Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Is Masturbation a Mortal Sin?

An unregistered guest at Phatmass asked the following question in the Q&A board:
i went to confession and the priest told me that the sin of masturbation was not a mortal sin because of my age, i'm a teenager. he told me that since i'm of a younger age it has become an addiction or habitual sin which lessons the mortal sin and that i'm doing the right thing by continually going to confession. he told me that i should not refrain from communion even after committing this sin. is this priest correct?
First of all, the Catechism says this:
  • 2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."138 "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."139

    To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.
Note that masturbation is always gravely sinful, but the one who commits this sin is not always entirely culpable. In other words, the mitigating circumstances listed earlier can lessen the amount of guilt that would normally be attributed to someone for committing this grave sin. Also, note that these factors can lessen one's culpability, but not necessarily. It is possible to mortally sin, even in the heat of passion.

Personally, I advise people to go to confession if they have committed a grave sin (whether the sin is actually mortal or not) because it is not always easy to determine if a grave sin was committed with the full knowledge and consent of the will that is required to make that sin a mortal sin. Put simply, it is better to be safe than sorry. Plus, it is always good to go to confession, even when you have committed no grave or mortal sins. Even venial sins wound our relationship with the Lord and make us more inclined to commit more grievous sins. They also lessen the fruitfullness of the Eucharist.

On the topic of masturbation, the CDF's Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics is also helfpul. In section IX, we read:
  • On the subject of masturbation modern psychology provides much valid and useful information for formulating a more equitable judgment on moral responsibility and for orienting pastoral action. 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. But in general, the absence of serious responsibility must not be presumed; this would be to misunderstand people's moral capacity.
In section X, the document goes on to say:
  • It is true that in sins of the sexual order, in view of their kind and their causes, it more easily happens that free consent is not fully given; this is a fact which calls for caution in all judgment as to the subject's responsibility. In this matter it is particularly opportune to recall the following words of Scripture: "Man looks at appearances but God looks at the heart."[25] However, although prudence is recommended in judging the subjective seriousness of a particular sinful act, it in no way follows that one can hold the view that in the sexual field mortal sins are not committed.
With all this, I think it can be dangerous to tell a teenager that he should still receive the Eucharist after masturbating "because you're just a teenager with raging hormones." I think, at least implicitly, this tells the teenager that masturbation is not in fact something that he can overcome despite his hormones. That does not seem like a wise message to send to teenagers. Plus, when people become aware of this exception, they tend to sin just as much, if not more, because of the knowledge that "oh, it's not a mortal sin, so I'll be fine." It seems wiser, pastorally, to inform the penitent of the mitigating factors involved (so that he does not have undue scruples about his relationship with the Lord), but also to suggest frequent (weekly) confession, at least as long as he is committing this sin, so that he can receive the graces necessary to overcome it, and so that he can approach the Lord's Table with the utmost assurance that he is in right relationship with the Lord.

I hope that helps

Pax Christi,


  1. -respect..thats all I can say. Respect


  2. I believe stricker penances such as fasting, almsgiving, and works of mercy should be given for this sin. Men [and women] need graces when they are faced with this most perilous of temptations. It is a sin done in secret that evokes instant gradification, and messes with our hormones and emotional state, so it can be a very powerful temptation. Most people who struggle with the sin also struggle with self control, so if mastery over one another portion of ones life can be achieved [such as fasting] it will make it easier to master this area of ones life.

  3. I've also found fasting to yield spiritual benefits, which reminds me that I've been intending to make a small fast at least one day a week (Friday would be the most appropriate), but it usually slips my mind. But today I never had dinner, but since I had a huge lunch (Thanksgiving potluck at work), I'm not sure if that really counts :)

    Having struggled with this sin from, well, whenever the hormones kicked in until about six or seven weeks ago, I only know two things: I'm powerless and St. Michael is powerful. After all the silly mental games I've heard from Protestants over how to overcome lust, it's amazing what one short prayer can do.

  4. That exception in there seems to be more confusing that anything else. Why throw in an exception when it is grave matter and always has been regarded as a mortally sinful thing to do. I mean, the exception doesn't seem clear enough. Or, on the other hand, it maybe as far reaching as the priest suggested to the boy, then it seems wrong to put any doubt on what the priest said.

  5. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Masturbation a sin? Not at all! It is perfectly normal behaviour, and everyone should learn about and enjoy their sexuality! And there is no need to go "confess" to anyone about it. You have done nothing wrong, it is normal behaviour. Use your own judgement people!!

    1. The judgement of god comes before our own. That is implied throughout all of this.

  6. Thanks for the point of view, Anon. But not only is it a mortal sin, the intent of distinguishing mortal from grave sin is a very slippery slope. I don't grasp the reason, "Because I am a teenager"??? Full knowledge, of a serious/grave evil (the selfish act of self-stimulation), that is clearly consented to makes the case for a mortal sin. Where does age come in? Full consciousness can be present at an earlier age, or maybe not take place until more time has passed.

  7. For those who are not too far gone and still have some capacity to think for themselves, please use it. Don't become a slave to a book to find answers for everything. Think for yourself about what makes sense. Masturbation is very normal, and in fact healthy, at any age. Everyone does it, even all those on this site who claim they don't. Pity for some that they waste so much time and energy feeling guilty for nothing! It doesn't hurt anyone, and it is a normal part of your overall sexuality, which is there for you to enjoy responsibly. Anyone or any religion that tries to influence your behavior by fear is doing exactly that, instead of basing their arguments on facts or experience. It seems such a waste of time to be discussing something as normal and harmless as masturbation, when there are real issues out there that need to be discussed. Do good, love everyone, and ask questions of anyone or anything that tries to motivate you by fear.

  8. You realize all you did was repeat yourself, right? I have already responded to you here:


    Pax Christi,

  9. New Catechism of the Catholic Church - YOUCAT:

    "The Church does not demonize masturbation, but she warns against trivializing it. In fact many young people and adults are in danger of becoming isolated in their consumption of lewd pictures, films, and Internet services instead of finding love in a personal relationship. Loneliness can lead to a blind alley in which masturbation becomes an addiction. Living by the motto “For sex I do not need anyone; I will have it myself, however and whenever I need it” makes nobody happy."

    = The Church does not demonize masturbation!!! Present day Church only warns - danger a blind alley - isolated, instead of finding love in a personal relationship.

    goodbye ;-)

  10. First, I should say that I don't think it was very prudent of the authors of the YouCat to say that "the Church does not demonize abortion." I think that language is too apt to be misunderstood, and your interpretation is evidence of this.

    That said, just because the Church doesn't demonize masturbation, that doesn't mean that She thinks it's okay or not a sin. To demonize something is to make it out to be the worst. It is obvious that there are offenses against love that are graver than masturbation. So, it is not demonized. BUT, it is still an offense! You seem to have left that part out of your quotation. Allow me to include it:

    409. Is masturbation an offense against love?

    Masturbation is an offense against love, because it makes the excitement of sexual pleasure an end in itself and uncouples it from the holistic unfolding of love between a man and a woman. That is why "sex with yourself" is a contradiction in terms. [2352]

    It appears from this that the YouCat clearly presents masturbation as a sin, even if it doesn't use the word "sin." It is "an offense against love." "Offense" is just another word for "sin."

    Also, that number in brackets is a reference to the paragraph from the Catechism where you can go and learn more. The YouCat references para. 2352 from the Catechism, which clearly refers to masturbation as "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."

    So, as much as you may try, there is no way to find vindication for or approval of masturbation in the authoritative teaching of the Church.

  11. In the first paragraph of my previous comment, I meant "masturbation", not "abortion".

  12. Thank heaven for phatcatholic who speaks the absolute truth as to the teachings and wisdom of the Church without attempting to dilute anything here. I too struggled with this sin for a long, long time before grace - obtained through almost constant prayer - intervened and finally delivered me from the grip of this vice. I believe it is vitally important not to mislead young people as to the grave nature of this sin as, by failing to repent of it, we run the very real risk of rupturing our relationship with God. I also agree with Adam who wrote that stricter penances would be preferable to help bring home the gravity of this sin and also to help put us back in proper communion with the Lord.
    God bless phatcatholic - and all those here who seek to uphold the truth so that all souls may be guided to heaven.


  13. Amen to that. after 60+ years of dealing with this slippery vice in one form or another, I now know that, despite my best intentions, I still fail in a moment of weakness, as I am now divorced. Threading the needle of venial vs. mortal is important mainly because of the "habit" and consent issue, I have come to the conclusion that I need the Eucharist in spite of this weakness and trust in God that He and St. Michael will provide help from here on out. I hate myself when I fall, but then say, "I trust in You". and get up again....

  14. Keep fighting the good fight, Phil!

  15. I went to doctor for some intermittent pain I was experiencing in my testicles. He examined me and advised me to drain my prostrate more. I asked how you do that? He said sex. Well I'm not married and completely single. I only know one way to fill that prescription and that would be masturbation, it's it still a mortal sin in that case?

  16. If nocturnal emmissions are not in any way sinful,how does masturbation qualify as 'always'gravely sinful?


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