When is masturbation a mortal sin?

Please read also my previous Reply post # 05

To Lostandafraid

From JAW642 on 05/26/2011

By Fr. John F. Harvey, OSFS


Living In The Truth: Overcoming the Masturbation Habit


Morality of Masturbatory Activity

Father Farraher also points out that sexual stimulation by a married couple is morally licit if it leads to natural vaginal intercourse or completes the marital act.'2 Farraher is very exact about what constitutes grave malice in masturbation when he writes: "for a person to be formally guilty of a mortal sin of masturbation his act must be a fully deliberate choice of what he fully realizes is seriously sinful."13 If such an act is done with only partial realization, or partial consent of the will, it is a venial sin; and “if there is no free choice of the will there is no guilt of sin at all even if the person is aware of what he is doing.”'4 Farraher goes on to point out that there is no sin even when a person foresees that sexual stimulation and orgasm will result from some action that the person is freely performing, provided that he does not intend such stimulation, but merely permits it, and that he has a sufficiently good reason for doing it. (This is simply an application of the principle of the twofold effect.)'5

Farraher corrects the misunderstanding that many Catholics have that if they experience sexual stimulation, however unwillingly, they have committed mortal sin.16

Distinction between Past Behavior and the Present

There is a little freedom, but hardly sufficient to constitute serious guilt. This is even more true when persons struggle against this impulse when they are trying to sleep at night, or are surprised by temptation in the middle of the night or upon awakening. Farraher comments at length on these situations in which the individual who has resisted the temptation to masturbate during waking hours is sometimes overwhelmed with sexual fantasies as he tries to go to sleep, or upon awakening in the morning. As long as the person makes a real effort to turn his mind away, he commits no sin even if orgasm occurs. If he is uncertain whether he really tried hard enough to get rid of fantasy, he may settle the doubt in favor of his innocence. According to traditional norms of moral theology one may presume that his intention during waking hours was also present in the moment of nocturnal temptation. Confessors and spiritual guides should reassure guilt-ridden persons who feel that since they were awake at the time of orgasm they are guilty of sin that they have not sinned inasmuch as the masturbation is presumed to be involuntary. "To tell him that he can avoid even these involuntary experiences if he tries hard enough and uses supernatural means can cause severe anxiety and even despair since he may not be able to avoid what is really involuntary."31

Guilt and Shame in All Forms of Masturbation

So, likewise, in the question of masturbation many persons torture themselves needlessly. I refer primarily to good living people whose only “sin” is masturbation. The spiritual counselor or confessor who knows the struggles that these persons have had tries to make it clear that there has been no free consent to the impulse to masturbate.

There is no grievous sin if a person masturbates while lacking in awareness, as when he is half awake, or half asleep, or when a person is carried away by sudden passion and finds himself committing the act despite the resistance of the will. This is one of the effects of original sin, that human passions tend to overcome the acts of the will (Rom. 7: l~2O). An individual may agree with this reasoning, and yet in his heart feel guilty of masturbation, because he will say to himself, “If I had tried harder I would not have had the fantasies, I should be able to get rid of all my impure thoughts.”

The trouble with this feeling of guilt is that it presupposes that we humans have perfect control over our passions not only over lust, but also over avarice, anger, and other disordered emotions. We know that we have no such control. The person involved in masturbation, however, needs to believe that with God’s grace he can overcome the habit of masturbation.

From JAW642 on 05/26/2011

I posted this awhile back, but when I confessed to a priest about that and told him I wanted to receive communion at my Mothers funeral because it was a mortal sin, he chuckled and said “It is just a venial sin my son, don’t worry about it”. He then absolved me and gave me 5 Hail Mary’s to recite.


I do not have the time to read the whole posts here today…but in glancing …this line stood out to me.

This is Not “a teaching of the Church” The Church does not teach this.

Yes what the Church does teach is that for a mortal sin one needs grave matter, full knowledge and deliberate consent (complete consent). So if one is lacking deliberate consent…it is not a mortal sin… etc

And yes one is not obliged to confess doubtful sins. (sometimes it can be advised for some and not advised for others)

I just needed to note that for clarity.

Yes that line quoted above can be given as advice by say confessors to particular persons that they judge this is the case with…(such as saying if such and such then you can judge that you have not…) …but others should not be given such advice…like for example the lax…

As to the OP I again have not followed this thread so not sure what has been said…but certainly their confessor can direct them in addition to asking if they had the three aspects of mortal sin.

Hello all,

On April 2, 2011, I went to confession and confessed that I have been periodically masturbating. Due to God’s grace from the sacrament, I hadn’t masturbated for two months. I hadn’t been feeling the urge at all until today, June 2, 2011, exactly 2 months after my confession (I usually feel the urge about every three days). I have also been praying at least 3 Hail Mary’s a day for me to try and stop. Two months without masturbating = a miracle for me!!!

I read Catholicism for Dummies and it said something about masturbating while you’re a teenager isn’t considered a mortal sin because of puberty and the hormones. I am 16, so would it be a mortal sin if I were to masturbate while I am getting the urge?

Hi ajpirc!

Yes, it would be considered a mortal sin. I’m not sure what that Catholicism for Dummies book was talking about, but that is simply not true.

It is a mortal sin unless for some reason you are addicted. In that case, a therapist may be needed.

Wouldn’t it still be a mortal sin even if someone was addicted?

No, because addicts literally cannot control themselves with regard to their addiction, and thus cannot have full consent. Frankly I question whether masturbation is in actuality an addictable act.

Oh ok, because sin is an act of free will?

It can be very addicting, especially when you are very stressed out.

The Church teaching:

CCC 2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”
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.

This has to be the most confusing topic I’ve seen discussed. It’s also probably the most confessed sin heard in the confessionals. The problem I see is that we all act as if we’re experienced theologians in here. The catechism clearly states there is some “grey” areas with respect to masturbation. I’m not condoning the act whatsoever, I just think we should all recognize our place as “lay-people” instead of sending people away from here, especially teenagers, feeling as if they’re going to hell if they die on the way to confession. The fact of the matter is, no one here can properly diagnose ANY mortal sin. We are not the judge in any of these matters, so I’ll be the first to drop my stone.
God Bless

1 Like

A temptation is never a sin unless one acts upon it.

I wasn’t speaking about you sister terese. It’s not just this thread, it’s most of them here, and I’m as guilty as anyone else for acting as if I’m some religious authority and people actually need my “opinion”. The problem is, many people come here seeking answers and think they’re getting acurate information from the lay-people here. When it comes to such a common sin as masturbation, I think everyone in here should have the type of response that you do. The catechism terms certain sins as “grave sins” but characterizes masturbation as a “gravely disordered action”. It’s clearly a sin, but without question the Church does not call it a “grave sin”.

Luxmundi makes a reasonable point. The Catechism definitely is not quite so harsh on masturbation as it is on a number of other sins…probably because clergy were teenage boys too. I think part of the problem is that people are uncomfortable discussing it, therefore it is easiest to just say, “It’s a mortal sin, go to confession or you’re a terrible person.” I find it interesting that the Catechism actually specifically points out “immaturity” as a factor, seeming to indicate that the Church thinks leeway should be given in the confessional to teenagers and below who seem to be genuinely struggling with the sin.

In addition, it’s crtical to point out that it is probable that many people begin this at a fairly young age and do not become clear on how grave it is until a later time, thus ingraining the, “force of acquired habit.” It is clear that one of the culprits in this is poor catechesis. Old lady Sunday teachers are probable uncomfortable discussing it and fathers/priests probably aren’t so eager to discuss something they know they did too, and many times.

You are absolutely correct. We can get lost in trying to “explain” things. The teachings of the Catholic Church are quite simple, actually, as is the beauty of her teachings. When one gets lost in explanations and intellectualizing (rationalizing, sometimes), we find ourselves in a murky grey area that sometimes can also become the insidious cancer of relativism. Not good.

Agreed. The catechism describes murder as a “grave sin”, but terms masturbation as a “gravely disordered action.” So is eating buggers for that matter, but probably not sinful. I find it quite confusing that most priests I’ve read on the subject consider it a venial sin while most lay-people emphatically consider it mortal. There would never be this type of differing opinions on murder, adultery, etc. which leads me to wonder if many of the priests out there who consider it venial may be right. It’s not a sin I’ve struggled with since becoming catholic until recently. I don’t know what to make of it. I had been attending mass several times during the week for the last 2 years, but the last several weeks it’s only been on Sundays so that I can go to confession with the assumption being it’s a mortal sin. It’s far too confusing to assume otherwise.

I would confess it regardless of whether you crossed the line into mortal sin or venial sin or any sin at all. The reason being is that it is something you struggle with and it can fall very easily into being a mortal sin. The devil hates humility. When we try to hide something, especially a weakness of ours, the devil will try and work on us all the more and the sin will grow. But the devil flees in front of humility! He is powerless in front of it. Confession means admitting we are weak, and Christ is the one who loves us in our weakness.

Tell the confessor this is a sin you are struggling with. He may be able to give you advice what to do in these temptations, and the grace of Confession will give you strength to resist.

So, you know it was wrong, and it is wrong, but; you didn’t freely choose to do it

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