*Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, pastoral counselor, or medical doctor. I am however a person with knowledge trying to witness to my faith. If any of the below is in error, please let me know!
A little while ago I received a comment from a new reader with a question—a question about a subject not much talked about (at least publicly) in Catholic circles. To be honest, I almost wanted to delete it and apologetically reply that such comments couldn’t appear, lest the blog get blocked; that I wanted to make sure young women and maybe even (older) teen girls, could still find and access the rest of the site. And you know what? Because I believe they need this information, I’m letting the comment stand AND I’m going to address this topic and other “controversial” ones because I think there are things we don’t talk about but should. However, I will likely use asterisk in certain words just in case.
So. M*sturbation. Self-pleasure. Why is it not allowed? Many people view it as a victimless sin; some doctors call it healthy; it relieves the urge without getting anyone pregnant or infected or emotionally hurt; right?
Now, let me say that I do acknowledge the neuroscience behind the physiological response: do an action to stimulate nerves, nerves send response to brain, brain makes you feel either pleasure or pain. But m*sturbation’s end game is what…I don’t know…a matter of seconds? There’s a flood of endorphins, true…but you can get endorphins from: exercise, cuddling with clothes on, petting a cat or dog, heck sometimes even eating delicious chocolate.
But more importantly, the Church teaches what she teaches because there are some universal capital-t Truths about humanity, which help explain the morality of actions or not. Self gratification is not victimless…there’s you and your soul. But I know some people have difficulty with the concept of a soul or allowing for religious explanations in defense of an argument, so I’ll try to use other reasoning. M*sturbation and p*rn (Part 2) are wrong—meaning “not right.” Why?
The Individual (Married or Not)
You are a person—not just a body. You have to admit that people, human beings, whatever you call us intelligent mammals doing our thing—we’re pretty cool. We have brains, emotions, and most importantly reason. I don’t care what descendants we have in common genetically—we are distinct from animals. Animals have instinct and urges and their actions satisfy them. We as people have the ability to control our impulses. So why not the impulse to reach org*sm?
Because it is using our body (or parts) as an object. It is seen as only a means to an end, not a wonderful creation with a distinct purpose. Think about other habits people have that are considered not good, but are done because they satisfy something about the person: nose picking, nail biting, picking at a scab, knuckle cracking, itch-scratching. All those actions use a part of the body for momentary release, but a lot of society has a problem with those habits and we teach children not to do them. Why is m*sturbation different? Oh, because of pleasure?
Is the purpose of our bodies pleasure? Is that really the end game? Twenty seconds awash in endorphins? Anyone reading see Sex and the City? In an early episode, Charlotte gets a vibr*tor and enjoys it so much she starts canceling plans with her friends, other human beings, so she can stay in with a device. Is that healthy? Even those libertine women didn’t think so, staging a mini-intervention. So do it moderation, some might say—like with junk food or alcohol. But those actions are to fulfill the real needs of eating and drinking—just done in a not-good way. But what need is self-gratification fulfilling?
There is no actual biological need for org*sm. It is a want; and it is a want that has become so hyped and so accepted that society is pretty much going to allow justifying anything to get it. Sorry, but I believe we are mad for more than that; that our bodies have a higher purpose; that there are better uses of our time and mind. It is not the right purpose.
It may surprise non-religious readers to know that there are actually some liberal interpretations of married love and its bounds that while neither officially “sanctioned” are also not officially discounted so long as the husband finishes inside the wife. This means that it might be okay to start a lovemaking session with the wife stimulating her husband and vice versa.[UPDATE: Edited to Add After Comment] As I understand it, this is not official Church teaching, but the interpretation of some ToB scholars. if you think about the act, its purpose, and what it communicates and put it through a moral test, it may not pass muster. Questions to ask: is it self-seeking? Is it to “get away” with as much as you can either because you dislike something else too much or like it too much? Does it fulfill the two purposes: bonding and babies?
Stimulating yourself in front of the other…well…why? It aids the other person in getting excited? The only way or the best way? Why would that be the case? Because you saw it in p*rn and liked it? See Part 2. A medical issue preventing sex? See a doctor. [UPDATE #2]: A helpful commentator points out below that none other than Blessed-soon-to-be-awesome Saint John Paul II wrote in Love and Responsibility (as Karol Wojtyla) that mutual stimulation is licit in the context of the entire marital act, which is to be unitive. The concern is with the notions that stimulation with no intention of turning the act into a unitive one being not as licit.
Sex is a union. If you think about the design of the human body, the male form doesn’t really make sense without the female; they were made to go together. The “end game” for both the man and woman is possible babies and, I think discussions of marital love forget to emphasize this, bonding.
So hopefully all of the above have tried to communicate why it is wrong (meaning “not right”) to m*sturbate. Stay tuned for Part 2, which goes into a companion problem of self-gratification, posting later today.