Which Do I Confess: Masturbation or Fantasizing?

Although the language in the Catechism is quite straightforward, and it is no question whether masturbation is forbidden, I have a question regarding sexual fantasies. Frankly, is there a distinction between the sin of masturbating (with or without climax) and the sin of entertaining sexual fantasies (with or without climax)?

According to the Catechism, masturbation is “the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure” (CCC 2352). This definition is quite vague, yet another source defines what “deliberate stimulation” includes, and one of the qualifications is “sexually stimulating pictures or imaginations (psychic masturbation)”(catholicreference.net/index.cfm?id=34784, emphasis added). Another source corroborates this claim: catholicreference.net/index.cfm?id=34784.

In most examinations of conscience, masturbation (with or without climax) and the entertainment of lustful thoughts (with or without climax) are two distinct sins. Furthermore, although majority opinion is a weak argument, people commonly make this distinction. However, according to these articles, the distinction no longer exists, and asa a result, fantasizing willingly about sexual acts (with or without climax) is equal to masturbation (with or without climax).

Does my argument follow, or is there perhaps something I have missed in my research? Any help would be most appreciated. Personally, I have not masturbated in, as it were, the classical sense, i.e., physical contact, but I have fantasized. Am I therefore guilty of masturbation? Keep in mind also that I am not trying to assess the gravity of either act, but which act is which, or are they the same?

**Visual representation of my conclusion:
Masturbation (with climax) = Fantasizing (with climax) (True or False)

Masturbation (without climax) = Fantasizing (without climax) (True or False)**

According to Jesus:

**“But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” - Gospel of Matthew 5:28 **

Mental masturbation, is this essentially what you’re getting at? I don’t know what you’re seeking to accomplish with this thread. I struggle daily in thinking sexual thoughts but the key is to not dwell on them, fantasize, which is sinful and leads one into temptation of a greater sin such as masturbation. You have the word “confess” in your thread title and then want to discuss distinction between sins in your OP. Sin is sin and most sexual sins are of a grave and/or mortal nature, I usually don’t confess solely because of that which I think about but do mention such thoughts in nearly all confessions I’ve given.

I apologise if my title was slightly misleading; I titled it that way in good faith. Furthermore, I know that sin is sin, but I am trying to find out which sin is which, not its gravity. I do not think it is wrong to try and assess what I am guilty of exactly. For example, a doctor should ask: is Strep Throat the same as a sore throat or is it different? The answer to this question helps him in finding the proper way to address the problem. My intentions are the same, but lie rather in the realm of crimes (against God): Of what am I guilty?

Yes, mental masturbation is what I am getting at, and thank you for your response, by the way. Finally, distinctions need to be made. It is a disservice for a person to confess to something he or she did not commit—a disservice to him or herself.

I, too, do not understand what you are looking for. One is a physical act. The other is a mental act. Both are sins. Confess them both.

With all due respect, I have not committed the physical act. Secondly, your post implies that they are in fact two mutually exclusive acts; the articles I have provided say they are one. Whereas you would say “confess them both”, these articles would say to confess only the one. Who is correct? Are they two different sins? These are the questions.

I believe that it’s referencing using mental images and fantasies to achieve physical climax while masturbating.

It is my experience with it that you can’t have masturbation without fantasy, though I believe it is possible to have fantasy without masturbation.

When I confess it (should probably bring a tape recorder) I typically lump them together, though I do mention both.

Hope this helps!

Why not confess mental masturbation, fantasizing, or whatever you’d like to refer to it as? Whether you commit the physical act or the mental act they’re both sinful and fall under the same type of sin, adultery. I’m not pegging you as being such a person, but many seem to look at confession as some sort of task to be completed and its almost as if they feel the need to generate a checklist of sins to confess. Confession is an exercise in humility and in order for a Priest to be as helpful in administering hte Sacrament of Reconciliation & Penance you need to be as forthcoming as you can with any and all sins you do confess.

I don’t know why you’re so hung up with these articles but I think you need to simplify your way of thinking in this instance and you’ll be better off. You ask what sin you are guilty of and as it relates to a future confession, if it were me I would simply confess something along these lines, “Father I am guilty of adulterous sins I believe to be of a grave/mortal nature to include dwelling in perverse fantasy, masturbation (if you have state how many instances), watched pornography, etc.”

This is something I believe every man struggles with and along with dealing with my own personal struggles I also councel other men. Anyone can feel free to send me a private message if they’d like to have a further discussion.

Both are sins. I struggle with lust. One of the most important things my confessor told me is to be careful entertaining dirty thoughts.

I don’t know what exactly you’re getting at (the links don’t show up for me) but the way to approach this matter in the confessional is to say something like:
“Father, I have indulged in impure thoughts ___ times, as well as viewed impure images and impure acts”, mentioning the number of times or the amount of time wasted in this way so as to give the priest an idea as to the seriousness and habitability of the problem.

Does this help at all, or are you thinking of some other problem here?

  • Reg.

Personally I am still stuck with my kernal of truth and running 12 miles a day. Personally, I would just tell him whatever it was you did. There only so much a Pastor can take so, remember once the priests know you for something don’t bother coming around to confess the same sins over and over. Find a new Catholic Chruch around the corner or the other city.

I think you are being overly complicated with a simple matter. You have committed an impure act by willfully fantasizing. That much is clear, and you definitely need to confess that. I’m assuming you are trying to say that you didn’t actually engage in masturbation. If you realized you what you were doing was wrong, and tried to avoid the act of masturbating, you might want to tell the priest that too. It is good to confess our temptations as well, because it will help us conquer them in the future.

I’m not sure why people keep dancing around the question you asked. It seems obvious that you know both are sins and wish to confess both, but you wish to know whether to draw a distinction between the one and the other. You don’t wish to have this distinction so you can use it to any particular ends, good or evil, but for its own sake, because it is a knotty question and you want the truth.

Here is your answer, from the Library of BCSWowbagger: Fr. Hardon’s definition is either imprecise, or flatly incorrect, depending on what he meant (both sources you linked were from Fr. Hardon’s dictionary) (by the way, Fr. Hardon remains a hilarious name). Simple fantasy is not, and can never be, masturbation, although it may nevertheless constitute a mortal sin, per Jesus’s admonition. However, if a fantasy is undertaken specifically to stimulate physical pleasure, this would be a form of masturbation, because physical pleasure is directly and deliberately derived, even though it is not obtained physically. (Indeed, it is actually possible for some men to experience deliberate sexual climax through fantasy alone.) The line is black-and-white in theory, a little gray in practice, if only because it is difficult to sort out physical-vs-mental pleasure and the specific intent of an act. As a rule of thumb, I think if the fantasy is sustained and focuses deliberately on genital sensations, it is a form of masturbation; if it merely enmeshes itself in general feelings of lust after attractive women, or fantasies of sexual acts in general, it is only fantasy, even though the genitals will certainly react pleasantly.

There’s always the question of, “If you only do it for a second, and it’s kinda by accident, does it count?” but that’s a question for physical masturbation, too, so I don’t feel bad about leaving it unanswered.

Fair answer?

Merriam-Webster has the answer, that it includes fantasy, and does not have to result in climax, but commonly does.**masturbation **: erotic stimulation especially of one’s own genital organs commonly resulting in orgasm and achieved by manual or other bodily contact exclusive of sexual intercourse, by instrumental manipulation, occasionally by sexual fantasies, or by various combinations of these agencies.

Dictionary.com has:


  1. the stimulation or manipulation of one’s own genitals, especially to orgasm; sexual self-gratification.
  2. the stimulation, by manual or other means exclusive of coitus, of another’s genitals, especially to orgasm.

The choice of erotic stimulation, by mind or senses, is the sin of masturbation (outside of intercourse), because even the final decision is a sin, and even if cut short by an interruption. Really that could happen through touch, sight, hearing, smell, or taste as it is defined as erotic stimulation.

Why debate it? Confess them both. We don’t have to economize in confession:thumbsup:

Confess them both. Let God be the judge and let the Priest help you navigate away from the sin.

If you didn’t physically commit the act, don’t confess to impure acts with yourself. Doing so is dishonest, thus you’re telling a lie in the confessions (big no no), and the priest can’t make a proper judgment of the state of your soul.

If you entertained lustful thoughts, confess “I entertained impure thought X number of times”. It can also be helpful to mention how long you entertained them. Briefly? Intermittently?

You’re making this way more complicated than it out to be.

i think we should have general confessions, in which case you will not encounter any problem, since you are in direct touch with your CREATOR, who has already redeemed us from all sins…
the more you dwell on the sin, the more will you be attracted to it , which would entail you to go for daily confessions; in such a case you may not be able to go for COMMUNION at all.
personally, i think that masturbation is a normal phenemenon, indulged in by 99.9 per cent of young boys and GOD who forgives us even if our sins were like scarlet, will not hold it against you and abandon you for HE LOVES YOU!
don’t you know that your heart is God’s temple?


Depends on how long the confession line is.

It may seem that people are dancing around but I think people are so perplexed as to why there needs to be a distinction. Wanting to know if one should draw a distinction is a nice intellectual exercise, but this kind of thinking can also lead to scrupulosity.

I would say, “I spent some time sexually fantasizing. I didn’t actually physically masturbate (touch myself), I but I definitely had some very impure thoughts.” Or if there was some masturbation, “I started to masturbate, but I stopped midway through”.

I think it’s important to “keep it real” in the confessional so that the confessor and you can gauge your progress.

THE CAVALIER, our brother in Christ, do not be dismayed. Before considering all the technicalities of confession & sin, remember that Christ Crucified died for you and was risen for your glorification at the end of time. Only approach questions of sin & guilt in this light, meditating on the loving-kindness of God before making any other considerations.

We must make a distinction between external act and the inward motions of the heart. The Lord Jesus bases almost His entire teaching on the latter, and not the former. It isn’t what goes in that defiles you (i.e. non-kosher food), but what comes from your heart, after all.

We must consider first the Law, and then our sweet Saviour’s liberation of us from the shackles of the Law.

In Gensis 38, God slew Onan not for an emission of semen outside his new wife, but because Onan refused to continue his brother’s line in his wife.

  1. Leviticus 15:16 says “if any man’s seed of copulation * go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the evening.” Note, he will be unclean, not that he has sinned. This probably refers to inadvertent nocturnal emissions? In this context, the act of having lost semen was ritual uncleanness in the Law, but not a matter of judgment.

  2. Matthew 5:28 says “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Note that the Lord Jesus does not say the man is ritually unclean, but that he has sinned against the Commandments.

In light of the Gospel, it seems clear that the Law condemns masturbation because it is adultery (or fornication) committed in the heart, the imagination, the fantasy. It is an undue focusing on fantasy, imagination, and the self-conception of others, rather than focusing on true human relationship with others made in the image of God. That can be very serious, for the effects it has on your consciousness.

I would personally confess the fantasy, which is the grave essence of masturbation. One can masturbate with pride, with showing-off wealth, or by any means which garner human respect. Masturbation is in the will and fantasy. *

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