In other parts of this section, we have stated we do not see masturbation as inherently sinful for singles. But what about marrieds?
Before we dig in, let’s define the term masturbation. When we say masturbation, we mean self-stimulation to orgasm done apart from your spouse (with or without their knowledge). We’re not talking about manual stimulation as sexual play with your spouse.
Since our bodies, and therefore our sexuality, no longer belongs to us alone, but also to our spouse (1 Corinthians 7:4), masturbation by those who are married is not as simple a question as it is for singles. In general, it is our spouse’s “job” to deal with all of our sexual needs and desires. This does not mean masturbation is sin for a married man or woman, but it does somewhat limit its proper use. We will consider several situations: masturbation because of sexual refusal, masturbation because of dissimilar sex drives, masturbation because of illness, masturbation because of separation, and mutual masturbation.
The apostle Paul tells those who are married that they need to have sex so as not to be tempted by Satan (1 Corinthians 7:5b). When a man or woman regularly or always refuses to have sex, it puts their spouse in a very bad place. In such a situation masturbation seems like an allowable, maybe even necessary, way for a man or woman to deal with the pressure of their sex drive and the temptation it can cause.
But since our spouse has a responsibility to us sexually, we need to be clear about the situation. The person who is being refused needs to make it very clear to their spouse that the lack of sex is a problem. Beyond that, if a married person is going to masturbate, their spouse has a right to know about it. Unless this information could result in violence or divorce, it seems unfair to take your sexuality into your own hands without letting the person who is supposed to be doing it know that you feel the need to masturbate.
A good many men, and some women, masturbate because they feel their strong sex drive is “unfair” to their spouse. Rather than “bothering them too much” they masturbate to deal with some or most of their sex drive. On the surface, this may seem like a loving thing to do, but doesn’t being responsible for our husband or wife’s sexual wants and needs mean giving them what they desire even when we are not interested? Wouldn’t it be better for a wife to manually stimulate her husband than for him to do it himself in the shower? Wouldn’t it be better for a husband to use a vibrator on his wife than for her to do it herself when he is not home?
Often the “less interested” spouse either does not know the solo masturbation is occurring or they have no idea how often it’s being done. This means they have not even been given the opportunity to do anything about the sexual desire of their spouse. At the very least our spouse should get “first refusal” when we desire sex!
Putting aside the question of who should be meeting the need, what if the spouse knows about it, and neither husband nor wife has a problem with it? Regular solo masturbation seems like a bad idea, as it runs the risk of fantasies that may creep away from what is proper. Masturbating with your spouse in the room is a good way to reduce the chance of sinful fantasies and it also keeps them aware of how much sex you desire. If one of you feels a need to masturbate, please thoroughly discuss this with your spouse.
We’re not talking about the 24-hour flu here. Surely anyone can wait a day or two. But for longer illnesses masturbation is a good way for the healthy spouse to deal with the fact that their sex drive is still working. As suggested above, it is a good idea to discuss this with your spouse and when possible do the masturbation with them in the room. It would be a good idea for a couple to discuss this when they are both well, so each knows what the other feels about it when the situation arises.
For long term or terminal illness, the situation is more complex, but not really much different. In this situation, it is very important for the couple to have an open and honest talk. The person who is ill may want to be a part of the masturbation, even if only by holding their spouse while it’s done. Don’t think you are doing your spouse a favor by secretly masturbating so they don’t have to “deal with” your sex drive. There are stories of men and women who felt like less of a man or woman, or felt unloved, because their well spouse suddenly stopped approaching them for sex.
Sometimes we are just so busy we don’t have time for sex. On occasion, this may be avoidable, but as an ongoing situation, it’s very bad for a marriage. The man or woman who masturbates to deal with a sex drive they or their spouse are too busy to deal with is not helping, because they are taking the pressure off of a situation which needs to be changed.
Some busy men are particularly bad about ignoring sex until they suddenly feel they need to do it right now! Since their wife is rarely around, much less available when they feel this sudden need, they masturbate and then “go on with their life.” Some women do this too, and for women it may be a cyclical thing following the changing hormones of their menstrual cycles.
Studies of sexual frequency in marriage often have a very sad situation buried in the statistics. There are more than a few couples where both are masturbating and both say they want more sex. In this case, the masturbation is a destructive thing because it is bleeding off the sex drive that should cause them to come together more often.
When a couple must be separated for a few days or longer, masturbation is an excellent way of dealing with the sexual tension that can build up. This is something a couple needs to have a very open and honest talk about, so there are no secrets. Give your spouse permission to masturbate when you can’t be there for them. Better yet, encourage it:
Like the man who went to bed the first night of his wife’s women’s retreat to find on his pillow a hand towel, a tube of lubricant, and a note that said, “Think of me.”
Or the woman who finds a gift-wrapped sex toy from her traveling husband.
Use the phone or computer to join them for phone or cybersex.
Send your spouse off with a sexy photo of yourself, an erotic story about the two of you, or a sexy pair of undies to remind them of you.
There are some couples who greatly enjoy masturbating together. This seems to be the kind of thing you are either really into or just don’t get. Watching each other masturbate to orgasm is a great way to learn about our partner’s body, but is it okay as a regular sex act all by itself? There is nothing in scripture to indicate this would be wrong, but we feel it may be a matter of concern if it becomes too frequent a part of a couple’s sex life. There is no scripture that says “thou shalt have intercourse”, but science and experience both show that intercourse is unlike any other sex act. Enjoy all that sex has to offer, but don’t neglect having intercourse fairly often.
Since masturbation is not inherently sinful, there must be situations in marriage where it is allowed. There also seem to be some situations where it is the only wise choice for some individuals. But we cannot ignore our spouse and just masturbate whenever we desire – it’s their sexuality too and they have a say in when and how it is used. If you engage in secret masturbation you have failed to be honest on several levels and this could be harmful to your marriage and your sex life.
Also understand that when masturbation reduces your desire for your spouse, or your ability to be sexual when they want to be, then you have crossed the line and defrauded your spouse. We also need to understand that things change: changes in stress, busyness, relationship, can result in an increase in a person’s sex drive. Also, women’s sex drives often increase in their thirties and/or forties. What was right or necessary at one point in a marriage may no longer be either right or necessary. Unless there is open communication about sexual wants and needs, and about any masturbation going on, you could be masturbating when your spouse would like to have more sex with you.
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