Young People Ask . . .
How Serious Is Masturbation?
“I’m wondering if masturbation is wrong in the eyes of God. Will it affect my physical and/or mental health in the future and if I ever get married?”—15-year-old Melissa.
THESE questions have plagued many youths. The reason? Masturbation, or deliberate self-stimulation to produce sexual arousal, is widespread. Reportedly, some 97 percent of males and more than 90 percent of females have masturbated by the age of 21. Furthermore, this practice has been blamed for all manner of ills—from warts and red eyelids to epilepsy and mental illness.
No physical illness, however, has been proved by modern medical research to have been caused by masturbation. Add researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson: “There is no established medical evidence that masturbation, regardless of frequency, leads to mental illness.”
Nevertheless, many Christian youths are concerned about the gravity of this habit. “When I gave in to it [masturbation], I’d feel as if I were failing Jehovah God,” wrote one youth. “I got seriously depressed sometimes.” Another youth asked: “Is masturbation an unforgivable sin?”
What Does the Bible Say?
Though sexual offenses such as premarital sex (fornication), homosexuality, adultery, and bestiality are plainly condemned as gross sins in the Bible, masturbation is not mentioned. (Genesis 39:7-9; Leviticus 18:20, 22, 23; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) Masturbation was common in the Greek-speaking world during Bible times, and several Greek words were used to describe the practice. Interestingly, not one of these words is used in the Bible.*
Since masturbation is not directly condemned in the Bible, does this mean it is harmless? Absolutely not! Even those not especially concerned with God’s viewpoint feel uneasy about the practice. For instance, Dr. Aaron Hass in his survey of the sexual practices of 625 teenagers reported: “The majority of adolescents who masturbated reported feeling guilty, ashamed, dirty, stupid, embarrassed, or abnormal.” Surely, masturbation is an unclean habit. But since “uncleanness,” according to the Bible, is a term that allows for a wide range of degree of seriousness, masturbation is not to be classed with such serious sins as fornication or other types of gross sexual immorality.—Ephesians 4:19.
However, God realizes that observing the Bible’s prohibitions against gross sexual immorality is not easy. He, therefore, gives advice on how to avoid sexual immorality. He ‘teaches you to benefit yourself.’ (Isaiah 48:17) The principles of his Word indicate that you “benefit yourself” by strongly resisting this unclean habit, primarily because it . . .
Excites “Sexual Appetite”
“Deaden, therefore, your body members,” urges the Bible, “as respects . . . sexual appetite.” (Colossians 3:5) This “sexual appetite” is not the new sexual sensations that most youths feel during puberty, of which there is no need to be ashamed. “Sexual appetite” exists when these feelings are intensified so that one loses control. Such sexual appetite has led to gross sexual immorality, as described by Paul at Romans 1:26, 27.*
But does not masturbation “deaden” these desires? On the contrary, as one youth confessed: “When you masturbate, you dwell mentally on wrong desires, and all that does is increase your appetite for them.” Often an immoral fantasy is used to increase the sexual pleasure. (Matthew 5:27, 28) Given the right circumstances, you can easily fall into immorality. One youth bemoaned after committing fornication: “At one time, I felt that masturbation could relieve frustration without my getting involved with a female. Yet I developed an overpowering desire to do so.” In fact, a nationwide study revealed that of those adolescents who masturbated, the greater number were also committing fornication. They outnumbered those who were virgins by 50 percent! The practice surely had not diminished their “sexual appetite”!
Even if you feel that you could control yourself in a morally dangerous situation, why take the chance by exciting yourself sexually by masturbating? If the opportunity to commit fornication arose, would you really be able to say no?
Mentally and Emotionally Defiling
Masturbation also instills certain attitudes that are mentally corrupting. (Compare 2 Corinthians 11:3.) This habit teaches one to treat his or her body as merely an object to be used for sexual pleasure. When masturbating, a person is immersed in his or her own bodily sensations—totally self-centered. Sex becomes separated from love and is relegated to a reflex that releases tension. But God intended sexual desires to be satisfied in sexual relations, an expression of love between a man and his wife.—Proverbs 5:15-19.
Losing this viewpoint can lead to problems in adjusting to a right relationship with those of the opposite sex. Such ones could be viewed as sex objects rather than as sensitive human beings. One may tend to exploit another as a mere tool for sexual satisfaction. Such wrong attitudes taught by masturbation can defile one’s “spirit,” or dominant mental inclination. For good reason, God’s Word urges: “Beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) True, after marriage most couples are able to work out the problems caused by masturbation. Yet, many examples document how difficult and persistent some of these problems can be, often affecting compatibility of a married couple.
But what if a person is striving to overcome this bad habit and, while generally successful, still has problems with it?
A Balanced View of Guilt
Though sin is sin, the Bible does show that God views our wrongdoing as having varying degrees of gravity, and he is very merciful. “For you, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive; and the loving-kindness to all those calling upon you is abundant.” (Psalm 86:5) When a Christian succumbs to masturbation, his heart is often self-condemning. Yet, the Bible states that “God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20) God sees more than our sins. The greatness of his knowledge enables him to hear with sympathy our earnest pleas for forgiveness. As one young woman wrote: “I have felt guilty to an extent, but knowing what a loving God Jehovah is and that he can read my heart and know all my efforts and intentions keeps me from feeling too depressed when I fail on occasion.” By fighting masturbation, it is not likely that you will commit the serious sin of fornication.
The February 15, 1954, issue of our companion magazine, The Watchtower, stated: “We [may] find ourselves stumbling and falling many times over some bad habit that has bitten more deeply into our former pattern of life than we had realized. Then we are inclined to feel very discouraged and quite unworthy . . . Do not despair. Do not conclude you have committed the unforgivable sin. That is just how Satan would like you to reason. The fact that you feel grieved and vexed with yourself is proof in itself that you have not gone too far. Never weary of turning humbly and earnestly to God, seeking his forgiveness and cleansing and help. Go to him as a child goes to his father when in trouble, no matter how often on the same weakness, and Jehovah will graciously give you the help because of his undeserved kindness and, if you are sincere, he will give you the realization of a cleansed conscience.”
God executed Onan for ‘wasting his semen on the earth.’ However, interrupted intercourse, not masturbation, was involved. Furthermore, the execution was because Onan selfishly failed to perform brother-in-law marriage in order to continue his deceased brother’s family line. (Genesis 38:1-10) The “emission of semen” mentioned at Leviticus 15:16-18 apparently refers, not to masturbation, but to a nocturnal emission as well as to marital sex relations.
The original Greek word for “sexual appetite” (paʹthos) was used by the first-century historian Josephus to describe the wife of Potiphar, who, because of an “excess of passion [paʹthos],” tried to seduce the youth Joseph; and the man Amnon, who, “burning with desire and goaded by the spur of passion [paʹthos], violated [raped] his sister.” The passion both of Potiphar’s wife and of Amnon was out of control.—Genesis 39:7-12; 2 Samuel 13:10-14.
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Though masturbation may cause strong guilt feelings, sincere prayer for God’s forgiveness and hard work to resist the practice can give one a good conscience