The Politician and the "Private" Sin: Christine O’Donnell Runs Afoul of the "New Morality"

Christine O’Donnell, the Republican nominee for the US Senate from Delaware has surely run afoul of the advocates of the “new morality.” She has most surely transgressed by speaking against, premarital sex, homosexual activity and masturbation. The ABC News video below speaks of her positions as “eye-brow raising.”

Now this is not a political blog and I am not attempting to enter a realm where I am unskilled and uncomfortable. Further, I am not trying to make a hero of Christine O’Donnell. It has been my experience with politicians of every stripe that if you expect them to be real heroes in the moral realm, they will almost always let you down. Sadly Ms. O’Donnell is already showing signs of backtracking by indicating her statements (especially about masturbation) came from a time when her faith was “immature.” In “Kennedyesque” fashion she is quoted in the video below as saying her faith will not be her guide, just the Constitution when she goes to Washington.

Since it has come up in the news, I want to discuss Catholic teaching on masturbation. Clearly Ms. O’Donnell’s remarks on that topic have elicited many negative reactions from derision to scorn. And yet the consideration of masturbation as a sin is standard Catholic teaching.  Hence the scorn and derision, the laugh-out-loud ridicule that anyone would take such a notion seriously reflects also upon Catholic, and I would argue, Biblical teaching. So let’s look at the reasoning behind Catholic teaching on masturbation and why it is considered sinful.

First let’s be honest, masturbation is a hard topic to talk about. Many people experience significant embarrassment in relation to this topic. Many even struggle to say the word out loud. It is, for many, a humiliating matter to discuss in confession, or with others. It is the “private” sin. Some use euphemisms in their mentioning of it: “solitary self abuse” or just “self abuse.” Others refer to it with irreverent words and phrases I cannot repeat here. But the fact is, many are hesitant to discuss masturbation. Parents struggle as how and what to teach their children. Children struggle to speak to parents. Priests and educators in Catholic schools often dread to raise the topic in mixed company. And so the pattern goes. Hence this teaching is poorly understood or even known by many.

What is wrong with masturbation?– At the heart of masturbation is sexual fantasizing. To the degree that this fantasizing is willful, one commits sin. Consider this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matt 5:27-30)

In understanding this passage we need to begin with what it means to look at someone with lust. While there is some debate as to its exact meaning we ought to exclude a few things from it. First it is not wrong or lustful to experience some one as being attractive. It is a normal thing for a man to see beauty in a woman, or a woman to find a man handsome. This is not lust, it is a God-given appreciation for beauty and part of the essential attraction God himself has given to draw men and women to each other in marriage and ultimately to procreation. Secondly, it can be a rather common occurrence that sexual thoughts occur in the mind about someone we find attractive. This is usually a spontaneous thought and may not be willed at all. It just occurs and we usually dismiss it as inappropriate. This too is usually excluded from the notion of lustful  thinking because it is not willed and hence is not a sin,  if it is not entertained.

But where lust begins is when we begin to fanaticize sexually about someone in a way that is willful. We have these thoughts and not only accept them but also entertain and dwell on them. This is where looking lustfully begins. Now this look may be of a person right before us or it may be the inward look of the imagination of some one we know or have imagined. This is what makes masturbation sinful for it clearly involves fantasizing about sexual activity about some one not our spouse. It is a a form of lustful looking or lustful thinking. To the degree that it is connected to pornography, its sinfulness is increased. So the essential wrongness of masturbation is the lustful thoughts that accompany it.

Now it may be popular today to ridicule anyone who sees masturbation as wrong and to make light of masturbation as of no account. Yet, the Lord did not have this attitude. He actually speaks quite strongly in the passage above using vivid hyperbole, (exaggeration), to underscore that this is something to take seriously. In indicating that the eye should be gouged out or the hand be cut off, he is not speaking literally. But the Jewish expression amounts to saying that it is a more serious thing to sin in this way that to lose your eye or hand. He goes on to warn that lustful thinking (a widespread problem today) can lead to hell. So, we ought to consider again if we choose to make light of lustful thinking and masturbation. The Lord did not take this attitude and neither should we.

The Struggle is Recognized – It is a true fact that many people, especially the unmarried, struggle to be entirely free of this sin and there may be things that limit a person’s freedom. But making light of the sin is no way to win a battle. Balance is necessary so that a person who struggles with this sin is not devastated by a morbid, unproductive guilt, but neither are they unmotivated by a false presumption that nothing is wrong here.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks well and pastorally on the sin of masturbation:

By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.” 

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability. (CCC #2352)

Hence, one will notice that, while the Catechism is clear to state the sinful nature of masturbation there is also pastoral recognition that there are factors that make this sin difficult for some to overcome. While it is an objectively serious sin, there can be subjective matters that lessen culpability (blameworthiness).

Time will prove where wisdom lies – So the Church is not a prudish mother with no sensitivity. But sex has a purpose and a place: it is oriented to the marital relationship, to procreation and it’s place is thus marriage. Masturbation strays from this and is also rooted in the lustful thinking condemned by Jesus. The world may laugh, but the Church is being faithful to the Lord’s teaching here. These days the Gospel is out of season, but the the Lord, through St. Paul, told us to preach it even when it is out of season (2 Tim 4:2). Let the world laugh, but time will prove where wisdom lies.

A final thought. Masturbation as indulging fantasy is also problematic. It is generally not a good idea to indulge in a lot of fantasy. When this is done the real world can seem less appealing, even disappointing. Sexual fantasizing involves imaging the perfect and ideal sexual encounter. The other person is perfect, wholly willing and when pleasure has been achieved they vanish. This is not real. In the real setting people are not perfect, do not share in identical preferences and pleasures. Real people have moods, imperfections and inadequacies as well as good qualities. Further, a spouse does not vanish after sexual intercourse. They remain there with needs, struggles, ups and downs. Real sex is with a person and happens in relationship. (Clearly this relationship should be marriage). Masturbation side-steps all this and imagines something quite unreal. To indulge this is unhealthy and can lead to unrealistic expectations.

The use of pornography can escalate this unreality dramatically. Air-brushed photos of relationless sex often depicting exotic and extreme versions of sexual behavior can destroy appreciation for normal, natural sex with a real person in the relationship of marriage. Pornography and sexual fantasy are very unhealthy in terms of preparing one for the real relationship of marriage. It is no wonder that in these lustful times so permeated with pornography that marriage and family are so devastated.

108 Replies to “The Politician and the "Private" Sin: Christine O’Donnell Runs Afoul of the "New Morality"”

  1. I agree with a lot of the dangers that you point out here (especially regarding pornography), but I think it is an incomplete portrait. I recommend Dr. John Perito’s book “Contemporary Catholic Sexuality” where he discusses a lot of the research that has been done that shows the important role that fantasy and even masturbation play in healthy psycho-sexual development. This is a complex topic, and I think we need to be open to both the core wisdom embodied in the traditional moral teachings of the Church and to what modern science has to teach us. Perito’s book has some flaws, but there are some deep insights in it and I think it would be a good conversation starter. I fear though that the kind of conversation that needs to happen on this topic is highly unlikely. If it happens in the academy or in the media, the overriding response will be a knee-jerk, ideological insistence on accepting any consensual sexual activity. If it happens within the oversight of Church institutions I don’t believe there will be any real openness to considering modifications to past teachings in light of our deepening understanding of the human psyche and sexual development.

    1. The mental health industry has sold us out. Many educators and health professionals seem to be having a love affair with self-centered, self-indulgent sexuality and overlook society’s addiction to self gratification and the problems therein. There is much hypocrisy there. For example, they speak out about the “objectification of people” as wrong, and then call masturbation healthy. When people masturbate, what, exactly, are the objects of there sexual fantasies in the process? Except in few instances which would broadly be thought of as depraved, the latter doesn’t happen without the former. In many of the sexual situations they would consider healthy to psycho-sexual development, self is the focus and therefore the partner is reduced to an object.

      Self-gratification is a major issue in our society. Look at our current problems with food consumption and where that has brought our nation. We see how our views on food have hurt our children and have moved toward changing school menus, removing soda machines from schools, even taxing soda to provide money for healthy diet education. Yet, we continue to feed our society’s veracious sexual appetite by making what we innately know is unhealthy the norm. Psycho-sexual babble has overridden common sense.

    2. “Contemporary Catholic Sexuality” LOL could it be more revealing? Subaru katholicism. If it feels good, do it. God won’t mind, since I don’t. After all, that’s what confession is for. Well, wait a minute, why go out of my way when I can just confess directly to him on my bed (oops, forgot to do even that, watching tv and then passed out!)? Ding ding ding. Devil wins. Living in a state of mortal sin as normalcy. Dying in that state. Taking communion in that state. Wayfaring state over. Particular judgment. You didn’t try very hard, son. You read only what you wanted to hear. I don’t know you.

      Within 2 seconds of googling John Perito one finds this: http://thewildreed.blogspot.com/2007/04/catholic-bibliography-on-gay-issues.html

      Same old hydra.

      1. Brad,
        Your reply to Vincent using sarcasm rather than evidence is not helpful or particularly convincing. Sexuality is a complex reality, and even the Catechism admits this in the second paragraph (above) when it insists that “masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” but then tells the pastoral minister that context may “lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability. ” Vincent’s frustration is understandable to me since the Church has officially for years only seen sexual matters in a “physicalist” way–referring merely to the parts and what they were apparently created for, as if everything were black and white. Monsignor has presented in this entry a more balanced approach which suggests that the relational side is a crucial aspect of (especially sexual) sin–openness to new insights is a good thing and does not instantly reduce us to relativism. The website you referenced seems to deal with homosexuality –another complicated topic which requires a pastoral technique similar to the one listed above (in my opinion).

      2. @Vincent, @Brad,

        As a PhD, I have to roll my eyes whenever a liberal Catholic makes the claim, ‘homosexuality is complex’, or ‘masturbation is complex’ or ‘abortion is complex’. Noticed you each waved your hand at this word. This usually signals a capitulation regarding our capacity to properly understand the moral law/what love requires, or our having a sufficient motivation to do what love requires. Actually, none of these issues are complex; you just don’t like the Church’s answer, and simply don’t trust God enough to give us sinners enough grace to grapple with masturbation, same-sex attraction, pre-marital sex, or the frightening prospect of an unwanted pregnancy. At the end of the day, liberal (dissident) Catholics have lost the debate for two reasons: they are intellectually unconvincing, and more importantly, they don’t trust Christ enough and without such trust there is no holiness. I might also add, holy people never obfuscate, and that is what each of you do in invoking “complexity”. Holy people are simple and direct, and though God IS infinitely complex, when he speak to us he also makes it simple. In fact, Christ reassures us that it will be precisely the simple who understand Him. Away with your ‘complexity’ and please trust His grace.

      3. Scott, hi. I don’t understand why you think what you do about what I wrote. Comments really are hard to communicate through sometimes.

        Oh…(no sarcasm here) do you think I was being tongue in cheek? I wasn’t. I really do think that if we go against the CCC’s wisdom and live apart from the sacraments (esp., in this case, confession and communion) there is little hope for us. We must remain in a state of grace. I don’t think, for example, abortion is complex. I am in an anti-abortion rosary group. I am not seeing where I am invoking complexity. Are you making a typo in including me in that camp? I am honestly asking this.

        I guess the problem with my post from 10:43am is that some people thought it was meant sarcastically, whereas I was only trying to be a bit lively. But I do believe what I wrote there, that we can start making all kinds of excuses for ourselves and wind up living and dying not in a state of grace. And then what? It’s a very hard truth. Faithful Catholics must accept hard truths, aka objective Truth. That’s how we show we are different than Pilate, who was utterly befuddled by the Truth standing before him. Pilate lived in a gray world of paganism and we are constantly being dragged back there by relativists within and without the Church.

        I agree with what Msgr. wrote. Some sins are mortal and will require confession. This is one of them. The pastoral aspect that the CCC mentions is sensitive and valid however: that some habitual sins are such a cross to bear, they require real help from a priest.

      4. Sorry Brad! I meant ‘@Daniel’–the fellow who replied to you. I am also active in pro-life ministry. Christ’s peace.

      5. @Scott

        This is minor, but theologians have usually seen this the other way around:

        You wrote: “God IS infinitely complex.”

        Traditional theology: “God is wholly simple” (St. Thomas’ “Summa” – Prima Pars, Q3, A7; St. Augustine’s “De Trinitate” iv. 6, 7)

        I think this may support rather than undermine your argument. It makes me think of Psalm 62:12 – “One thing God has said; two things have I heard”.

        Peace,

        Rob

    3. In the end I think I have to stand by my concern that fantasy is not a good thing to indulge in. I am aware that the human imagination has the capacity to be creative in certain forms of fantasy such as Sci-fiction. But in the matter of sexuality some rather grave distortions and unrealistic notions can set up given our fallen condition. I advise against indulging in fantasy in this matter and commend reality.

      1. Scott,
        As Monsignor has pointing out on numerous occasions, the purpose of this blog is dialogue. “Rolling one’s eyes” is a way to dismiss a point without acknowledging or refuting, and so does not contribute to dialogue. PhDs, pro-life activities, and rosary groups are all wonderful things but none (especially an advanced academic degree) should ever be used to dismiss dialogue. You and Scott obviously share a perspective on some things, but we all can benefit from an openness to the experience and insights of others. I believe faith should help us to reach out rather than circle the wagons…Pax.

      2. @Daniel,

        The “perspective” the monsignor and I share is orthodox Catholicism. I hope you share the same “perspective”, but if not, then our dialogue is limited: we defend the faith and you merely dissent. A legitimate movement in positions can only go one way: you coming to the 2000 year faith of the Church and her saints.

        I mention the PhD not as a claim to authority, but given that my academic discipline is moral and political philosophy (at a major midwest research university) , I am well-placed to sniff out certain BS put across by dissidents. I also mention it because dissidents like to pretend (not saying you did) that they have all the “educated” people on their side. They don’t–especially if you include the living doctors of the Church in heaven! Also, you imply I didn’t make any arguments against your post but just “rolled my eyes”. Read it again–I made many substantive points. May we both strive for simplicity through trusting obedience.

    4. What about all the research that shows that masturbation is an addictive behavior which triggers endorphins improperly and makes it harder for a person to process them? Frequent masturbation makes it harder to have a satisfying sexual experience and, by extension, to have a stable relationship.

      And how can anyone claim a book is about Catholic sexual morality and advocate opposition to Catholic sexual morality?

  2. Thank you Father. You are correct when you say it is a very difficult topic but there are so very many of us who need to go over the basics as we are part of the “lost” generation, who never really understood why our faith teaches what it does to begin with. I always learn from your posts and I’m very grateful.

  3. I pondered your topic in light of what i saw a couple of months ago. My wife gets a “Health” magazine and there was an article on ‘The New Numbers to Live By’. I assumed maybe, triglycerides, blood pres. , etc. but their first one was: ‘ 1 Orgasm a Day” and they had to point out that ‘masturbation is a good way to get it!” hmmm… in light of the gospel? then a week later her magazine: Prevention informed the health minded reader that using a vibrator during masturbation is now a VERY common thing, for men as well as women!….hmmm…. Father, with all due respect, we will lose this battle in light of these ‘normal’ publications….. Father Corapi is the only ‘voice’ that I have every heard give the Church’s teaching, and you so thank you.

  4. While Ms. O’Donnell’s fundamental CHRISTian principle are noted, be sure,
    not unlike the “Tea Party” “movement” itself, her platform is merely a weak and ineffective
    clone of a truly powerful and Godly-ordained, Declaration.
    The “Tea Party” (along with News Corp., Beck, Et Al) have profited greatly,
    while cunningly circumventing and disrespecting, the SOLE rightful author AND
    owner of particular intellectual-property.

    O’Donnell? Merely, another politician, intended to placate and pander to a
    very angry and potentially explosive general populus: A different flavor of Banana.

    http://www.all4webs.com/q/f/love4yahweh
    ANY questions?!

      1. Ms. O’Donnell, is employing (as I previously stated) FUNDAMENTAL
        CHRISTian Principles/Morals, within a POLITICAL context. What I’ve “pondered”, as you so implicate,
        is the patently non-original content, despite, crafty Political manuevering to the contrary.

        Truly, Monsignor, in the words of MY forefather, King Solomon: “…it is all Vanity”.

  5. Msgr.

    Thank you for posting on this topic. You note that the sinfulness is involved in the area of fantasy. That is true, but I would point out that even without sexual fantasy, masturbatory behavior is also gravely sinful as deliberate sexual stimulation outside of marital relations. Even within marriage, masturbation or mutal masturbation by spouses is gravely sinful and contrary to the inteintion of the Creator.

  6. It is too bad that the dominant culture makes light of traditional wisdom and biblical teaching and that the Pastoral teaching of even some Catholic priests over the past 30 years has glossed over the subject of Catholic sexual maturity. It has been my experience with people in general and youngsters in particular that they will almost always do; almost unconsciously, what you tell them “not” to do. It is important I think for teachers to tell people; and especially young people, what to do! Tell them what you have to do to become a mature Catholic man (gentleman) or woman (lady) and also what you must strive always to avoid and how! This gets into Spiritual Warefare for lack of a more politically and psychosocially “correct” term. I think pastoral teachings should be more about (approximately 70% about) what God and therefor what you “truly” want to become or achieve and only (approximately 30%) about what you (and therefore your Maker) do not want to have happen to you.

  7. Modern science teaches that masturbation can causes loss of sperm, a loss of sexual desire, and other things similar to the effects of circumcision.

      1. The problem with most of the world is that people blinded by sin (like pride or anger) propagate pseudo-science and single scientific studies as enough evidence for their opinions and beliefs; this is true of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, for example militant atheists claiming God doesn’t exist because of some experiment on prayer and extremist Catholics claiming homosexuals deserve to die because of some experiment on anal sex. It’s quite sad that the world listens more often to the loud-and-proud folks than to the quiet-and-correct folks.

      2. Nick,
        I’ve never met any Catholics who think gays deserve to die… Also, modern social science doesn’t do “anal experiments”–do you know how hard it is to get many studies past the various boards of approval? Now, we do know that anal sex leads to incontinence as well as increased risks of anal cancer (as well as higher rates of STDs), but no “experimenting” is going on to observe these things…

  8. Six years ago my wife developed a medical condition that prevents us from having sex. As a result, I have become an involuntary celibate in a situation where many men would easily succumb to adultery as a solution to their predicament, and, moreover, feel fully justiofied in doing so. However, through the strength of my faith, I have managed to steer myself away from any such temptation. However, I do have to resort to masturbation, and I would take a very dim view of it indeed if anyone started to lecture me on how “sinful” I was to practice this, given the circumstances I find myself, over which I have no control. If what I have to resort to, in private, was indeed deemed to be “intrinsically and gravely disordered”, then I would seriously consider leaving the church, as this to me has all the hallmarks of being bullied rather than one difficulties being understood with Christian compassion.

    1. Well I think that is what the catechism is saying though. Perhaps you might consider a different apporach wherein you accept your struggle here but do not have a need to call good what God has called sinful. It is one thing to sin out of weakness, the catechisms acknowledges the difficultly of this teaching. But it is another thing to refuse to accept the teaching on this matter. Perhaps there is a middle point ebtween your all-or-nothing scenario. Perhaps the Church can teach on the wrongness of wha tyou do but also show and extend compassion for the struggle you have. Perhaps that is the middle ground.

    2. Sorry to hear about your wife’s condition, and the challenges that you face. One way to look at your cross is that God has removed the normal, healthy experience of marital sex but only to replace this loss with the deeper possibility of spiritual communion with Him and with your spouse. In other words, what God “takes away” with one hand, He will replace a hundred fold if we patiently trust and move toward Him.

      On an autobiographical note, sex and women were my life, my idols–until I encountered Christ at age 33. Once I felt Christ’s love within me, the idols were broken and I could never desire them like I had before. Marital sex is wonderful and healthy, but at 37, Christ’s love is my motivating desire and sex is no longer indispensable for me. No one in heaven desires sex because they know God’s love; we can have a taste of this love even now–it is just not ever-present or as full. You have my prayers.

      1. I am grateful to you Monsignor and to Scott for your responses. I am a relatively recent (2007) convert to the church, and from the prolonged period of instruction I enjoyed in preparation for this, I have to say I often struggled then, and often struggle now, with the stance taken in the Catechism in matters of moral theology, within which the subject of masturbation would fall. There seems to be an underlying presumption that everyone lives and leads a life in otherwise perfect and ideal circumstances, and that any transgression from this, must, by definition, only be the individual’s fault. At least that it how it strikes me. Christian compassion for the difficulties of the individual whose life is blighted – as mine is in the example I have described – by circumstances not of their making and beyond their control – doesn’t always seem to be the first reaction as I think it should be. Set against the strictures of the Catechism, I would declare that my own circumstances are leaden with mitigation: I am not seeking recourse to any form of wilful lustfulness, but merely, as a human being, dealing in a discrete way with an essentially physiological problem that has arisen through no fault of my own, in circumstances that I did not occasion. I agree that, ideally, just as I set my face against the prospect of adultery, one should be able to abjure sexual self-gratification, but I am not perfect. Given all that, the next question it seems to me is whether I should be continuing to receive communion. Instinctively I feel completely out of my depth to offer a view on this. The quandary continues!

      2. Simon,
        If I were in your position (which I take to be a fundamental openness to Church teaching) I would receive communion as often as possible! Communion isn’t a reward for the righteous (whoever they might be–after all, they are sinners too!), but is medicine for the sick who desire Christ’s healing. Now, not to pick on dissidents again, but they disagree with Christ that they or others need healing concerning certain sins.

        I also understand your frustration regarding the “otherworldliness” or “impracticality” of Catholic (and Orthodox) Christianity. But Christ (and His Church) are ever asking us for more, and that is how love works, what love demands. The second we say, ‘I love enough’, our love begins to die. So Christ is always asking for more and more of our attention and desire. This radical aspect is precisely my greatest “intellectual” joy as a Christian and why our relationship with Christ is never boring: the mystery always runs deeper and deeper and we love more and more.

    3. Well, Simon, any single person who wants to be married but isn’t could say the same thing, and they too could justify their actions for the same reasons.

      But sexual activity outside of marriage — whether that is having sex with other persons (adultery or fornication) or sex with yourself — each of these are contrary to the truth of human sexuality as an act of love, and it thereby contrary to the truth of the human person. To treat others, or ourselves, as sexual objects, even if not as a matter of real pleasure, but merely to alleviate some “urge” is to treat them or us in a less respectful manner than we are entitled to.

      Given the extremely powerful sexual urge, and given the hyper-sexualized society we live in, perhaps one might argue that there are mitigating circumstances to engaging in such activity, but one cannot by any measure say that it is a morally good or morally neutral action. It’s wrong. Maybe not the worst wrong in the history of the world, but wrong, and, like any wrong, it tends to have harmful consequences, both direct and collateral, even if that consequence is merely a diminished respect or diminished understanding of the truth of human sexuality.

      Rather than asserting justification, rather than recognizing the wrong, but not ready to give it up right now (God, grant me chastity . . . but not yet), better to seek and obtain the grace to not be controlled by our sexual urges. Better that we control our passions, rather than our passions control us. People would be a LOT happier if, for whatever reason — hormones and biology, sinfulness, hedonistic society — they were not buffeted with sexual thoughts and wants and desires every five minutes of every day.

      Being so powerful, sexuality can enslave us with its temptations. It is better to be free. The true blessing is the grace of chastity, not some justification for going off to pleasure oneself.

      1. I understand what you say, but it lacks all compassion, and, as such, I cannot agree with you. Just like the Catechism, your view shrieks with idealism and gives no quarter to pastoral concern. You fail to grasp the fact that I didn’t seek and provoke in any way the circumstances in which I find myself. I am deeply disappointed with this view, and I fear there is going to be no meeting of minds here. I have already said in my initial posting that I could leave the church because of the contentions that arise here, and replies like yours could, however sadly. rapidly hasten that outccome.

      2. During the past day I have been reflecting further on this response. While what is expounded may represent a true commentary on the meaning of CCC#2352, I really do resent this insufferable high moral ground that such people adopt in pontificating their views when they themselves are doubtless not affected by the moral challenge under exmination. What, in effect, he is bidding me to do is to develop complete internal control of my psychosexual being,and this to me displays an utter lack of realism. It may be a very purist exposition of what the Catechism says – in which, I notice he has drawn the applause of the Mgr. – but for me it offers no answer at all for my pastoral needs. In fact I would go so far as to suggest that the very premise of his response was cruel and unkind, and, as such, not very Christian. If I myself had been presented with a personal testimony like the one I presented, I hope my initial response would have been one of compassion and of a desire to precisely understand the difficulties of the individual concerned. By contrast, almost as a knee-jerk, I’ve just had the Catechism thrown at me. All most disappointing, inappropriate and unhelpful.

      3. Dear Simon,

        I realize this is late, I received it in my e-mail this morning and immediately thought of you in light of your excruciating and pitiable circumstance. In the hope you might still see this, I thought I’d post it. In addition to the excellent encouragement provided by Scott, it’s my hope this may provide some consolation and strength as well. I’m sure, given the chance, St. Elzear would love to help and provide assistance.

        http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/Saint.aspx?id=1149

        September 25, 2010
        St. Elzear and Blessed Delphina
        (1286-1323) (1283-1358)

        This is the only Franciscan couple to be canonized or beatified formally.

        Elzear came from a noble family in southern France. After he married Delphina, she informed him that she had made a vow of perpetual virginity; that same night he did the same. For a time Elzear, Count of Ariano, was a counselor to Duke Charles of Calabria in southern Italy. Elzear ruled his own territories in the kingdom of Naples and in southern France with justice.

        Elzear and Delphina joined the Secular Franciscans and dedicated themselves to the corporal works of mercy. Twelve poor people dined with them every day. A statue of Elzear shows him curing several people suffering from leprosy.

        Their piety extended to the running of their household. Everyone there was expected to attend Mass daily, go to confession weekly and be ready to forgive injuries.

        After Elzear’s death, Delphina continued her works of charity for 35 more years. She is especially remembered for raising the moral level of the king of Sicily’s court.

        Elzear and Delphina are buried in Apt, France. He was canonized in 1369, and she was beatified in 1694.

        Comment:

        Like Francis, Elzear and Delphina came to see all creation as pointing to its source. Therefore, they did not try ruthlessly to dominate any part of creation but used all of it as a way of returning thanks to God.

        Though childless, their marriage was life-giving for the poor and the sick around them.

        Quote:

        St. Bonaventure wrote: “Francis sought occasion to love God in everything. He delighted in all the works of God’s hands and from the vision of joy on earth his mind soared aloft to the life-giving source and cause of all. In everything beautiful, he saw him who is beauty itself, and he followed his Beloved everywhere by his likeness imprinted on creation; of all creation he made a ladder by which he might mount up and embrace Him who is all-desirable” (Legenda Major, IX, 1).

      4. Simon, I am a convert as well, tho I joined the church about 20 years ago. At first I balked at many of the teachings of the church (I came from fundamentalist background), but early on asked the Lord to show me that, if this WAS His true church, that he would change my heart to accept the hard teachings and make me to see the truth. I do have to say that in EVERY (and there were many) circumstance that I had balked and/or been confused–with a lot of study and sincere, earnest prayer, open to the truth, I came to see that the Church’s teachings were right AND were compassionate.

        I’m very sorry that you feel that the Church isn’t compassionate and posters here are being judgmental,,,i honestly don’t see that. I would strongly encourage you to just give your situation to God, ask his help and ask him to show you what he wants you do to. I would think, as a Christian, you would NOT ever want to offend the Lord and so ask him, that if this behavior IS offensive to HIm, that he would reveal that to you and give you courage/options/whatever you need to overcome it. If he does show you that the Church is right and if you choose to overcome the need, then you can be assured that you will stumble. I’ve had this issue as well–
        *I* (see my post below) did not choose my circumstances either (my husband left after 30+ years, deciding he just didn’t wnt to be married, and we had a satisfactory sex life), but i don’t think it’s my position to demand that i get sex. I look to Paul and his ‘thorn in the flesh’ and know what ALL of us have issues that plaque us and they are different w/ each person. I do stumble, and i do know in my heart-of-hearts that i’ve sinned, so i go to confession and am assured beyond-the-shadow-of-a-doubt of God’s mercy and forgiveness (it took me awhile to ‘get’ confession too! but now i am so grateful for it!! I feel so free afterward!!) And I sincerely try, with prayer, rosaries, etc, to overcome and master my desires instead of letting them master me. It IS a battle, but then we were told it WOULD be a battle (Eph 6) and we are also told to bring EVERYTHING under the Lordship of Christ. Jesus said, in this world you WILL (not IF) have many troubles, but be not afraid. He IS with us and he does have plans for us. Like a loving Father, his plans are good, as are his ‘rules’, even tho we (just like our children) do not see the goodness sometimes,

        Whatever you do, please do not leave the church. Leaving the Eucharist and the truth is not going to change anything except your ability to grow and mature in Him.

        Prayers for you….

        Joan

  9. Msgr,
    Thank you for writing on this important modern topic. I think you did a good job and only want to add one point. I was addicted to masturbation for many years and know selfish fantasy. You talked about sex and procreation. However the cathecism teaches the 2 primary funtions of sex are procreation and unity. My point is simply that the unifying aspects of sex should not be ignored or understated. For those of us who have struggled with selfishness, refocusing our priorities from ourselves and onto the unity (the oneness) that we have become in marriage gives a constant and steady target that can be achieved. Procreation happens infrequently. Growing in love, growing in oneness, becoming more united, making love can happen every time a couple engages in sex.

  10. I am having difficulty in this area, as my husband of over 30 years recently left and filed for divorce. We did have a fairly satisfying sex life and it is now very difficult to live as a celibate person…in fact, how do i do it?? I do occasionally submit to the temptations and always go to confession, but i find that my ‘hormones’ or whatever get the better of me and i fall again…it’s just a vicious circle! I have tried prayers, rosaries, etc, etc, yet still have a great struggle. I know that masturbation is wrong in marriage, but what does one do to keep from stumbling over and over and over when not married??

    1. I can tell you how I do it…

      I focus on the gifts I have in my life rather than what I think I am missing. “Hormones” and urges generate a kind of energy- try channeling it into something else. After a while, channeling that energy becomes habitual. After a while, there is a kind of satisfaction to having control of ones’ self. Spiritual direction helped me here too. At some point, I realized I mostly craved intimacy and talking to someone I trusted helped me a lot. Talking to my priest, another who understood some of the challenges of celibacy, made me feel understood and less, as the world would have had me feel, “weird”.

      1. Joan–don’t give up praying! I was addicted to both pornography/masturbation and drinking. The former ruined my 20+ years marriage and the latter was a vice we both shared. After 15 years away from the Church and 10 years back in, I had settled unhappily for sinning and confessing, but not stopping. Seven years after my marriage ended I asked God to at least let me get through my nephew’s rehearsal dinner and wedding since I was to be a lector. Not only did I get through, but I had no desire for alcohol or pornography or masturbation for the next three years! There was no dramatic healing, but it did involve crying out to God and turning my life over to him. I had fooled myself into thinking I could overcome the sin, but only God could do that.

        So don’t stop praying! He wants to heal you!

    2. Yes, there is a special struggle when one has vivid memories. I would just like to remind that God is our savior here not our enemy and turning to him in your struggle is a sign of saving faith and proper contrition. Some wait many years for deliverance. But all that can be done is prayer and sacraments. One day they will ahve thier medicinal effect.

  11. If looking at someone lustfully is the same thing as committing adultery, does that mean that having a sexual fantasy about someone of the same sex is the same thing as engaging in homosexuality?

  12. Rather than what seems to be your “put down” of Christine, you should have just explained eloquently I think, as you did about masturbation, and say a kind word for her standing up, against the “new morality”. It is easy to criticize or demean her in the political arena to gain a sense of “fairness” or non political bias, but the truth is we need more people like her to speak out. Say a little prayer for her and maybe an apology would be the cross to bear for your nuances about her. I read your blog often, and I’m glad you speak out against the tide of illusions that try to wash us away from the truth.

    1. Yes, well I guess my point was that I am sorry that she seems to have backed down from previous statements so I am not sure she IS still standing up. She was courageous as you state. I wonder where she is today? I am not trying to put her down but her own words in the video suggest that she has stepped back from the laudable Chrisitan position she had

      1. so she is not as steadfast a Christian as you would have her be? I am a sinner and should I not witness to Christ or should my witness be questioned, since I have fallen over and over again? was it not Paul who said, I want to do what is right but I keep failing (my paraphrasing). I think we should be slow to question motives but quick to encourage, and pray. I guess Msgr, forgive me, that I think you are not sticking to your arena, the spiritual well being of your sheep instead of “dabbling” in the realm of the world by clouding the issue. it’s not about her, but about what our moral obligations concerning impurity of our actions. she stood up bravely which is tough in this worldly arena. praise her unconditionally for that and pray for her if you think she is faltering instead of feeding the world with more ammunition, to assault anyone who “dares” to go against the world’s new morality. she’s in politics give her a break, you don’t want to go there, unless you want to make comments about the president and all the other political “leaders” who blatantly promote the destruction of life. Again forgive me for pointing this out to you, but I do love and appreciate your guidance, especially when you address the issues of the invisible realities that really matter, try to find it in your heart to say a kind word for her without following it with a condition. when you make her the issue, you are by default engaging in politics.

      2. You are trying to draw this conversation away from the main point. Some reference to her is required since she is the circumstance of the discussion. However you over interpret my point which is merely a regret that she seems to be backtracking from her position as stated above. I do not dislike Christine O.Donnell. I do not think I owe an apology for simply expressing regret that she is publically distancing herself from her earlier statements and calling them part of her “immature” faith. There is nothing “immature” about these teachings. Hence the remainder of the article trying to show that teachings like these are quite mature. My prayers for her assured.

  13. Any tips on how parents should teach their children about this subject? I don’t have children yet (I’m not even married yet) but I’m already dreading this topic. It would seem to me that if parents talk to their children at a young age, the children might get ideas that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

    1. Well, I’m not an expert by any stretch, but I would like to bring something relevant to light. In my studies, I have read several medieval examinations of conscience. During the High Middle Ages it was common for a priest to inquire into many types of sins after one would confess as a way to ensure that the individual would attain absolution. Masturbation was a particularly difficult topic for the clergy to inquire after at this time, and these books addressed it in detail. These techniques usually would catch it at the age when a male child was sexually maturing but not yet fully post-pubescent. It inquired after the seemingly universal act of discovering that one was able to attain a self-induced erection. However, because pollution was not yet possible, the concept could then be explained, prevented, and virginity restored through absolution. I would imagine that this could be applied to girls as well and adapted to parenting.

      1. Of course I have little expereince with kids but I have discussed this with middle school students in a class room setting, I spoke to the boys alone and the girls alone. I basically presented what I wrote here. They seemed to get it but found it a little hard to fully live up to.

  14. I will link to this excellent post when my Internet connection is working again. iPhone makes it possible to respond in comboxes, but it’s not practical to use for posting.

    I wanted to add another point: The objectification of others in the fantasy, and the objectification of self in the act.

  15. Another point is that sacramental marriage does not give a green light to one spouse or the other to resort to masturbation. Setting aside the arguments already made, marriages have been broken when one spouse seeks satisfaction outside of the marital act. As the ccc points out, it can become a habit. Hence, I think confessors ought to think twice about suggesting that someone struggling with such an addiction get married. The habit must still be brought under control and access to the marital act is no guarantee that masturbation will end.

    1. Perhaps you are right. ALthough I think if we waited for every young person to master this prior to marriage there would be few marriages. It depends a little on what you mean by addiction. It is more common to apply the word compulsion to this issue though I suppose some could be conisdered addicted.

      1. Thanks for your response. I will clarify and elaborate on my point.

        Marriage is for procreation and spousal unity. There is no guarantee that someone who has developed a “force of acquired habit” of masturbation, will not carry it into marriage. If an addiction to pornography is at the root of it, or an imagination which objectifies other women, then there is an even greater chance that it will cause marital problems and bring about an end to the marriage itself. What I am saying is that they ought not be counseled against marriage, but they ought not be counseled into marriage as a solution. This is not the purpose of marriage.

        Further, on this point, what if the person has been trying to find a spouse for many years, but has not had any success? What then? The man (or woman) is then left with a potential to fall into a form of hopelessness because this “solution”, which they have been led to believe will “cure” them, does not seem accessible. They cease looking for ways to bring the behavior to and end, and may ultimately give up on confession.

        I would agree that having someone wait to get married until they have, with God’s grace, mastered self-control in this area, would not be prudent. However, I think at one time, some confessors may have been taught to suggest marriage for those who continue to struggle with it. On the surface it may seem like a logical “solution”. However, I would hope that priests and theologians would re-think this more deeply.

        Let’s look at another angle: What if a young man struggling with the problem is actually called by God to be a priest? Let’s say that he has developed, “force of acquired habit”. While this is a mitigating circumstance, it ought not be used in any way to let the person off the hook in terms of working to end what is displeasing to God. It’s not impossible, with God’s grace, to overcome this. He would be wise to find a virtuous confessor and return to him weekly, if necessary. A good and wise confessor will work on the development of the young man’s spiritual life which will allow God’s grace to work. When the young man learns to recognize the early stages of temptation, and ways to exit that, ultimately learning to control a will which currently controls him, he will some day make a very good confessor for others who struggle with sexual sins. This is all true whether the young person is called to be a priest, called to consecrated life, marriage or dedicated single life.

        I’ve often said that temptation is like a ladder. When you recognize you are on the first rung of the ladder, do what you must to get off. Each step becomes more difficult to get down and the risk for falling goes up. If it is something on the internet, get off at that moment and go do something else. If it is something on TV, change the channel. The “eye” that needs to be plucked out, could be avoiding favorite, prime-time programs, which – in themselves – are displeasing to God by the amount of sinful and unvirtuous behavior they seem to encourage anyway (I was always taken aback by the many Catholics who regularly watched “Desperate Housewives”). If it is something at the check-out line at the grocery story, train your eyes to look at the buggy in front when you go through, rather than the content. Some might call these things prudery. I call them time-tested methods taught by saints in the form of “custody of the eyes”. Imagine what those saints would say today about our sex-saturated society. Sexual jokes permeate even children’s “G” rated movies in ways that may initially go over their heads, but not the heads of adults in the audience for whom these things are targeted.

        Chances are, that if a soul has developed a force of acquired habit of masturbation, working on taming a will which currently has tamed it’s own master, can be a fruitful way to end it. Saying “no” to other, smaller things, trains the will to say “no” to bigger things (learn to say “no” to a piece of chocolate as you are craving it and offer it up as a sacrifice). Both lead to holiness, which we should all pursue.

        For those struggling with this, I would suggest that when it comes to saying “no” to something sexual which is not yours to have, offer up that pain in reparation for those who have suffered sexual abuse by a priest, a parent, a teacher, or other adult. Offer it up for a priest who struggles with some kind of sexual sin that he be given the grace to overcome it. Offer it up for a young person who is addicted to pornography, etc. I think you get idea. Don’t underestimate the power of the Blessed Virgin Mary and your guardian angel, asking for their assistance. Do the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary following the 30 day prep by St. Louis de Montfort.

      2. Msgr.,
        “ALthough I think if we waited for every young person to master this prior to marriage there would be few marriages.” I understand what you are saying, but I think this constitutes a lowering of the bar of which you have spoken critically in articles about Marriage,annulment and divorce. Maybe education about sexuality should be more a part of marriage preparation than it is in the Church now. And then if the Church required every young person to at least try to master this before Marriage, we would have not fewer Marriages, but fewer divorces.

  16. In a culture where people get everything they want and fast, from fast food to incredibly short times for compupters to find results, everyone wants something instantaneously, including sexual satisfaction. Having a partner is too demanding, so they turn to masturbation for assistance. I have found that sexual feelings always go away with time and do not have to be satisfied by touching or stimulating oneself. No one really needs sex, but lust can become addictive. I, however, am one example that sex is not necessary for health or happiness, being a chaste and celibate spouse of Christ. I have other joys that supplant sex and that are beneficial to everyone, morally. I love to write my books and my blogs, which can be found here:

    http://mysite.verizon.net/vzezunbp/

    No, sex is not essential for happiness. Only those who want children and who are in love with someone in marriage should express themselves sexually. Anything else, especially with the use of contraceptives, is really masturbating. Sex without love is always masturbating, whether alone when the sin is committed on oneself, to sex with others outside of marriage, which is masturbating on someone else.

    1. Yes, I think you are right that sexual feeling do go away with time. Some think of them as like a steam that has to be released or the person will explode. But like most passions they can and do abate.

  17. Hey, whatever happened to “His Prince Michael”? It seems that the Monsignor has, as is his manner, silenced the gainsayer. A simple request to speak plain English, and the self-described “descendant of King Solomon” is vanquished. “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men in whom there is no salvation.”

  18. The Monsignor notes,”It is no wonder that in these lustful times so permeated with pornography that marriage and family are so devastated.” Oh, no, Monsignor! I’m sure that these social phenomena are entirely coincidental!

  19. At some level, that may be why many protestant ‘churches’ do not preach against masturbation. If masturbation is a sin, then it is logically indefensible to support the use of a spermicide or condom.

  20. I too have wondered how to address this topic, as one of my children seemed particularly drawn to masturbate, and did so frequently from babyhood on through girlhood. I could not seem to have any influence on her behavior, which during her younger years was surely not sinful – but later, she would sometimes tell me her faults in this regard, and confess them at confession also. There really was no reason for her initial discovery of her body’s ability to feel good in this way – no sexual abuse of any kind ever took place with her, I am sure. But it was also something I was not comfortable asking my doctor or priest about, either. In this case, I am thankful for the relative anonymiity of the internet.

    So, any suggestions on curtailing masturbation when a young child is doing it, presumably without any sinful fantasy? And ideas would also be appreciated for older kids (say, age 7 – 15) who are still very innocent yet who struggle with it – I related to the earlier commenter who didn’t want to plant ideas.

      1. My mantra for very young children was “your [insert word your family uses for genitalia] is not a toy”, and I would gently remove hands. With younger school-age children, my emphasis is on politeness – we don’t handle that part of our body in public, and if you do it in private, it is habit-forming and hard not to do in public. For me, young teens are the hardest, but I think you just have to swallow hard and have that discussion – as with other difficult issues. And emphasize that – with effort – this habit/passion, too, will pass. And emphasize the help of God. And perhaps that old saw, that God does not give us burdens we cannot bear, even though sometimes we can’t see how we can bear them or how we benefit from them. I would use an example from your own life if you can – not with this same issue, but something else that illustrates the point.

  21. Surely there is a hierarchy in these matters. Adultery,ceteris paribus, being more sinful than fornication. Fornication more sinful than masturbation. Masturbation more sinful than a passing feeling of lust, briefly entertained. And without denying that all of these are sinful, I hope it does not follow that all are mortal sins in every circumstance. Years ago, when I was a boy, the rule, as preached, was masturbation “is a mortal sin (period), and I suspect that most teenage boys (if that were true) spent most of their youth headed (if they took it literally) on the road to Hell — irrespective of their attendance at Mass, efforts to be good Christians, decent sons, helpful brothers, etc. I think the teaching of my youth was distinctly lacking in realistic moral perspective. I hope it has changed.

    1. Yes, I think you are right, as you say “other things being equal.” While all of them can be mortal there are factors that may mitigate culpability. You will note that the Catechism quote takes that into account.

  22. “This is what makes masturbation sinful for it clearly involves fantasizing about sexual activity about some one not our spouse.”

    Are you suggesting here that masturbation is acceptable as long as it’s fantasizing about one’s spouse?

    Also, while I agree with the literal interpretation in many areas could Christ not be using the “lust” analogy here in the same way we Catholics interpret his prohibition about calling “no man father? (teacher etc…). Those references were not literal as Christ Himself uses them father and teacher a few verses later. Could it be that His example is just that… an example of how we can take things too far. By assuming desire in ones heart automatically equal physical action are we crossing a line He did not draw? Often we see “good thoughts” in the NT which if not followed by action become meaningless. I would offer that perhaps the quoted verses from Matt are more of a warning. That if you harbor lust for another in your heart, it could/would lead to actual adultery.

    I believe this also ties into free will as well. Our course we as a Church, as did you in this excellent explanation of Catholic teaching, cover that with the continued focus that would be willful after a momentary thought.

    My last thought would in regards to how something like this is truly a mortal sin. While it definitely takes our focus from God, is it really a rejection of the terms of justification? or rather is it, like the other venial sins something that turns us a little but not 180 degrees from God. Of course like most venial sins, obsession with the act could lead to it become mortal. However with all the “exceptions” in the CCC it’s difficult for both lay ministers as well as for many Priests to call it in today’s Culture as obsession / addiction in this case seems to move it the other direction.

    My apologies if I tried to squeeze too much into one response.

    1. You are correct in point out that my sentence you quoted is flawed. However, I did go on to quote the Catechsim which includes other dimensions of masturbation that also render it sinful.

      As for your second point, I don’t think it holds in that we don’t see Christ using lust in a different manner elsewhere.

      As to your 3rd point I think the CCC is pretty clear that there are factors that reduce culpability

  23. I ask your pardon once more Msgr to indulge me one more time. That is precisely the point, stick to the main point without, adding “regrets” since it has nothing to do with the gravity of the sin of lust. Be mindful you are a spiritual leader and she is a politician, more has been given you and more is expected of you. I thank you for your prayers, and pray for me too as I am prone to “overreact” when I think an attack is made on an unsuspecting sheep, as we all are, and you the Lord’s shepherd to guide us. thank you.

  24. Simon,
    Your questions are scratching the surface of an extremely deep topic: the concept of sin. The nature of sin has been a subject of debate for literally thousands of years, from the early Greek dialogues to Augustine to Thomas Aquinas and onwards. These are vital and important discussions, and their relevance to Catholic doctrine is, among other things, what sets the Church apart from fundamentalism. An internet blog cannot possibly provide to you the guidance and understanding you seek (unless say, Joseph Ratzinger happened to reply).
    But the journey towards understanding is vastly more rewarding than you can imagine, and I hope you accept the challenge. I am no authority, but there are some excellent books on the subject of sin by the Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper (“The Concept of Sin” – very short, and “Faith, Hope, Love”). Perhaps the good Monsignor can offer a few suggestions (for the benefit of all of us), and/or his opinion on Josef Pieper. (please Msgr, nothing in Latin.)
    I have a friend who is a great scholar, and a Catholic; when I became obsessed with what I percieved as a complete wrongness in Catholic doctrine– and distressed that it might lead to my exit of the Church– he would just calmly say “Remember M, the greatest of saints asked lots of questions.”

  25. Thank you Msgr. Pope for taking on this most awkward of topics. I have a comment & a question.

    As many young men I had a problem with this through the teen years and early adulthood that would later be coupled together with viewing porn in it’s various mediums and fornication. Through these years I struggled with this habit and the associated guilt but was unable to stop completely. After marrying and becoming a father I quickly shed these behaviors by the grace of God and by participating in the Church’s Sacramental life.

    Now as a married man I had to learn to tame my libido which is significantly stronger than that of my wife, as we engage in the marital embrace typically once or twice or less in any given month. I have become content as a condition of my marriage to be continent.

    During these periods of continence I will occasionally have nocturnal emissions that are sometimes accompanied by lustful dreams. I am distressed by these and have a hard time sorting these events out. My gut instinct says since this happens involuntarily that it is no sin, but just a subconscious flashback to images of haunting past. Would that be a correct conclusion?

    1. Yes, I would concur with your judgment in this, dreams are not voluntary and hence do not involve guilt. Of course there is another matter to consider with your wife in terms of frequency. It seems she might be a bit more generous in assisting you to be freer of sexual tensions as Paul suggests in 1 Cor 7. However, I understand you may have to pick you battles and if you are at peace I would not want to stir up trouble.

  26. Pardon the length of this reply, but I’ve thought a lot about this topic and I may have some insights that are not merely echoes of Msgr. Pope’s original post. I’ll try to be tactful.

    (Aside: Obviously my comments do not apply to those suffering from considerable mental illness or who are immature in the developmental sense.)

    As a young man coming back to the Faith, I found the proscriptions against masturbation “hard teachings.” We are taught by the world today that masturbation is simply one of many “victimless crimes,” and that to teach its immorality is scandalous and unhealthy. However, there is no excuse for masturbation from the standpoint of Reason and Faith, and it is almost always the expression of a weak and unchaste will when one entertains lustful thoughts and engages in auto-erotic actions to complement them.

    Rather than focus on the fantasizing, however, I think it is more interesting to consider the act of masturbation alone, for one could technically argue that he need not fantasize in order to masturbate. I argue that such is of no account, because the physical act itself is objectively evil, even when not coupled with fantasizing. Why? Well, for any Catholic steeped in the Church’s understanding of sexuality, the following question should make my conclusion obvious: what is sexuality for?

    First of all, sexuality is meant for unity with another. But masturbation is auto-erotic, and is therefore a turning-inward (indeed, a turning-against) of one’s sexuality. Masturbation is vanity, self-absorption, self-sufficiency. I could go on and on. The point is that these are negatives, and deadly ones at that. That act of masturbation is a seeking of contentment wholly unto oneself and a cutting off from the world. A man who masturbates regularly has that much less desire to put forward the effort required to love and come to know others, above all women within friendships. I will testify personally that it was not until I gained more control over my sexuality that I finally began to be friends with women.

    Second and most importantly, sexuality is meant for procreation. To masturbate is to use one’s body as a machine, treating the orgasm as a bodily function no higher than emptying one’s bladder. There is no hint in the act that there could be the power of life-giving, of working with God to beget a new and unique person made in His image and likeness. Sexuality is a God-endowed work of art, not a “function.”

    I hope these comments help people understand the gravity of the act in and of itself. There are good reasons the Church teaches against it, but as Msgr. Pope has noted, the Catechism talks well of the issue. Many considerations must come into play in evaluating the act after the fact, but this does not weaken the injunction against masturbation.

    My thanks to the good Monsignor for this post.

    1. In high school, we were taught sex ed by one of the nuns. One of her sayings was, “All sexual acts should be for re-creation NOT recreation.”

  27. Aside from my analysis in the previous post, I want to give some feedback.

    Simon, it seems like you’ve already made your decision against the teachings of the Catholic Church on this topic. However, I’d ask to reconsider your dislike of “idealism.” Was it not Christ Himself who said “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect?” The Church is not being unreasonable here. We are all given crosses to bear, and they don’t seem distributed equally. However, place your trust in God and His Church, and allow your anguish to be sublimated into a heroic love through the power of Christ.

    People have mentioned how to talk to young people about this. My only input is that they must first understand the importance of self-mastery and desire it sincerely before they will be able to take chasteness seriously. This doesn’t mean a parent can’t start the teaching process until late into young adulthood (I like the simplicity of saying “it’s not polite to touch yourself there”), but young people won’t understand the importance of chasteness until the understand the heroic nature of self-mastery.

  28. I really do resent this insufferable high moral ground that such people adopt in pontificating their views when they themselves are doubtless not affected by the moral challenge under exmination

    Really now, Simon, you protest too much. You really do. There is little pontificating going on here, and you are hardly the only person to have ever had sexual desires, or desire for love expressed by physical affection.

    Indeed, if I may be so bold as to speak for others — every single guy has or has had that exact same desire. We have all been in, if not that same boat as you, a boat that is just like it in every relevant respect. We know the desire, we know the temptation, we know the passion.

    In fact, the greatest theologian the Church has ever known, St. Augustine (that’s right you Thomists out there), knew this problem right down into the depths of his being.

    So, please do not think that you are all alone in this regard — we all have had to struggle. Some of us, having given some thought to the matter, understand why it is that this particular activity is wrong. It is not wrong because the rules say it is wrong, rather, the rules say what they say because it is wrong. It is wrong not because the Church says so, not because the Catechism says so, not because of some oppressive priests and bishops say so, but because reason and the nature of the human person say so. And not only is it wrong, but given how powerful sexuality is, giving into it only feeds the beast, leading one to become enslaved by such desire.

    Rather than continuing to try to justify it, it would be a lot better for you if you too would seek understanding. And no one is saying that it is easy to overcome. In fact, it is difficult, very difficult especially in this society. So difficult in fact that it might be impossible for one to overcome it himself — hence the need for grace. Only with the grace of the Holy Spirit will the beast be put at bay. But you need to want to accept that grace. You need to want to be the master of your domain.

    But what is perhaps most disturbing, is this mind-set that five minutes of self-pleasure is more important to you than the Church, more important than the sacraments; indeed, more important than salvation (which is through the Church). It profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul, but for a couple of fleeting moments of masturbatory pleasure???

    Come on man, quit chasing after the big O, it really is not all that important in the scheme of things.

  29. I’m from the Philippines and I don’t intend to comment on very item that has appeared in this exchange of views. I have been a Catholic all my life and I have always understood through the teachings of the Church that masturbation is a mortal sin in itself. Of course, some personal circumstances may render it venial. Yet a masturbatory act is an objectively grievously sin. Likewise it is clear to me that the sinfulness of the act of masturbation is not in the fantasizing that precedes it or accompanies it, but in the act itself: the use of the sexual organs for pleasure alone independent of its reproductive nature.

    I have also always known that anybody in a state of mortal sin should not receive Holy Communion. I also know that we are obliged under pain of mortal sin to attend a complete Holy Mass every Sunday. But never have I been taught that it is an obligation to receive Holy Communion in every Mass I attend. In fact, I know that if I am not in the state of sanctifying grace during Mass, I am obliged not to receive Holy Communion. I must first confess my mortal sins to a priest in Sacramental Confession.

    Holy Communion is a wonderful reality and if received worthily it nourishes us spiritual. But if we receive it in the state of mortal sin, it in no way heals us. In fact it is a sin in itself, a sacrilegious communion, very grievous. Yes Christ came to save sinners. But also to set rules which Our Holy Mother the Church teaches us.

    I have also always known that the act of masturbation consists of willfully touching our sexual organs to experience sexual pleasure, whether we reach ejaculation or not. The sin is in the act itself and not in the fantasizing. In fact, when one confesses this sin to a priest, there is no need to mention that we fantasized. And some people I have talked too claim you could masturbate by fondling your sexual organs without fantasizing at all.

  30. “Second and most importantly, sexuality is meant for procreation”. This is another fixation of this teaching which is wrong. Does it not occur to you that not all of us are of the procreastional stage in life? Sex is not for procreation when you’re in your mid-60’s! I read rubbish like this, and I don’t wonder I considering leaving.

    1. Even when pregnancy is not possible (not ovulating, infertility, or age), the marital act still accomplishes the goal of making the couple two in one flesh and thereby allows them to experience themselves as one. Sexuality is for procreation and marital communion- neither of which masturbation serves. This is what I was taught by the Church in marriage prep. I think, in the day and age when contraception is a prevailing norm among Catholics, teaching about procreation tends to be the loudest but hardly the only teaching.

  31. In high school, we were taught sex ed by one of the nuns. One of her sayings was, “All sexual acts should be for re-creation NOT recreation.”

    So, how many years are we into the sexual revolution? Fifty years, more or less? And has this idea of recreational sex made anyone happier or more fulfilled? No, it is only brought more misery and unhappiness.

    As for sex being primarily for procreation, the problem that we have had with the teachings of the Church are not what the Church teaches, but how that teaching has been presented. The statement that sex is for procreation is true, but incomplete and, therefore, somewhat misleading.

    On the one hand, even godless heathens and pagans understand that sex is for the perpetuation of the species. Even when some 68-year-old guy is involved, sex (with another person or with himself) explicitly involves the emission of procreative genetic material. When that sex is with a woman, it involves the transmission of procreative genetic material into her reproductive tract, where it might meet and join with procreative genetic material from the woman.

    This is not “fixation,” this is merely acknowledging the truth of sex. However, the Church does NOT reduce sexual activity to the mere biological in this way.

    Rather, in addition to this biological truth, what the Church teaches is that the primary purpose of sex is LOVE, which is consistent with the revelation in scripture and our bodies that the meaning of life is to love and be loved. The primary purpose of human sexuality is love, which elevates us above the level of animals.

    The fullness of love has two aspects to it — (1) it is unitive, that is, unifying, it creates communion between persons, two become one; and (2) it is fruitful, that is, such love bursts out from itself and bears fruit, including other human beings in procreation. This truth of love and the human person is made manifest in the spousal meaning of the body. If sexual love is contrary to this fullness of love, unitive and fruitful, if it frustrates this love purposely or by design, then it is not really an act of love or truth.

    As human persons, we are called to the best, we are called to rise above our base animal inclinations. We are called to perfect love, perfect truth, perfect freedom.

    And this teaching of love and truth of the Church is not an oppressive burden, rather it is a beacon of light to a dark world. It is not a negative teaching, merely a bunch of don’t do this, don’t do that. Rather, it is a supremely positive teaching. It says that we should not settle for the profane, for mere appearances and counterfeit affection, but should instead strive for the best in love and in truth, which alone will set us free.

    1. Bender-

      As much as we “made fun of” this nun with the sayings, I find myself using them regularly with my children. I think, as youth, we poked fun because we understood the truth in her words and inconsistence with our actions. Years later, as in most things, truth prevails. Yes, my body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit and no one should violate the temple,” and all boys are my “brothers in Christ until God gives them to me in marriage,” and I should treat all others outside that sacrament as I would my biological brother. There are too many others to cite here. She was a wise (and blunt) woman, and I wish I heeded her advice much earlier in my life.

  32. Wonderfully put, and in an ideal world this would be fine, but of course it wouldn’t dawn on you that not all married couples want children. The Catholic “default” position is not even to countenance that this should ever be the case. Oh dear! My wife and I have never wanted a family, and for us, anything otherwise would have been a disaster. Nothing to do with selfishness, everything to do with realising that not all married people have the parental gift or are predisposed to all that would be involved. Again, the problem with the Catechism in this area, is that it makes sweeping presumptions with no acknowledgement that there are, or can be, ligitimate exceptions.

  33. “In high school, we were taught sex ed by one of the nuns. One of her sayings was, “All sexual acts should be for re-creation NOT recreation.”

    The logical conclusion to this school of thought is that once a married couple have completed their family, they should remain abstinent for the rest of their lives. Is this what you’re saying? Actually, notwithstanding what I have asserted in other posts, paradoxically I concede that this could well be true. As soon as sex is not for procreation, is clearly when all the trouble starts, Forget “natural” methods of contraception (and obviously other kinds), if any act of sexual intercourse in not specifically enjoined with the possibility of pregnancy, then we must abjure sex altogether and be celibate.

  34. Simon, you are still misinterpreting the teachings of the Church, and I’m not sure you are honestly willing to open yourself up to these teachings. It comes down to this: God has an intention for human sexuality, and in deliberately rejecting that intention, you set your face against God. What is hard to understand in all of this

    You are fixating on that quote from this nun, but if you’ve been reading any of the replies on this post, you will see that that quick statement of hers doesn’t sum up the Church’s teaching in the least. It’s too simplistic. Read through the replies again, and then please go sit down and think for a while in peace. Pray to God for help in this, because you are obviously trying to harmonize what you want and what he wants, and they are contradictory things which cannot be synthesized.

    1. Asc a direct result of my engagement with these replies, I have now had a meeting with a member of the monastic community where I am a lay member here in England. It was he who instructed me in the faith when I converted to Roman Catholicism (from Anglicanism) in 2007, and who knows a lot of my background well. I set out all my disquiet to him, and although I still have some misgivings, his patient explanations put my mind at rest and I am at peace in my mind now. I also had the sacrament of reconciliation at the same time. I am so sorry for any offence I have caused here. God bless.

  35. I think an important distinction needs to be made: the difficulty lies not in understanding what is wrong, but in changing one’s behavior.

    Finally, Simon… if this was a humble turn of heart (posted September 25, 2010 at 4:36 am), I have to tell you that the public show of your acceptance of the teaching of the Church is astounding. I’m glad you shared it because it is easy to see in this how much more amazing and wonderful is continual conversion than ‘being right’ which is really hell.

    God bless you Simon, and thanks again for sharing your very personal and inspiring testimony.

  36. Thank you, Ron, for your kind words. However, I should explain that there is a corollary to all this. Regrettably, this episode has thrown into sharp relief the fact that there are mutually deeply entrenched positions between me and the Church in the areas of moral theology that deal with sex and marriage, and while I am glad to have made my peace on the particular issue that has arisen recently to which I have referred in my earlier postings here, the potential for future conflict is very great, so I have had to acknowledged that, for the good of all concerned, I have to walk away. So very sad, not least after an immense struggle over five years at various levels to be received into the church in the first place, just three years ago.

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