What does the Bible say about self-pleasure? It’s a great question.
First, just to clarify, we’re not talking about a pleasure cruise, or just your everyday pleasure stroll in the park; “pleasuring yourself” specifically refers to masturbation, the practice of sexual self-stimulation.
Although the Bible doesn’t contain any specific references to masturbation, it does contain some verses that teach Christians how the Lord wants us to behave.
We’ve selected some verses that are most pertinent to the idea of self-pleasure; we’ll go though the content of each of each one, and discuss what they mean.
If you’re worried that you’ve fallen into a habit of pleasuring yourself and are looking for help getting out, don’t panic! You can overcome this. We’ll talk about some of the resources that are available to you later. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page.
What is Self-Pleasure?
There are a lot of names for self-pleasure, and most of them sound harmless, even fun. Self-love is a common one; exploring your body, auto-erotica and solo sex are some you hear a little less often. The term that scientists and psychologists most often use is masturbation.
Is it healthy? Why do Christians avoid it?
The internet tends to paint self-pleasure as a safe way to relieve sexual desires, cravings or urges without risk of contracting sexually-transmitted infections. Although a little bit of masturbation is a fairly common part of sexual development, it has a dark side.
Psychological Side Effects
Hitting the high of a sexual orgasm (that “pleasure” feeling) without needing to take the effort of connecting with a spouse or growing a healthy relationship first can be incredibly habit-forming, and, in some cases, even border on addictive behavior.
Many of the same websites that promote self-pleasure, including popular, science-based sites like Healthline and mental health app Nobu, warn that self-pleasure is a behavior that can get out of control fast, leading to relationship problems and feelings of isolation.
Although that may sound intimidating, the psychological side effects and habit-forming nature of pleasuring yourself aren’t the only reasons that Christians tend to stay away. In many cases, self-pleasure is linked to feelings of lust and sexual desire towards other people—feelings that the Bible counsels us to avoid.
Many pair self-pleasure with pornography: explicit sexual videos, stories, and even audio clips that are designed to arouse their viewers. Although our culture strives to normalize pornography, it is both dangerous and wrong, incredibly addictive and psychologically poisonous.
(If you’ve been struggling with a pornography habit, this link will take you to the recovery program we’ve developed, where you can work on overcoming the habit with a group of Christians who understand exactly what you’re going through.)
I recently had an interaction where an individual said that they aren’t pairing self-pleasure with lust at all, instead using their sexual ability only to “chill out and feel good.” This person made it sound pretty harmless, but even in that context, the Bible teaches us that there are higher and holier ways to relax, feel good, and find other kinds of “pleasure.”
What does the Bible say?
Like we mentioned above, the Bible never specifically mentions pleasuring yourself. It does, however, contain plenty of counsel and advice about how believers are meant to live a chaste and virtuous life, to strive to be like the Savior, Jesus Christ, and do what He would do. Here are just a few:
- Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV): "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."
- Matthew 26:41 (NIV): "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
- Romans 13:14 (NIV): "Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh."
- Romans 8:5-6 (NIV): "Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace."
This Isn’t a Moratorium on Sexuality
You’ll notice that there is a suspicious lack of “thou shalts” in these verses, but that doesn’t mean that God has left us in the dark when it comes to matters of self-pleasure and our sexuality!
Although they fall into the “desires of the flesh” category mentioned above in Romans 13:14, pleasure and sexuality are both gifts from God, and essential parts of healthy, uplifting marriages. In the right context, sexual pleasure is a powerful binding agent between spouses who love each other, and that’s how God intended it to work.
Anything outside of this is what the Bible calls “sexual immorality,” and God has been very clear about the consequences of sexual immorality. Galatians 5: 19-21 is a good example:
- Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV): "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; [...] I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Overcoming Desires of the Flesh
So why do these verses seem to condemn pleasure and other “desires of the flesh”? Because, as Christians, we strive to be more than our flesh. We want to inherit the Kingdom of God. And sometimes that means doing things a little differently from the world around us.
Sexual arousal is a key part of self-pleasure, and it’s a great example of a “desire of the flesh.” Make no mistake, God created our sexuality to be a positive and uplifting part of our lives, but He counseled us to use it wisely, instead of just gratifying these earthly desires any time they crop up. In the Bible, Romans 8: 5-6 says, “the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” A habit of self-pleasure is a great example of the flesh governing the mind.
Let’s be frank. Self-pleasure can seem harmless. It can even seem positive. But as someone who believes in Christ, you’ve been called to live a holier life, abstaining from exploring your sexuality outside of the context of marriage.
Self-pleasure isn’t consistent with the kind of clean and selfless life Jesus encourages you to live.
Will I go to Hell if I’ve been engaging in Self-Pleasure?
That’s the great part about the Good News of the Gospel—we all sin, and we can all be forgiven. If you’ve been engaging in self-pleasure, and are starting to feel guilty or ashamed of your actions, God is ready to forgive you, and help you work to change your actions. In the Old Testament in the Bible, the prophets Isaiah and Micah speak about how deep the forgiveness of God can really go. It can change our very nature!
- Isaiah 1:18: "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."
- Micah 7:18-19 (NIV): "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea."
If self-pleasure has become a big part of your life, it can feel intimidating and scary—almost like it can never be overcome. But the Bible teaches us otherwise. The Lord delights to show mercy. He wants to forgive and bless us. All we need to do is ask for His forgiveness and help, and He will be excited to give it to us.
Taking our sin to the Lord can be scary, and uncomfortable. But remember to trust in the mercy of the Savior, who already gave His life to pay for any sin we fall into. It’s the Savior who can give you the power to overcome a habit of self-pleasure and live a more virtuous life.
What do I do if I’ve fallen into a Self-Pleasure habit and feel like I can’t get out?
First of all, take a deep breath. It’s important to understand that, although this may feel like a big, scary, damning deal, there are many resources available to help you get out of this habit and live a life more consistent with your beliefs. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Connection is Key!
- When we feel ashamed of our actions, it can lead us to isolate ourselves away from those who care about us. However, this can lead us to fall into a shame-isolation cycle (which you can learn more about here) that prevents us from getting help.
- If you have people in your life with whom you feel safe talking about important personal matters—parents, spouse, youth group leader, mature older friend, pastor, etc—they can be a big help! Although it may be embarrassing to bring up self-pleasure, if they have your best interests at heart, they will probably listen and help.
- God is cheering for you!
- It’s to keep this in mind when we feel like we’ve been in sin, but the truth of the matter is that your Father in Heaven sent His Son Jesus to pay for those sins! Because of that, the Bible teaches us that we can be forgiven from anything. That includes a masturbation, or self-pleasure, habit.
- In the Bible, Jesus preaches liberty to the captives, and that includes liberty from negative habits and cycles. God can give you power beyond your own as you work to break this habit.
- There are many programs and resources you can use!
- You aren’t the first person to want to break a self-pleasure habit. There have been—and are— many others in the world who understand exactly how you’re feeling. You might consider joining a support group or a recovery program with others in your situation.
- Consider trying out Relay! We’ve developed an app where people who are working towards your same goals come together to accomplish their recovery and habit-breaking goals, and hold each other accountable. It’s an incredibly positive and helpful space where good people can work towards breaking negative habits, supported by friends who understand exactly how you feel.
- Don’t give up on yourself!
- Your path to living a life free from self-pleasure won’t be a breeze. Some people are able to stop and never mess up again, but that is more of an exception than a rule. If you happen to mess up again, even if you’ve already talked to God about it, remember what He says in the Bible!
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)
Jesus isn’t judging you for not getting it perfect the first time. That’s why He did what He did! He believes in you, and we do too!
You can do it!
Although the world may see pleasuring yourself as something normal that everyone does, we as Christians know that we can live in a better way, leaving the “desires of the flesh” for their right context, and spending our time instead trying to be like Jesus and live how He taught us to in the Bible. We at Relay Health believe in you, and hope to help you in any way we can as you work towards living a cleaner, happier, guilt-free life.
We know you can do it!
Emi and the team here at Relay