What is the current Church policy on masturbation?

The Church teaches that masturbation and pornography use are sins,[1] but they are not serious enough to trigger a membership council.[2] However, certain cases of pornography use may result in disciplinary actions.[3]

What about for people that are married? Is masturbation a sin?

The term 'masturbation' in this context refers to a solitary act outside of the context of the marital relationship.[4] "Foreplay" or "petting" or manual stimulation within the context of marriage is not the same thing as masturbation.[5]

Is masturbation a violation of the law of chastity?

Yes. The law of chastity, as taught by the Church, includes a prohibition against masturbation.[6] Christ taught that whoever lusts after a woman "hath committed adultery with her already in his heart," and masturbation involves lust.[7] Although Christ's language is geared towards men, the Church noted that the law of chastity applies to both men and women.[8]

Can you get a temple recommend if you masturbate?

It depends. Temple recommend questions—including "Do you strive for moral cleanliness in your thoughts and behavior?" and "Do you obey the law of chastity?"—give bishops an opportunity to counsel or give instruction to people struggling with masturbation.[9] However, there are no specific guidelines on what would merit withholding a temple recommend in this context.[10] This decision is left up to the discretion of the bishop. [11]

Does the Church have a policy about bishops asking about masturbation?

No. It's considered within the bishop's purview to ask about the law of chastity.[12] This may include asking about masturbation.

Isn't it kind of creepy for a bishop to ask people if they masturbate?

Potentially. If one sees a bishop as a spiritual counselor, and the law of chastity as a spiritual law, then it may be awkward, but not necessarily creepy. But if one doesn't recognize the bishop or the law of chastity as valid, then yes, it may seem creepy to discuss personal sexual matters with a bishop.

There have been cases when bishops have abused their roles and done creepy and/or illegal things. In these cases, they are subject to Church discipline and/or legal action.[13]

Are you supposed to confess masturbation to bishops?

Possibly. Masturbation is not considered a serious sin, but it can be spiritually damaging, especially if coupled with pornography use.[14] If masturbation is a problem that is impacting your personal well-being, your relationships with others, or your spirituality, then yes, you should probably talk to your bishop.[15]

What if I'm a woman and I'm more comfortable talking to my Relief Society president?

Talking with your Relief Society President is perfectly acceptable, but as the local priesthood leader, the bishop holds priesthood keys to help with repentance and spiritual well-being, so it's important to meet with them as well.[16] But it's also a Church policy to let interviewees request another adult be present in interviews, such as a Relief Society President.[17]

Does the Church have a policy about masturbation and qualifying to serve a mission?

No, not specifically, but priesthood leaders do ask prospective missionaries about pornography use.[18] Readiness to serve a mission is determined by the missionary, their bishop, and their stake president.[19]

Does For the Strength of Youth specifically mention masturbation?

Not specifically. The word "masturbation" doesn't specifically appear. It says, "In your choices about what you do, look at, read, listen to, think about, post, or text, avoid anything that purposely arouses lustful emotions in others or yourself."[20]

Is the word "masturbation" specifically mentioned in any Church handbook?

Yes, it is mentioned in the General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[21] and the Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ.[22]

To Young Men Only, a 1980 church pamphlet addressing masturbation, based on Boyd K. Packer's 1976 general conference talk.

Did the Church ever teach that masturbation caused homosexuality?

No, not really. Masturbation causing homosexuality is not doctrinal or has ever been generally taught in the Church, however there are several sources that drew a correlation between masturbation and homosexuality.

In 1969, Spencer W. Kimball said that masturbation could lead to mutual masturbation with members of the same-sex, which could then lead to "total homosexuality."[23] A 1981 internal publication for bishops stated that early-life masturbation could reinforce homosexual interests.[24] And a 1992 guide for bishops states that "pornography and masturbation almost always accompany homosexual transgressions."[25]

Why do some therapists, even Latter-day Saint therapists, teach that masturbation is okay?

Latter-day Saint therapists have a variety of religious and philosophical approaches to their practices. Some of these practices appear to be in harmony with the gospel, and others are less so. Mainstream psychology treats masturbation as acceptable human behavior.[26] Some Latter-day Saint therapists may subscribe to this view.

Some faithful Latter-day Saint therapists have used masturbation as a therapeutic approach to sexual dysfunction.[27] However, this practice does not involve pornography and is restricted to specific issues within the context of a marriage relationship.

Doesn't the medical community say that masturbation is a normal and healthy activity and can reduce the risk of prostate cancer?

Yes, the medical community does say that it is a normal activity.[28] Some studies have indicated that it may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, but there is no consensus on this topic and it is a subject of ongoing research.[29]

Is masturbation addictive?

"Addiction" is considered a loaded term to researchers for various reasons.[30] But yes, masturbation, especially when coupled with pornography use, can become a compulsion that is difficult to control.[31]

Can the pressure to quit a masturbation habit lead to suicide?

Possibly. Like other social, cultural, or religious norms, extreme guilt over masturbation could, in theory, contribute to suicide. However, there are no studies that have rigorously connected anti-masturbation religious beliefs with a higher likelihood of committing suicide.

The Facts

  • The Church teaches that masturbation and pornography use are sins and a violation of the law of chastity.

  • Church policy is that masturbation and pornography use are not typically serious enough sins to warrant a disciplinary council.

  • Bishops and stake presidents don't have specific directions on masturbation/pornography and temple or mission worthiness.

  • The Church published a pamphlet in 1981 that noted the correlation between masturbation and homosexuality but did not specifically make the claim that masturbation caused homosexuality.

  • Masturbation and pornography use can be, in layman's terms, "addictive" but there is no scientific consensus on how to classify compulsive masturbation and pornography use.

  • There is no scientific consensus on whether masturbation decreases rates of prostate cancer.

Our Take

The law of chastity can be a difficult subject. Sexual topics can also be uncomfortable to talk about with anyone—let alone a bishop—since they are deeply personal and sometimes feel taboo.

It can also be frustrating to feel like the Church is trying to dictate its members’ sexual behaviors, especially when mainstream society doesn’t see anything wrong with actions like masturbation, and some may even say it has health benefits.

Masturbation is against the law of chastity, and it is a sin. It can cause very real problems with spirituality, feelings of worthiness, self-esteem, and relationships—especially when coupled with pornography.

Regulating sexual behavior can be very difficult, so understanding the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its role in changing hearts and behavior is important. The law of chastity, like other commandments, is less about controlling our behavior, and more about strengthening ourselves and our connection with God.

If you, or someone you love, are struggling with pornography or masturbation, the Church has resources at Addressing Pornography and Combating Pornography. The talk "His Grace is Sufficient" may also be a helpful resource.

What's Your Take?

280 characters remaining
These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Max
    I think it's a fair question to ask whether it's masturbation that is the direct cause of problems with spirituality, self-esteem, etc.. or if it's a combined result of religious leaders telling members it's something to feel shame about. We can educate without guilt and shame.
  • Matt
    I think one of the biggest problems with masturbation is that it prevents you from forming real relationships with real people. It actually makes it harder to connect with someone! It's no wonder those who struggle with this habit often feel lonely.
  • Gerald
    Paul the Apostle said he had a thorn in the flesh and that he besought the Lord thrice, only for the Lord to say, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." I feel that masturbation is a thorn in the flesh and grace of Christ is my hope.
  • Anna
    It's important to view masturbation and pornography use as unhealthy behaviors and not as bad behaviors that may create feelings of shame leading to further use. Having a good support system and patience with oneself is key.
  • Seth
    We are to avoid sin and anything "like unto it." And, " the least degree of sin is not acceptable in the kingdom of God." Where a question arises, we should seek perfection of chastity. We should not be fence-sitters in absolute obedience.