Masturbation is a word that is very rarely used. We feel that talking about this issue will make people feel uncomfortable and ashamed, so we ignore it all together. One young man even recently emailed me after a talk I gave about personal purity, where I spoke about masturbation and pornography to say, “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 such as masturbation in the hope that those struggling with it will get through it on their own. Worse still, the silence may encourage those to embrace the emptiness that comes from masturbation as ‘normal’ because no one talks about it, but everyone is doing it.
This may be a tough read for you if you struggle with masturbation. A painful mirror into your heart and soul perhaps. However, know this – 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!
The Cry of Our Heart for More
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 sexual freedom like never before. It has been a difficult but 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, gave me the answer my heart was longing for.
The first thing I recognised was that I needed a better understanding of why the Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is objectively immoral. When you are tempted to masturbate, if it is not absolutely clear in your mind and heart why it is wrong, your passion in the heat of the moment will likely silence your conscience.
What is Masturbation?
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.”
Sex Means Something!
What is the purpose of sex that masturbation essentially contradicts? Sex has a twofold purpose. Sex is both unitive and procreative. It is designed by God to unite the spouses in a loving embrace and possibly co-create a new life with God. 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. Let’s look at them in turn.
The Unitive Meaning
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. They give themselves to each other freely: they are not bound by lust, totally: they hold nothing back from each other, faithfully: they love one another exclusively, and fruitfully: they are open to the gift of children and act as a medium of God’s grace to their spouse. Fruitfulness does not just refer to physical new life, but also spiritual life. Did you know that with every sincere gift of self between husband and wife in the sexual act, God pours His grace into their souls and bodies? Why? Because sex is sacramental, and images the love that God has for us!
Masturbation flips this unitive purpose of sex on its head. In an act of masturbation, the person engaging in the act is not free, they are responding to a strong, disordered desire for immediate sexual gratification. 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 word ‘using’ highlights the contradiction here. Sexual love is meant to be a total gift of self, masturbation is a total take for self. Lastly, there is absolutely no promise of faithfulness or exclusivity. The person you are thinking of or lusting over on a screen may never even know you exist! Masturbation is a gravely disordered act because it distorts the power that sex has to unite, into a shallow, empty act of self-seeking sexual pleasure.
The Procreative Meaning
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 has the potential to co-create another eternal person! A child, in God’s design, is a gift given to a husband and wife, that have given themselves to each other permanently and exclusively in marriage.
A true act of love is always open to life. God is love and He is life, the two must never be separated. As we are made in His image, we too must love in a way that expresses the unitive and the procreative purposes of sex. Just as it would make no sense to have sex to conceive a child but avoid the loving nature of the act, it makes no sense to desire a loving embrace but intentionally avoid the openness to new life.
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.
These were teachings that I sat with in prayer for years. It is not enough to know it intellectually, it needs to transit into your heart. These teachings must flow from within you, so that you are in fact repulsed by the thought of masturbation. With God’s grace this is a process that absolutely can happen. To you!