What follows is an exchange I had recently with a young Catholic Canadian man.
Hi Dr. Wagner
My Name is Jack, I am a catholic teenager who is wondering if the act of masturbation is still considered to be a sin. Also is it really considered to be gravely disordered and always morally wrong? I am 18 years old and I am somewhat late going through changes physically. I do believe that it is a natural way to find out about ones body and how it can be used. I have heard that it is not a sin but a natural and healthy thing to do. I have also heard that it is a sin. I have heard mixed reviews I have heard that a vast majority of both boys and girls do it. I can understand if one does it while thinking about other people then it is a sin but if one is doing it to get rid of old stuff then does it count as a sin. I have done it recently and I am going through puberty. There are no thoughts, images or fantasies involved. I do think that it is better then having a nocturnal emission and having to clean your underpants and to hide it so no one think that I wet the bed. I also believe that it is better to masturbate rather than waking up to find a sticky mess in my underpants, which has happened to me, and it was not fun. I don’t want to have to go to bed worrying about a mess in the morning. I have also heard that it can help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Is it normal to feel confused about it after doing it? I am planning to talk to my parents and a priest to see what they think of it. If my parents say that it is natural and a normal thing to do does that mean it is all right to do. The only tricky thing is that I am not entirely sure how to approach the subject with them. I have mentioned it to my mother and she doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. She said that it is better to do that than to be out having intercourse with girls. I haven t done it in 3 weeks and I feel conflicted over it I see both views on the issue and I am not sure. I don’t want to feel guilty for doing something that has been labeled natural and normal. I love and believe in god and want to know what the views are on it. I do not have any addiction whatsoever I have very good control over myself nor do I need counseling or therapy. I am just a curious teenager wondering if masturbating is a sin or not.
I live in Ontario where the ministry of education has released a updated sexual education curriculum where it mentions that masturbation is natural and normal. There is a part of me that really wants to do it as I feel it takes the edge off. I have heard that some catholic organizations are backing it. This leaves me confused if it is still considered to be a sin. I also believe that it is a crucial part of understanding how ones body works and learning about oneself. I do find it a little hard to understand that we can somewhat accept the sexual orientation of people but people still consider touching ones genitals to be a sin.
If ya ask me, Jack, and you are actually asking me, you’ve pretty much answered all of your own questions. And that tells me you are on the right track.
You ask about Catholic sexual ethics. Before you wrote, did you know that I was a Catholic priest for 20 years? And, not to boast, I am the only Catholic priest in the world with a doctorate in human sexuality. This later part explains why I no longer practice as a public minister. It’s a real long story and I’d be happy to tell you all about it sometime, but for now know that I didn’t go quietly. I wrote my doctoral thesis, Gay Catholic Priests; A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance, back in 1981. And once word got out about this groundbreaking research, the writing was on the wall, so to speak, for my public ministry. I fought for my priesthood and ministry for 13 year, but it all pretty much came crashing in on itself in 1994. If you’ve got nothing better to do, you can read about it HERE.
Enough about me, let’s get back to you and your questions. Although, I wanted to mention that when I was in seminary, way back when god was young, in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, enlightened spiritual directors were already beginning to advise us seminarians that masturbation wasn’t sinful or disordered. Of course, even now you’ll find orthodox hard-liners who insist that self-pleasuring is a moral sin, but they think all sexual expression is sinful. Here’s a tip: you’re never gonna find consensus on any sexual matter.
Like you, I found it difficult to believe all that mortal sin stuff that the hardliners promote. I mean, if mass murder and genocide are mortal sins, how could a little wank be their equal. It just don’t make no sense, right?
However, I can’t agree with you that masturbation might be sinful if there are fantasies involved. Remember, using your mind is an essential part of learning about your sexuality. That being said, most teenage boys are randy at the drop of a hat, so maybe you don’t need to be all that specific with your sexual mental imagery.
I also caution you to be careful when tossing around words like normal and natural. What’s normal and natural to some may be abnormal and twisted to others. But you’re right; few people, professional as well as lay people, these days would consider self-loving anything but normal and natural.
For you edification I suggest you use the search function or CATEGORY pull-down menu in the sidebar of my site and search for pertinent topics, like masturbation, wet dreams, sexual response cycle, etc. You’ll find a wealth of information about all these topics in both written and podcast form.
I too reported, back in 2011, on the startling new data that came out of Australia about masturbation. Australian researchers questioned over 1,000 men who had developed prostate cancer and 1,250 men who had not, about their sexual habits. They found those who had ejaculated the most between the ages of 20 and 50 were the least likely to develop prostate cancer. The protective effect of poppin’ one’s nut was greatest while the men were in their 20s. And get this; men who ejaculated more than five times a week were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life.
I also contend that masturbation is the most basic building block to all of our sexual expression. When you know how your body works; when you are familiar with your sexual response cycle and are confident about talking to others about it; you’ll be better situated to be a good sexual partner to another.
In the end, I encourage you to continue to think for yourself when it comes to things sexual. I can see that you are already doing that, so keep it up. Continue to ask questions and consider the input you get from others, myself included; but then make up your own mind. When you own your sexuality and your sexual response, you’ll be a grown-up. Notice I didn’t say you’d be an adult. That’s because there are lots of adults out there who don’t own their sexuality and sexual response and despite being grown up, they’re not grownups.
Good luck, pup
Thank you for responding. You have cleared come of the confusion. I guess I got confused because when I would masturbate I would feel like I let my self down.
Thank you again
One thing you should know is there is generally a sort of “let down” phase after orgasm. (See information about the refractory phase of the sexual response cycle HERE.) Your body can’t stay in that heightened state of arousal so there’s often a “deflated” feeling.
There’s even a name for if. It’s called post-coital tristesse. And you should know that it’s a physiological phenomenon rather than an emotional one.
Feelings of elation and wellbeing that accompany arousal and orgasm can sometimes morph into a sense of shame during this “deflated” phase. People with lot of scruples about sex are particularly vulnerable to this.
Thank you for clearing that up and for the reassurance that it is natural and normal and not considered to be a sin.