The full Catholic teaching on masturbation seems to be a secret
to most people. It is a challenging teaching. But because this teaching calls us
to live in a fully human way, it’s good
“Is masturbation wrong?”
Yes. The Catholic teaching on masturbation says that masturbation
is always morally wrong. Sex is intended to be both an expression of love for
your spouse, and a beautiful means of procreation. Sex is so special, powerful,
and valuable that
it is properly used only within marriage. If you’re not married, you should
abstain from sexual activity. I know: this is all very counter-cultural. The
truth sometimes is!
Sex is the ultimate gift husbands and wives can give: a total
gift of self, body and soul. Sex is how you fulfill your wedding vows to love
totally, freely, and completely. As long as you both shall live. The secret of
life is hidden in that intimate sharing. The Catholic teaching on masturbation
says that masturbation denies every aspect of that promise of sex — of that
promise of your vows!
Focused on yourself
A withholding from your spouse
A statement that sex is only
about pleasure — your own pleasure
Often accompanied by “adultery
in your heart” through pornography and fantasy
Catholics don’t condemn masturbation just because of some lofty
idea of what the natural purpose of sex is. We speak the truth about the harm it
does to people. That is the true reason for the Catholic teaching on
masturbation: it denies the meaning of sex. It makes you less than
“But everyone else says masturbation is healthy!”
Yes, they do. The world has a way of saying that a lot of
disordered things are “good”. Masturbation is radically self-centered, and
radically un-Christian. That’s why the Catholic teaching on masturbation says
it’s wrong. It turns us and our sexuality away from God and toward ourselves by:
Training our sexuality in the habit of
self-indulgence, not self-giving
Divorcing the pleasure of orgasm
from union with the “other”, your spouse
Turning away from the risks of
Refusing fertility & the full
responsibility of sex
I know — many educators and health professionals seem to be
having a love affair with self-centered, self-indulgent sexuality. Why that is,
I don’t know. They’re wrong. They’re not telling you the truth about sex, about
yourself, or about life. You and your sexuality are worth more than
you can imagine.
Chastity: The Catholic teaching on masturbation is
centered on a virtue called chastity.
It means giving sexuality its proper place in our lives. Not snuffing it out,
but not giving it free reign. A proper place. Chastity is one of the Fruits of
the Holy Spirit. (See Catechism, 2337 -
The deep truth of the Catholic teaching on masturbation is
confirmed by the enormous damage this so-called “private” act causes in people’s
lives and marriages. Large numbers of men and women are starting to name their
habit of masturbation for what it is: sexual addiction.
If we tell our teens that masturbation is normal and healthy,
we’re setting them up with a habit that can yield a lifetime of difficulty.
We’re telling them that self-indulgence and lack of self-control are positive
things. This cannot form
a strong foundation for mature, loving sexuality. How is that either loving or
Freedom & responsibility
This talk of habit raises
an important point: when is masturbation a sin? And
how bad a sin is it? The Catholic teaching on masturbation says that
masturbation is a grave sin, what we call a mortal
sin, by which we reject God’s offer of life. However, Catholic morality also
acknowledges that the force of habit can
reduce or even eliminate our responsibility for our actions.
We have to freely consent in order to
be fully responsible.
If a habit makes something less
than a free choice, it also reduces our responsibility for our actions.
This does not give
us free reign if we just call something a habit! Sinful actions still harm us
greatly, even if we may not be fully charged with the guilt of committing them.
We have a responsibility to seek help and diligently strive to overcome our
The Lord is patient & merciful. He desperately wants to free us
from the slavery of sin. But we have to do our part, too. If you think you’re
trapped in the habit of masturbation or one of its close cousins (pornography,
infidelity, prostitution, etc.), seek the competent help of
a priest who supports the Church’s sexual morality, and specifically the
Catholic teaching on masturbation. (Don’t be shy! They’ve heard it all before.
Sadly, it’s quite common.)
“Does the Catholic teaching on masturbation say we should
repress our sexuality?”
There’s a difference between repression and self-control.
Repression means to “stuff” those feelings down when they arise, denying
them and wishing they weren’t there. Repression doesn’t work. Many people try
this route and fail. Self-control is different. You don’t deny the
reality of your sexual drive, but seek to control it according to your will.
That’s called being free! If
you’re a slave to your urges (sexual or otherwise), you’re not free.
“For you were called to freedom,
brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but
through love be servants of one another.” (Gal
The key to this is to redeem our
sexuality, not to repress it. Christopher West makes this point about the
Catholic teaching on masturbation in Good
News About Sex and Marriage:
When sexual feelings, desires, and
temptations present themselves, as they inevitably do, instead of trying to
ignore them or “stuff” them by pushing them down and under, we need to bring
them up and out. Not up and out in the sense of indulging them, but up and
out and into the hands of Christ our Redeemer. You might simply say a prayer
such as this: Lord Jesus, I give you my sexual desires. Please undo in me
what sin has done so that I might know freedom in this area and experience
sexual desire as you intend. Amen.
The more we invite Christ into our
passions and desires and allow him to purify them, the more we find we’re
able to exercise proper control of them. And we begin more and more to
experience our sexuality, not as the desire for selfish gratification but as
the desire to give ourselves away in imitation of Christ. This is what
redemption is all about. (Good News About Sex and Marriage, p.81)
The Catholic teaching on masturbation reminds us that we need to
redeem our self-centered, disordered desires. It’s a matter of bringing our
disorders to Christ, naming them for what they are, and letting Christ heal us.
We experience that healing as the gradual increase of self-control. It is possible.
You’re worth far too much to live according to a lie about
yourself. For your freedom was bought at a great price: the price of the blood
So go on: Let yourself be redeemed. Live in the “glorious freedom
of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Alleluia!
See also: Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2352:
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."138 "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
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,
Confusing answers in the confessional: See:
New Catholic Encyclopedia (scholarly article):
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