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Bullet Tackling Tough Topics

“Why is masturbation wrong?”
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Masturbation Defined
For young children – Touching or rubbing one’s penis or vagina for pleasure is called masturbation. You may hear it called “playing with yourself.”
For older children – Masturbation is an immature and self centered response to one’s sexual feelings and is always morally wrong. (Single Sex Setting - Grade Eight, The Archdiocese of Washington’s Catechesis on Human Sexuality)

What does the Catholic Church teach?
The Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is a serious problem (see Catechism of the Catholic Church number 2352). The Declaration on Sexual Ethics (Vatican, December 29, 1975) states, “Even if it cannot be proved that Scripture condemns this sin by name, the tradition of the Church has rightly understood it to be condemned in the New Testament when the later speaks of ‘impurity,’ ‘unchasteness’ and other vices contrary to chastity and continence.” The Church teaches that sexual pleasure is intended for mutual self-giving in the context of true love in marriage.

Facts to Consider

  1. Masturbation is a selfish use of God’s gift of sexuality and for this reason it is wrong.

  2. It does not reflect the permanent commitment between a man and a woman to love the other more than oneself. Instead, masturbation is a selfish act of personal gratification.

  3. Masturbation treats God’s gift of the human body as an object to be used for self enjoyment and pleasure.

  4. Masturbation is:
    - progressive, that is, repeated more and more
    - difficult to stop
    - often surrounded by fantasy and pornography

  5. The more that a person is focused on self, the more difficult it is to refocus on another.

  6. To learn to truly love another, a person needs to practice selflessness and learn how to resist sexual temptations.
Answering Young Children’s Questions
Parents need to prepare to discuss masturbation with their children. Although slang terms may make them uncomfortable, a discussion of these terms can help children differentiate between how God intends man and woman to use the gift of sexuality and the way that masturbation can misuse this gift. The slang terms for masturbation and the more clinical terms are far removed from God’s intention of mutual self giving in the context of marriage.

Parents need to acknowledge that arousing sexual pleasure by some form of self stimulation can become sinful. At the same time parents need to differentiate between situations when a younger child is half asleep or not thinking about what they are doing and instances when a child is consciously choosing to masturbate for pleasure.

Masturbation & Pornography
“What I say to you is: anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts. (Matthew 5:28)

In Every Young Man’s Battle Stephen Arterburn & Fred Stoeker state that at least 98 percent of all masturbation involves lustful mental fantasies or pornography. In many instances, pornography encourages the viewer to create an image in his/her mind. This image entices the viewer to fantasize and in time, these images change the way men and women view each other.

How can the masturbation habit be changed?
In The Courage to be Chaste Father Benedict Groeschel refers to masturbation as “auto-eroticism.” He states that this sin it is a symptom of feeling lonely, frustrated, anxious, bored or just bad about ourselves. He sees auto eroticism as a frequent symptom of a life that is too empty of the things that really matter. Fr. Groeschel recommends “crowding sin out” by filling our lives with so much real love, goodness and happiness that we no longer feel the need to escape.

Mary Beth Bonacci, a nationally known chastity speaker, recommends a deliberate program of rearranging one’s life to reduce the pull of the habit of masturbation.

  1. Confession and reconciliation - While acknowledging compulsion, habit or addiction may lessen an individual’s culpability before God, she emphasizes the need for frequent confession. Confession is healing in taking our sin away. It brings an abundance of grace and Divine help as it moves us closer to God and further from our sins.

  2. Prayer and Sacraments – Chastity is not easy but the power to live chastity comes from God, not us. We need to pray fervently for chastity and let the Eucharist heal our guilt, shame and sinfulness.

  3. Real Love – The temptation to sexual sin is usually the strongest when real love is weakest. To break this cycle we need to fill our lives with healthy, loving, holy relationships based on recognizing the image and likeness of God in ourselves and others.

  4. Goals –What have you always wanted to accomplish? Define it and do it! “The enthusiasm, the sense of achievement. The self-esteem boost – it’ll do wonders for reducing the need to close in on yourself.”

  5. Therapy – Fr. Groeschel says that “sexual self-control is often the weakest link in an individual’s personality and control system. When things go badly or when one is under great pressure, undesirable sexual behavior is likely to occur (page 46).” As long as those issues remain, the temptation will remain. A good Catholic/Christian therapist can help.

  6. Exercise – Lots and lots of exercise. Works off energy.
    “When a person’s efforts to be chaste are continually realized, something beautiful happens – something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. There is not only a sense of accomplishment, but also a growing awareness of Christ’s presence and of intimacy with Him in the soul…only one who has experienced this can believe it.” (The Courage to be Chaste, p. 98)

Every Young Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn & Fred Stoeker, Random House, 2002
The Courage to be Chaste, Rev. Benedict Groeschel, Paulist Press, 1985
Real Love Productions – A series on the “M” word in Mary Beth Bonacci’s chastity articles at

Mary Lee O’Connell, CRNP - 8/04