Answer: The Bible mentions many behaviors, but masturbation is not one of them. You won’t find the word in the Bible, or anything like it. Masturbation is “the M word” that most people don’t talk about. Since masturbation is a private activity, most people keep it private.
In case there happens to be someone reading this who isn’t sure what masturbation is, let me provide a technical definition from the online Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: “Erotic stimulation especially of one's own genital organs commonly resulting in orgasm and achieved by manual or other bodily contact exclusive of sexual intercourse, by instrumental manipulation, occasionally by sexual fantasies, or by various combinations of these agencies.”
You ask, “Is it wrong?” Since the Bible doesn’t mention masturbation, some figure they can just come up with their own moral decision apart from any word from God. Others take the opposite approach and think that if God didn’t mention it, then it must not matter to Him.
I’ve found that outspoken voices beyond the Christian community answer sexual questions on a “choose-whatever-you-want” basis. Sometimes they add the condition “choose whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” I can’t agree with that. Unlike animals in heat driven to mate, God created human beings for a highly sensual experience through sexual intercourse. He wired our brains so that this expression would be far more than merely sex. For humans, this act is supposed to be based on the intimacy between two people who are married to each other.
When a person masturbates, they could be having a fantasy about having sex with someone that they don’t personally know—a movie star, a music star, a friend, anyone. This approach to sexuality is certainly self-centered rather than selfless—the way God designed sexual expression to be.
The immediate gratification element associated with masturbation can create problems later when a person is traveling the winding pathway of a relationship with a real person. For most people, their sex drive begins during their early adolescent years. In Bible times this is the age when people got married. But in the Western world today, marriage doesn’t come for more than a decade after adolescence for many people.
The Bible does have a few things to say about that. First Thessalonians 4:3-8 provides helpful guidance. In The Living Bible it reads: “For God wants you to be holy and pure, and to keep clear of all sexual sin so that each of you will marry in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion as the heathen do, in their ignorance of God and his ways. And this also is God’s will: that you never cheat in this matter by taking another man’s wife, because the Lord will punish you terribly for this, as we have solemnly told you before. For God has not called us to be dirty-minded and full of lust, but to be holy and clean. If anyone refuses to live by these rules he is not disobeying the rules of men but of God who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”* That’s clear, isn’t it? Also, I recommend that you read 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 in The Living Bible.
God created us as sexual beings, but our sexuality is something that needs direction, restraint, expression, and focus. If you think that getting married will solve your sexual expression binge, guess again. Your sexuality is something for you to live with the rest of your life, including old age—if you live that long. So living as a Christian with your God-given sexuality is something you need to do not only during your adolescent years but for all of your remaining years.
Let’s return to your question: Does the Bible say anything about whether or not masturbation is wrong? No. However, it does point out that God’s gift of sex is often misused by the world, and that God desires for us to be pure. Above all, He always desires the best for us—no substitutes.