Christian Sexual Ethics

Masturbation: Two Solitudes


In my previous post about masturbation, my goal was to write a post that, perhaps, might bring together scenarios and speak to people who might feel trapped, alone, perhaps like a failure because they could not meet the ideal set forth in Scripture, or perhaps the ideal of their church, real or imagined.

In this post, I will put forth two arguments about masturbation. One argument will be support the belief that masturbation is normal, natural, and it is not sin. The other argument is that it is sinful, and a Jesus-follower cannot hope to please God if she continues to masturbate. As I have defaulted to the male gender in other posts, I will default to the female gender in this post, as it could be an issue for women as well as men.


Beth grew up in a solid Christian home. Her mother carried her into their conservative, evangelical church as an infant, and she never left the shadow of stained glass. She began masturbating in her early teens, but it was a spiritual and emotional battle for her because of her dedication to sexual and moral purity. When she did it, she felt dirty and ashamed. She felt like she had betrayed God and failed Him. In university, she was an active member of her campus Christian group and found a solid, conservative church, on the recommendation of her youth pastor, to attend, which she did all through university. She lived on campus all four years of her university career. Behind the locked door of her room, with a sense of privacy she had never known at home, masturbation became much more of a problem for her.

By the time she graduated, she had started dating her future husband, Hayden. Like her, he had joined the campus Christian group and the church she attended and never strayed from stained glass either. He was solid, and destined to be successful in his career. Beth had career plans too, but soon after they got married, she got pregnant and chose raising a family over her career. Two years after the birth of their first child, she was pregnant again and three years after the second, a third child was born. She was now a busy young mother and wife. She did not have much time for herself. Her husband worked long hours. By the time they reached their late thirties, Beth and her husband had begun to drift apart in bed. He showed no interest in sex, even when she went out of her way to entice him. They never talked about sex. Busy raising two boys and a girl, they had their hands full most of the time.

After several frustrating attempts to entice Hayden, Beth rediscovered masturbation one day while alone, frustrated, and bored. Her mother had taken the kids for the afternoon and Beth was struggling with the urge to masturbate. She remembered the feelings. After so many years of not doing it, she thought it was a one-off, but she began having the desire to masturbate more often. Afternoons were perfect. The kids were at school, Hayden was at work, and she was alone. The house was quiet. At first, it was just once or twice a week. Within a few months, she was now living a separate and secret life.

Then their church had a purity drive during Lent one year. Everyone was supposed to give up something for Lent, but the pastor added the challenge of being holy during that 40 day period. Beth’s female friends all talked about the challenges in their lives. Gloria talked about how she had to confess to God that she thought one of the clerks in the local store was such a hunk. Each of them had a confession to make, but they were, in Beth’s mind, kindergarten stuff. She didn’t dare confess her stuff.

Could she be holy and masturbate?

In This Article I will Discuss:

  1. Safety in the Shadow of Stained Glass — Law
  2. All Outdoors– Liberty
  3. Stained Glass or All Outdoors

Safety in the Shadow of Stained Glass — Law

Photo by Thirdman on

There is peace, solitude, even safety in the shadow of stained glass, the cathedral, the tabernacle. Religion offers rules, regulations, standards, laws, morals, and all the boundaries to keep us safe. It is a very safe place to be. After all, if all moral decisions are already made for us, life is so much easier.

Beth positioned herself in the shadow of stained glass all through university. She maintained a small, close circle of friends, all of them were part of either her church or the campus Christian group. They were her inner circle. She carefully screened them to make sure their views and habits matched hers. The outer circle of friends where all the rest, the people she kept at a distance. She was friendly with them, but she always had a mission, an agenda with these people. She could never relax around them, and never missed an opportunity to point out habits or behavior that were up to her lofty moral standards. Most people liked Beth, but within time, very few people in the inner circle ever trusted her with personal information.

Within the inner circle she had the inner core. These were three women with whom Beth felt particularly close. They were all dedicated to keeping their relationships “above reproach”, not that there is anything wrong with that of course. Beth’s dating relationship with Hayden was always public. Most of the time, Beth and Hayden double dated or dated in a small group with other like-minded Christians. They were never alone with each other, never at night, and never in private. If they had anything to discuss that was private, they went to the football practice field and sat in the stands in full view.

The inner core never talked openly about moral issues such as masturbation. The closest they would come is to refer to things such as masturbation and porn as “naughty things”. Beth lied her way through university with these women, but she was almost sure that these women also lied, so she didn’t feel so bad. Each week, they would meet for “accountability” and prayer. They would briefly check in and one of them would ask if anything naughty had happened. Generally the question was met with silence. The fear of judgment, criticism, or condemnation was powerful enough that Beth never uttered a sound.

Some statistics claim that of people who were raised in Christian homes, that about 70% of them abandon not just their faith, but also church, once they begin attending secular post-secondary school. Beth graduated in the 30% that never left the faith. She entered university a virgin, and graduated a virgin. She entered university a devout, dedicated Christian, and she graduated university a devout, dedicated Christian. Sickness was the only reason that Beth ever missed church or a campus Christian event. Being devout in one’s faith is a great thing. But …

Like so many Christians, Beth was saved by grace through her faith in Jesus Christ, but she lived by the letter of the law. Was Beth dedicated, or terrified? Was her consistency in Bible study, prayer, and church attendance a reflection of her love for God and others, or was she terrified that if she messed up, missed church, didn’t read her Bible, didn’t pray that God would punish her, or that He might not be pleased with her, or not bless her? Was her moral purity a love letter that she wrote over four years on her heart to God, or was she terrified that if she did have sex, admitted to her addiction to porn and masturbation, got drunk like most other students, smoked marijuana, and partied that God would not love her as much, or that He might withhold blessings from her?

Outwardly, Beth was a pristine model of faith, courage, and morality. She read her Bible every day for four years. She prayed every day for four years. She prayed for, comforted, counseled, and encouraged other students faithfully for four years. She was the model of consistency, but only as long as she remained in the shadow of the stained glass.

All Outdoors — Liberty

Photo by Jill Wellington on

More than twenty years have passed since graduation. Hayden is successful in his career. Now a mother of three college age kids, Beth’s life is full. She has yet to leave the shadow of stained glass. Even when Hayden isn’t available to go to church, Beth bullies the kids who live at home into going with her. Her oldest boy, now eighteen is in university far from home and Beth suspects that he has not darkened the door of a church since he left home. Hayden is totally absorbed in his career and their sex life has drifted apart like two boats not anchored. The kids have their social lives, part time jobs, and interests that do not include her. Beth has lost both her parents within the past five years, and her siblings are raising families of their own. The women at her church are polite, friendly, but Beth does not have any close friends, not at church.

Her closest friend did not go to her church. Beth was not entirely sure if Shannon went to church at all. She was divorced and had a work-from-home career. She was a few years older than Beth. Her kids were grown and she lived alone. Beth met her at a local food bank when she was delivering food her church had donated. Over time Beth noticed Shannon, always friendly, always smiling, and had this air of freedom about her. Everything about Shannon was uplifting. It got so that Beth looked forward to seeing Shannon every week, so one week, Beth invited Shannon out for coffee. Much to her delight, Shannon agreed.

It started slow. They just talked about husbands, kids, married life, memories, and the aches and pains they had both begun to feel as age overtook youth. Then one day, Shannon was late. She texted Beth that she was running a bit late, so Beth agreed to wait. They had coffee as usual, and Shannon told her about her mini weekend vacation that lasted until Tuesday. Shannon said that she had not yet been home, and she had groceries in the car. Beth suggested that they could move their coffee time to Shannon’s place.

Shannon agreed and they drove to her house. Beth helped Shannon carry all the stuff in to the house, and helped her put all the groceries away. Then Beth said that she would hang around while she took care of that. Shannon was a bit reluctant, but Beth picked up the bag, which was really a huge open-top bag with handles, and was on her way up the stairs. Shannon followed her and directed her to her room, which had a lovely balcony on it. Beside the queen size bed, on a night table, was a well worn Bible. The cover was cracked and ripped, and the pages were somewhat swollen over years of her thumbing through it.

Beth flopped the bag on the bed and before either of them could move the bag tumbled over, dumping the contents on the floor. Shannon never flinched as a long, beige, plastic tube rolled onto the bedroom floor, away from the bed. Beth looked at this long, beige tube, with a shocked look on her face. It had been many years since she had seen one in the porn she watched in university and had completely forgotten what a dildo looked like. Their eyes met.

Honey, I got over feeling bad about feeling good about myself years ago, said Shannon.
Umm…, Beth began.
May I ask you something personal?, asked Shannon.
Sure, said Beth reluctantly.
Do you masturbate? I know that’s personal, said Shannon.
That is personal, said Beth.
Perhaps we are not that close that you feel comfortable answering that question. I am sorry, Shannon apologized.
I do masturbate, but I don’t think it is right. I think it is a sin, Beth said softly.
Why do you think it is a sin?, Shannon asked.
Because it is dirty. I am married and I should be totally devoted to my husband. My body belongs to him, after all, Beth said.
Whoa, you mean you believe you don’t have any rights over your own body?, Shannon asked in disbelief.
No, I don’t. When I married Hayden, I surrendered all my rights to my body to him, and he surrendered his rights to his body to me, Beth replied.
I haven’t heard that in years. So, when you do masturbate, how do you deal with it?, Shannon asked.
I confess it to God, thank Him for his forgiveness and try not to feel too guilty or ashamed, Beth said.
That is no way to live, Beth. You just described a perpetual prison. Is that the way you believe God wants His children to live?, Shannon asked.
That is the way I have always dealt with sin in my life, no matter what it is, Beth explained.
Do you know what 1 John 4:8 says about God?, Shannon asked.
Not from memory, Beth said.
It says that God is love, Shannon said.
I know about the agape love of God, Beth replied.
No, it says that God is love, Shannon said emphatically.
He is love, you’re right, but one day He is also going to judge me for everything I do wrong. I am going to be so ashamed on that day standing in front of God, Beth said.
Jeff is your youngest boy, right?, asked Shannon.
If Jeff did something wrong, would you punish him?, Shannon asked.
Of course. Good parents punish their children, Beth said.
What if Jeff begs for your forgiveness before you punish him? Would you punish him after you have forgiven him?
Of course not. Once I forgive him, why would I punish him?
Has God forgiven you of your sins?, Shannon asked.
Yes, I suppose, Beth said.
So, if God has already forgiven you for every sin, how is He going to judge you one day?, Shannon asked.

That was the first time Beth had ever talked about masturbation with anyone in her life. Beth made sure that Shannon understood that there was nothing wrong with Hayden, although that too wasn’t accurate, because she would not have resumed masturbating if things with Hayden were fine.

They began meeting at Shannon’s place for lunch, for coffee, for afternoons of deep conversation. Beth would never have guessed it, but Shannon was actually a retired, ordained minister. She was a free spirit, rigidly disciplined in her personal life, but there was a peace and a freedom about her that both mystified and attracted Beth like a magnet. She had known other women in university that were free spirits, but generally, they were wild who, on the surface, appeared to lack discipline and decorum. Shannon, though was refined.

The conversations with Shannon left Beth deeply troubled and conflicted about what she really believed about God. Shannon was perhaps the most educated person she had ever met with respect to the Bible, God, theology, and moral issues. If they disagreed on politics, for example, Beth could have dismissed Shannon as a wild-eyed liberal, like some of the people she had known in university. The issue on which they saw life differently was deeply personal to Beth. Shannon challenged the stained glass in her life. She did not live in the shadow of stained glass, but was devout in her faith, to her church, and the larger body of Christ. Yet Shannon enjoyed things such as masturbation, sensual pleasures that Beth believed to be the work of the devil. Beth discovered things such as wine, her taste in movies, music, theater, and literature was much more expansive than the narrow world in which Beth had lived most of her life.

They continued talking about sex, masturbation, and pornography openly and honestly. Beth found Shannon to be that unique individual to whom she could talk about anything.

Things changed in Beth’s life one fall day when they went hiking near Shannon’s home. It was cloudy when they left, but they didn’t think they would get caught in the torrential rain that started when they were about twenty minutes from her home. By the time they got back to her place, they were drenched. Beth had not brought a change of clothes, so they only option was to allow Shannon to wash and dry her clothes. She and Shannon stripped in the laundry room and she watched as Shannon loaded their clothes into the washer. Naked and feeling very vulnerable, Beth stood in a corner with her hands covering as much of her body as possible. Shannon suggested they take a bubble bath in her hot tub. Almost overwhelmed with anxiety, Beth reluctantly agreed. The bathroom was across the hall from the laundry room in the basement. Within minutes, Shannon had lit candles and the tub was filling with hot water and cinnamon scented bubbles. They got in and spent the next 45 minutes soaking. Shannon got out, crossed the hall to put their clothes in the dryer, then returned and got in once again.

Once again, Beth left conflicted and troubled. She had an amazing time in the tub with Shannon. She had never experienced anything like that in her life. Yet, she also felt like she had sinned, that she had disobeyed God because she had bathed naked with another woman. Shannon, though, didn’t seem to have the slightest problem with the two of them being naked. She paid no untoward attention to Beth and didn’t seem to notice that Beth was quite overwhelmed by the whole experience.

Stained Glass or All Outdoors

Stained Glass

There is a tremendous sense of security in the shadow of stained glass. The law provides us with clear boundaries, a black and white world. There is righteousness and evil, and both are clearly defined. Right and wrong are also clearly defined. There is also the presumption that a universal moral code exists that all humanity ought to follow. Places such as heaven and hell are also clearly defined. One is the eternal resting place for Christians. The other is a place of eternal torment for those who reject Christ as Savior. People who live in the shadow of stained glass are happy with living in a narrow world. The narrowness of the world is what makes them happy. There are acceptable people who can be close to you and then there are all the others. Just like Beth in university, people who live in the shadow of stained glass, more than others, have defined concentric categories of people who they trust and how much they trust these people.

All Outdoors

Freedom. That word is found in virtually every constitution of every country in the world, yet the definition and how it is applied varies greatly. Some might argue that it is an analytical construct that does not exist in reality. When I studied philosophy and political science in university, I became acquainted with “the state of nature”, which my professors defined as “pre-society” or before any social organization or structure. Some might define that as freedom. I have come to believe that freedom only exists within parameters or boundaries. A citizen of a country is free to travel within the borders of that country, but needs a passport or permission to go to another country. Freedom exists within boundaries.

Shannon appeared to Beth to be this completely free individual, but Shannon had freedom within her rigidly structured personal life. She had the freedom to do what she wanted, but she carefully selected how she exercised that freedom. The Apostle Paul wrote: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.” (1 Corinthians 10:23 NIV).

Jesus did not come to abolish the law, or to free us from the obligation of the law. He came to fulfill the law so we would not suffer the consequences of breaking the law, which is death. The challenge for most Jesus-followers is to find that balance between living in the shadow of stained glass and the unfettered freedom of living apart from and without laws or boundaries.

Religion is a system of laws, rituals, rules, regulations, traditions, and customs designed to give us the feeling of worshipping God in an orderly and organized manner, but places us into the slavery that Christ died to set us free.

Ultimately, whether a Jesus-follower lives in the shadow of stained glass or outdoors really depends on the person.

Beth’s path away from the shadow of stained glass, like that of so many other Jesus-followers was a long, twisted, bumpy, and uneven road of moral challenges and change. Like so many other Christians, eventually her marriage to Hayden disintegrated, not from any shocking moral occurrence, but by the slow attrition of their relationship over a period of years. First, Hayden moved into his own room, claiming that he did not want to disturb Beth when he either came home very late or left for work very early the next morning. Beth drew much closer to Shannon, enjoying scented bubble baths often two or three times a week. She found what may have been a once-in-a-lifetime confidante in Shannon and was able to share her deepest and most private parts of her life. Beth’s life changed permanently one day when she woke up to find Hayden’s keys on the breakfast bar along with divorce papers and a personally-written letter explaining that he had been having an affair with a colleague at work. Beth had not been to her church in ages. No one calls her, and her social life had shifted from the church to Shannon and her group of friends.


Was this article helpful? How did you feel when you read it? If you could say anything to me, and you can, what would you say to me about this article? Do you feel evangelical Christians should talk about masturbation openly? Should people feel guilty about masturbating? Why? Why not? Your comments/feedback help me develop this blog and develop as a writer. Your comments are welcome.

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