Sin in thoughts & confession

  • If one thinks about things of a sexual nature without fully realizing it, but then, when realizing it, tries to turn their mind away from it, would that be sinful? Mortal or venial?

  • In situations like this, when I’m unsure whether something is sinful, should I go to confession for it? I probably have a bit of a scrupulous conscience, and possibly slight OCD (intrusive thoughts happen at times), so things like this really worry me.

Thank you for any answers!

I think the key word there is “tries”. Lust is objectively mortal sin. However, culpability can be lessened depending on their actions after they realize they have impure thoughts. If they tried and succeeded in refocusing their thoughts on holy things, their culpability would probably be no more than venial sin. If they tried and failed, they would bear more weight of the sin, possibly even mortal sin. Culpability is something they should discuss with their confessor.

Always go to confession when you are not sure. Go every week with the same confessor if you need. That will give you the time to fully explain everything and the confessor the time to eliminate your scruples.

Overall this is a topic that, especially as you admit a scrupulosity here, will drive you mad if you ask internet posters for their advice. It’s much better to ask your priest about this.

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Thank you everyone for your responses! I just want to clarify, it definitely wasn’t lust - it wasn’t about anyone and was just a thought, if that explains anything. Is it the same that way?

Even if the thought is not lustful, it could still be a near occasion of sin by leading to lust. A near occasion of sin can be venial or mortal sin, so you still need to go to confession to know for sure.

Dear Therese Gianna,

Saint Augustine, a Doctor of the Church, has a good answer to your question.

He says that any sin involves three steps: suggestion, delectation and consent.

In suggestion, the mind is prompted to think about something sinful (say, a sexual thought) by either the senses (say, viewing a scene on television) or memory (say, remembering something one has read)

In delectation, the mind takes pleasure in this act, but it’s still “bubbling beneath the surface” so as to speak.

Only with consent - that is, deliberately dwelling on the sexual image with the intent to arouse lust, or to perform a sin of impurity / fornication / etc. - does the thought truly become sinful.

Given that you seem to have stopped short of even the second step, I think you are in the clear. :slight_smile:

An excerpt from the Compendium issued by Pope Benedict XVI

  1. When does one commit a mortal sin?

“One commits a mortal sin when there are *simultaneously *present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent.”


To re post an old post of mine:


All sorts of thoughts can happen to us out of the blue…

(not sought…they just happen…one does not want them…they may even be rather annoying…)

Be they impure etc etc

The fact that a thought happened to one- does not mean per se there was any sin.

And for mortal sin one needs not only grave matter, full knowledge and deliberate (complete) consent…

Just cause a thought happened to you does not mean there was any sin. Let alone mortal sin.

Just calmly turn to something good…


For the next few moments --try real hard NOT to think of an Apple.

then scroll down.

What did you think of?

An apple.

Even though your will was against it (you did not want to think of an apple!)

Now back to unwanted thoughts…

The more you fear and try hard not to have them…the more they will likely come and bother you.

The best thing to do with such thoughts is not to fight them directly --not fear that they will come—simply do not consent and simply and calmly turn to something else…(or it may be best to keep doing the good thing one is doing…like they come out of the blue when your at work …keep working…keep praying …etc)

It is an age old trouble that can happen - as one can find in spiritual works down through the ages.

There is a story from the desert of the early Centuries of the Church where a younger hermit when to an older one with the problems of thoughts happening to him all the time…the older hermit told him to go outside open his cloak and catch the wind.

The younger hermit said such is not possible…

the older hermit replied --neither is it possible to stop all the thoughts that can come to you…(then basically he said his task was not to consent…if they should happen…hence I would add one would turn to something else that is good…).

Ignore such unwanted thoughts like one would ignore a hissing goose or a barking dog. One does not stop to argue with a hissing goose or a barking dog does one? No one keeps on walking…

(as noted above the image there comes from a Carthusian Monk from centuries ago…)

Bottom line: Ignore such unwanted thoughts and do not fear them…just calmly turn to something good.

I think for people with scrupulosity issues (of which there seem to be a disproportionate number on CAF) the key thing is to find a regular confessor. Many priests, if they’ve determined that someone is suffering from scrupulosity/OCD will tell the penitent not to confess unless they’re certain they’ve committed a mortal sin.

But yeah, to the OP, this is the kind of thing that’s going to drive you nuts if you get a bunch of opinions from random internet posters, especially if you have OCD. Ask your priest in confession, but make sure you mention that you struggle with scrupulosity and let him guide you.

FWIW, my gut reaction to the original post is that it’s not sinful, certainly not mortally so. You can’t help having random sexual thoughts. Most adults have them many times per day without willing them.

Since you mention scruples - I will re-post another older post of mine

A person struggles with scruples - what ought they do?

A person with scrupulosity --ought to have a “regular confessor” who can direct them --and even give them some general principles/rules to follow -to apply (principles for them due to their particular scruples -they are usually not for those with a normal conscience). Thus with their direction they can dismiss scruples. Such is the age old practice in the Church. Obedience to ones regular confessor.

Scruples are to be dismissed not argued with.

Scruples are like a barking dog or a hissing goose -one does not stop to argue with a barking dog or a hissing goose does one? One keeps walking.

(image from a Carthusian writer from centuries ago).

As to counseling - that could be helpful depending on the case -but one would want to look for a counselor who can assist one in following the Churches Teachings - not go contrary to them (I have heard CA staff mention Some person with scrupulosity may yes also suffer from OCD - but the two are not simply equated.

Here is an article from Jimmy Akin of CA that I saw in the Register and saved for those who struggle with such.…the-scrupulous

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