Question about culpability for committing masturbation

I am a 67 year old single woman (not by choice, but by “circumstances”), who started masturbating when I left the Church in the late '70’s, and didn’t know at the time that it was a mortal sin, at the time I left. I was in my '20’s at the time. For a long time after I returned to the Catholic Church, I did not masturbate. In my '50’s, I began treatment by my primary physician for clinical depression/anxiety. I have since learned of the sinfulness of masturbation. Also, I have tried to talk to a priest about it, but find it very difficult and often find that the priest thinks I am “rationalizing” the sin by asking what the second paragraph in the CCC (#2352) referring to masturbation means. I am not seeking an excuse for my sinfulness, but to learn whether I am guilty of a mortal sin or a venial sin? I don’t use pornography. I am active in my local parish (I have returned to the Catholic Church fully) and had a fairly active social life until a recent hospitalization had limited that somewhat. It is very difficult talking to a priest about this, although I have tried to do so unsuccessfully in the past. Has ANYONE experienced a similar situation? As I indicated earlier, I was open to marriage, but it didn’t happen for me. I am working with a clinical social worker but he is not a Catholic and does not think masturbation is a sin. I do, but what I need counseling about is, is it a mortal or venial sin in my case? I do not want to commit venial sins wantonly, but I need to know if I am committing a mortal sin, given my situation and #2352 of the CCC (second paragraph)?

We cannot say for sure if any person’s particular sin is mortal or not in their particular case, as that is up to their confessor if he chooses to even make a determination.

However, we should also avoid masturbation because, mortal or venial, it’s a sin and we’re supposed to avoid ALL sin, not just venial sin. In addition, it’s grave matter, meaning it’s a serious sin. Therefore, if you masturbated, confess it and resolve to avoid it in the future.

You don’t need to explain to the confessor whether it’s a mortal or venial sin. It’s true that most people trying to characterize it as a venial sin are looking for a loophole to keep doing it. Priests hear this all day.


Thank you for your response. I agree that we need to avoid ALL sin, but if someone has slipped and committed a venial sin he or she can still go to Communion. I just need some clarification on the meaning on the second paragraph of Section 2352 of the CCC. I do pray to Jesus and Mary (and my guardian angel) to help me avoid this sin. But when I do fall, is it mortal or venial sin, given by circumstances?

It is grave matter, one of the three criteria for being mortally guilty. The other two criteria are full knowledge and full consent.

You now know it is grave matter, so you have full knowledge.

Consent: one end of the spectrum of consent would be doing something while sleeping: no consent. The other end would be deciding to do it, arranging to do it, and doing it.

If you are currently committing the sin, you should make a sincere effort to stop. If you are asking about your youthful acts, confess them and they will be absolved.


Thank you, Annie, for your response.

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This might not seem like the kind of answer you’re looking for, but in the meantime while you sort through the intellectual answers you’re looking for, my suggestion would be, if possible, to go to your weekly Confession as close before your weekly Mass time as possible (eg the day before – or even same day if that’s available in your city!) That way you can approach Communion in good conscience no matter what, being absolved whether of mortal or venial sin before approaching the altar.

(PS I typically attend weekly Confession and it’s not weird. You see a lot of the same faces; going to Confession once a week is normal, and no one there presumes what someone else is there for. Confessing even venial sins is a good habit, though more then once per week could be getting scrupulous so typically it’s recommended not to do that, so far as I know. But follow the guidance of a priest you trust.)


I have struggled with this sin as you have, and I sympathize.
What helped me most was realizing, shortly after joining the church, that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Saints and angels, the Virgin Mary, all are close to us. It’s as if there were a glass ceiling, or a one way mirror, between us and the denizens of heaven.
I don’t do anything anymore that I wouldn’t do in public.


I can only tell you what I do. When I have slipped in this manner I confess it before I go to Communion. It is a sexual sin and grave matter; therefore, to me it’s exactly the same as if I went home with a man I’m not married to, and did a sexual act with him. Masturbation is grave matter and it also doesn’t just creep into my mind like a feeling of envy towards my neighbor or a feeling of anger towards somebody who just said something upsetting. I have to take an active step to use my hand or whatever and do it.

A mortal sin requires three things: 1) grave matter, 2) knowledge that the act is a serious sin, and 3) full consent of the will to commit the act. It doesn’t look like 1) or 2) are in question here, so the only element that could be in question is (3). (3) is the thing to discuss with your priest if you feel you have a sexual addiction or some other mental condition that causes you to masturbate involuntarily.

I don’t do this any more because having to feel guilty and run to confession in the middle of the week is a negative that outweighs the really short momentary pleasure I might get from the act. It’s simply not necessary and God doesn’t want me to do it so I don’t. Once you get out of the habit of doing it, then it’s easier to avoid it with God’s help going forward.

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I would recommend not worrying about categorizing yourself in a state of mortal or venial sin. Consider the categories theoretical. Mortal sin is in the realm of possibility, but there are only two people who can judge if you’re in that state: you and Christ. And the only person capable of a perfect judgment of your heart is Christ. So, indeed, your own judgment can be wrong.

I would recommend letting Christ be your judge and instead focus on spiritual growth and going to confession for the grace of the sacrament . . . to weed your internal spiritual garden. Don’t picture it as jumping in and out of hell. View it as an essential sacrament for growing in holiness and recognize the value.

Simply make regular confessions. Expect there to be uncertainty. End your confessions with “For these and for any sins I’ve forgotten, I am sorry” to cover all your bases.

When you feel preoccupied with your own spiritual state and can’t get to confession, pray the Jesus prayer. “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (repeating it over and over, leaning into the meaning of the words, relaxing into the) or the Divine Mercy chaplet.

The more we lean on Christ’s mercy, the more humble we become. Remember, that Heaven is not something we earn through good deeds. Rather, Christ saves and frees us from our slavery to sin, from the chains that keep us from enjoying Heaven. Heaven isn’t simply a pretty and happy place. Heaven involves our own internal transformation.

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Thanks for your advice, Nathaniel.

I would like to get back to daily Mass as well, but I am on restrictions for medical reasons, so I can do it virtually. But I like to receive Holy Communion as often as possible too. My pastor came to my home to hear my confession and give me Communion. I find it difficult to talk about sexual sins face to face with a priest who knows me personally. Being a 67 year old single woman, it is even more awkward because it is usually a sin associated with pornography and men. I would prefer to give myself to a man I love and care about who is a friend as well. That it would be a “self-gift” in a loving relationship, but that has not been my experience. If I can channel this physical need into loving and helping others, I hope I can overcome this temptation. Going to Adoration on Tuesdays at my parish has been a special gift in which I can pray and talk to Jesus without the usual distractions.

This is just my personal take. Sometimes the line between mortal sin and venial sin is vague (for us, anyway). This is grave matter, and there’s a degree of deliberateness to it. I’d refrain from communion and go to confession at the next opportunity, but at the same time wouldn’t run around absolutely certain I’m damned before then.

Lonely ol’ widows and single ladies are prone to temptation as well. Take it from one who’s been there. You’re definitely not alone, and masturbation isn’t a sin just for men, nor do most women need porn for it because we have imaginations.

I do agree that it’s a bit squicky having to tell a male priest (the priests are getting younger as I age) this stuff, which has been another motivator to keep me from doing it. Nothing makes the urge wilt faster than thinking of having to drive 20 minutes to tell this little private tidbit to Fr So-and-so. Ugh. Just not worth the hassle. I’ll have a cup of coffee instead.


A very thoughtful response, twoangels. I just wrote my message last evening and already have received several helpful responses. I believe that Heaven is a wonderful place from which we will never be separate from Jesus (and all the Trinity), Mary, and all the saints. We will still keep learning more about God because only God is omniscient, so we will have access to the teachings of the prophets, the Early Fathers of the Church, Scripture…

We’d be able to visit the universe (see ALL of God’s creation) and expand our knowledge of God that we neither had the time or understanding to do as humans in a sinful state.

Not to pry into anything you’re uncomfortable sharing, but why are you discussing masturbation with a clinical social worker? It just doesn’t seem like it would really be in his lane, so to speak. Are you concerned you might have an actual compulsion? Like, not just a habit, but a legitimate psychological tick? If so, that is probably going to affect your culpability.

But anyway, I think that playing it safe and confessing it is probably the best bet. If nothing else, the embarrassment of having to tell someone every time might help you break the habit.

Coffee is just about the best elixir ever invented. Great minds think alike, Tis_bearself!! It’s wonderful to be able to share with others who understand where you are because they’ve been there, done that. It’s difficult not having anyone to share this with. Both my younger sisters are married and even if they weren’t, I’d still feel it difficult sharing this since there is an element of shame with it, speaking for myself.

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Married people have issues with it too. Sometimes husband is away on a trip. Sometimes he’s sick. Sometimes he’s tired. Sometimes his little friend doesn’t work any more because he has an illness or a disability or has to take meds. Sometimes you just find a movie star or the postman looking mighty attractive.

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Sometimes I felt forced to commit this sin due to sleeping problems and my goal was to sleep only.
Masturbating always did put me to sleep.
Unable to sleep and with just two or three hours left until waking up to go to work, I would panic and perpetrate the sin for fear of being unable to perform my job operating heavy construction equipment due to sleepiness; for fear of making a mistake resulting in an accident; even, a deadly one.
I’m not condoning the sin or justifying it. I’m just sharing with this forum the reasons why sometimes I did masturbate.
I don’t know if those reasons are excusable or not.
But, with the prospect of maybe sleeping only two or three hours, a sleeping pill wasn’t an option.
So, here you have it, sometimes the reasons to commit this sin varied.
Regardless, confession is always a must.

Catechism (second paragraph 2352)

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.

Some begin in a state of vincible or invincible ignorance and establish a habit of material sin learning later that it is grave matter. Then “force of acquired habit” applies, so one must apply the will to break the habit, keeping the intention to rid oneself of it. Anytime the temptation begins and it is recognized, then it should be curtailed. Any situation of temptation to it should be avoided if reasonably possible. No doubt one should avoid venial sin also for repeated it can lead to mortal sin. An attachment to sin forms that must be broken and penance can help with this.

It includes both psychic or physical source of excitement.

Modern Catholic Dictionary, Masturbation

Direct stimulation of the sex organs outside of sexual intercourse. The self-stimulation can be physical, by means of some external object, or psychic, by means of thoughts and the imagination. It is a grave misuse of the procreative faculty and when done with full consent and deliberation is a serious sin. The sinfulness consists in setting in motion the generative powers while preventing them from achieving, their natural, divinely intended purpose.

I used to use it to sleep also. I don’t anymore. I don’t have much trouble sleeping any more though, especially since I got old and have too much to do that makes me tired.

I don’t think using it to sleep makes it less sinful though.

Agreed, regardless of the excuse, it is a mortal sin that must be confessed.

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