AT Catholic View, many questions are received concerning the morality and sinfulness of masturbation.  In order to clarify for you, the reader, the Church’s teaching on sexual morality and specifically this question, we decided to write this answer preached through the ages and comment on the teaching so that all can live according to the Will of God and Christ’s Gospel of life and love.

LET'S be clear and blunt:  masturbation is ALWAYS a sinful act, contrary to God’s ideal law concerning how human beings should live as Christians.  There is no excuse or deceiving one’s self in thinking that masturbation is acceptable under certain circumstances or that it is not sinful because “everyone does it.”  Nor can we excuse masturbation as morally acceptable within the sacred bonds of marriage even if one partner cannot fully express their love for one another in physical intimacy for the “release of sexual tension.”  Sexual expression must always be fulfilled within the bonds of marriage and with its two goals (ends) always in sight: unitive (completing and fulfilling the love bond between a man and a woman in the sacrament of marriage) and procreative (open to life, open to the creative processes of having children). 

IN the 1975 document by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana (the Human Person), the Congregation states quite clearly, “the use of the sexual function has its true meaning and moral rectitude only in true marriage. (Chapter V)”  In Chapter VII of the same document, the sacredness of ALL sexual acts is affirmed in these words: “every genital act must be within the framework of marriage.”  The Church has always taught since the apostolic times that the human sexual function can only be used in marriage.  Any sexual function outside of marriage is sinful, contrary to God’s Will, and damaging to the human psyche in the long term.  Saint Paul writes in I Corinthians, Chapter 6, Verses 15-20:

DO you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?...But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.  Avoid immorality.   Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body.  Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been purchased at a price.  Therefore glorify God in your body!”

IT is no surprise that the document, Persona Humana, states that “masturbation constitutes a grave moral disorder.” (Chapter IX)  And no matter what psychology or sociology says today about this subject, this doesn’t change anything concerning the Church’s teaching about genital sexual activity outside of marriage…..it is sinful, breaking our relationship with God, and causing our selves to fall into a selfishness and self-centeredness that destroys compassion and love that was created by God within me.  For the Magisterium of the Church (the teaching church), masturbation is an intrinsically and seriously disordered act.  Once again, Persona Humana states so clearly in Chapter IX:

"The main reason [that masturbation is an intrinsically and seriously disordered act] is that, whatever the motive for acting this way, the deliberate use of the sexual faculty outside normal conjugal relations essentially contradicts the finality of the faculty [unitive and procreative].  For it lacks the sexual relationship called for by the moral order, namely the relationship which realizes the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.  ALL deliberate exercise of sexuality must be reserved to this regular relationship…the Church has rightly understood it to be condemned in the New Testament when it speaks of “impurity,” “unchasteness” and other vices contrary to chastity and continence".

SO, there is no further discussion we can make.  Masturbation is sinful and needs to be confessed in the Sacrament of Penance (confession) no matter how often the believer has committed this personal sin. 

BUT is it a mortal sin?   Does the act in itself condemn one to 'hell' and eternal separation from God?  Let’s be just as clear:  masturbation is not necessarily a “mortal sin.”  For most, masturbation is a “venial sin” yet even venial sins demand repentance. 

THE terms, mortal and venial sin, come from the New Testament.  In the First Letter of John (I John), Chapter 5, Verses 16 through 17, Saint John writes:

"If anyone sees his brother sinning, and if the sin is not deadly [mortal], he should pray to God and he will give him life.  This is only for those whose sin is not deadly [mortal].  There is such a thing as deadly [mortal] sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is NOT deadly" [venial].

NOT all sin is the same.  Some sinful acts have greater destructive effects than other sins hence the Church’s distinction of mortal [deadly] sin and venial [not deadly] sin.  Venial sin is some act that partially damages our relationship with God and others.  Such sin does not “kill” the love of God that exists in my heart.  This love of God grows each time I call upon the mercy of God.  Mortal sin is of such grave and serious nature that it destroys completely my relationship with God (and therefore destroys my relationships with others) and “kills” the love of God in my heart and spirit.  With that in mind, one cannot judge all masturbatory acts to be mortal [deadly] sins that completely destroy my relationship with God and others.  Each act must be seen in the “big picture” (totality) of a person’s life.  Persona Humana makes this assertion in Chapter IX:

"Psychology helps one to see how the immaturity of adolescence -- which can sometimes persist after that age --, psychological imbalance or habit can influence behavior, diminishing the deliberate character of the act and bringing about a situation whereby subjectively there may not always be serious fault".

EACH of us as believers in Jesus Christ must be absolutely honest in our growth and maturity in the Lord.  Even though the sin of masturbation can be considered a “venial sin,” it does not serve to strengthen our relationship with God who is the source of all life and true love.  Masturbation can become a “mortal sin” when it is practiced in total defiance of the Church’s teaching and in total disregard of God’s love.  But most Christians who masturbate do not fulfill the requirements of “mortal sin” and therefore remain in God’s love though this sin partially damages their relationship (state of grace) with Him.  The habit of masturbation can even make someone so self-centered and narcissistic that the person can lose their sense of compassion and love that God commands us to use all the time.  That’s why I say to be honest with yourself in regards to the motivations of your heart in regards to masturbation.  Persona Humana (Chapter IX) states:

"In the pastoral ministry, in order to form an adequate judgment in concrete cases, the habitual behavior of people will be considered in its totality, not only with regard to the individual’s practice of charity and of justice but also with regard to the individual’s care in observing the particular precepts of chastity.  In particular, one will have to examine whether the individual is using the necessary means, both natural and supernatural, which Christian asceticism from its long experience recommends for overcoming the passions and progressing in virtue".

WE, as Christians, are called to a higher ideal of virtue and right living than those who are not believers in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  If I want to follow the Lord Jesus, then I must be brave and “take up my cross” and follow Him (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 9, Verse 23).  Saint Paul challenges us:

“Therefore, sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires…but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life, and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness.”

(Romans 6:12-14)  This means:

"Discipline of the senses and the mind, watchfulness and prudence in avoiding occasions of sin, the observance of modesty, moderation in recreation, wholesome pursuits, assiduous prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist".  (Persona Humana, Chapter XII)

AS long as we keep our eyes on Christ, we will be with Him always in heaven.  One act (or several acts) of masturbation does not condemn anyone to “hell” and eternal damnation.  Nor should this sin stop a believer from receiving Holy Eucharist at Mass or any other time.  But it can trap someone, over a period of time, in a narcissistic lifestyle that will eventually close the doors of one’s soul to God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love which will cause a person to fall into mortal sin and eternal damnation.   I am reminded of Christ’s ideal teaching of sexual morality in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, Verse 27 through 30:

"YOU have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”  But what I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.

JESUS has given us the ultimate ideal.  These particular words, harsh and confronting (and if people took these words literally and fundamentally, there would be many sightless people running around), have always been seen as challenging us to reach for the ideal and not be content with merely living the minimum requirements of being a Christian.  Let’s not get into the practice of moral self-delusion (in which we ignore Christ’s Gospel ideal and follow our own direction without the Lord) when it comes to the personal and solitary sin of masturbation….remember, any genital act outside of the interaction and intimacy of a man and woman in the Sacrament of Marriage is seriously sinful….we need to repent and try harder to be a temple of the Holy Spirit.   We have been called to a life with Jesus Christ and to make Him real in this broken and sinful world.  The final words of Persona Humana are surely inspired by the Holy Spirit:

"It is important in particular that everyone should have a high esteem for the virtue of chastity, its beauty and its power of attraction.  This virtue increases the human person’s dignity and enables him to love truly, disinterestedly [meaning that I am not looking for something in return], unselfishly and with respect for others. (Chapter XII)

IN particular regards to the sin of masturbation, I must point out a hazard in our spiritual journey to maturity in Christ and salvation itself.  There are some Catholics (and Christian believers of every denomination) who are so obsessed in focusing on the evil of masturbation that they think they are committing sins that cannot be forgiven by the Lord.  Many priest-confessors are concerned about this obsession that is truly diabolical in its power to destroy the love and life of God in their souls.  These obsessed souls are so burdened by their guilt that they close their eyes to the mercy of God.  In doing so, they spiritually slam shut their hearts and souls to the work of the Holy Spirit.  They must remember and delight in the comforting words of Jesus, “I have not come to condemn the world but to save it.” (John 12:47)   Jesus is not condemning anyone.  Even the adulterous woman who was brought before Him to be stoned for adultery heard the freeing words, “Nor do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)  To those who are so focused on their sin of masturbation, please, let it go and give it to God.  Nothing good can come from the unhealthy obsession on guilt and sin.  Jesus has already nailed your sins (all of them) to the cross and died for those sins on that one Good Friday two thousand years ago! (I Corinthians 1:17-18; Colossians 1:20) In return, receive with gratitude and praise the merciful forgiveness of God, and continue living for Jesus, free from the slavery to sin.  Enthusiastically, Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans (Romans 8:1) states: “Hence, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

LET us truly love God, others, and ourselves with true honesty and sincerity.  Let us take care of our bodies and not use them solely for our sexual pleasure thereby making ourselves objects of desire and not temples of the Spirit.  And if we should sin, we have a merciful High Priest, Jesus Christ, who forgives generously so that we can live life to the full (Hebrews 7:25-28).  Do not despair but rejoice in the Lord!  We are destined for heaven and our place there is assured (John 14:1-6) unless we mortally (by a spiritually fatal act) decide we don’t want anything ever to do with our Creator and God, a total, life-long rejection of God and His mercy….which is the sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:29).  But unless you are so cold and hateful that you reject God all your life long, we will all be in heaven with our Lord Jesus who has conquered sin and death.  It is then that we will truly appreciate what it means to love and be loved.


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