Is it sinful to dwell on sexual thoughts and memories if for therapeutic purposes?


It is well known in psychology that repression is maladaptive psychologically.

Psychological repression, or simply repression, is the psychological attempt by an individual to repel one’s own desires and impulses towards pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one’s consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious. Repression plays a major role in many mental illnesses, and in the psyche of average people

When one is flooded by sexual thoughts or arousal, one needs to combat them without repression. This means accepting sexual thoughts into consciousness. From a psychological framework, one also needs to remember and think about past sexual activity, and work through them. From a religious framework, we remember and think about the sinfulness of past illicit sexual activity and repent of them. Without bringing the repressed sexual memories into consciousness and confessing them, true repentance is not possible.

The enigma is that there are those in the Catholic Church who would say that sexual thoughts and memories are in themselves sinful.

Is it sinful to dwell on sexual thoughts and memories if for therapeutic purposes?


Do such people have the moral authority of the Magisterium? There’s a lot of Catholics who say a lot of things in direct opposition to Church teaching, but still claim to be representing Catholic belief. :shrug:

I can’t see how there’s any answer to your question except, “No.”

Thoughts by themselves are not sinful. It’s what we do with the thoughts. If it was sinful to think about our past sins, none of us could ever make a valid confession. :shrug:


Let me first note regarding temptation and examination of conscience for confession…

When one is tempted with sexual thoughts on does not consent to the temptation and turns to some other good thing

And one does not really “bring sexual memories into consciousness” to confess them – rather one knows simply I did such and such - I accuse myself of fornication 2x, adultery 3x etc. One does not need to “dwell” on such in order to confess them…such can bring back temptation…etc’

As to psychological questions -there is that which is good and that which is bad. One must judge (a good Priest can assist) --and it is best to seek out a therapist/doctor etc who is faithful to the Church. To chastity etc. Just because a particular “school of thought” suggests a therapy does not make that therapy good.

We though are really not to get into such too much here: see the rules:


Psychology says a number of things that doesn’t agree with Church teaching and is bunk. It has a problem where sex is concerned thinking it the be all and end all. Although thinking sexual thoughts is not sinful in itself it is an occasion of sin and therefore to be avoided.


It can also be said that the sexual thoughts is an occasion for righteousness.


The Catholic Church and Psychology have never had a comfortable relationship. The Magisterium will use any diagnosis that supports its views when it arises (Homosexuality is an illness) but will claim it not to be a science when it crosses official teaching.

Officially? Yes, sexual thoughts are bad no matter what. They must be repressed and atoned for every time one crosses your mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad for your health, it’s always bad outside a marital act without exception.

This tends to come up a lot around the topic of masturbation. Doctors of medicine and psychiatry will claim it essential to psychological development, the Church says there is no excuse.

I’m inclined to think the doctors have a better idea about mental health than the clergy, so I voted no.


As written -such is not really the Teaching of the Church or Moral Theology…

Is one to not consent to a temptation to a lustful thought? Yes

Does the fact that some thought out of the blue crosses your mind - mean there is was any sin? No. Are such talked about as being “repressed”? No. Are such unintended temptations to be “atoned for”? No.

Are all sexual thoughts “bad” outside of the marital act without exception? No.

And as to “mental health” - chastity is part and partial of such.


I fail to see how lust can be therapeutic in the long term.



Psychology is a field of study and if the science were executed properly, it would be on par with natural law.

Psychologists, on the other hand, can and do give out some bad advice when it comes to sexual/romantic behavior.


I’m not sure how that works.

I do believe repressed sexuality can, indeed, cause major problems. I’m not sure the Church’s take on this. Excellent question.

I felt unable to vote, because I’d probably put something like, “It depends”.

Well, sometimes, it’s necessary to recall sexual memories to be able to move on.


Dwelling on sexual thoughts isn’t necessarily the antidote to repression. If you would have read the wikipedia article a little further you would have read that Freud’s intent in psychotherapy was to help the patient consciously become aware of the repression, but only to be replaced by a condemning judgement. Later psychotherapists thought of sublimation as a successful repression in which one’s unacceptable desires are channeled into socially acceptable ways. So even in psychology, one consciously confronts one’s unacceptable desires only to transform it into acceptable action. I’m not defending Freud or all of his thought but to say that the only way to not be repressed is to dwell on sexual thoughts is really not an accurate conclusion from the text you quoted. What you are talking about, I believe is self- indulgence and I’m not aware of any psychological theory that promotes this as a way to heal from mental illness.


The repression of sexual thoughts and desires is certainly a method of defense that results in the type of maladaptive behavior that Freud would have studied. It amounts to where in the process of the causal effects the psychologist/psychiatrist is focusing his attention.


you can remember what you did without having to recreate the whole toughts and/or actions. even more you can remember something like i was aroused by this and that, without having to re-live the moment. at least i think that is what usually is.


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