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 news!


“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!


Masturbation is:

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 fully human.


“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:

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 - 2359)


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 healthy?


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.

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 habits.


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 5:13)


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 of Christ.


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 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.


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 of Confession.

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 accurate? 

Father 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 Eucharist.”  

“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, and encourage 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 possible.”

Examining Our 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: 

1.    What were the vulnerabilities at the time?
2.    What actions are you taking to increase your purity of heart?
3.    How 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?

After 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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