Masturbation: A Normal Way to Relieve Tension?

From a previous letter on masturbation:

"Yes, it is a sin--at least objectively, altho as the
Catechism explains, there may be subjective mitigating factors"

I enjoyed your set a lot of things clear for me. I'm just so confused about the whole concept of masturbation. Is it ok as long as it isn't accompanied by fantasizing? I have never been talked to about it, even by my fervently religious parents. Not in school; i learn about it on the internet and television...sometimes. it's taboo.. and I'm wondering..what's the deal? I see it as a perfectly normal way to release tension in such a sex-filled world...Look at the implicit expectations of the media: lose your virginity before you graduate high school--the natural follow-up to kissing is copulating.. i mean... and in all this, even with such a strong faith in God, how can a person get away> masturbation must...clear something up..relieve something...stop the lust... can you please tell me more??




Dear e,

I am finally getting to your question. It is not easy because there is so much personal about it and so much that could be clarified by a conversation with a priest confessor. But like you say it is a topic that does not seem to be discussed. Young people are sometimes afraid to ask and us older folks reluctant to talk about it. When it is, often there is a certain joking, even tittering or an over casual and clinical approach - all indications of something being brushed under the rug.

You have a good instinct that a big part of the danger is fantasizing. The problem is not so much in our bodies as in our minds. When I was at Steubenville last June, Fr. Michael Scanlon had a good suggestion for how to deal with impure thoughts. He said it is like being at a bus stop. When one starts coming, say, "This bus in not for me." And just let it go by. If you climb aboard, it will probably take where you don't want to go.

Our culture takes a very mechanistic approach to sex, what you mention about "releasing tension." Of course that can be said about any temptation - anger, gluttony, sloth, etc. If you give into it, the temptation goes away. But it does not mean the problem is resolved. I admit I have many times handled temptations by simply giving in. However, I have also found that those times I have resisted, it was just when I thought I was at the breaking point that God sent in some reinforcements. When I woke up the next day, I wondered how the temptation could have ever appeared so irresistible.

Regarding masturbation, e, you have to recognize this is a spiritual battle. By giving into it, you will not necessarily be more able to say no to the boy who wants that certain kind of kiss - or more. And when you get married, the temptation will not go away. It may be a barrier to the total giving that God wishes between you and your husband. Pope John Paul II has a lot to say about the husband's "duty" to satisfy his wife, that is enable her to acheive an orgasm in the context of complete self-giving of the marriage act. By masturbating the woman is short circuiting what is meant to be the greatest earthly sign of the love between Jesus and his church.

I put all this forward in a somewhat hestitant and tentative way. The important thing here, e, is the clear teaching of Jesus which you cited at the beginning of your email. There are obviously people much more qualified than myself to write on this topic. I would welcome further questions or observations from you.

God bless and be assured of my prayers.

Fr. Phil Bloom


From Grace MacKinnon at Catholic Exchange: Masturbation: Mortal Sin?

About the Sacrament of Confession

See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm

The Fiery Furnace

Jesus Teaching Concerning Heaven

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