How do you handle the solo sexual stuff? How do you deal with masturbation and pornography as a Christian?
I’m writing about this because you asked. You send me questions about this almost every week, and you deserve an answer. As both a Medical Doctor and Doctor of Ministry, I’ll do my best to offer you both truth and hope on this topic.
For starters, if the gospel isn’t big enough to have answers for this kind of touchy stuff, what good is it? There is no problem in our lives for which God does not have an answer. The answers may not be simple or easy, but that’s why we’re talking about it.
Pornography and masturbation are not the same. I don’t believe God judges them the same. I’m addressing them together because they often go together; masturbating while watching pornography.
If you’re struggling here I encourage you to read all the way to the end of this article. I’ll share with you a dramatic story of how one person found amazing freedom from her private sexual hell. I know Jesus can do the same for you!
How you are affected
Here are some of the people I’ve heard from:
- The husband whose wife is physically unable to have intercourse, feeling guilty for masturbating occasionally
- The single woman feeling an overwhelming spiritual oppression that keeps her compulsively masturbating
- The wife who feels lonely and rejected because her husband spends hours watching pornography in the basement instead of spending time with her
- The husband filled with shame and guilt because of watching pornography while sleeping in a separate bedroom from his wife
- The Christian minister struggling to stay free from pornography while he and his wife wrestle with marriage issues
- The single woman addicted to pornography, wondering if she is the only one
- The man wondering if it’s a sin to masturbate as a way to relieve sexual tension because his wife is unwilling to engage in sex
- The couple struggling with sexual intimacy who want to try viewing pornography together to see if it would improve their relationship
These are real people with real names who I have either spoken to personally or received written messages from. Your story may be different, but it’s certain you are not the only one wrestling with the issues you are facing.
I answered each of these individuals personally, and my answer was not the same to all of them. I hope you’ll see why as you continue reading.
What’s the Problem?
Here are the primary issues pornography and masturbation bring up for you as a Christian.
Shame and Guilt
There’s not one person I’ve heard from on these issues who is not wrestling with some measure of shame and guilt about them – some more, some less. This fact in itself should confirm that we need to bring the gospel to bear here.
But simply saying “Ask God to forgive you, and don’t do it anymore” is not enough. You’ve tried that, and nothing changes. You desperately want and need forgiveness, but you need something more too.
The world’s answer is, “Just don’t feel guilty about it. This behavior is normal.”
Yes, there is true guilt and false guilt. But if you’re reading this, I don’t have to tell you that saying “It’s all OK” doesn’t satisfy. And it’s certainly not what God would say.
So what’s OK? What’s not OK? What’s sin in this area? What’s normal? What can God bless? What does He realistically and truly expect? And what do you do about it?
I’ll attempt to answer those question below.
God built into human beings a biological/psychological drive for sex. He must have thought it important, because He certainly also knew how much trouble we would experience over our sexuality. This need is connected with, but different from, our need for intimacy.
The Bible is clear; God intended sex to be ravishingly enjoyed between one woman and one man in a life-long commitment in marriage. Sex outside of that boundary brings all kinds of trouble including guilt, pain, broken hearts, and more.
But not everyone is, can be, or wants to be married. And not every marriage is healthy sexually. What are God’s children to do in those circumstances?
If you’re wrestling with masturbation and/or pornography as a way to deal with sexual needs, keep reading.
The research is clear and your stories are clear. Pornography and compulsive masturbation have the power to insert their claws deep into your brain, controlling you without regard for your wellbeing. They make an exceptionally cruel taskmaster.
Not everyone who masturbates occasionally or comes across a pornographic image becomes addicted. I believe there is a biologic propensity here that leads some people to become almost instantly addicted, while others are not.
It’s not unlike alcohol. Some people can celebrate with an occasional glass of wine and leave it at that. Others cannot. Like Donald Trump refusing to take even one drink, if you’re at risk the only safe thing is to not even try it once!
That said, if you think you can control your consumption of pornography, you’re fooling yourself. This is one reason I believe viewing pornography is always sinful. (There are other reasons also.)
If masturbating has become compulsive, you also know the power that it can hold over you. (More on that below.)
Pornography damages marriages. Pornography damages your soul and spirit. Period.
Pornography provides an experience of sexual stimulation and release without connecting with another human being. It’s always taking rather than giving. That’s another reason I believe pornography is always sinful.
Each experience viewing pornography lessens your ability to become sexually aroused by and connect with a real live person – your spouse. Regular use before marriage can lead to serious disappointment with one’s spouse when marriage does happen. Use while married takes away from the sexual intimacy your spouse deserves, and from your determination to pursue your spouse. Viewing pornography together with your spouse does not bring you closer together physically/emotionally/spiritually.
Compulsive masturbation does the same when it lessens your sexual connection with your spouse and makes sex only about meeting your own physical needs.
I can hear some of you right now: “My spouse refuses (or is unable) to engage in sex. So I’m not taking anything away. Intimacy is impossible.”
If you’re married, your job is to continually seek to connect with your spouse – over and over and over again. That holds true regardless of how “cold,” unreasonable, or frustrating that becomes. Your spouse’s refusal or inability to engage in sex is absolutely no excuse to indulge in pornography.
What’s Sin? What’s Not Sin?
You’ve realized by now that I believe pornography is always sinful. Here’s why:
- Pornography always exploits someone. The person photographed/videoed is always being used for the sexual pleasure of someone they have no relationship with, often under extremely abusive circumstances.
- Pornography always damages your ability to connect with your spouse, taking the sexual/emotional energy you should invest in them.
- Pornography is seriously addicting. It makes you do things even when doing so harms yourself or others.
- Pornography sears your brain and damages your soul.
It’s difficult to NOT be exposed to pornography in some form. That’s not sin to the person who is unexpectedly exposed. It’s the second look, the choosing to go back, that becomes sin.
Is masturbation sinful? I tread cautiously here. This is where true guilt and false guilt can become confusing.
There’s no question that compulsive masturbation is sinful. It controls you, damages you, and takes sexual/emotional energy from what you should invest in your spouse.
Dr. James Dobson recounts a conversation he had with his father as a young boy. His father told him (my paraphrase), “I want to relieve some guilt for you ahead of time. Masturbation is something you are certain to face. I could wish you wouldn’t do it, but you will. I don’t think it has that much to do with your relationship with God.” Some will disagree with this, but it’s an important perspective for you to know about.
Biologically, God created both men and woman with a way to relieve sexual tension outside of intercourse. Men may call this “wet dreams.” Women may experience something similar. Occasional masturbation can simply be part of this mechanism.
I’ve had some men tell me that they could never engage in masturbation without sexual fantasies or viewing pornography. If that’s the case for you, then it all needs to stop. Easy? No. Possible? Yes!
Here’s my bottom line as a “Doctor-Doctor”: periodic release of sexual tension through masturbation may be OK for the single person, or the married person whose spouse is unable to engage in sex. Compulsive masturbation is sin. Masturbation accompanied by sexual fantasies or viewing pornography is sin. Occasional release of sexual tension when you don’t have a spouse may not be.
It’s dangerous for me to say that because it’s fuzzy. It risks lessening the guilt someone feels who is being convicted by the Holy Spirit that their compulsive masturbation needs to stop. Like alcohol, if “occasionally” works for you, talk about that with Jesus. Just be aware that for many, “occasionally” turns into “compulsive.”
It’s also dangerous because it doesn’t answer the question “how much?” Clearly several times a day is dangerous, sinful, and compulsive. Beyond that, I can’t give you a number. I’ll leave the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. If He is telling you to stop all masturbation, listen! Please let Him speak to you!
Someone feeling guilt over occasional masturbation needs to find freedom right here. Your guilt may be false guilt. If this troubles you, take it before the Lord. Let Him speak to you and heal you from false guilt.
Freedom from Pornography and Compulsive Masturbation
Jesus can set you free! That’s always the case. And it’s the case here.
Deborah was set free, and Jesus can set you free too. She gave permission to share her story (slightly edited for space), and I think you will find it inspiring.
I am from Senegal, born in a Muslim family. In December 2002 I came to America to study and met with some Christian friends but I did not want to hear about Christ. Sometime later I started watching pornography and self-masturbating. As a result I started experiencing an ongoing daily supernatural and unwanted sexual relationship with a demon – a “spirit husband”.
One day I was just sick and tired of my life and asked God to show me the way to follow for my life, even if it meant Jesus. I went to bed, and when I woke up I could hear, “Jesus”, “Jesus”, “Jesus”. My friend gave me the number of a pastor who used to be a Muslim. He led me to Christ that day and I told him about that spirit husband. He prayed over the phone and commanded that spirit never to touch me again and I have not had that kind of encounter again.
As soon as I said the prayer of salvation, I felt a huge load being taken off my shoulders. It was physical, like when you are carrying something very heavy on your shoulders and someone stronger just picks it up for you. The Lord delivered me effortlessly from so many fears. I now can look at tombs without being afraid of death. What a relief!!! The Lord also delivered me from the spirit of pornography and masturbation.
When my family found out I had become a Christian they disowned me. For four years they completely ignored me but Jesus has started to work things out. I have a much bigger family now since I joined God’s family, so many people who love and care for me and I have never lacked anything.
Remember, what He’s done for others, He will do for you!
How to Find Freedom
I hope Deborah’s testimony makes you hungry for freedom!
You may wonder why you have not experienced freedom even though you’ve prayed for deliverance many times. Remember that God works in every person’s life in a unique way. The important thing is that you don’t give up!
Deborah is right: freedom is part of salvation. Sometimes it comes over time, but it’s there for you!
If you want deliverance from pornography or compulsive masturbation, know that God has it available. Here are three important steps.
1. Give God permission to work on your heart.
Don’t hold anything back. Nothing. No excuses. The most lasting change comes when God makes you Fully Alive – from the inside out. When He brings up something painful for you to deal with, face it. When He tells you to do something, do it. When the Holy Spirit puts His finger on something in your life, let Him have it.
Don’t underestimate this step. You can’t expect God to set you free in one area if you are holding back in another. That does not mean you’re perfect in other areas, but it does mean you give everything to him; your time, your money, your body, your job, your future, your marriage – everything.
2. Get in community!
Shame thrives in the dark. Bringing it into the light disarms its power. You do that by joining with other believers who are also committed to experiencing freedom.
If you’re married, enlist your spouse. No secrets! None at all! But you must also connect with other same-sex believers who can understand and support you and help hold you accountable. If you have Christian friends who you can be open with, do so.
3. Keep Fighting Spiritually
Finding freedom from pornography or compulsive masturbation is a matter of spiritual warfare. Jesus wants to set you free! And your role is to live out that freedom.
Plead the blood of Jesus daily over your mind, heart, and life. You dare not take one more step without the covering of His blood! The enemy will try to shame you into giving up. By continuing to place yourself under the blood of Jesus and walking out His victory in your own life you are demonstrating to the enemy that Jesus has won – and that you are standing on His side.
We have a 30-day devotional email series Toward Sexual Wholeness to help you begin this journey.
I hope this has stimulated you to choose to fight for the freedom from pornography or compulsive masturbation that Jesus has for you. Let me know by using this confidential form. I read each one personally.
I’m a rescued, thriving, joyful human being because of Jesus, and I believe you can experience that kind of transformation too!
I’ve experienced how God can take everything and miraculously transform it into growth, meaning, and joy. For me, that included past years of mental/emotional torment, and then the journey of grief after my loving husband’s death.
Professionally, I’m an author, speaker, personal coach, licensed OB-Gyn physician, and ordained Doctor of Ministry.
I practiced medicine as an OB-Gyn physician and Reproductive Endocrinologist for over 29 years. While continuing to practice medicine, I also obtained an M.Div. (Master of Divinity), and then a D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry) from Oral Roberts University, focusing on Christian leadership. My husband Al and I together produced a regular radio program “The Dr Carol Show” from 2009 until not long before his death in 2016.
Many people struggle to find the help they need in church for thorny issues such as broken relationships, issues around sex/sexuality, mental/emotional problems, and toxic religion. I’m privileged to help people find the transformation Jesus offers in those areas, so they can experience the Fully Alive life He came to bring.
I live near Austin, Texas, where I get to enjoy being Grandma Carol to four wonderful grandchildren.
“It’s not the real thing.” … “It’s not like I’m fooling around on her.” … “Besides, she’s the one who doesn’t want to be intimate.” … “I’ll just ask God to forgive me, and she won’t be the wiser.” These are all justifications you might use when looking at porn. But the question of “Why is porn cheating?” requires being real with yourself about your pornography habit.
When you indulge porn, you are:
- Exploring Sex Without Your Wife. When you took your wedding vows, you promised to be true to her, probably saying the words “forsaking all others,” which included doing so in a mental and emotional capacity.
- Hiding Your Viewing Habits. A husband and wife share everything, not just their cars and access to bank accounts. This sharing includes being forthcoming and honest and doing nothing behind the other’s back… especially involving something as personal and private as sex.
Why is Porn Cheating?
The Scriptures share admonishments about why viewing porn is a form of unfaithfulness to your wife. For example, the last of the 10 Commandments is crystal-clear about desiring what doesn’t belong to you:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…” Exodus 20:17a, LXX
Covetousness is an important, yet often forgotten, commandment from God. When you look at pornography, don’t you ultimately desire what and who you’re watching?
Also, lust is the byproduct of viewing pornography. The Lord Jesus fulfilled the commandment about adultery (Exodus 20:14) in His Sermon on the Mount:
“…I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28, NKJV
Pornography leads you to lust and covetousness, which pulls you further apart from God. You are instead called to “…put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:14)
This call includes putting away fantasies, masturbation, and similar behaviors.
Being ‘Servants to Each Other’
In a Christian marriage, a man’s sexuality is tied to his wife’s sexuality and vice versa. The Apostle Paul distinctly spelled this out in his first epistle to the Church at Corinth:
“The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” 1 Corinthians 7:4, NKJV
This mutuality of marriage and equality of commitment the Apostle Paul spells out here shook up the meaning of Christian marriage in his day. It also should undergird what a Christian marriage is in the present day.
Deceit is a Sin
The Scriptures are full of passages regarding God’s attitude toward lying and deceit. He said to the Israelites through Moses that they were to “…not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.” (Leviticus 19:11, LXX) This Old Testament verse still rings true to Christians today.
When a Christian man indulges in negative actions and habits his wife doesn’t know about, he essentially lies to her. Again, the Apostle Paul:
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him Who created him…” Colossians 3:9-10, NKJV
This verse applies to spouses, who are to be Christlike to each other and others in general.
Porn Viewing and Addiction
When you decided to follow Christ, you chose to live a different life. But you weren’t promised to be completely free from the world’s temptations. Though pornography is just one of them, it’s serious, and it can lead to addictive behaviors.
And even when you repent of your sinful lifestyle, impure thoughts can randomly infect your mind. These thoughts can ultimately turn you back to sin and lead you away from God and those you love.
Although you may have tried countless times to break that cycle of addiction, the guilt and shame that comes with it don’t easily go away.
You may need to seek professional treatment for your pornography addiction. Doing so will help you heal the root trauma that likely causes the addiction, stop harmful behaviors, and restore your relationship with God and your wife.
Originally Published at Boulder Recovery
Edward Tilton, Boulder Recovery, COO
Edward Tilton is a proven behavioral healthcare leader with an established track record in the recovery industry space. As an accomplished healthcare leader, Ed has diverse management experience including clinical and business operations, expansion of program development and clinical service offerings.
Prior to his role at Begin Again Institute, Ed held a leadership position at Valiant Living, a gender-specific program focused on helping men with fused and co-occurring disorders find recovery.
During his time at Valiant Living, Ed established and managed operational, clinical, and financial objectives to grow the program to encompass all levels of clinical care including a concierge detox, inpatient care program, partial hospitalization services and an intensive outpatient track.
“The worst thing you can do with (people involved in pornography) is lecture them about praying more or asking God for help. They’ve already done that, often to the point of despair.”
Such were the blasphemous words of a “Christian” therapist who went on to assert that the only real hope for sexual addiction is found through psychotherapy.
There is no mistaking the inference here: God is not trustworthy. You can cry out to Him until you’re blue in the face and nothing is going to happen. Such sentiments are extremely poisonous to one’s faith and paralyze the hungry soul from believing God for deliverance.
How contrary such thinking is to the truths found in Scripture! The writer of Hebrews directly addressed this very issue when he wrote: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:15-16)
When a beggar comes to the door of a rich man known for his benevolence, he comes forward with a certain degree of confident expectation. He is driven, not by arrogant presumption, but by need. It is this sense of desperation to which the wealthy man responds. A sense of one’s need coupled with a belief that the other person is willing to meet that need is the basis of all believing prayer. God delights to see people come to Him with this kind of trust and faith. C.H. Spurgeon put it this way:
“How very small, after all, is this demand which God makes of us. Ask! Why, it is the least thing He can possibly expect of us, and it is no more than we ordinarily require of those who need help from us. We expect a poor man to ask; and if he does not, we lay the blame of his lack upon himself. If God will give for the asking, and we remain poor, who is to blame? Do you know what great things are to be had for the asking? Have you ever thought of it? Does it not stimulate you to pray fervently? All heaven lies before the grasp of the asking man; all the promises of God are rich and inexhaustible, and their fulfillment is to be had by prayer.”
Come as You Are
Consider the story of the “woman with the issue of blood.” (Mark 5:24-34) Though driven to Jesus primarily by physical need, her situation is very comparable to the person who struggles with habitual sexual sin. In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time, this woman was considered unclean. In fact, anyone who touched her would have to undergo an elaborate ceremonial cleansing.
For twelve long years, she suffered with her affliction. Having already visited all the “professionals,” she had tried every remedy offered by man. Her story closely resembles those of sexual addicts who typically exhaust man’s wisdom before finally turning in desperation to God.
One day, she heard that the Healer was in town. It should be noted here that her day undoubtedly began the same way as hundreds before it. She would have long since lost any hope—destined to remain unclean the rest of her life. She had no indication that anything would be any different this day.
I was there once myself: unclean with no hope that anything could ever change. I too tried the “experts” with letters behind their names—all to no avail. Once my uncleanness became real to me and I realized man could not change me, there was nothing I could do but throw myself on the mercy of God. It was then, in my spiritually weakened condition, that I reached out and took hold of His garment.
Believe for the Impossible
As she approached, she saw a vast throng of people surrounding the Savior. In her weakened condition it must have seemed impossible to reach this Man. Imagine if, in the process, this poor woman would have come across someone like the faithless therapist mentioned above. She probably would have been told, “There’s no sense in going to this Jesus. He can’t help you!” Perhaps these words of empty counsel would have provided just enough discouragement to paralyze her. Isn’t that exactly what the devil would want?
But she had heard the reports about Jesus and she believed. Having tried all the self-appointed specialists, she instinctively knew that only God could help her. A singular thought compelled her: “If I can just touch His garments, I will be healed.” It was faith that drove her to the Redeemer, something this therapist apparently could not understand.
Desperate people like this woman learn not to be denied. She was determined to persist, regardless of the obstacles. It’s very possible that the prayer of the Psalmist energized her that day: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) This is the kind of determination that men in habitual sexual sin need to find their deliverance. By simply refusing to be denied, this woman both learned and demonstrated the secret of tapping into the power of God: faith. Charles Spurgeon speaks of this:
“If it had not been for faith, she would not have been earnest and importunate. Faith hangs on to Christ in the dark, it holds to a silent Christ, it holds to a refusing Christ, it holds to a rebuking Christ, and it will not let him go. Faith is the great holdfast that hooks a soul on to the Savior…
“Faith is like the Greek in the days of Xerxes, who seized the boat with his right hand. When they chopped off the right hand, he seized it with the left hand; when they cut off the left hand, he laid hold of the boat with his teeth, and did not let go until they severed his head from his body. Soul, if thou canst lay hold of Christ with thy right hand, or with thy left hand, it will be well with thee. Cling to Christ, and say to him with that holy boldness that is the result of faith, ‘I will not let thee go except thou bless me.’”
The truth is that this woman was too frail to press through that mob, but there was an unseen Hand which made a path for her—the same Hand which will always help the sincere prodigal find his way home. It was her faith that caused her to hold onto that Hand.
Take Every Opportunity
Finally, she miraculously made her way through the vast throng of people to the Savior. She had one chance. One second longer and He would be gone—along with all her hopes. But she seized her opportunity. The quivering hand reached out and touched His garment. Instantly, she felt the warm flow of God’s power rush through her body. It wasn’t a mere superficial remedy, either. The Lord’s healing power went right to the root of the problem.
Perhaps your soul has uncleanness clinging to it, just like this woman’s body. Following her example of perseverance, you too must press through the obstacles to lay hold of the Master’s robe. Your healing will most likely take place over time—as you hold onto His garment. The secret is persistent, believing faith. Keep crying out to Him for your deliverance! Look upon that Face which radiates the intense love of God and listen to that Voice brimming with compassion.
Yes, it is true, you have sinned. You have no right to come before Him. And yet, what is also true is that He awaits you there. God’s throne truly is a throne built upon grace. Humble yourself before Him. Throw yourself upon His mercy. And you will find help in your time of need. I will conclude with a passage from my book, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry:
“I once thought that all of the trips I made to the altar crying out for God’s help were a waste of time. Then as I re-examined those isolated incidents, I came to realize that those trips to the altar were instrumental in bringing about my deliverance! If you really want to be set free from the bondage of sexual sin, cry out to God daily. Do it today! Do it now! Your cries will be heard!”
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
Today while working away at my desk, I get text message, most times it requires me to stop and take action. Today, I got a text message from a young man in our program who forwarded a text from his Father.
Here is the text:
My Dad sent this:
“If you love God, and are living as one who is called according to His purposes, then He has promised you that all things work together for Good, even if it may initially look like failure.
FAILURE simply can mean:
Walk with God Today, look to Him for direction, then let Him direct you. Ask Him specifically for answers you are looking for. If He says Wait, then wait. If He says Yes, step forward. If He says No, then move on. Because a NO from the Lord can simply mean: Next Opportunity
Wait when He says Wait. Step forward when He says Yes. Look for the next opportunity when He says No. Knowing that our Father loves you, has your best interest in mind, and is working it all out for good.”
Make it a great day,
I think we can all learn from this Father. What a great way for a Father to show his support to his Son in recovery. As a Father myself, I tip my hat to this Dad and say, “well done Sir!”