Dear Father,

I am married for 30 years. My wife does not satisfy me sexualy even after we have talked about it. Is it wrong for me to Masturbate ?? Is Masturbation a sin ?? Mortal or Venial?? I have been masturbating for several years now.

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Dear Father, I have a big problem and I need some real advice. I have an embarrassing problem and I'm not sure what to do about it.I feel like I do not have the strength to fight against it. The problem is, I masturbate. Like two or three times per week. I am a devoted Catholic, I love Jesus and Mary and I know it hurts them and myself every time I do it, but I just can't help myself. I had bought myself some sex toys and porno movies for fun at a time when my faith was not where it is now. I have tried to throw these items away several times and I always end up digging them out of the trash! It's like the one thing I have a hard time getting control. I am married and have an active sex life with my husband, however, I find that my sex drive is really increasing. I hope that you can help me with this. I've been confessing this problem, but the Priest never gives me any advice, he just absolves me. Please help.

Sincerely,
Anonymous

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This is obviously a difficult and delicate area of morality. Let me begin with what the Catechism says:

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."[137] "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."[138]

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 or even extenuate moral culpability.

The Catechism is clear about the immorality of masturbation. The reason is obvious enough: Jesus teaches that the use of sex is for marriage. (And within marriage to express the total self-giving which is always open to procreation.) C. S. Lewis expresses Jesus' teaching about sex as "outside of marriage, unmitigated abstinence." He said that when he was a confirmed bachelor--he did not marry Joy till he was in his mid-fifties. Lewis readily conceded the great difficulty of this teaching. But it is not an impossible ideal.

The above questions about masturbation came from married people, altho I have to admit most of the queries are from singles or formerly married. They are far from alone in the problem, altho they feel that way, perhaps beccause the act by its very nature creates a peculiar kind of loneliness. (It should not be ignored that fornication, adultery, homosexuality and even contraceptive sex in marriage can be little more than mutual masturbation, but that is whole other topic.)

While the Catechism notes that masturbation is "instrinsically and gravely disordered," it adds an interesting paragraph about subjective moral responsibility. It notes different situations which might make the act less serious or even nullify moral culpability. Perhaps the confessor referred to above views it that way. The confessor-penitent relationship is an intimate one and I could only make some general comments.

First, we should be aware of the influences of the culture around us. It would be fairly safe to say that our culture considers masturbation to be neutral or even as a healthy outlet. Dear Abby is a pretty good reflection of our society's values. She wrote a column endorsing masturbation as a recommended form of "safe sex." A few ministers wrote letters agreeing with her position and she lauded them for their "courage." For sure Dr. Joyce Elders was dismissed as Surgeon General after making flamboyant statements promoting masturbation. But she quickly received offers to appear on Oprah and other talk shows. She was lionized. Only a fuddy duddy would object to her "realism."

But what is called realism is in fact a truncated view of reality. Let me illustrate with a story. I knew a man who fell in love with a young woman. It was not the first time for him, but this was different. Something about her reached deep into his imagination, his psyche. However, she did not correspond to his romantic feelings. That seemed to only make it worse. He thought about her when he woke up in the morning and when he laid down at nite--and most moments in between. One day in his misery he blurted his tortured feelings to a priest. The priest listened carefully and finally said to him, "She is not the one you want."

"What do you mean, Father?" the man asked.

The priest looked him in the eyes and said slowly, "The one you want is God."

It seems to me that masturbation, especially when it becomes chronic, is like that. It is a melancholy effort to satisfy oneself. And yet the only one who can do that is He who made us for Himself. Recognizing that truth does not mean a person will instantly give up masturbation. The man who realized it was not the girl who would ultimately make him happy continued to think about her. But the realization is the first step.

After acknowledging that masturbation has become a form of idolatry, something more needs to be done. I think the most practical advice was given by Bishop Fulton Sheen. He says what we should do is not so much directly confront immorality, but squeeze it out of our lives. That is, to fill our lives with things that are good so that the devil has little room. When I was a teenager, the most sensible priests would recommend things like taking up a hobby. Even something as innocuous as stamp collecting can create a space where bad thoughts are effectively kept at bay. Of course that is one of the important functions of work. I would not recommend falling into being a workaholic (altho I cannot say too much about that since it is one of the few vices I have never been attracted to).

But even work and sound activities like friendship, reading, hobbies, etc., are not enough to keep away all sexual thoughts. They in fact can come unexpectedly and lead to the temptation of masturbation. And as the Catechism notes, it can be a very ingrained habit. I would only say to not despair. Ultimately it depends on God's intervention or grace. One of my favorite chapters in The Great Divorce is about the young man with the lizard on his shoulder. The lizard constantly whispers in his ear and it seems like life would be empty without the creature. But finally he allows the angel to kill it. But when it dies, it turns into a mighty horse which carries him into heaven. Do not give up on confession and prayer, even it is rather half-hearted like Augustine, "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet." That prayer will also be answered as it was so dramatically for St. Augustine.

God bless,

Fr. Phil Bloom

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From Grace MacKinnon at Catholic Exchange: Masturbation: Mortal Sin?

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