Masturbation refers to the sexual stimulation of a person’s genitals, usually to the point of orgasm. The stimulation can be performed manually, by use of objects or tools, or by some combination of these methods. Masturbation is a common form of autoeroticism, providing sexual pleasure or orgasm in the absence of a partner.
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. Sex is the ultimate gift husbands and wives can give: a total gift of self, body and soul. Sex is how you fulfil 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. Masturbation denies every aspect of that promise of sex — that promise of your vows. Masturbation is:
- Focused on yourself
- A withholding from your spouse
- A statement that sex is only about pleasure — your own pleasure
- Inherently sterile
- Often accompanied by “adultery in your heart” through pornography and fantasy
It denies the meaning of sex. It makes you less than fully human.
Masturbation is a sin because a person consents in his own heart to take sexual gratification from impure thoughts. It is sinful to indulge in the sexual pleasure that is derived from the satisfaction of using one’s imagination to FIXATE upon obscene images, or obscene actions, or forbidden sex. Lustfully fixating upon genitals, or sexual acts, is idolatry. This is called: the worship of obscenities. This is the sin of those addicted to pornography.
That’s often a “guy” thing. Alternatively, taking delight in the lust of another, or consummating a fantasy of forbidden sexual romance, is the sin of adultery in the heart. That’s often a “girl” thing. The act of masturbation is an outward act that confirms that one’s heart and mind has consented to an inward act of impurity. Only by consenting to an imagined act of impurity can one attain orgasm. To attain sexual release, a person’s will consent to LOVE something that is sexually impure.
But everyone else says masturbation is healthy
The world has a way of saying that a lot of disordered things are “good”.
Masturbation is radically self-centred, and radically un-Christian. 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 loving another
- Refusing fertility & the full responsibility of sex
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.
When the subject of masturbation arises, it always refers to stimulating one’s self for the gratification of sexual lust, or in stimulating one’s self sexually while fantasizing about the lust of another person. In impure sexual fantasy, a person uses his own imagination as a pornographic tool to give his body the ability to attain sexual gratification. In reality entertaining lustful fantasy is embracing a falsehood of the heart and mind, in an act of abuse of his own body in order to attain selfish sexual gratification. This is sexual idolatry! God hates falsehood – especially worshipping a false god! This is why God hates impurity in all its forms.
God hates pornography because it is used to degrade human beings: both men and women. The sole purpose of hard-core pornography is to create and inflame degrading sexual lust, or to invoke unholy gratification by the enjoyment taken in the degradation of another person. Indulging in impure lusts or taking delight in the lust, or degradation of another person constitutes the sins of impurity. Masturbation severely damages a person’s ability to accomplish the intended purpose of loving marital sexuality.
Holy sexuality is the loving donation between a man and wife of their own bodies to one another. In marriage it may be enjoyed for holy procreation, or to express romantic love, or simply for the delight that the freedom marriage affords the spouses to release the tensions of life. It may even be an act of charity! But it is always a privileged act of special intimacy reserved for spouses alone. Masturbation, by its very nature clouds and degrades the purpose and privilege of married sexuality. Masturbation is a solitary act of gratifying one’s own physical urge. Performed as a solitary act, even in the married state, it degrades the place of honour of the spouse! It often serves to sexually replace the spouse entirely! This is because masturbation trains a person to abuse his own sexual powers outside the intended order of God, in a selfish solitary way.
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. (Don’t be shy! They’ve heard it all before. Sadly, it’s quite common.)
If a Catholic has committed sins of masturbation, he must confess these sins in the confessional in this way: “I have committed sins of impurity with myself (mention a specific number).” If a non-Catholic has committed sins of masturbation, he must humbly kneel down and beg pardon for his sins, and pray to be delivered of such temptations in the future. Preferably, he would seek out a trusted person who understands this sin: and confess this sin or habit: as is appropriate. “Confess your sins one unto another, and you shall be healed.”
To fully understand why masturbation is sinful, one must appreciate the holiness of one’s own body, and believe in the true and sacred purpose of human sexuality.
The “spiritual union” known as “a state of grace” consists in God’s uniting himself with the body and soul of a human being. The sanctification of a soul by the grace of God is a spiritual divine union: it is as sacred as marriage itself! The hearts and minds of Christian people must not be defiled by gratifying themselves by indulging in impure sexual fantasies, or by abusing their own physical sexual powers.
One’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit! One can no more masturbate in private without the defiling the temple of the Holy Spirit than one could masturbate inside a Church without defiling it! If one believes that his own body is less holy than a physical building, then he does not at all understand the meaning of the holy gospel or the awesome holiness of Christian grace.
Freedom & responsibility
The talk of habit raises an important point: when is masturbation a sin? And how bad a sin is it? Masturbation is a grave sin, what we call a mortal sin, by which we reject God’s offer of life. However, 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 habits. The Lord is patient and merciful. He desperately wants to free us from the slavery of sin. But we have to do our part, too.
Saint Paul is very clear about this: “Do not let anyone deceive you with empty arguments. Among you there must not even be mention of fornication, promiscuity, or impurity in any of its forms! You can be quite certain that no one who actually indulges in promiscuity or impurity – which is worshiping a false god – can inherit anything of the kingdom of God! Impure things that are done in secret are things that people are ashamed even to speak of!
Immoral behaviour such as this brings down God’s anger upon the children of disobedience. Make sure you are not included among them! You were in darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord! Be like children of light!
The effects of this light are manifest by complete goodness, and truth, and right living. Anything exposed to the light will be illuminated, and anything illuminated turns into light.
So, be very careful about the sort of lives you lead. Pray the Psalms and sing to the Lord in your heart! Everywhere you are, give thanks to the Lord! This may be a wicked age, but you can redeem it!” (Ephesians 5: 2-15)
Should we 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 clear 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)
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).
Don’t listen to some asinine teacher, or psychologist who tells you that: masturbation is “normal” and quite all right. Masturbation may be “normal” in a civilization where child rape and murder happen almost every day. Masturbation may be normal in a society with hard-core pornography channels available on every TV cable or satellite system. Masturbation may be normal where lurid pornographic images are spammed constantly to every Internet user: But masturbation is NOT all right!
People, who imagine that masturbation is ‘normal’, are woefully ignorant of the obvious reality that it is the devil himself who is the author of both lust and incest. Sexuality is the Achilles heel for struggling mankind – and the devil knows this well! Above all things, Satan is committed to constantly tempting men with powerful enticements to lust. Satan longs to trap men and woman by enticing them to honour what is false, vane, impure, self indulgent, ugly, or degrading.
Sexual impurity is something that should be rejected, but it is not something to be horribly ashamed of. Lust is the natural consequence of the disordered sexual instinct of fallen human nature. Men must be strengthened by divine grace. Masturbation is just a very common sin! Like all sin it must be conquered! But it can only be conquered with the help of the grace of God.
If someone has contracted the habit of masturbation, sometimes the sudden physical impulse is unavoidable! But consenting to a lifestyle of sin IS avoidable! Consenting to a lifestyle of sin is damnable! The object is to fight the fight! Don’t just give up and resign yourself to an eternity in hell for being a mealy-mouthed masturbator! If someone has contracted a habit, they simply need to recognise it, admit it to themselves, to God, and to another human being.
About the author
Rev. Fr. Benedict Adu Frimpong is a priest with the Catholic Diocese of Sunyani and a Lecturer at St Gregory Provincial Major Seminary, Kumasi.