is about ritual holiness and keeping things holy and separate. This was to help the Israelites realize how holy and great God is and how to honor his presence among them.
So there is nothing in the Bible that I know of that prohibits masturbation. So this first view is that masturbation is a natural thing. It is okay to give ourselves pleasure. God created us with bodies and they are gifts. Our bodies are to be enjoyed. Not only should our spouse enjoy our body, but we can enjoy our own body. Is it wrong to scratch our head or stroke our own hair because it feels nice? Is it wrong to rub our hands up and down our legs because it feels nice? Masturbation is different because it becomes sexual pleasure, but it is still just harmless self pleasuring.
Masturbation like this can be very good and healthy. We should expect almost all kids to grow up masturbating and we should not shame them or make them feel guilty about it. We should not be shocked when we find them masturbating and we should talk it through with them to help them understand what they are doing. In fact, making kids feel guilty about it is one of the ways to mess them up for future marriage and enjoyment of sex. They then learn to feel shame about their genitals and their naked bodies and learn to feel guilt about sexual pleasure. But when they grow up masturbating without guilt it actually prepares them for marriage. They learn how their bodies work. They learn what their sexual organs do and how they respond to touch. In marriage then they can educate their spouse about what feels good and they will be able to much more enjoy sex in marriage. Especially in the case of women, women who did not grow up masturbating may have serious trouble in marriage learning how their bodies work sexually and learning how to enjoy sex (definitely the case for my wife).
Masturbation is the proper outlet for sexual pleasure for those who are waiting to get married. It might be especially helpful for young men and women who are dating and know they are tempted to fornicate. Masturbating regularly before getting together might be one way to diffuse those temptations. It is the proper outlet for sexual pleasure for those who are called to a life of celibacy. It is the proper outlet for sexual pleasure at times in marriage when sexual activity with one’s spouse is not possible because of geographical distance or physical injury.
But even on this view, masturbation is not seen as a perfect, always good, thing. There are dangers and boundaries. Masturbation becomes a problem when –
A. It becomes an obsessive addiction. Masturbation should not be in control of our lives. We should be in complete control of our masturbation. We all understand what addictions are like. They can distract us from things we need to do, they can waste our time, they can harm our wellbeing, and they can cause us to make unwise decisions. In the case of masturbation one of the biggest effects of overindulgence and addiction is desensitization. More and more (new actions, new fantasies) is needed each time for the same amount of pleasure and it may be hard to adjust to enjoying simple sex within marriage. And the masturbator could be so used to self pleasuring in a quick efficient way through skilled touching and unrealistic fantasy in the mind, that he doesn’t know how to deal with slow love making focused on giving pleasure to another. But the proponents of the view that masturbation is healthy would say that when it is encouraged by a parent and the child doesn’t feel shame and guilt about it, it probably will just be an occasional time of self pleasuring. But when a child is made to hide it in secret with shame, it can tend to become a harmful addiction.
B. It becomes attached to sinful thoughts and fantasy. This most often happens with pornography. I don’t know of any Christians who think pornography is okay. It could also be erotic fiction. It could be adulterous lustful thoughts. It could be homosexual thoughts, bestiality thoughts, pedophilic thoughts, or crossdressing thoughts. When the thoughts are not pure, then the activity of masturbation becomes a sinful activity. But then what thoughts are okay? Surely you have to think about something? I don’t have a good answer to this. I do know of some friends who masturbate with only the physical touch and actions and there are no real sexual thoughts or fantasies going on, so maybe that is possible. That has never worked for me though. But I’ve also heard Christian professionals say that it is not sinful when we are thinking about our future spouse while masturbating (which is not a real person, but just a vague fictional image of the man or woman that we will someday meet and marry). I think I could agree with that. It seems odd, but I don’t know of any better alternatives. If doing this, we would have to be careful to have a realistic fake image so that we don’t have an idealized fantastical body entrenched in our mind that will make us disappointed with our real future spouse’s body.
C. It becomes a distraction or problem in a marriage. Masturbation can be really helpful in a marriage if let’s say the man needs more sexual activity than the wife. That is the case in my own marriage. I would love to have sex 3 times a week, and my wife would love to have sex once every 6 months or less. So we compromise with once a week, and sometimes once every other week. At those times when it doesn’t feel like enough for me, I will masturbate on my own. I will do so thinking about her, thinking about having sex with her (no crossdressing thoughts allowed), and do not believe this masturbation is sinful. She knows and approves of this masturbation and thinks it is good for the same reasons. But masturbation can easily become a substitute for sexual activity in marriage. If masturbation starts to replace physical intimacy with a spouse, that is not a good thing. In my marriage I could stop asking my wife for sex and just have masturbation instead, and that would be the far easier route, but masturbation is not a substitute for the bonding that a healthy marriage needs. The healthy bonding takes work, patience, sacrifice, service, and pleasuring the other person. It is not always easy. But it is important. And masturbation should not replace it. Masturbation can also become an issue in marriage if either the husband or the wife would rather masturbate than have sex because it is more pleasurable for them than sex. Thankfully for me, masturbation is just a sexual release, rather than something really good and pleasurable. It pales in comparison to sex with my wife.
D. It becomes an excuse to not learn self control. Many people use masturbation (and I have done this plenty of times) because they felt like they could not control their desire for sexual pleasure and they needed release. I think this is very appropriate at times. But we must make sure we are learning how to control ourselves, and say “no” to sexual pleasure at times. We can’t always use masturbation as a crutch. We must learn self-control. Self-control in sexuality is a first step in learning self-control for other areas of life.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 – 3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own bodyin a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Titus 2:12 – 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.
Galatians 5:22 – 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
Now on to the 2nd view. After each paragraph I’ll give my underlined thoughts about this view.
2. The second view is that masturbation is sinful. Sexual pleasure should be limited to love and physical bonding with one’s spouse. God created sexual pleasure for us as a gift, but he intended it to be only within the boundaries of marriage. Masturbation is wrong then, mainly just because it is sexual pleasure outside the bond of marriage. This is just like other forms of sexual pleasure that are sinful because they are outside the bond of marriage, like fornication, adultery, etc. These things outside of marriage are not just legalistic rules. God gave them to us because he created us for sexual enjoyment within marriage, and when we go out of the boundaries he has given to us it does not help our wellbeing, or our flourishing. Some things like adultery are very common sense in the way that they hurt our wellbeing and others’ wellbeing. Other things like pornography or crossdressing or homosexual behavior are not as common sense, and it takes a little more thought to see how why God does not want us to do them. It takes more thought to see why they are harmful to us and others. And when we cannot see why some aspect of sexuality is wrong, we have to trust that God has good reasons for why he has told us it is wrong and not good for us. We have to trust what he has told us in the Bible. We have to trust that the boundaries he has given us for sexuality are good even when we can’t fully understand them. God is infinitely smarter than us.
(I agree with these statements about God’s will for us concerning sexuality and trusting his commands, except that I think masturbation prepares us for marriage rather than detracting from it. I don’t think it is wrong and God never has forbidden it).
Masturbation is not wrong because sexual pleasure is bad. Sexual pleasure is good. But it should be within marriage, not experienced by oneself. Masturbation is self-focused. Some would say it is a form of narcissism. Sexual pleasure should be received from one’s spouse and given to one’s spouse. Sexual pleasure should not be given to self.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 – But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
(I agree that masturbation is self-focused. That is why God intends sexual pleasure to be a mutual activity in a married couple. Sexual pleasure is supposed to be given, and supposed to be received from a spouse. It is always second best when sexual pleasure is given to self. The action itself often shows us that it is not best. It is a farce, a fake. It is us pretending our hands are the vagina of a woman. Or it is us fantasizing about being with our spouse, even though we are really alone. Sexual love in marriage is all real. There does not need to be any fantasy. You are really with that other person and bonding. But masturbation is always somewhat of a farce. Again, I think masturbation is helpful and even necessary for certain people at certain times and places. But it can never live up to the sexual pleasure that God intended for us to experience in marriage. That is why those that are called to a life of celibacy are truly sacrificing).
Those that think masturbation is wrong also talk about how easily it is connected with lust and pornography, how it can distract from sex and bonding in marriage, how it can desensitize, and how it easily becomes addiction. I’ve already talked about those concerns and agree that they are very valid concerns.
So in summary I think masturbation is not inherently sinful, though it can easily become sinful depending on how it is used and what thoughts are attached to it. And it may be safe to say that the vast majority of people masturbating are doing so in a sinful way. The vast majority of times I have masturbated during my life were sinful. And even when we masturbate in a non sinful way, or we encourage others to do so, we must be very careful to think about the dangers of masturbation. In the end pursuing righteousness and following Jesus is more important than any temporary pleasures masturbation will give us. We need to do all we can to resist sin, even if that means foregoing masturbation.
Romans 6:11-14 – 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
Further, some of us will have to swear off masturbation completely in order that it does not lead us into other sins. This would follow the teaching Jesus gave us in Matthew 5:27-30. For some of us masturbation is the hand we have to cut off in order to not give in to other sins.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Last, I want to say, since this is such a controversial issue, that if you feel guilty about masturbation, and you think it is sinful, I am NOT advocating that you should try it. Scripture is far from clear about this issue. I think both views make a lot of sense. See Romans 14, especially verse 23 – 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. Basically this passage teaches us that even if we are wrong in our belief about whether something is sinful or not, if we do an action that we believe is sinful, it becomes sin. If masturbation is technically okay, but we think God prohibits it, and then we engage in it, we are sinning. We are sinning not through the activity of masturbation, but through the willful disobedience about what we think God wants for us. All of our actions should be done for Jesus out of faith. So if you think masturbation is wrong, if you feel guilty about it, then don’t do it!
Last, here is a great very strong warning from C.S. Lewis about it – “C.S. Lewis describes the ironic narrowing effect of sexual fantasy on a man’s personal identity and capacity to love. Something that promises limitless frontiers of sexual discovery and satisfaction leads instead into a dead-end canyon. As Lewis describes, ‘For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful [i.e., proper] use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself….After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in.” (From the book Divine Sex by Jonathan Grant).
So now, what can we say about crossdressing and masturbation? Well I’ve already said that masturbation with crossdressing thoughts is sinful. I would expand that to say doing actual crossdressing and masturbating during or afterwards is sinful. I would say that masturbating while reading crossdressing fiction is sinful. I would say that masturbating while looking at crossdressing pictures and videos is sinful. I would say that masturbating while fantasizing about being crossdressed or someone else crossdressing is sinful. Since I believe that crossdressing itself is sinful and harmful, which I won’t argue for here, (you can read my views elsewhere), but since I believe that, then necessarily masturbating while thinking about it in any form is also harmful and sinful.
Further, in my personal experience, and what I’ve gleaned from the blogging world, crossdressing and masturbation are almost always linked up in addiction. This is sexual addiction. It is harmful and wrong. We must cut it out of our lives.
I also think connecting masturbation and crossdressing leads to problems in our lives. We learn to sexualize objects like clothing and makeup rather than the female body. Our bodies are the one thing we can’t make feminine, and so we keep our eyes drawn to the feminine clothing and makeup we are wearing. We end up being sexually turned on by those things rather than by a female person. The more we grow in our crossdressing and masturbation addiction, the more we become fixated on objects rather than people. This makes it hard for us to relate to people in real life without fixating on their clothing or makeup, and makes it hard to be attracted to our wife and her body in the right way. Further, when we masturbate and crossdress we are manipulating the woman in the mirror. She will wear whatever we want her to, and pose however we want her to, for us to get pleasure. This does not set us up well for learning how to be attracted to a real person in marriage, a real person that we can’t just manipulate and make pose however we want, and make wear whatever we want. I hate to go into such graphic detail, but by crossdressing and masturbation we can start to be turned on to mixed gendered people like shemales. Think about it. You go from seeing yourself as a woman in the mirror, to seeing a woman with a penis hanging out and you are masturbating and being turned on by that image.
Further, think about how odd it is to see a woman’s image in the mirror with a very erect pointy penis sticking the clothes out. How can we have done this without realizing how messed up we are? And think about how easily you could mess up your life. I spent all those years crossdressing in clothes that were not my own. Imagine if I had accidentally ejaculated into them, which could have easily happened. I encourage you to stop crossdressing now and stop risking your relationships, job, or marriage.
On a different note, I talked far above about using masturbation as a crutch to avoid temptation and giving in sin. But we must be very careful about this as crossdressers. I know from many online crossdressing friends that they cannot separate masturbation from their crossdressing fantasies, and so they have to eliminate masturbation altogether, at least for now, in order to get crossdressing out of their lives. Each one of us will be different. But you know yourself and whether you can use masturbation to help you quit crossdressing or whether you cannot.
I have suggested on a few occasions that friends might want to try and learn to masturbate to thoughts of their wives instead of thoughts about crossdressing. I suggest this once again, but with warnings. It is a very long and difficult process, one that has taken me 6 years to go through. I’ve been working on this for a large part of our marriage and only 2-3 years ago was I finally able to masturbate without thinking about crossdressing at all and only thinking of my wife.
For many this might be so difficult, near impossible, that it is not a good idea to even try, because you know without a doubt that you will end up thinking about crossdressing again during your masturbation. I’ll be honest about my process. Years ago, it started with reading crossdressing fiction, but then stopping myself because I knew it was sinful. But then I would still go masturbate and wrestle back and forth with crossdressing thoughts and marital sex thoughts. The next step in the process were times of purposely going to masturbate, and I would begin by thinking about crossdressing in order to get an erection and then I would go to ejaculation while thinking of my wife. You could say maybe it started with 90% and 10% of crossdressing thoughts versus pure thoughts, in all of the beginning stages. And over time it went to 80% and 20%, then 50% and 50%, and then started to go the other way. At one stage it was finally 90% thinking about my wife, and only thinking about crossdressing 10%. In the last stage of my transferring of the thoughts I used in masturbating, I tried really hard to only think about my wife. But sometimes it was really hard to be able to get enough pleasure to masturbate, and so I would allow a random crossdressing thought in to help me get an erection. During some occasions of masturbating I wouldn’t need to do this, and sometimes I needed to. This stage lasted the longest. But now finally for the last 2-3 years, I have had the ability to only think about my wife and not any crossdressing thoughts at all, and still masturbate easily.
I’m happy to say that today my marital sex is regular enough that I don’t masturbate much. I would say once every other month or once a month at the most during this last year. And over the last year and few months, I’ve only masturbated with some crossdressing thought interference (not actual crossdressing) maybe three times. So there is hope guys. It’s a long process, but if you are willing to work at it, change is possible! When I first started the process, crossdressing thoughts were extremely helpful in masturbation and thinking of marital sex did nothing. At this point, it’s completely the opposite. I am still amazed by the change. But God has done great things in my heart and mind and body.