I was in the seventh grade when a friend first asked me about masturbation. We were having a sleepover and she asked me if I liked to do it. Like any girl stumbling her way through junior high, she was understandably seeking affirmation.
Later that week at school, I wrote her a note about it… a note that my mom ended up finding in my laundry. I was mortified to overhear her bringing it up to my grandmother, whispering as to avoid catching my attention, “…In the seventh grade? Can you believe it?! Seventh grade!”
As the oldest of my siblings, it was just one of many awkward firsts for my parents, I’m sure. Unfortunately, looking back almost 15 years later, I don’t believe many of us would be so surprised as my mom was then to encounter such casual conversation on the topic… even between young teens.
Masturbation, though once taboo, is no longer.
If “the nation’s largest provider of sex education” has anything to teach us about it, it’s that, “Masturbation is a natural and common activity for both women and men…It’s also common for children and teens.”
Are their benefits? Absolutely. “Masturbation can be good for mental and physical health…[It's] one of the best ways we can learn about our sexuality.” Want more? How about “increased self-esteem and body image” and “improved relationships”?
Any risks? “There are no health risks with masturbation… negative feelings about masturbation can threaten our health and well-being.”
So what’s stopping anyone from doing it?
Simply put, a failure to see the truth: that masturbation doesn’t offer the gratification, improved self-esteem and sexual health that everyone promises. It perpetuates loneliness, destroys relationships, spurs addiction and worse.
Like many, I was just as much once blinded and deceived to reject this truth, among classmates in college who unabashedly treasured their personal sex toys and pornography collections, to coworkers who shamelessly divulged about such private habits.
Just recently, I was the only female with a group of about eight men, most over 40, laughing it up over their dependency on the habit, one of them joking that 90% of men admit to masturbating and the other 10% are liars.
If we trust the propaganda to tell us what’s healthy & natural, and the behavior of our peers to justify the normalcy, it’s unlikely that many find their way to the truth… even where it ought to be proclaimed; I recall many Q&A sessions with our pastor on junior high and high school retreats. When the subject of masturbation inevitably arose, with unfortunate lack of compassion, our priest would instruct on Church teaching, then go on to say how “some theologians” argue otherwise… hardly encouragement to trust and obey our Holy Mother Church.
But where there is darkness, light shines all the brighter. And as C.S. Lewis puts it, the truth is bright & clear.
“…The real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another… and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.
And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.
For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival.
Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.
In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself… After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.” (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3)
We have come to love the prison and we have refused to believe masturbation to be what it truly is, “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action,” as the Catechism explains.
“The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose,” (that being for babies and bonding). “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,” (CCC 2252).
In the midst of the darkness, confusion & lies, it must be shared boldly that masturbation is evil.
It nullifies and rejects the self-giving nature of sex.
It threatens, weakens and destroys intimate relationships.
It promotes vanity & selfishness.
It corrupts the natural sexual expectations of one’s spouse or future beloved.
It distorts our understanding of Christ and His desires for us as His children.
And it opens doors for demons seeking to ruin our souls.
So we must turn to God. We must ask for His grace that the scales may fall from our eyes to see the real sin of masturbation. We must seek courage to stand against sexual sin and the fortitude to lead others to the truth. And we must be reminded how deeply He loves us and desires that we live truly fulfilling, chaste lives in following His Holy Will.
St. Michael, the Archangel, pray for us.