Masturbation Addiction?

Hi all, sorry for never posting before and starting with a question as huge as this, but I’ve been lurking here a while and ultimately decided that this forum was the best place to put my question.

First, I’d like to give some background. I’m a 17-year old male and devout Catholic, raised in the faith. I suffer from social anxiety disorder and minor depression, and see a (non-Catholic but respectful of my faith) psychotherapist over these issues. And with that out of the way, I would like to bring up the crux of this post: I think I am addicted to masturbation.

I discovered masturbation at an early age, but only started to do it regularly and frequently about four years ago. Three years ago I found out that it was a mortal sin, and for the last three years I have sincerely been trying to stop masturbating with all my energy. About a year-6 months ago I was probably at my peak in terms of breaking free of this sin: I could easily go 5-10 days without masturbating and sometimes as much as over 20 days. About 6-8 months ago I experienced a serious relapse, continuing to today: I could not (and can not) go more than three days without masturbating the vast majority of the time, and the longest I can remember for the whole past couple months is about 8 days, a period of purity which took significant psychological effort and took advantage of infrequent but useful goings-on in my life, namely travelling. I don’t know what caused this relapse, but I suspect it is a combination of schedule changes, a (misguided) sense of entitlement and desire for relaxation after the school year ended, and a bout of worsened depression I suffered for a couple of months. Ever since I found out masturbation was a mortal sin I have tried to attend Confession regularly (between once a week and once per two months depending on how I am doing and my schedule), but do not have a regular confessor or spiritual director, in part because of my age and in part because of the practices of the Church I go to to confess. I have tried many, many, many methods to avoid masturbation which I learned through lurking here and lurking and participating on other forums, reading online, and reading books. Here is a (probably incomplete) list of methods I’ve tried that did not work:

-Use a Web Filter/Avoid Porn: This method has actually worked pretty well in terms of avoiding porn, which while I occasionally fall into and used to watch frequently I have been able to consistently avoid for a matter of months even during my relapse. The trouble is that my masturbation is not correlated with watching porn - I can and do masturbate just as easily based on imagination or memories as I can watching porn.
-Get a Spiritual Director: Because of my age I can’t get a Spiritual Director, at least not in my area.
-Avoid Situations Where you Masturbate: Easier said than done in my case. Masturbation for me has always been correlated with two necessary events of the day: showering and bedtime. Before my relapse I was able to avoid temptation to masturbate in the shower fairly well and eliminate it all together at bed, but now I very often fall prey to sin in at least one of these situations every couple of days.
-Use “tricks” to stop masturbating in these situations (e.g. showering in cold water): All of the ones I’ve tried either disrupt the actual function of the situation too much to be useful or don’t work.
-Pray before you enter situations where you know you’ll be tempted (or pray when tempted): This has always been a point of difficulty for me. Even before my relapse, more often or not when I tried this it just led to a larger period before I masturbated in the situation and then worse feelings of guilt after I did. Don’t get me wrong: prayer is an absolutely wonderful thing and was (and may still be) very helpful to breaking free during my better period, but this specific use of prayer has always led to more discomfort than comfort.
-Get a girlfriend (yes, somebody actually suggested this to me to help stop masturbating): Again, easier said than done for a high school boy with social anxiety. Plus the relationships in my school are often very sexual so I don’t know how much getting a gf would help me avoid sin per se rather than just replace masturbation with extramarital sex.

There are probably more but I forgot them. Anyway, the point is I’ve sincerely tried many ways to stop masturbating and (at least post-relapse) they simply haven’t helped enough. Recently I have begun to wonder whether it is appropriate to say (1) I am addicted to masturbation, and (2) this makes some of my masturbation not a mortal sin, not through it not being grave matter but by mitigating my ability to fully consent to masturbating. This is what I would like some answers from others on, because invariably I will not be able to judge myself fairly - either automatically saying it’s still a sin because of how I learned about it and the guilt I suffer from it, or automatically saying my responsibility has been mitigated because of the temptation to masturbate, so I’d like some input on this.

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As an addendum, I’m starting to think that masturbation itself is no longer as detrimental to my spiritual life as the guilt I feel from masturbating and being in a state of mortal sin is. I feel I cannot connect to God when I pray or attend mass not because I am in a state of mortal sin but because I think I am in a state of mortal sin. Plus, when I can’t make it to confession I often take a “why bother” attitude about further masturbation and porn, not always consciously but very real, because I’m in a state of mortal sin. So I’m starting to wonder if having some moral/theological room for mitigation when I do masturbate may actually help me avoid it and let me keep growing spiritually.

Also, the issue of masturbation as “natural” for people in my age group has been brought up, particularly by my therapist, who has some knowledge of Catholic moral teaching and whom I’ve gone over these points with. I’m starting to wonder if that point has some merit to it, not because it is in fact natural for my age group or because it’s not grave matter for my age group but rather that because of our hormonal disposition to masturbation mitigates our responsibility and our ability to fully consent to it.

One more thing: My therapist, while not giving me a formal diagnosis, has stated I may have an addictive disposition, either due to my depression or naturally. Make of that what you will.

So, what do you all think? Please explain why in your answers, this isn’t a poll but a forum to hear the opinions of those more knowledgeable than me.

Speaking as a male:

The question that you will ultimately have to ask yourself is: “How much longer will I be okay with remaining in the prison that masturbation imposes?”

Besides the effects of sin, masturbation also closes us down from forming real, meaningful relationships with the opposite sex. We dive into fantasy instead, where the women are never complicated and are as erotic / perfect as we want them to be. It teaches us to look at the opposite sex as something to get pleasure out of, and therefore makes it impossible to get to know them because we expect instant pleasure and gratification out of our relationships instead of the give-and-take that a real relationship should be.

You will never be happy until you can understand this mindset. You must also understand that you don’t need masturbation to feel fulfilled, or relieved; look at the example that Mary provides for us. She said “yes” to God, and trusted Him completely; that is where her happiness and peace came from.

Focus on learning to trust our Lord. Pray often, and pray especially for help from the Blessed Mother. Study her example, and come close to Jesus. Learn to think of others, and let God fill your life up with what you need.

You’ll be in my prayers. You -can- do this. Keep fighting, but with the goal of winning, not just for the sake of the fight.

This is a heavy cross for many guys, especially at your age. Hang in there.

You mention praying before entering the place of temptation. How about praying during that time of temptation? This is where I think our memorized Catholic prayers come in very handy. Just start praying Hail Marys (or some other prayer of your choosing) before you enter the shower and don’t stop until after you get out. Not for one second. Also, start praying them before you go to sleep and keep praying them until you fall asleep.

Is this going to help you stop overnight? Probably not. You are in the throes of a habit four years in the making. It will take some time to overcome. The key is to make the choice to “pray unceasingly” and stay committed to it. Don’t give up on it just because it doesn’t “work” 100% of the time in the beginning. Over time, prayer (and the graces of the sacraments) is really the only thing that will help break free. So keep at it.

You mention being too young for a spiritual director. I’m not sure that’s true, but even if it is, you are not too young for the Sacrament of Confession. Go. Go frequently. Ask the priest about this. Listen to his guidance.

As to your culpability, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does state:

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 the context of the comment (which immediately follows the paragraph that reaffirms the constant teaching that masturbation is “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action”). This advice is given to pastors. I think this illustrates that the best place to determine your culpability is within the confessional. We do not want to despair. But we do not want to give up the fight by assuming of our own volition that we have no culpability and thus have no real need to stop our behavior. Speaking about this with a priest in the context of the Sacrament of Forgiveness is going to yield the most fruit.

God bless you in your fight to maintain purity. You are not alone. Many men have struggled with this. The fact that you desire to stop at all says lots about your character. Keep working at it. :thumbsup:

I never knew it to be a mortal sin. As all sin can be forgiven. See a priest and discuss this with him in confession. Then after absolution try to abstain but if you are not successful then go to confession again. All sin is forgiveable and God loves you. You may try lifting weights when your urges seem stronger than you, this is something that I know works for some people, but don’t give up on yourself no matter what because Satin is very good at deceiving you into believing that you cannot overcome desire, you can and you will. May God bless you and be with you forever.

Understand too what goes on in the brain during masturbation. All sorts of chemicals are released which lead to a temporary feeling of well-being and happiness. These chemicals are part of what leads to that sense of an addiction: you crave this good feeling. I’m not a medical expert, and you can find this information in detail online. The websites Reclaim or Candeo might be good places to start. The bottom line is that some sort of cognitive-behavioral therapy or techniques might also help you to change this habit. I am in no way downplaying the role of grace in this struggle. This is, in my opinion, a case where grace and science compliment each other; where science becomes a channel for grace. God bless you, and I will pray for you too.

It’s not unusual for woman to have the same problem… that’s why we’re always flirting and on a lot of online dating sights or out at the mall just to “meet guys”. Before I knew about masturbation even being a sinful action, I did it every other day in the shower and mostly with a loofah! There’s a reason why we “love loofahs” :rolleyes: It’s a guilty pleasure …lol. It was hard to keep dating to be able to have a “channel” to satisfy our passions… Nowadays, I’m single and still do it with images, soap operas, or even music… Yet, I just start praying before and after I shower and have tons of crucifixes around the house and the images of the Virgin Mary with angels and saints in my room and on my walls…This helps me a lot :slight_smile: Keep Up the Good Fight for Purity! Go to confession often. God Bless you! :thumbsup::knight2::hug3:

I think there is much wisdom in this paragraph from beyond your years. :slight_smile:

A wise priest once told me that, before we sin – in those moments of temptation – we ought to primarily turn our mind to God’s just judgment. After we sin, we ought to think mostly of God’s infinite mercy. Satan wants to flip-flop this. He wants us beforehand to think it’s no big deal because God will forgive us. But then after he wants to drag us down with hopelessness and despair.

I think that Satan uses any tactic he can to unsettle us and create division between us and God. If he can distract us with feelings of guilt to drive us deeper into sin, it’s a win-win for him.

We want to avoid the danger of allowing mitigating circumstances that would reduce our moral culpability to be used as an excuse to not strive for conversion in our behavior. But – as you said – making some “room for mitigation” can be helpful, too. Invariably, Satan seems to tempt us most strongly when Confession times are furthest away on the calendar. Especially for the youth, it’s not always possible to go to Confession immediately. The “Why bother?” attitude is very harmful to our spiritual life.

It’s not always easy to strike the right balance. If we knew only of the full extent of one sin (without knowing God’s mercy) we would be crushed by debilitating despair. If we knew only of the extent of God’s love and forgiveness (without recognizing the damage of sin) we would probably become utterly presumptuous. We need to keep both in mind to avoid the opposite pitfalls of despair and presumption. But, of course, God’s mercy outweighs our sinfulness by a very large margin. And it’s a good thing it does!

While the advice here is sound, and it’s good that you’re able to share your story, the bolded part might be a bit TMI.

Hi Shield,

On the subject of whether or not it is moral or venial, this is a common question that pops up here (on lots of issues, not just masturbation) and it’s not a healthy question to obsess over. Venial sins lead a person into mortal sin, so one way or another, it is a path that will lead you towards a gate that you don’t want to go through. If one is diagnosed with cancer, you shouldn’t overlook it simply because it is in its early stages.

By far the strongest way of purging this sin from your life is a pro-active approach. Really, that’s how it works for any sin. You never conquer sin in your life by acting defensively and obsessing over all the things that you ought not to do, rather than embracing the things that you ought to do. You mentioned that you have social anxiety and depression issues, and without knowing the details of your life, I would guess that this is very likely directly tied in to your ongoing struggle with masturbation. If you have a lot of vacancy in your life, it’s to be expected that your mind will wander to places where you don’t want it to go. That means lust and/or gluttony. So if you want to take this fight to the next level, you need to confront your greater fear of dealing with this social anxiety and depression. If you can fill up your life with good & productive things, the struggle with masturbation will naturally be beaten to the ground along with it. If you reflect on the times where you’ve given in and masturbated, you’ll probably notice that it’s usually during days where you were less productive. Even if you do usually masturbate in the shower or before bed (the majority of men fall in this category), if it’s been a day well spent, you’re not going to be nearly as strongly compelled to masturbate.

Of course, even for a guy that succeeds in making his life much more full and productive, this temptation won’t disappear 100%. It will, however, be enormously weakened. If you fail, just keep getting up and going to confession. A righteous man might fall seven times, but seven times he stands back up. You should not fall into the mindset that you are struggling futilely. This is the logic of the enemy. If you say you masturbate an average of once every 3 days, then you are better off than many other guys. I masturbated for many years without hardly any guilt attached, and it gradually built up to me doing it several times a day on a consistent basis. Now that is an addiction. If you cease to try at all, that is where you will eventually go.

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It is a blessing that you recognize or at least suspect that you are engaged in addictive behavior. Someone else touched on this but I’ll add to it. Sexual pleasure involves a biochemistry in the brain(among other things), just as addictive drugs involve a biochemistry in the brain. One significant difference is that most drugs are not always available nor do they have instant onset. Sexual pleasure in the brain can be activated with a single thought. When you have the lustful thought, you have taken the drug, so to speak. You can obviously not take addictive drugs while hoping to halt the addiction. This is to say you must begin to control your thought life. Saint Paul advises “Take every thought captive.” If you do not do this, you will find that this thought leads to that thought which leads to this fantasy, which leads to that physical act. Masturbation is the overt symptom of a progression of sinful thoughts.

Your mind has gotten used to this method of pleasure seeking. You may find it automatically wants to go there in times of stress, loneliness, or even fatigue, again seeking it like a drug. The longer you stay off the first dose of drug, the lustful thought, the less troubling it will be. Some of this I think is beyond a secular therapist. How can he see the sin aspect of it?

Many interesting post on this topic. I would say I fall under the category of addicted. Even my Spirtual advisor said this. He also said when you go to receive Jesus in the Eucharist ask Christ for his pure heart. This helps a lot!!! I myself can go days without but when it hits ya, well it hits ya! I have never heard that one has to be a certain age to have a spiritual director. Hmm. My next advice is to find the 12 steps to recovery of an alcholic. Same rules apply for this issue. Hope that helps! God Bless!!! If you need a spiritual brother pm me.

As far as “Getting a girlfriend” Sounds kind of cutesy to me. A woman is a gift from God. Maybe you should have one maybe not.

But let me add this. Having girls that are friends would be good for you. You get to know them as people. Women are not objects of desire but people. That’s the thing about porn. It puts you into a fantasy world and when we objectify people, we can become capable of anything.

Good luck

I second this. By adding to your day good and wholesome relationships with good (female) people/person, you will find a fulfilment which will goes some way to taking away the self-obsessed attraction of masturbation. I am not saying it’s a miracle cure - by no means. But it may give you a better feeling about yourself and a nobler view of the relationship between the sexes. Having and enjoying the company of friends can do wonders.

Totally agreed.


Thank you all for your kind and encouraging words.

Hi, how would I go about talking all this over with the priest during Confession? Like, when in the Confession should I say this, and should I give all this context or should I not give him too much work? Sorry if this seems ignorant it’s just I don’t know what to do lol.

This is good advice and something I’ve often thought about myself. Of course, for me social anxiety is nothing easy to overcome - but I’m already making good headway, especially with the help of my therapist.

This, too is helpful advice. But I’ve found controlling my thoughts is no easy task - as I’m sure you’re aware. Perhaps it will be easier if I follow TK421’s advice above and as I work through my anxiety.

Some of this I think is beyond a secular therapist. How can he see the sin aspect of it?

I see where you’re coming from and I occasionally think about this too, but for the time being at least changing therapists is not an option, not to say you were suggesting that. Ideally I’d like to be able to see my current (secular) therapist and a spiritual director (a plan which my therapist himself condones), but as I noted above you apparently have to be 18 to get a spiritual director, at least in my area. For those who are wondering about this, I asked at two Parishes in my Diocese as well as a Catholic Center at a local University and all of them said I needed to be 18 to get a spiritual director through them. :shrug:

I actually agree with this point. As I said, I didn’t come up with the suggestion. :stuck_out_tongue:

Also, to be clear it is not my goal with any of this to get a girlfriend in the sense of a long term romantic relationship (not to imply you were accusing me of this - just making it clear). It’s my goal to be a more moral, more spiritual, and better functioning person through this.

Agreed on porn. As I said, I try (rather successfully compared to masturbation) to avoid porn, largely because of that. And don’t let my comments about the difficulty of getting a girlfriend imply I don’t have friends who are girls or are some kind of misogynist - I do have friends who are girls, just not a girlfriend in the sense of a long-term romantic relationship, which I presumed the suggestor was implying.

For Confession, I always advocate starting off with the big things and then just laying it all out there as honestly as possible. If it’s hard to find the words, just say that it’s hard for you to find the words and you could use some help in expressing things. Priests are trained for that sort of thing. Don’t worry about making too much work for him. :wink: Your first post above is a good starting point – especially the second and third paragraphs. That wouldn’t take but a minute for you to recount.

Tell him you are struggling with this sin and also with the corresponding guilt and you could use some guidance on (1) how to get better at resisting the temptation and (2) how to avoid beating up on yourself so much afterwards that you feel hopeless. It’s okay if you stumble through it in speaking to him about it.

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