Masturbation: Hands On or Hands Off?

Q&AWe’re getting toward the end of readers’ questions for me from my Q&A with J at HHH post. If you want to ask something I haven’t covered, click over there and leave a comment.

In the meantime, here’s today question about masturbation in a Christian marriage:

What about masturbation in a Christian marriage? Is it ok? Is it a good way for the spouse with the higher sex drive to deal with the times when their spouse isn’t in the mood and doesn’t want to be sexual? What about for husbands after their wife has a baby, is it serving her to not impose on her with his sexual needs?

I covered this topic in more detail with Julie Sibert of Intimacy in Marriage. You can head over the following posts for more information:

Two Wives & Candid Conversation about Masturbation at HH&H

Two Wives. Talking about Masturbation. at Intimacy in Marriage

More Candid Conversation about Masturbation at HH&H

More Masturbation Talk. From a Couple of Wives. at Intimacy in Marriage

Briefly here, though, I have concluded from my study of the Bible and sexuality studies:

1. Masturbation can serve a positive purpose.

2. Masturbation is often negative because it draws energy away from the sexual relationship between the husband and wife.

From the Bible, we don’t have specific mention of masturbation. Some have presumed that masturbation is sinful based on God’s rebuke of Onan for spilling his semen on the ground. However, a study of that passage in Genesis 38:9 indicates that the sin was that Onan had sex with his widowed sister-in-law but refused to fulfill family duty of giving her offspring in his brother’s name. He wasn’t fulfilling the express command of the Law (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Besides, he didn’t pleasure himself; he got pleasure through intercourse and then pulled out.

Since there is no “you may” or “thou shalt not” in the Bible regarding masturbation, we turn to its principles — which are often our guide for making daily decisions that honor the Lord. What was God’s design for sexuality? Sex was intended for a husband and wife to reproduce children (Genesis 9:7), increase relational intimacy (Genesis 2:24; Song of Songs 6:3), and experience physical pleasure (Proverbs 5:19; Song of Songs).

Then we ask whether masturbation in any particular moment fits that bill. Can pleasuring yourself ever help reproduction? It might if a couple is undergoing fertility treatments and the doctor needs a semen sample. So can a hubby take care of biz in that case? I’d say yeah. Most of the time, however, reproduction is most decidedly not the motivation for masturbation.

Can masturbation increase relational intimacy? Mutual masturbation, if agreed by both partners, could. It might be an option for couples when a woman is unable to engage, such as post-childbirth. There are also couples distanced by job or military demands who might feel closer by talking to one another provocatively and engaging in masturbation at the same time.

Can masturbation give physical pleasure? Yep. In fact, most people can achieve climax faster through masturbation because, as both the giver and recipient, one can adjust placement and pressure more quickly to bring about orgasm.

However, that last one can become a problem too. Because it’s not okay to seek your own physical pleasure and sexual release without regard to your mate. We are to act with love in marriage, which is patient, kind . . . not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Here are some concerns:

  • Many who masturbate do so to pornography or visualizing another woman or man, and this is most certainly not okay. Third parties of any kind — real or imagined — get a “thou shalt not” from God.
  • Frequent masturbation primes your brain and body to expect release in that way. In fact, men who masturbate very frequently can experience difficulty climaxing in intercourse.
  • Higher drive spouses who use masturbation as a way to fill in the gap between sexual encounters with their spouse are merely sending a signal to their bodies to desire release more frequently. Climax every day, and your body may protest when you skip a day. Our bodies are built to adapt to the habits we form.
  • Intercourse provides things that masturbation cannot.

Essentially, masturbation can be part of your repertoire as a married couple. However, I’d advise that you partake infrequently. Also, it isn’t the best way to handle a difference in sex drives. Oftentimes, the lower drive spouse can choose to engage and become aroused as foreplay begins. The higher drive spouse can also hold off a day or two and build up anticipation. I’d suggest leaning to the say-yes-far-more-than-no side because, as discussed above, God’s design for sexuality includes increasing relational intimacy, and the more frequently you touch and kiss and make love, the more connected you can feel to your spouse (especially for men).

Masturbation should not replace the more challenging, but ultimately more enjoyable, goal of finding ways to sexually arouse and satisfy one another so that you truly represent one flesh when you make love.

But it can be incorporated for positive impact in marital intimacy. For instance, a wife can self-stimulate while her husband is inside her and increase the likelihood or intensity of orgasm. A wife could masturbate and allow her husband to watch as part of foreplay that leads to the shared big event. A husband could masturbate while his wife is off limits (perhaps on her period, post-childbirth, etc.) with her kissing and touching him. A couple could simultaneously masturbate when time and distance separate them (hello, phone sex?).

So whether masturbation is okay or not, I believe, relies on whether it meets God’s plan for sexuality in marriage. If we’re honest about it, probably 95% of the time people masturbate, it doesn’t meet that plan. However, it can. Just ask yourself some questions about the purpose and goal of masturbation when you are considering it. That’s a good way to decide whether it is selfishly-motivated or marriage-focused.

24 thoughts on “Masturbation: Hands On or Hands Off?

  1. Greg

    I personally believe masturbation is a scruple–i.e. for some people, their conscience will always dictate that it is just plain wrong. But I appreciate your making it clear that 1) lust must never be part of it, and 2) it should never interfere with sexual intimacy in marriage.

  2. Paul Byerly

    J – Well done! While it is sometimes a solution, it is often not the best solution. If it is the best solution often, something is wrong that needs to be addressed.

  3. Mommaof3

    I have a related question. I often masturbate after sex to bring myself to orgasm, because honestly my hubby doesnt want to take the time to figure out how to do it himself. I have asked him and he says that he doesn’t care that i take matters into my own hands, But so far the only way I’ve figured out how to orgasm is with my “toy”. I always do it in bed right beside him, so that i’m not leaving him out completely, but i have a little bit of what i guess could be called “performance anxiety”, so i normally can’t finish unless his eyes are closed and i tell my self he might be asleep. Do you think that this is ok? Also, how can i try to get my hubby to assist with this? i kind of feel that it is selfish of me to finish myself off w/o his assistance, but i also feel like if he gets to orgasm every time we have sex, why cant i at least most of the time? I enjoy reading your blog, and look forward to the new entries all the time. 🙂

    1. J

      To my thinking, this is not ideal. But I’m not blaming you here. Why wouldn’t you want to climax, especially since he always does? So then you ask him, and he doesn’t want to do it? What’s a wife to do?

      Maybe the husbands who read this will have tips. I think you need to reiterate to him (preferably in a calm conversation outside the bedroom) that you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want your orgasms to be an US experience.

      He may just be flummoxed about the whole thing and feel like he doesn’t know what to do. Most men hate feeling inept, so they might rather just avoid it all. Paul Byerly of Generous Husband had a post the hubby might be willing to read: Orgasmic Massage – http://www.the-generous-husband.com/orgasmic-massage/. Paul gives a play-by-play walk-through of how hubby can get you there.

    2. Mommaof3

      Thank you for your response, and the suggested reading for my hubby. He is normally not into reading things i suggest (i think probaly like you said, it makes him feel inept, so he prefers to avoid it), but i will try to get him to read it. 🙂

  4. Sheila

    You came to pretty much the same conclusion as I did in my book! But I just want to stress one of the things you said: men who masturbate often have trouble climaxing during intercourse. I’d also add that women who masturbate with a vibrator often have the same issue. I get so many emails about this. Part of the problem, too, is that you’re used to only thinking about your own pleasure, and not someone else’s. So tread carefully, because this can seriously impact the rest of your sex life!

    1. J

      Great minds! 😉

      And a wonderful point, Sheila. Women who masturbate with a vibrator can also train their bodies to that and make it more difficult to climax with the hubby. But it’s SO MUCH BETTER with hubby involved because intimacy increases that way.

  5. Anonymous

    Thanks for this article, J. Sometimes I wonder why the Bible is silent on this subject. Others may disagree, but I wonder if this is something that’s available to us so we can get through those temptations, and not sin sexually. For example, masturbation can be helpful for folks who aren’t married, or who are married and are being tempted for whatever reason. It’s a physical release that can get rid of the sexual pressure that can build up. Personally, I was a virgin until I was 25 waiting for the right guy to come along. I’m not sure I would have been able to do that without masturbation, so I’m glad that God didn’t specifically condemn it. Of course, anything done excessively is a problem…

    Always great to read your articles.

    –V. V.

    1. J

      I have disagreed with some Christians on this for non-married Christians. I don’t think masturbation should be frequent, but I agree that it can take the edge off from time to time and be used to avoid temptation. Good point, V.V.!

  6. Greg

    I should add this: The most biblical, objective argument I read on the issue of masturbation centers around Leviticus 15:16-19, which treats any emission of semen in the same way as sexual intimacy between a husband and wife, and a woman’s menstruation. In the midst of any arguments against it, I’ve never seen this verse discussed; very surprising to me, because it’s impossible to deny this is the closest Scripture comes to the subject.

    1. Paul Byerly

      Greg – Of course that scripture does not make anything wrong or bad, just prescribes ceremonial cleansing to be done following those acts. Given that the list of acts includes sex with one’s spouse, it’s not about right or wrong.

      Some have suggested that the way this is written was to include masturbation, which would seem to make the act acceptable. I don’t think you can prove that was the intent, but it certainly would include male masturbation to climax.

  7. Jenny

    The only part where I would differ is that if a wife is unable to partake due to her period or whatnot, it’s probably better for her to give a “hand job” or “blowjob” rather than have him masturbate. Maybe some women aren’t into that, but I like to give my husband pleasure to the point that I would do something like that readily and happily. Long ago he gave me direction as to what feels best to him via manual stimulation, and he says that I’m better than he is at stimulating him manually…plus he gets to look at me naked while I’m doing it! We don’t do that often, because there isn’t a need to often, but it’s an option if need be (along with, as mentioned, a blowjob.) But, yes, if distance is a factor, I don’t see anything wrong with it (providing that there isn’t any porn involved, and that you’re thinking of one another!); and it’s definitely a turn-on for my husband to see me manually stimulate myself before sex. And I’ve heard that some women need that in foreplay.

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