Is it a sin to explore your body? It's not a comfortable question, but it cuts right to a crucial topic: what does the Bible say about our sexual desires?
I will make a statement that will make some of you say “Amen” and others feel uncomfortable. You are a sexual being, and it is a wonderful thing. God created you and filled you with sexual desires. You should embrace and celebrate that truth.
However, you must recognize the difference between having sexual desires and being sexually promiscuous. One is a blessing God has given, something for a husband and wife to enjoy. The other is not. As amazing as it is to have sexual desires, our responsibility is to manage them in a way that pleases God.
With that as the groundwork, we can consider today’s question: is it a sin to explore your body? To be clear, we are talking about masturbation, so if you feel uncomfortable discussing this topic, you may want to stop here. I will also say that because of this article’s nature, you may see some frank details.
When I was growing up in church, conversations about anything sexual were usually, “Don’t do it and wait until you are married.” Though this was not the intention, this teaching gave the impression that sex in itself was sinful, forbidden fruit. While everything my teachers said was true, they didn’t help create a healthy perspective of how to think about sex. Hopefully, today we can begin a narrative that changes your negative perceptions.
Does the Bible Talk about Exploring Your Body?
“Masturbation” and “exploring your body” are not terms the Bible uses outright. However, several biblical passages discuss the activity. For example, Leviticus 15:1-18 discusses ceremonial rituals for Israelite men to clean themselves after various bodily discharges.
Two key passages frequently get discussed. One of these is commonly misunderstood, and the other cuts to the heart of this discussion.
Does Genesis 38 Say It’s a Sin to Explore Your Body?
Genesis 38 is a scripture people will use when discussing masturbation. I want you to read it, and then I will discuss what most of us miss when reading this verse.
For context, this verse involves Judah, one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Judah had several sons; his oldest son, Er, had just passed away. Judah speaks to his younger son, Onan, about marrying Er’s widow.
“Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.” (Genesis 38:8-10)
Some people read this and equate Onan spilling his semen on the ground as masturbation. First, this misunderstands what is happening. Onan was not exploring his body: he was having sex with Tamar and then spilled his semen on the ground before he would impregnate her.
Second, the passage frames everything around the fact that Onan was supposed to have children for his family’s legacy. As the authors of Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes observe, the Bible follows people who lived in collectivist societies—societies where the family or tribe’s good was everything. Having children to carry on the family name, who would care for their parents in their old age, was everything. Onan was supposed to have children with Tamar to honor his brother (make sure there was someone to carry on Er’s family name) and honor Tamar (make sure she had children to care for her in her old age).
So, Onan’s sin was selfishness. He knew that according to his culture’s laws, any child he had with Tamar would be considered his late brother’s heir. He didn’t want his brother’s memory honored. However, he wanted sex and used Tamar to get it. This selfish action also dishonored Tamar. As Bible stories about Abraham’s wife Sarah and Jacob’s wives Leah and Rachel show, being a married woman without children was considered a disaster.
God punished Onan for his selfishness and for abusing Tamar. If you believe it is a sin to explore your body, this is not a good text to use. However, there is a text that would be better.
What Does Matthew 5:27-28 Teach about Exploring Your Body?
Jesus’ words about lust in Matthew 5, one of his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, give a clear answer to our questions about exploring our bodies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
In this passage, Jesus warned listers that adultery is a much bigger problem than they assumed. He said lust and adultery are on the same level, which means lusting is a sin too. Exploring your body usually begins with looking at someone lustfully and continues into fantasies, making it lust.
Jesus’ warning also reminds us that while we are naturally sexual beings, sex is designed for marriage. In a healthy marital situation, your spouse should be the one stirring desire within you. Exploring your body frequently involves something other than your spouse—usually pornographic images or videos.
How Do We Deal with Sexual Temptation?
Some people struggle to control their sexual appetites, especially if they have been sexually active in the past. This is true whether or not you are a Christian. I want to reiterate that there is nothing wrong with the appetite itself; the problem comes with managing it. If you are married and don’t feel attracted toward your spouse, there is a problem you need to address.
If you are single or dating, you will experience sexual desires as you build a relationship. Your first step is not to pretend the desires don’t exist. It isn’t even to make them disappear altogether—if the relationship goes where you expect, you want to be attracted to this person when you become their spouse.
Instead, your first step is being honest with God about your desires. Once you are honest, you can find healthy ways to unpack your feelings and consider the boundaries you need to avoid sinning. Liz Lampkin’s article on sexual purity while dating is a great place to start.
One of the reasons we know that God does not see sexual desire as inherently bad is Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church.
“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)
In this passage, Paul recognizes that sexual desires can be strong and overcome many people. Paul advises people in this position that it’s better to marry and can fulfill those desires within a marital relationship. Notice he didn’t say it was all right to explore your body to fulfill that desire. Anything you use to satisfy your sexual appetite outside of a marital relationship is a sin.
Some readers will wonder about side questions this subject raises. The articles below delve into other sides of this discussion and may help you answer them. If you still have questions, consider discussing them with a trusted Christian advisor—someone you respect and know can honestly answer complicated spiritual questions.
If you need more advice, consider the following:
What Is Sexual Immorality - Discover Its Meaning and Consequences
Does the Bible Say that Masturbation is a Sin?
How Can Sex be a Sin and a Gift?
What Is Lust? Why Is It a Sin? Bible Meaning and Significance
Photo Credit: Getty Images/AlexandrBognat
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.