Is masturbation a sin even without sinful thoughts?

Last updated on August 19, 2020


I want to ask about masturbation. My pastor had said that it was a sin even without the sinful thoughts because of the feeling and the lust in it. And are there any bad health effects from refraining from it? Many people say that it prevents prostate cancer.


If strong feelings alone made something sinful, then we would argue that fasting for a long period of time would be wrong because it would make you very hungry or that sex between a married couple would be wrong. My goal is to get people to discuss what the Bible actually says on a topic in reasonable and logical ways. Thus, I wrote in my book on growing up, one chapter attempting to define exactly what is lust and when it is wrong. What makes lust (strong desires) wrong is when the lust is for something that is unlawful. I would argue that what is missing from your pastor’s argument is proof that masturbation is unlawful. With that proof, I would agree that it would be wrong.

However, there is another element that many people overlook. If you are not certain that something is right, then it is wrong for you even if it is actually not wrong. “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:22-23). If you are convinced from the Bible (not your personal opinion) that masturbation is not wrong, it still can be wrong for your pastor because he is convinced it is wrong. You must respect his feelings on the topic when it is brought up. If you are not certain it is the proper thing to do, then continue to study the issue, but refrain from doing what you are not certain about.

It actually doesn’t matter if a boy doesn’t masturbate. God designed your body to deal with excess semen through nocturnal emissions (wet dreams). These dreams are outside of your control and will happen whether you want them or not. And when you consider what a wet dream is, it is simply masturbation that occurs in your sleep. The one major difference is that a wet dream doesn’t happen by conscience thought. Therefore, if you decide to stop masturbating, your body will eventually kick-in on its own to get rid of excess semen when it is necessary. The period of time between wet dreams varies widely between individuals, but typically a boy who is not masturbating will experience a wet dream about once a month.

Therefore, there are no bad health effects from refraining from masturbation because you will still have periodic ejaculations anyway.

The study you alluded to came out in July of 2003. See “Masturbation ‘cuts cancer risk’.” Like most scientific studies, the researchers found a relationship between the number of times men in their twenties masturbated and the likelihood of getting prostate cancer. What you have to be careful with in studies is that the scientists then speculate as to why this correlation should exist. Don’t assume that their speculations have been proven. They speculate to help define what future studies would be needed to narrow down the possibilities. This study also needs to show repeatability before it is accepted as “truth.” Sometimes a correlation appears to show up in a study and when the study is repeated, they find out that it was just a false positive.

As an example, while reading the report on the study, I wondered if it might be the case that men who masturbate a lot in their twenties also don’t engage in fornication as often. Masturbation does cut sexual urges temporarily so it would be easier for some to resist the temptation of having sex with someone to whom they are not married. The article does note that we already know that fornication does increase the risk of prostate cancer dramatically because of sexually transmitted diseases. Thus it is possible that there is a correlation, but not a direct correlation. What particularly bothered me about the study (and another that came out in January of 2004, “Ejaculation Frequency and Subsequent Risk of Prostate Cancer“) is that neither factored in the number of sexual partners in their studies and it would appear that such a variable would be important.

While the studies are interesting, none are worded as being conclusive. They raise issues that need further investigation. Meanwhile, we must conclude that masturbating doesn’t lead to prostate cancer. But don’t jump to the conclusion that not masturbating will increase your risk of prostate cancer. Neither study made that claim.