Masturbation & Contraception Part 1


I feel compelled to comment on this area as I was reading Fr. Vincent Serpa’s response in the Ask an Apologist section to a question regarding masturbation and it being a mortal sin, as it brings up a greater issue in context to similar controversial subject matter. There are some acts that are irrefutably wrong, those that involve the direct harm against another individual. When one carefully reads the Ten Commandments, it is rather clear that the first three deal specifically with one’s relationship with God and the last seven involve one’s relationship with others. In as far as we can deduce from this assessment, it is clear that offenses such as abortion and infidelity are quite clearly violations against others and so it makes the moral determination much more clearly black or white.

However, what is less clear are actions that are to be considered offenses against God or one’s own self due to the very gray and vague nature of the reality of existence. Sins such as masturbation and contraception are certainly less clear in moral context. This is not to suggest that I am unaware of how the Catholic Church views such sins. I am also quite familiar with how the Catechism of the Church defines such offenses. And I am quite aware that many would interpret such determinations as being unambiguous and in no need of further discussion, however, I find it important to address these issues because they are issues that speak to the very heart and soul of human nature and thus affect everyone on a level that is certainly less pervasive in its moral application.

I have read postings on this forum that have included the boastings of individuals as to how they have overcome masturbation, how it has never affected them, and so on. Having a degree in psychology, having spent many years studying human nature, having watched infants masturbate, and having witnessed other primates doing the same, leads me to have some problems with the practicality of calling masturbation a mortal sin, and I am what many would consider to be more on the end of a conservative Catholic than a liberal. I believe the Catechism uses the term “gravely disordered action” regarding this practice and it also labels it as a violation against the life of chastity all Christians are called to live according to their own state in life. My first problem with this stems from the fact that whether or not people choose to admit it, masturbation has occurred at some point in our lives. It being common to all human beings as well as to many animals, leads me to conclude that it may actually have a specific purpose or function to serve.

My second problem involves the issue of adolescent sexuality. Whether our society likes it or not, teenagers are raging with hormones for a reason. Biologically, they are entering a time when nature has prepared them for procreation. Now because society has conditioned the prolonged immaturity of youth, especially in western culture, it is generally not accepted for a teenager to be sexually active. Problems relating to unwanted pregnancies, the possibility of facing abortion, etc. all contributes to this position. Is not masturbation, then, a preferred course of action in this case when it is absolutely unreasonable to insist or expect a teenager to psychologically avoid what his/her own body is telling them to do? What’s worse is then to tell such a person that what they are doing is committing a mortal sin (direct severance of one’s relationship with God). Then to add even more shame to the act, they are told they must confess this to their priest before they can receive Jesus in Holy Communion? We are not talking about the temptations of Satan here. We are talking about how God designed our bodies to work. When Jesus Christ welcomed his own betrayer to receive his body and blood, would He not do the same for someone acting out of a biological impulse his own Father created?

In my mind, it is irrational, archaic, and a bit of a moral stretch for the Church to produce a concept such as comparing masturbation to committing adultery, which is what it does by listing it in the Catechism under the section of the Sixth Commandment. The scrupulosity that can occur in the mind of someone who has normal human sexual desire with no morally acceptable outlet can create a generalized anxiety condition that could lead to a lifetime of dysfunctional behavior. No spiritual progress can be made for such a person as they become so obsessive with their own behavior in relation to their own salvation. I have had so many Christian clients with this problem that it leads me to wonder if the APA should classify it as a separate disorder.


The same can be said for the position on birth control. While, like masturbation, the Church’s position should be used as a guide to IDEAL moral behavior, it is totally irrational for the average person to have more children then they can afford or psychologically handle and then face the consequence of mortal sin despite doing the best that they can. There are gray areas when it comes to issues that are this prolific in society and as such, I think the Church and her representatives must demonstrate and embody the mind of Christ when facing it. It is time that the Catholic Church revise its medieval dogmatic structure on such points, be respective of the reality of human nature outside of original sin, and serve the function it was created by Christ to perform: the proliferation of spiritual development, not by condemnation or fear, but through love and redemption.


This is not apologetics, it’s moral theology and so has been moved.


So, is there any harm (to individuals and/or the general society) caused by masturbation and contraception? Is there any reason not to call them morally neutral and let people do whatever they want in those areas?


Anything can cause moral harm to society. I think it is safe to say that the Bible has been used to justify more wars and death than masturbation or birth control. Does that make the Bible problematic or something to be avoided? Of course not.


That’s no answer at all. Since you claim to have some expert knowledge in this field, please specify your perception of the specific harm that can come from the activities at hand, both for individuals and for society, and specify what, if any, reasons there might be to attempt to limit these activities. Then maybe we can all discuss the position of the Church relative to that perception.

And BTW, the font you are using is quite difficult to read.


Theotokus, that’s a very long and convoluted way of saying you believe you know better than the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Sorry, I believe you are wrong. You (and I) should be able to accept those areas with which we don’t agree or which we don’t understand as “mysteries”, and pray for God’s enlightenment. It is wrong to preach contrary to the dogma of the Church.


From either a professional, personal, or spiritual level, I do not believe any harm can come from either of these activities if they are being used with proper intent. For example, birth control for the sake of promiscuity is harmful. Birth control to avoid having children when a married couple cannot afford them is not. Mutual Masturbation as what might be used in a homosexual relationship is problematic; private masturbation to relieve sexual tensions when no acceptable outlet is available is not.


I can accept your position, Mamaw Carol, but let us not forget that there are a great many clergymen that embrace what I have said as well. I apologize if my words seem to suggest that I am preaching, my intent was really to just offer my opinion on something I found offensive and potentially harmful.


Don’t forget to include pornography in your analysis. All those private masturbators are entitled to spice up their private acts, aren’t they? They certainly think they are. So what harm, if any, does pornography do to individuals and/or society?


I would argue that pornography, because it involves a great number of people involved in immoral acts, would be a morally unacceptable addition to masturbation. Pornography and masturbation do not have to be the same thing.


Everyone, please understand that I am not necessarily arguing in favor of masturbation or contraception, but rather I am arguing the application of mortal sin on such acts.


However what if the person performing masturbation is an extremely good artist and has the ability to draw and paint pornographic images to use for themselves during the act? Hmm?


You do understand that an objectively grave act is not automatically a mortal sin, right?


I do, but some of the Apologists on this forum do not, which is what prompted my post.


You are getting into an area of situational ethics that I feel might be taking my post to the extreme. But such a person you are describing seems to have more problems than masturbation if they must resort to sketched pornography to avoid moral problems.


Yes, that is definitely an ongoing problem.

Now, I’m curious, have you read Humanae Vitae, and do you find fault with it?

Have you read John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and do you find fault with it?

What with your mention of “medieval” Church thinking and all, I just wonder if you are not busy jousting with tired old caricatures rather than actual Church teaching as it relates to the modern world.


BTW, do you believe that the Sexual Revolution has been a good thing or a bad thing?

Some thinkers believe it to be one of the truly great disasters to befall the Western World. I’m inclined to agree with them.


Basing are actions upon what primates do and young infants does not follow proper philosophical or medical advice (i find your psychological explanations problematic). Primates’ and young infants’ (who are not using moral reason at this time) behaivor is not the gold standard of adult behaivor guided by reason and God’s grace. Young infants and primates can be violent toward others… we do not condone such action (though with them they are not mature, or in the case of the primates of the same nature) to make rational decisions.


Purely anecdotal, so take it or leave it, but as one formerly guilty of both, discovering the Church’s teaching has been great news, and getting in accord with it has turned my life and marriage around. I pray for all those who fed me the it’s-not-really-that-bad **** for so long. They are not doing anyone any favors.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit