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Question 223

What's the Orthodox church's opinion on self pleasure?


Answer to Question 223


Although it is considered a sin, I think the Church understands that it is something that boys (and even girls) engage in from puberty and only stop when they get married.  In older times people got married at an early age while still in their teens, but today most people get married in the early thirties. It would therefore be unrealistic of the Church to think that people have the will power to not indulge in self pleasure as you discreetly put it, and wait until they are married for sexual relief. Christ said that we should “Watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation”, but then he also said that: “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Some do indeed have the will power to overcome this temptation, but only because of their faith and because they lead a life of prayer and usually go on to become monks.  


You might like to know why self pleasure is considered a sin.  We read in the Old Testament that Jacobs son Judas married a Canaanite woman and has three sons with her, Er, Onan and Shelah. When his firstborn Er was old enough he married him to a woman called Tamar. But Er was evil in the sight of the Lord and God slew him. Er left his wife childless and without an inheritor. The custom at the time which later became a law was that the second son in line was to take his brother's widow as his wife and give her a child. But the child from this union would not be recognized as his child but as the child of his dead brother, who would also inherit anything that belonged to him. Judas' second son Onan takes Tamar to wife, but not wanting to get her pregnant prefers to spill his seed on the ground. He probably didn't want to raise a child that would not be recognized as his own or more probably he desired to inherit his brother's wealth himself. His action appeared evil in the sight of God and He slew him also. Onan spilling his seed on the ground has always been interpreted as a form of masturbation and the two words Onanism and masturbation are used synonymously. Thus because Onan’s action was displeasing to God masturbation has always been seen as a sin. In reality, Onan used the withdrawal method with Tamar, refusing to father children by her since they would not be considered his, but rather his brother’s. Onan’s sin was not that he spilled his seed, but that he deliberately refused to fulfil his obligation to Tamar and God’s will.