If you haven’t read my last blog, “What’s wrong with Masturbation,” please read that first, as it will provide a better foundation upon which to read and make sense of this one. In this blog I want to look at the reasons why masturbation is an objectively disordered and immoral act, as taught by the Catholic Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2352 defines masturbation as, “The deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure.” It goes on to say that masturbation, “Is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action. The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” (Emphasis mine)
What is the purpose of sex that masturbation essentially contradicts? Sex, in fact, has a twofold purpose. Sex is both unitive and procreative. It is designed by God to unite the spouses in a loving embrace and to co-create with God a new eternal life. This is mind blowing! Frank Sheed, a twentieth century theologian is famous for saying, “Modern man practically never thinks about sex.” On the surface we would all disagree with him. But what is he really saying? We talk about sex, we joke about it, listen to music and watch movies about it, but do we really contemplate its purpose? It is precisely this twofold purpose of human sexuality that masturbation essentially contradicts. Lets look at them in turn.
The primary purpose of the sexual act is to consummate a covenant union between a man and a woman in marriage (and then renew that covenant with every sexual act following). The husband offers himself as a self-gift to the wife, who actively receives the gift of her husband, and gives herself totally to him in return. With each and every sexual embrace the spouses strengthen the marital bond they share by giving themselves to each other freely (not bound by lust), totally (they hold nothing back from each other), faithfully (exclusively to each other) and fruitfully (they are open to gift of children and act as a medium to impart grace to their spouse).
Masturbation flips this unitive purpose of sex on its head. In an act of masturbation, there is absolutely no gift of the man or the woman to the other. Masturbation is usually done by using pornography, which is visual, or using our imagination to create a sexually erotic scene in our minds. The italicised words ‘using’ highlight the contradiction here. We do not love the person we use to stimulate ourselves in masturbation. There is no total self-gift of you to them that occurs. Masturbation is a gravely disordered act because distorts the beautiful power of sex to unite us in love, into a shallow, empty act of self-seeking sexual pleasure that takes rather than gives.
The second primary purpose of the sexual act is to procreate new life. When a husband and wife come together in the marital embrace their love is so powerful that it can actually create another eternal person! A child is a mind-blowing gift that flows from (within God’s design) a sexual union between a husband and wife, that have given themselves to each other permanently and exclusively prior to the conception of any children. A true act of love is always open to life. God is love and He is life, the two cannot ever be separated. As we are made in His image, we too must love in a way that never divorces the unitive from the procreative purposes of sex. Just as it would make no sense to have sex to conceive a child but to avoid any expression of love with the other person, the same is true if we desire a loving embrace but intentionally avoid the openness to life so crucial to the purpose of sex.
Masturbation in a similar way inverts the procreative purpose of sex. When a person masturbates, there is absolutely no possibility of new life coming into existence as a fruit of that action. Masturbation in its essence is a sexual act turned completely inward on the person. There is no desire for this act to bring forth life. Masturbation is where we replace the purposes of sex, for a side effect of sex – pleasure. There is nothing wrong with a pleasurable act of sex – God designed it this way. However, when we trade in the purposes of sex for the side effect of sex, it becomes objectively disordered.
In the next blog, which will complete this series, we will look at practical ways to break an addiction to masturbation. You are all in my prayers!