What’s Wrong with Masturbation?

Masturbation is a topic we do not speak about as often as we should. When we hear the word masturbation we are reminded of the shame associated with this action, and the deep emptiness that engulfs us only moments after the act. One young man even recently emailed me after a talk I gave:

“Masturbation is a really tough topic to talk about. It makes people feel uncomfortable. I think you should use another word.”

This is at the heart of the problem. We cannot simply avoid difficult topics hoping everyone will deal with it, or worse, embrace the emptiness that comes from masturbation as ‘normal’. We need an adequate response to a deep and meaningful question that another young man asked after a presentation recently – “What’s wrong with masturbation?”

This may be a tough blog to read if you struggle personally with masturbation. However, God’s Mercy is more powerful than your addiction to masturbation, just as His Mercy was more powerful than my addiction. As you read this, rest assured that God is your Father, He loves you and He will accompany you on this difficult journey to chastity, sexual freedom and happiness! I do not pretend to be the ultimate model of masculine purity, but I can say that over the last few years I have experienced a sexual freedom in this regard like never before. It has been a difficult but incredibly beautiful journey! I refused to accept the deep emptiness and “cry of my heart for more” as normal and as something that couldn’t be satisfied. I had deep desires for love, and masturbation was not satisfying it. I sought answers, and the Theology of the Body by Pope St John Paul the Great, provided me the answers!

It is difficult to understand why masturbation is immoral if we are purely looking at sexual desire as sexual tension that needs to be alleviated. If we view desire as tension, then masturbation appears to be the normal response – relieve the tension and scratch the itch. Sexual desire is much more than sexual tension. Please remember this, “Sexual desire, is the ‘power’ within you, to love in the image of God.” Sexual desire is a power that is calling you to love, reminding you that you have been created for intimacy, communion, relationship – above all with God in heaven, but also with others here on earth.

The key to unlocking the full potential of sexual desire is to not run away from them, but to respond to them! I was raised on what Christopher West calls the Starvation Diet Gospel (see his life changing book, Fill These Hearts). I received the sex talk at age 11, and although my dad gave me the true answer that the sexual act is reserved for and has meaning in marriage, I took away (unconsciously) a negative attitude that sex is dirty and sinful, and that I should completely stuff and repress any sexual attraction or desire I may experience in order to stay pure. This led me to a very unhealthy explosion of unanswered desire in my late teen years. I had never been taught how to effectively respond to sexual desire.

Due to Original Sin we experience sexual desire in a way that is self-seeking not self-giving, as Adam and Eve prior to The Fall would have. This is why we must invite the power of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection into our lives, so that we may experience a redemption of desire! Jesus did not die on the Cross so that we would put up with disordered desire forever, but so that we would allow our desires to be transformed through vulnerable prayer and re-ordered through chastity (sexual self-mastery). This brings sexual freedom! I was a pornography and masturbation addict all through my late teen years and into my early twenties – and I had never been emptier in my life. I did it all in the name of sexual freedom, and as a result became a sexual slave, and addict; a man governed and controlled by my disordered passions. I was seeking sexual freedom, and lost my freedom in the process.

The goal of purity is to allow Jesus to transform our disordered sexual desires, so that we would begin to see them through the lens of self-gift; of love rather than lust. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (St John Paul the Great) in his book Love and Responsibility says that the opposite of love is not hatred, but use.

In part 2 we will look at how we can come to see why masturbation is always and in every case a misguided response to sexual desire, that can never be motivated in love, by love or through love – rendering it an objectively disordered sexual action.

I want to share a helpful prayer that I have prayed throughout my life for sexual purity. It is a tweaked form of a Christopher West prayer for purity that I have read in some of his works. It goes like this.

“Lord I give you this lie (whatever the disordered sexual desire may be), please untwist this lie and show me the truth (the truth of the beauty of the person, the truth of my body and the sacredness/meaning of sex).”

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