This is a question that many, if not most, teenagers ask at some time or another. When a teen myself I was taught that masturbation can cause all sorts of problems—either physically and/or mentally. This was taught I’m sure by well-meaning people but it has long since been proven to be totally
If one were taught this, he or she may struggle with false guilt that can cause emotional distress but this isn’t caused by the masturbation, but by the false teaching about it.
According to an article by Dr. James Dobson, "Between 95 and 98 percent of all boys engage in this practice—and the rest have been known to lie. It is as close to being a universal behavior as is likely to occur. A lesser but still significant percentage of girls also engage in what was once
called 'self-gratification' or worse, 'self-abuse.'"1 Most grow out of this habit as they mature.
So is masturbation a sin? I think if it were, God’s Word would have something to say about it, but it doesn’t. In fact the Bible is totally silent on this topic. Some Bible teachers claim it is a sin based on one situation in the Old Testament, but even a casual reading of this occurrence makes it clear that it had nothing to do with masturbation. Onan did not want to produce children for his brother who had died (which was his duty in those times) so he interrupted sexual intercourse with his sister-in-law by "spilling his semen on the ground."2
However, it could become a sin and certainly is a problem if it is obsessive (out of control) and/or an addiction, and even more so it if is connected with pornography. But even here, the sin/problem has more to do with
the addiction to pornography.
For a married adult, masturbation can be wrong (sinful) if one uses it as a means of avoiding sexual intimacy with his/her marriage partner, or failing to meet his/her spouses conjugal (marital) rights. For a single adult, it has been suggested it may be a gift of God to help relieve one’s unmet sexual need. It is also a problem if the single adult has difficulties in relating to the opposite sex but this is a relational issue that needs to be resolved.
For a young or older adult, what can one do if he is obsessive about masturbation or addicted to it?
First, one needs to admit both to himself and to God that he has a problem. The only people who can ever get help are those who genuinely say: "I have a problem. I need help."
Second, he needs to share his struggle/addiction with a trusted, non-critical and non-judgmental, friend, pastor, priest, or qualified counselor. As James wrote, "Therefore confess your sins [and faults] to each
other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."3
Keep in mind, however, that most addictions (if not all) are the "presenting problem" (symptom) of a deeper problem—the fruit of a deeper root—and this root or cause of the problem needs to be discovered, dealt with in a caring and loving manner so it can be resolved. In these cases a recovery group for sexual addictions or the help of a qualified counselor may be needed.
Last, but not the least important, is learning to pray the right prayer. Ask God to help you see the root cause of your addiction and lead you to the help you need to overcome.
For a more in-depth answer to this question see Dr. Dobson’s article on this topic in No. 1 below.