Is masturbation a sin?
Masturbation seems harmless, but it perverts sex into selfishness and damages your relationships with the opposite sex, especially your future spouse. Here's how...
Q: Is masturbation really a sin? It doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone, right?
A: Actually… it is harmful. And, because it’s harmful, it’s a sin. Here’s why:
Sex is meant to be a loving communication between two people in marriage — it says “I give myself (body, heart, mind and soul) to you forever and completely.” When masturbating, with whom are you communicating? No one. Masturbation is entirely focused on one's own sexual pleasure, a selfish drive to be personally satisfied. Sex should never be a lonely or selfish activity.
God did not create sex for you to have it with yourself. Sexuality is certainly a part of who you are, and it is natural to want to fulfill your desires, but there is an appropriate place for sexual expression & pleasure — marriage. In marriage, the pleasure is infinitely coupled with the communication of love and intimacy between man and wife.
Although it seems harmless, masturbation is very damaging to both you and others in several ways:
1. Masturbation fixates your mind on an unhealthy sexual expression. Most likely, it is your mind that brings you to the point of masturbating, either through the use of pornography or your own fantasy. When your mind entertains impure thoughts, impure acts soon follow (or your desires are repressed and come out in other unhealthy acts). It is not a sin for an impure thought to enter your mind – but dwelling on it, or entertaining such a thought, is going too far. What we think about, we usually act upon. For example, if you’re on a diet but constantly daydream about donuts and chocolate sundaes, etc., what do you think will happen when the next donut is offered to you, especially if you’re hungry? It will be very difficult to resist. The same is true with sexual acts. Choosing to focus your mind on sexual thoughts makes it difficult to resist sexual temptation. If you choose to focus on healthy expressions of love now, then you will be equipped to have loving, healthy relationships now and a loving, healthy marriage in the future.
2. Masturbation damages our understanding of sex. When masturbating, you are not having sex, or thinking of sex, the way it was created to be. Masturbating completely focuses on the physical aspect of sex, ignoring entirely the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual bonding sex was designed to create. In fact, masturbation subconsciously blocks out these other natural aspects of marital sex. If you train yourself to experience sex for the selfish physical pleasure only, you damage your ability to experience the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual power of sex. Then, when you want sex to be a gift, of your heart, mind, soul, and body, to the one person you love more than anything in this world, it is not — it is just a physical thing. You miss out on the true meaning and experience of sex.
3. Masturbation hurts your relationships — those for whom you care deeply. When dating, even if your intention is to respect and honor the person you are with, both your mind and your actions are trained to focus on your own physical pleasure. You may also be tempted to objectify the person you are dating. Perhaps without even realizing it, you will begin to push the physical boundaries of the relationship because you have trained yourself to pursue physical pleasure. Moving too quickly physically almost always ruins what could have been a good relationship.
4. Masturbation hurts marriage. There have been thousands of married couples that lack emotional, intellectual and spiritual intimacy in their sex lives. For such couples, sex in marriage is no different than those self-seeking moments of pleasure from their past. This causes great strain and a lot of hurt in a marriage. Sex is meant to be the super-glue of the heart in marriage — to keep couples together through the struggles of life. When sex is primarily physical, a decision made long before marriage, it does not have the capacity to bond a couple emotionally and spiritually as it is meant to do. Great sex in marriage starts with our attitudes and actions long before marriage.
Therefore, masturbation, when done with full knowledge and consent of the will, is a sin. I realize that masturbation can be a fairly easy habit to fall into, particularly for adolescent boys. The habit, like other sexual habits, can be fueled by underlying issues—loneliness, lack of real love, and so forth. The best thing to do in this situation is to pray, to strive to identify and address any underlying causes, and to work diligently to break the habit.
This is not something you will be able to do alone. You absolutely need to find a good confessor — a priest whom you trust completely, who understands the problem, and who wants to help you. He doesn’t need to know your name, but if you are not going face-to-face, he should have some way of identifying you as the same person each time. It is easiest to tell him at least your first name. Remember, you certainly won’t shock him.
In addition to your confessor, there may be someone else you trust who would be willing to help you talk through some of these issues. Perhaps a spiritual director, or a trusted adult in your parish, or a good friend who can help keep you accountable. That may sound awkward or uncomfortable, but many people have successfully broken their addiction because they had a good friend to whom they could reach out to when they were tempted to fall.
If you are struggling with masturbation, know that many people have been in the same place as you, and that God can help us through anything. Jesus was fully human and tempted in every way man is tempted, so rest assured that Jesus understands. And, know that you can trust Him, because although He was tempted, He did not succumb. We can find courage through Christ, who strengthens us. Many women and men are now living healthy lives, in healthy relationships, even if masturbation has been a part of their past, because they lean on Jesus, and other Christian guidance, to not succumb to temptation.
If you are not struggling, continue to pray to keep purity in your heart, mind and body. This is the best way to live your sexuality the way it was created. Don’t settle for less.
For more information, we recommend Mary Beth Bonacci’s book, Real Love, pg. 196-202. See Chastity Resources for more information on this book and others.