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):
There are questions we have
as Catholics that simply have never been answered. We’ve looked it up in the Catechism or
have read the great writings of the Church Fathers and still haven’t been able
to put two and two together.
I serve as a spiritual
director to amazing Catholic women. On occasion, I’ll receive a question where I
just don’t know the answer, so I’ll do some digging before I respond. The
questions often involve living their sexuality the way it’s intended—in light of
God’s design for self-gift—and most importantly, in the context of their
vocations: single, religious, and married.
A young woman recently asked
whether or not she can receive the Eucharist at Mass after having masturbated
and consumed pornography, especially if she hadn’t participated in the Sacrament
Now, I have a hunch that
99.9% of Catholics have
asked or have been asked this question. But how many of us have been
able even to answer the question confidently, knowing that what we’re saying is
Thomas Loya, Byzantine Catholic Priest and Theology
of the Body Expert, serves selflessly in parish life and through a
ministry he co-founded, Tabor
Life Institute. Through Tabor Life, he
travels the world speaking to questions like the one at hand. What I appreciate
the most about Father Loya is his passion and zeal to help form and educate
seminarians and priests on Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology
of the Body. He also mentors and guides single people like myself
and married couples to live every day with a Sacramental Worldview.
Culpability and Taking
Ownership of Our Sins
Father Loya said in a recent
interview with Covenant Eyes that “While an action can be objectively sinful,
the Church takes into consideration the circumstances relative to the action
which figures into the degree of culpability for the sin. This is especially the
case in sexual sins like consuming pornography and masturbating.”
He continues, “Lustful
thoughts or glances occur within a split second. Given these circumstances, a
man or woman who slips into these momentary thoughts of lust should ask
forgiveness from God but should not refrain from receiving Holy Communion. This
Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is essential to our spiritual growth. It also
has the property of the forgiveness of sins. By this, we do not mean that the
Eucharist is a replacement for Confession, especially in the case of more
serious sins. But there is a property of forgiveness of sins in the
“When sin is habitual, and
of a more intended and serious nature, the person should not receive Holy
Communion unless they went to Confession,” he told me.
The topic of culpability can
be complicated, though. Someone struggling daily with sexual addiction often
does not have the energy to focus on a topic that can seem tedious when fighting
for their vocation and, depending on the addiction’s intensity, their life. This
is why we, as a Church, must be more open to talking about pornography
consumption and masturbation.
Through open conversation,
we can equip parents to
start ongoing conversations at younger and younger ages, catechize
and evangelize through our diocesan and parish ministries,
accountable relationships as
often as possible. It may be difficult at first, but it creates a culture of
honesty, accountability, healing, mercy, and trust.
Masturbation and Porn
Are Always Sinful
Father Loya, who has years
of experience teaching and forming on the topic, said, “Masturbation
and looking at pornography are always a sin. Being addicted to something that is
objectively sinful does not negate its sinfulness.”
Father Loya continued to
explain, “However, the fact that the person’s will power has been compromised
through addiction does lessen
the culpability. This perspective should be understood as compassion that helps
guard the addict against despair or dejection. Having a lessened culpability
should not be interpreted that being addicted gives someone a total pass in
culpability, though. Nor should it encourage a certain casual attitude toward
the seriousness of the sinful condition. The addict should strive for even
greater resolve to overcome their addiction.”
The Church has significant
and life-changing ministries to encourage and promote in the daily life of our
parishes. These include counseling, therapy, and support groups. These are vital
to overcoming long term struggles with masturbation and pornography.
However, Father Loya
emphasized that there is something even more readily available and healing for
God’s people: “These sins are ultimately overcome by a fundamental act of the
person’s will, together with the Graces that come from a committed Sacramental,
spiritual and prayer life.”
Greater Clarity for
Reception of Holy Communion
“Masturbation is a sin
in which influencing circumstances must always be considered,” Father Loya said.
“For example, a highly hormonal teenager has a much lesser degree of culpability
in masturbation than a mature adult. Also, there are times when the human mind
and willpower are more vulnerable and less able to resist temptation. This is
during times of fatigue, illness, depression, frustration, during stages of
twilight sleep, or when a person has been sexually stimulated but did not intend
or choose to be. In
such cases, the person can ask forgiveness personally and as part of the Mass
and still receive Holy Communion. But, they should go to Confession as soon as
Conscience Before Confession
Now that we have clarity on
when or when not to receive Holy Communion after having masturbated or consumed
pornography, how do we prepare ourselves to receive the Lord’s forgiveness in
the Sacrament of Confession? Father Loya said there are five questions to ask
yourself as you prepare:
What were the vulnerabilities at the time?
actions are you taking to increase your purity of heart?
strong is your will to move beyond these sins?
4. How can
you break some of your basic life patterns to deflect the energy of temptation?
5. What is
the next step you will take toward purity of heart?
participating in the Sacrament of Confession, Father Loya suggests the following
steps men and women can take to pursue more profound and deeper healing.
LEARN HOW TO SEE SACRAMENTALLY I call this the
“see-pray-and-pass-on” technique. We cannot avoid seeing things that are
attractive and presented in sexual ways. It is all around us. So, we have to
learn how to “see.” When we see someone attractive, even if they are dressed
provocatively, we should train ourselves to turn that vision into prayer
immediately. Thank God for making such beauty, and pray that God blesses that
person. Pray for their salvation. Then turn our gaze and thoughts to other
things. Visit art museums or get books on art, especially books with a lot of
Catholic art where the human body, even in its nakedness, was used as a motif in
holy art. Learn to see the human body in its sacramentality, glory, and beauty.
BECOME FAMILIAR WITH THE THEOLOGY OF THE BODY Personally, I love
Pope Saint John Paul II’s teachings on the human person and sexuality,
especially his books, “Love and Responsibility,” and the “Theology of the Body.”
FEED YOURSELF ONLY ON THE BEST Feed your mind, senses, and body
only on the best things—culture, great music, art, healthy foods, books, and
nature. The more that we feed ourselves on that which elevates our mind and
soul, the more we lose our appetite for the banal and the pornified, which
brings us to low existence levels.
MEET YOUR HUMAN NEEDS Come to know and meet your most legitimate
needs as a person on all the levels of our existence: intellectually,
spiritually, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Find out what makes
you more genuinely alive—your truest and best version of yourself? It is not
possible to attain these needs entirely and always. But strive to meet these
needs even in small ways. You cannot give what you do not have. The more
fulfilled we are as persons in terms of legitimate needs (I do not mean selfish
“wants”), the less vulnerable we are to the temptations of our fallen passions
BE A GIFT TO OTHERS Ask yourself in every moment, “How can I make
a gift of myself to this person in this moment?” This is a way of “getting out
of ourselves,” which is key in overcoming fallen passions. We are made by God to
make a gift of ourselves. Lust and pornography are counterfeit ways to seek the
fulfillment that can only be found in living the life of Christ.
KNOW WHEN YOU ARE VULNERABLE Come to know the most vulnerable
times of your day (when sleeping, waking, being alone, etc.). Change your
patterns during these times. Come to know what circumstances leave you most
vulnerable— frustration, anger, disappointment, loneliness, etc. Through
self-reflection, prayer, counseling, or spiritual direction, try to bring
healing and better perspective to these vulnerable areas.
BE A PERSON OF PRAYER Pray, develop silence, and add Scripture
and spiritual reading into your day-to-day routine.
DO NOT RUN FROM YOUR SEXUALITY Instead, run toward it, but with
the Sacramental vision and understanding of it.
TAKE ON THE TRADITIONS OF THE CHURCH Have elements of monasticism
and asceticism in the rhythm of your life. Observe the fasting periods of the
Church. Practice saying “no” to yourself in little ways (skip dessert, read the
Bible instead of looking at your iPhone or computer, etc.).
SET GOALS FOR YOURSELF Make manageable goals towards overcoming
the power of our fallen passions. Then, gradually increase those goals.
LIVE AND LOVE God delights in you and wants you to have a full
and good life. Get out there and live and love life!
Father Loya is the pastor of the Annunciation Byzantine Catholic
Parish in Homer Glen, Illinois. He holds degrees in Fine Art, Theology, and
Counseling. Fr. Loya is very dedicated to evangelization through media, where he
is a regular guest speaker on several Catholic radio programs. His long-running
radio program Light of the East. Fr. Loya is a conference speaker for the Tabor
Life Institute, where he has directed many retreats and has been a guest speaker
at several international conventions. While studying for the priesthood in Rome,
Fr. Loya was privileged to hear in person Saint Pope John Paul II deliver his
monumental teaching on the human person now known as The Theology of the Body.
Using his many gifts, talents, and life experience Fr. Loya uncovers the ageless
beauty and genius of the Sacramental Worldview
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