When masturbation isn't mortal sin, I'm confused

I know a dozen threads exists about this and I’m opening this one despite gut protests about the wisdom of this, but this one has a different aim.

Both of the confessors that I’ve been to have reassured me after a confession, that because I’ve built up a severe habit of addiction over more than a decade, that I’ve sought every natural available and supernatural aid I can move myself to, then because I am struggling its plausible that its not a mortal sin.

This is based on one of the conditions of a mortal sin which is it not being fully deliberate action. If its done out of addiction, its not.

So I got curious for the basis of this, and started investigating the catechism. The relevant portion is from:

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.

So I wondered what the basis of this philosophy was, so I looked it up in Humana Persona, but then I got that this was based on modern psychology, and not on moral philosophy.

That got me worried, so I checked back to St Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica. Sure enough he had the same three conditions: grave, with full knowledge and fully deliberate. However then check his teachings of Second Part Question 77 Article 8:

Article 8. Whether a sin committed through passion can be mortal?

I answer that, Mortal sin, as stated above (Question 72, Article 5), consists in turning away from our last end which is God, which aversion pertains to the deliberating reason, whose function it is also to direct towards the end. Therefore that which is contrary to the last end can happen not to be a mortal sin, only when the deliberating reason is unable to come to the rescue, which is the case in sudden movements. Now when anyone proceeds from passion to a sinful act, or to a deliberate consent, this does not happen suddenly: and so the deliberating reason can come to the rescue here, since it can drive the passion away, or at least prevent it from having its effect, as stated above: wherefore if it does not come to the rescue, there is a mortal sin; and it is thus, as we see, that many murders and adulteries are committed through passion.

So basically, unless I wake up masturbating and can’t stop myself before I reach climax, or I have sudden and involuntary ejaculation, masturbation is mortal sin, ever time. Contrary to the catechism which doesn’t explain its basis.

What you say is correct, but just because you feel that your masturbation is “beyond your control” does not mean that you can use that as an excuse to continue doing it. Sometimes I think that some of the people on CAF (not necessarily you :slight_smile: ) keep looking for ways that might allow them to continue masturbating yet avoid sin on a technicality.

You should constantly strive to avoid doing it. Yes, it will be difficult and yes, you may do it again, but if you sincerely dedicate yourself to trying to stop, I would imagine that God would “cut you some slack” and mitigate the sin. But again, do not allow some “uncontrollable” compulsion to be used as a justification to keep doing it.

My :twocents:

1 Like

Hi Leonhard,

You’ve stumbled upon something that’s certainly a possibility. Sexual addiction, both in masturbation and other forms, is a very real thing. And it is possible, that someone who acts from an addiction has a reduced consent to the act. Arguably, to the point where the sin is no longer mortal. In that case it could potentially be a venial sin.

But here’s the snag: You really can’t judge that for yourself. (Unless it’s done in your sleep or something). It’s enough of a gray area where you’d need to seek the advice of a confessor to see if it’s mortal or venial.

Therefore, even though occasionally it may be a venial sin due to reduced culpability, you’d still need to go to confession anyway before receiving Communion.

The best way to beat this habit is through frequent Confession and Communion. Pray the rosary daily, and don’t allow so much as a lustful thought to enter your head. The second one does, immediately say Hail Mary’s until it goes away. It takes a lot of time and patience, but over time you’ll see improvement. A quick prayer you can say when tempted with lustful thoughts is “Blessed Mother, come and crush their heads.”

I will pray for you!

There are two issues here: whether it is mortal in your case and whether it can ever not be mortal.

To the first, it is important to say that St. Thomas is saying that passion alone does not necessarily excuse sin. (That is, that sins done from passion CAN be mortal.) But the addiction claim is not that the mere fact that there is passion involved stops (and especially not that it always stops) the sin from being mortal. Addiction is more than the presence of passion. It could be that the first time the sin was comitted, it was both done through passion and mortally sinful, but later on the addiction developed and mitigated the guilt somewhat. Compare this to the use of drugs that deprive us of our reason (without grave reason). Unjustified depriving ourselves of our reason is also gravely wrong, but the drug addict may not be completely culpabale because he doesn’t have much choice in the matter.

The same can apply to you - the deprivation of choice is not from just the sort of passion we all have to deal with, but from actual addiction, the point where the ability to resist is actually destroyed at times. Or in the language of Aquinas, when it is no longer possible for reason to come to the rescue. That, in fact, is probably the best way to describe addiction: the point where reason loses it’s ability to control our actions. Not just when it fails to, when we disregard it, but when we can’t do anything but disregard it.

It is also important to remember that we are subject to the teaching of the Church over our own readings of even the best of the Church thinkers, so while reading Aquinas is always a good thing, if it leads us to doubt the clear statements in the Catechism, for example, then we should stick with the Catechism. And seek to resolve the issue, of course, and make sure that we are correct in both our reading of the Catechism and Aquinas, but it is the Church we follow.

To the second:
I think at this point it comes down to trusting your confessors. If an orthodox priest has, and especially if two have, told you that you need not consider it a mortal sin, then do what they say.

It is absolutely true that thinking that it is beyond your control does not excuse doing it anyway, and it is also absolutely true that we shouldn’t try to decide that our own sins aren’t mortal because of addiction, since we could easily be biased towards excusing whatever desires we have. But doing what your priest says is neither one of these things - you are not the one who made the determination, and accepting the determination doesn’t mean that you give up and no longer strive to stop.

Short version: passion alone does not necessarily mitigate mortal sin to venial, and for this reason masturbation CAN be a mortal sin, but the fact that passion does not necessarily do so does not mean that nothing can or that addiction isn’t a thing. Further, while we shouldn’t try to excuse our own sins in this way, doing what our priests say does not count as excusing our own sins, and so if they tell us that a sin is not mortal we should trust them (though this by no means allows us to stop fighting it).

I won’t touch upon whether it is a mortal sin, because, to my mind, that is functionally irrelevant to us before our Judgement.

It is a grave sin; you and I know it to be evil; it is done with the will, and is not apart from our wills control. (Even if it is difficult to exercise our will over it.)

I consider this probable cause to consider it mortal, so I would not approach the sacrament without confession or perfect contrition.

On the point of perfect contrition, it seems to me that the need of the sacraments strength to combat addiction would be sufficiently grave reason to receive when confession isn’t possible, but I would leave this decision up to my pastor. (Who I would ask, perhaps under the seal of confession, before I actually would need to know.)

For reference: catholic.com/quickquestions/can-someone-who-has-committed-a-mortal-sin-receive-communion-if-he-makes-a-perfect-ac

[quote=Catholic.com on Perfect Contrition]First, to clarify, the Catechism speaks of “perfect contrition,” not a “perfect act of contrition.” This is an important distinction because it is not a perfect act (e.g., reciting an act of contrition prayer perfectly) that obtains the forgiveness of grave sins; it is the contrition itself that must be perfect.
Contrition is defined as “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (CCC 1451). Contrition may be imperfect or perfect.
Imperfect contrition, which does not obtain forgiveness of grave sins, “is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner” (CCC 1453).
Perfect contrition, on the other hand, “arises from a love by which God is loved above all else” (CCC 1452). Only this form of contrition obtains the forgiveness of grave sins before going to confession.
Since perfect contrition obtains the forgiveness of grave sins, one who makes an act of perfect contrition may receive the Eucharist under certain conditions. The* Code of Canon Law *states:

[quote=Code of Canon Law: Can.916]A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible. (CIC 916)

Note that there are four conditions that must be fulfilled before going to Communion:

*]There must be a grave reason to receive Communion (e.g., danger of death).
*]It must be physically or morally impossible to go to confession first.
*]The person must already be in a state of grace through perfect contrition.
*]The person must resolve to go to confession as soon as possible.


This is a good passage: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Heb 12:4)

I do think an addiction can reduce culpability, but as this passage states you still need to be fighting your absolute hardest. Only you know if you are trying your hardest. Remove yourself from as many near occasions of sin as possible. The remaining near occasions, the unavoidable ones, you just have to face head on. If you make the right decision not to commit the sin, you will go to heaven some day. Don’t fear the consequences of being tired, exhausted, or even dying. You are going to heaven. But only if you make that right decision.

1 Like

When we are comparing the teachings of the Church of today to Church teaching in the past we have to consider the times and the environment in which the teachings are occuring otherwise we are always going to conclude that the Church has changed its teachings or that the past teachings are defunct. Developments in teaching are simply making explicit what was previously implicit to those teachings.

In the 16th century there was no concept of the nature of addiction as a disease. Most behaviours that we now call addiction or mental illness were believed to be moral deviancy and the choice of the free will. The idea of what constituted culpability was limited by the understanding of human nature at that time.

Today, we understand addiction and mental illness much better. But in understanding its nature we are also obliged to deal with those illnesses with the respect that our bodies and lives deserve. It would be sinful to say ‘oh well, I have an illness so I can keep indulging in this behaviour free from sin.’ If we don’t vigorously address the addiction with the means that society and the Church offer to heal, it is a sin of serious omission.

Secular society recognises the physical and emotional damage to a person of chronic masturbation and even in this permissive world, addictions to anything are considered an impairment to the quality of life and full potential.


Remember you Death. I encourage you not to sin. Take heart, with a fully contrite heart and prayer, the Helper will come! Please, sin no more, less something worse happen to you. Through Christ all things are possible!

“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”

The previous posters who say that masturbation is a grave sin have made a grave error.

The catechism designates masturbation as grave matter and it may be a mortal sin depending on the circumstances.

I posted a comment two days ago on a masturbation themed thread and the entire thread disappeared. So, I’ll repeat only the least controversial part of that other post.

para 1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

This very broad statement says that there’s lots of reasons why an action may not be a mortal sin, which might objectively seem so. Remember, 1735 is part of the same deposit of faith that says that masturbation is grave matter. YOU MUST BELIEVE 1735.

1735 is really telling you about God’s mercy. It also suggests reasons why we should forgive others and not pass judgment over them. It is only God who can judge the whole person.

Sirach 15:15-20 is a strongly worded section of scripture which says everybody has freedom to resist committing sin and they should choose not to sin. Don’t you wish it were that easy? to bend your will into accord with God’s?

Perhaps the wording of 1735 is close to what the priest told you in the confessional. God knows that are wills are weak. St Paul says that he does the things that he should not. That’s why we need a savior, which we have in Jesus Christ.

1 Like

Call em cynical (OK, I am cynical) but sometimes I wonder if some people are looking for a loophole so they can justify masturbation without committing a sin.


I totally agree with you. I do not believe most of the people who say they are addicted to masturbation are in fact addicted. They just use that line to justify continuing to sin.

Of course there are degrees and many factors, however -

Mortal Sin = Grave matter, actioned with full knowledge and consent by the sinner.

So the question here is the subject grave matter?

In this case - yes. Sins of the flesh are grave matter.

Anyone reading this now knows the truth of the subject with regard to grave matter.

Does this mean it’s easy to avoid? Of course not!

Best advice I’ve recieved in the past in confession - excercise! This cuts down desire for sins of the flesh in mass.

Of course then to confession often, try weekly until you get a week without having to confess it, that’s a great feeling when that week comes along. Then you start to see the light out of the hole you dug.

It was a real eye opener for me when I learned everyone didn’t think similarly as I did with sins of the flesh. Sins of the flesh have a crack coccaine effect on the mind.

Addiction does NOT eliminate sinfulness, might lesson the degree, but doesn’t change the status of gravity. Grave action is grave action, it doesn’t become not grave.

The proper desire of a clear mind is to break an addiction. A fogged mind wants to continue an addiction.

Fog can be cleared with God’s light.

The non-Catholic community thinks this issue is silly. Masturbation is normal and even healthy.

Yes, some saints have been said to have rolled in the snow or thrown themselves into thorn bushes in an attempt to overcome temptation. St. John Paul II had a diary which was later publicized in which he admits to whipping himself with a leather belt to overcome temptation.

If someone has to appeal to self-mutilation or self-injury to avoid a sin, then I think they have a psychological situation or what is judgmentally called an inordinate attachment to less the responsibility and imputability for the sin of masturbation, under 1735.

Are people looking for an "out’ to sin – yes, we all do that, every day, starting with road rage, and everything down the line – not forgiving others and not judging others (hint, hint).

1 Like

So you don’t think the normal function of the reproductive parts, is to - reproduce?

1 Like

So long as we live in this world, we cannot remain without trial and temptation: as Job says, “Man’s life on earth is a warfare.” We must therefore be on guard against temptations, and watchful in prayer, that the Devil find no means of deceiving us; for he never rests, but prowls around seeking whom he may devour. No one is so perfect and holy that he is never tempted, and we can never be secure from temptation.

Although temptations are so troublesome and grievous, yet they are often profitable to us, for by them we are humbled, cleansed, and instructed. All the Saints endured many trials and temptations, and profited by them; but those who could not resist temptations became reprobate, and fell away. There is no Order so holy, nor place so secluded, where there are no troubles and temptations.

No man can be entirely free from temptation so long as he lives; for the source of temptation lies within our own nature, since we are born with an inclination towards evil. When one temptation or trial draws to a close, another takes its place; and we shall always have something to fight, for man has lost the blessing of original happiness. Many try to escape temptations, only to encounter them more fiercely, for no one can win victory by flight alone; it is only by patience and true humility that we can grow stronger than all our foes.

The man who only avoids the outward occasions of evil, but fails to uproot it in himself, will gain little advantage. Indeed, temptations will return upon him the sooner, and he will find himself in a worse state than before. Little by little and by patient endurance you will overcome them by God’s help, better than by your own violence and importunity. Seek regular advice in temptation, and never deal harshly with those who are tempted, but give them such encouragement as you would value yourself.

The beginning of all evil temptation is an unstable mind and lack of trust in God. Just as a ship without a helm is driven to and fro by the waves, so a careless man, who abandons his proper course, is tempted in countless ways. Fire tempers steel, and temptation the just man. We often do not know what we can bear, but temptation reveals our true nature. We need especially to be on our guard at the very onset of temptation, for then the Enemy may be more easily overcome, if he is not allowed to enter the gates of the mind: he must be repulsed at the threshold, as soon as he knocks. Thus the poet Ovid writes, “Resist at the beginning; the remedy may come too late.” For first there comes into the mind an evil thought: next, a vivid picture: then delight, and urge to evil, and finally consent. In this way the Enemy gradually gains complete mastery, when he is not resisted at first. And the longer a slothful man delays resistance, the weaker he becomes, and the stronger his enemy grows against him.

Some people undergo their heaviest temptations at the beginning of their conversion; some towards the end of their course; others are greatly troubled all their lives; while there are some whose temptations are but light. This is in accordance with the wisdom and justice of God’s ordinance, who weighs the condition and merits of every man, and disposes all things for the salvation of those whom He chooses.

We must not despair, therefore, when we are tempted, but earnestly pray God to grant us his help in every need. For, as Saint Paul says, “With the temptation, God will provide a way to overcome it, that we may be able to bear it.” So, let us humble ourselves under the hand of God, in every trial and trouble, for He will save and raise up the humble in Spirit. In all these trials, our progress is tested; in them great merit may be secured, and our virtue become evident. It is no great matter if we are devout and fervent when we have no troubles; but if we show patience in adversity, we can make great progress in virtue. Some are spared severe temptations, but are overcome in the lesser ones of every day, in order that they may be humble, and learn not to trust in themselves, but to recognize their frailty.
-The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 13

You have never been addicted to anything have you?


Robert Sock, I can appreciate that you want to be a spiritual advisor, but I’ve already chosen one. And while I’m very thankful that you’d spend that much time writing trying to help me, I’ll give you some advice to make you even better at helping people in the future.

Back when I wrote that opening part there were some anxious questions I had about a difference between what the Catechism said, and what Aquinas said. I managed to get a good scholastic scholar to explain a little of it to me. This took that expert roughly half the length of what you wrote. (In short: Aquinas wasn’t writing a treatise on moral psychology, there’s leeway even in that quotation and Aquinas is not infallible. The Church recognises that nobody is without culpability when they masturbate, but the sin might not always be grave depending on circumstances).

However I’ve read through your lengthy piece two times now I haven’t seen an answer to that question. It seems to be addressed to someone else.

I’m quite aware that life is full of temptation, and I pray to resist it whenever I feel it. There’s nothing you’re saying that I’m not doing.

When someone asks a question, its usually that question the person wants answered. You sound more like a devotional book of the 17th century. Those are very fruitful to read and imitate, but the fact that your writing starts to sound like that, makes me feel that you’re not really interested in dealing with what I’ve said, but more like sounding what you think a saint would sound like.

1 Like

I have heard from several priests that masturbation in private (like in the shower with no access to pornographic material) is not a mortal sin in the case of Incels to prevent them from acting out sexually in other, largely offensive ways. Makes sense, but I can see where some would view this as giving a “free pass” or an excuse to Incels.


This is an attempt to answer your question by someone who suffered the same addiction you did. I will start with a paradox a wise man relayed to me.

“At the end of the road of vice is virtue.”

Like you I tried to learn everything that I could about my addictions. I had read that the Buddhist way of looking at transgress is from the viewpoint of ignorance, not understanding it hurts others and yourself. From a Christian view we are ignorant of how our transgression hurts our inner Jesus which is our true self.

I don’t know how it happen but one day I woke up and knew I was no longer addicted to three addiction that I suffered for multiple years. I have few temptations now but I know in my heart that if I give in once I might well return to the hell that I left behind.

That is my story, Back to you, you appear to be doing everything you could be doing. Don’t give up, keep studying and learning about your addiction and worry less about if its a mortal sin or venial sin. Be on guard, help may come when you least expect and in way or from somewhere you least expect it from. BTW prayer doesn’t hurt.

Best of Luck

Hi Leonhard
I am trying to work out what your question actually is?

You appear to accept that full deliberation is required for a sinful act to be mortal.
You seem to accept that it is likely that, in your case, personal constitution/history is making the habit venial rather than mortal.
Unlike some others I can plainly see that you are not looking for an excuse to indulge the habit but are doing your best to put the brakes on (and intend to continue doing so) even though the train, as it were, doesn’t seem to be slowing down much.
However you seem to question the Church’s advice in this area because it is based on “modern understandings” of the human person?
You seem to be confused in this latter area by Aquinas II,II 77,8.
You seem to believe that Aquinas disagrees and that “sins of weakness” excuse from mortal intent.

This is, to my mind, a very perceptive question. Most un-theologically trained Catholics are of the (uncritical) opinion that once you have been told some act is a mortal sin if done intentionally (and you agree) then, if you are wide-awake when you do it, you are heaven gone-burgers. Some extremely conservative theologians, even today, tend to push this line.

However, as someone trained in Aquinas, (let alone someone open to advances in human understanding since medieval times) I cannot agree it is so black and white.

Even Aquinas distinguished between different types of “weakness”. So while it is clear Aquinas and the Church holds that emotion can make a grave sin even worse (a mortal sin of weakness) the “weakness” meant here is not really what the english meaning of that word means. It really means a wrong done with emotion spurred on at every point by a weak will.

Clearly habitual sins of masturbation that by a Catholic, who is relatively virtuous in every other area of life, would not likely be of this variety if the initial passion is unsuccessfully fought against.

Also, sometimes we are in fact morally asleep even when we are awake.

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