Do you have a question about life, love, or faith? Submit it online, fill out the form below or email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org.

Hey Rev!

I’m living in the same home with my wife. She and I have been separated for four years. But now we’re living back in the same home for our daughter who is in college and we want to provide her with a home and support. My wife and I have no longer love each other, and we have no plans of getting back together. We sleep in different rooms.

Is it a sin to masturbate? I’m a man with needs but I don’t want to sin. I’m doing my best to repent and looking to be truly a soldier of Jesus Christ with all my heart.

- Anthony

House-ad_SPO_FKB_new_0429132Dear Anthony:

Before I get to your question, I’d like to say something to you:

Thank you.

Thank you for what you are doing for your daughter, Anthony. By sharing costs and responsibilities with your wife while your daughter goes to college, you are helping her to complete a degree with as little debt as possible. In doing so, you are giving her a gift that will echo across her life.

Earning a degree with little or no debt is going to let your daughter say “yes” to vocational opportunities that she wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, it is going to let her think about buying a home way sooner than she otherwise could, it is going to maximize the likelihood that, should she have children of her own, they will never know poverty. By making this gift to your daughter even though your marriage has died, you and your wife are sacrificing a lot. That’s a big deal. I’m grateful to you.

And now let’s move on to your question: Is masturbation a sin?

A sin is an act of selfishness, it’s an act of destructiveness. A sin is something that fractures your relationship with your neighbor, that makes you smaller and more angry and more afraid, that turns you away from the big love that the Christian tradition calls God. Unless your masturbation is pathological in nature — unless, Anthony, you are masturbating instead of going to work or washing the dishes or paying the bills — it doesn’t do any of those things.

Research and anecdotal experience alike tell us that masturbation is a healthy, normal, and just about universal way that people express their sexuality. And the Gospel witness is that, while Jesus spends a lot of time talking about how you and I treat poor people and sick people and prisoners and immigrants and strangers, he is entirely uninterested in the question of whether or not his disciples masturbate.

As more than one wise person has taught us (and as my friend Lauren reminded me – the next couple of paragraphs are more or less plagiarized from an email that Lauren sent me), if you want to make the world kinder, a pretty good way to begin is to be happy. Happiness includes giving yourself pleasure, it includes treating yourself kindly and lovingly. It includes self-pleasure of the sexual kind.

When we befriend our bodies and, in particular, when we befriend our sexual longings, we become more compassionate towards ourselves and towards others. When we touch ourselves with genuine pleasure rather than that horrible mixture of guilt, self-loathing, and compulsion that poisons so many of our experiences with sex, we are committing a radical act of love that is desperately needed in this broken world. When we touch ourselves with that genuine pleasure, we remember that God celebrates the body in the incarnation. Ron Rolheiser puts it this way: “in becoming flesh, God legitimizes skin, praises skin, enters it, honors it, caresses it, and kisses it.”

All that is to say, Anthony, that it’s time for you to stop worrying. Your masturbation isn’t troubling God. It doesn’t need to trouble you either.

Categories: Beliefs

Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

24 Comments

    • That’s along the same lines of logic that prevent me from believeing male homosexuality is a good thing.

      How can it be a loving act between people who lobe each other when the act itself might physically harm? Or how can I be expectrd to look at folsom parade participants and think…oh, this is love…this is marriage, when all they are doing is sex in the streets? Its just beyond my best logic to believe its about love. I looks just like a spring break party, only with less clothing, more deviance. And those spring break parties are not about marriage.

  1. But this I say, brethren,….that from now on, those who have wives should live as though they had none……….I Cor 7:29

    Masturbation is the only form of sexual expression that always satisfies as all other forms usually decrease in desire as we age.

    How many marriages or close-friendships could be saved if both would enjoy this wonderful expression instead of playing around with others or ending the marriage or friendship when they lose sexual interest in one another?

  2. What a shame that a grown man worries about masturbation for even a moment.

    Only religion so contorts the mind to ponder such nonsense.
    Martin Elfort, your mistake was to scour yet more religious inanity to find permission to masturbate!

    “god legitimizes skin…”

    How embarrassing. And revolting.
    Father, how about acting like a grown up who can think for himself for a change!

    • Would an atheist not be allowed to worry that he had more of a desire to masturbate than to have sex with his wife, and what that meant for the marriage? It’s not the writer’s situation, but to say that no grown man should ever worry about masturbation goes a little too far.

      • Every man knows when masturbation has gone too far.
        You just know. You get tired of it and move on. Or you get in trouble.
        Every man knows this – without any input from a god or other celestial being.

        The fundamental claim that a supervising ‘higher’ authority is watching your masturbation (and judging you) is completely is immoral!
        There is no evidence of any such supervisor.

        Sex is a trivial matter in life. It is a healthy little bit of fun and relaxation.

        Yet religion uses it for its own purposes – like a virus!
        The church knows you are going to do it and it can’t wait! Because if they can get you to feel guilty you will come back to church and confess it all while leaving a little donation in the basket. Revolting!

        Every man and woman should deeply resent any ‘advice’ on what constitutes too much masturbation
        from someone WHO IS NOT A DOCTOR!

    • You should at least give the complete quote…

      I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

      “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. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

      • @ Frank

        Your right, it would’ve been better to include the latter parts so as to provide a wider scope of understanding.

        I was trying to simplify the matter. They still apply OK though.

        I like this latter part which I had forgotten about — “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

        I’m gonna use that in other posts as an example of the ‘good’ verses that impact us in a positive way.

        • @Billysees,

          Your excerpt from Corinthians was fine.
          You DID appropriately simplify it – putting the verse ‘in context’ does not improve its meaning.

          We must acknowledge that we are deciding what is true and what is not.
          The Bible cannot be the authority if we are its editors.

          • @ Atheist Max

            “We must acknowledge that we are deciding what is true and what is not.”

            Agreed. If we’re to make things useful and practical for our own lives we ‘have’ to do it that way. Paul’s good comment or suggestion that we work our own salvation is excellent. He was probably referring to a spiritual kind of thing but I interpret that word salvation to include making decisions about what we are to become in this world. We all eventually have to make career choices or evolve into them.

            Also, whenever it is said to ‘work out our own’, that automatically encourages us to put our unique stamp of individuality into whatever we do.

            One of his other comments about ‘do the work of an evangelist’ is not so good at all. The vast vast majority of us rank-and-file would never want to do or even think about doing such things, neither would the ‘spirit’ lead us in that kind of direction. Respectively said, preaching is just a drop in the bucket.

            This world needs nurses, plumbers, taxi-drivers, doctors, engineers and a whole boat-load of other kinds of people and things and services and I’m sure the ‘spirit’ is busy making such people happen every day.

            “The Bible cannot be the authority if we are its editors.”

            But we’re not editing it though. It still stays the same.
            We’re simply ‘applying it as applicable’.

          • @Billysees,

            “But we’re not editing it..(the Bible)..It still stays the same.
            We’re simply ‘applying it as applicable’. ”

            I’m sure you have eliminated
            these verses from your bible:

            1. Homosexuality (Lev. 18:22) – i.e. All you gays are going to hell.

            2. Touching the skin of a dead pig (e.g.: playing football, etc.) (Lev. 11:7-8) – i.e. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethelisberger, Larry Fitzgerald, Tim Tebow, all NFL, college football, and high school football players are going straight to hell.

            3. Eating shellfish (Lev. 11:10) – i.e., All you people eating shrimp scampi or lobster tail are going straight to hell.

            4. Touching a menstruating woman and any furniture or clothing that has come in contact with menstruating women (Lev.15:19-21) – i.e. All you loving husbands who hold your wives and comfort them during their periods are going straight to hell.

            5. Planting two different crops in the same field (Lev. 19:19) – i.e. All you home gardeners planting tomatoes with peppers or cucumbers in your backyard, you’re going straight to hell.

            6. Wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (polyester blends not recommended) (Lev. 19:19) – i.e., Wearing Hanes underwear or t-shirts with those cotton/polyester blends will send you straight to hell.

            7. Getting one’s hair trimmed, especially around the temples (Lev. 19:27) – i.e., Getting that cool shaved head look will send you straight to hell.

            8. Approaching the altar of the Lord if you have poor eyesight (Lev. 21:20) – i.e., if you wear glasses or contacts and dare approach the altar with your prayers to the Lord, you’re going straight to hell. Now I”M GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL!

  3. “Life is a job. You get $14.50 a day, but after you die, you have to pay for your sins. Stealing a hub cap is around $100. Masturbation is 35 cents (it doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up). If there’s money left when you subtract what you owe from what you’ve earned, you can go to heaven. If not, you have to go back to work. (Sort of like reincarnation — many nuns are Mafia guys working it off.)”
    -Father Guido Sarducci

  4. @ Atheist Max 8/19 2:45 am

    “I’m sure you have eliminated
    these verses from your bible: 1 – 8″

    I haven’t eliminated anything.

    I simply choose not to consider them as I work out my own life and its future, and with the help of the ‘spirit’, that makes things happen, I should be satisfied with the results.

    Here’s where I get that encouragement —

    Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
    In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths……..Proverbs 3:5-6

    • @Billysees,

      Another thing:

      “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

      Isn’t this Divine permission for any decision which comes to you?

      We know from experience
      That “god’s intercession” on our lives is
      very hard to detect:

      Prayer:
      God’s impact is uncertain. Random outcomes are the norm.

      Wars:
      God’s impact is uncertain. Misery is certain and the bad guys often win.

      Disasters:
      God’s impact is uncertain. Innocent people often die.

      Religion:
      God’s impact is uncertain. He seems completely incapable of helping humanity figure out which of the thousands of claimed gods is the true god.

      Nature:
      The world operates without any discernible evidence of a god.

      So why would you expect your own mind to be a place where God’s impact would be discernible?
      Is it too fearful to consider you are doing this all by yourself?

      • @ Atheist Max (8/19 11:54 am)

        “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
        “Isn’t this Divine permission for any decision which comes to you?”

        — It is written somewhere that God will take care of those who put their trust in him. That’s what I’m doing here with these 2 verses. I’m assuming that he’ll help me to obtain good outcomes with any issue I bring to his attention through prayer or thought.

        “We know from experience
        That “god’s intercession” on our lives is
        very hard to detect:”

        — Yes and no. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. When his intercession is good, we’ll know it because we’ll be able to recognize it. Somehow we’ll sense its goodness in our lives.

        “Prayer:
        God’s impact is uncertain. Random outcomes are the norm.”

        — Maybe they are random. That’s why we should pray. Maybe we aught to pray our asses off to make sure he hears us and gives us a good answer. I’m putting some humor here of course. Prayer is like playing a ‘pray and wait’ game. It’s ‘fun-to-do’ because there’s this thing called hope involved and that makes for a ‘good and happy expectation’.

        “Wars:
        God’s impact is uncertain. Misery is certain and the bad guys often win.”

        — We can’t say that misery is certain, though it may only seem that way…sometimes. The bad guy often wins would be hard to prove I bet.

        “Disasters:
        God’s impact is uncertain. Innocent people often die.”

        — Agree. I don’t know why what you’ve said is true.

        “Religion:
        God’s impact is uncertain. He seems completely incapable of helping humanity figure out which of the thousands of claimed gods is the true god.”

        — Disagree. God chose this Jewish guy to represent him here on earth. He, though seemingly imperfectly, says and does many things to draw attention to himself as being a kind of ‘super-representative’ that point to a certain God he calls ‘our father who art in heaven’.

        “Nature:
        The world operates without any discernible evidence of a god.”

        — No way. Mother Nature is a great example of the existence of a creator.

        “So why would you expect your own mind to be a place where God’s impact would be discernible?”

        — Great question. Because I sense that he’s doing some good things for and with me every day.

        “Is it too fearful to consider you are doing this all by yourself?”

        — It does seem that I may be doing this all by myself. I express that as a personal thought of mine. I could get fearful that I’m spinning my wheels…but then ‘things’ happen to convince me that as the verse goes — We know that we live in him and he lives in us because he has given us his Spirit……NT

  5. @Billysees,

    “I haven’t eliminated anything. I simply choose not to consider them”

    1. Why do you have your OWN sufficient understanding to disregard God’s commands such as ‘kill homosexuals’?

    2. Yet you SAY you choose to “lean NOT unto thine own understanding.”
    (Proverbs 3:5-6)

    You are in fact leaning into your own understanding
    while using the bible to deny you are doing so!

      • @ Atheist Max (8/19 12:00 pm)

        “Thanks for giving these things serious thought.
        You deserve a pat on the back.”

        — Thanks for asking tough questions that compel me express myself in ways I would normally not do.

        You also deserve a pat on the back for encouraging people to think critically about the things in scripture.

    • @ Atheist Max (8/19 11:40 am)

      “1. Why do you have your OWN sufficient understanding to disregard God’s commands such as ‘kill homosexuals’?”

      — Good question. Thankfully, the ‘spirit’ he has given me is one that allows ‘discernment’ by me and for me and to be exercised by me and me alone. I’m able to recognize ‘stuff that doesn’t apply’ and it doesn’t matter what it is.

      “2. Yet you SAY you choose to “lean NOT unto thine own understanding.”
      (Proverbs 3:5-6)”

      — Another good question. But the answer here is similar to the same description I gave to answer your question #1. My understanding might conclude that I should recognize and accept and obey anything and everything that’s written in scripture. Thankfully, the “spirit’ that operates in me will not permit me to think that way. That’s a result of ‘working out my own salvation’ as I’ve mentioned before.

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