I was going down my internet rabbit holes and realized this question gets asked a lot. Is masturbation a sin? The answer, as a Catholic, is yes. If you’re a protestant, I’m sure you’ll find a denomination that can help you rationalize it. But for Catholics, it is undoubtedly a sin.
There are several arguments to be made as to why you should masturbate. You can use natural law, scripture, and even science. The scientific argument won’t tell you it’s a sin, but it will tell you it’s harmful.
But let’s be a bit more human about it.
Is masturbation common?
Masturbation is a sin. But that doesn’t mean it’s uncommon. Sexual immorality is a major problem in our culture. It’s the most common sin in our world today. The widespread distribution of pornography, plus our ever-lustful and secular culture, has made it a common problem.
If you’re struggling with masturbation or pornography, know that you’re not alone. Below are some statistics on how widespread this phenomenon has become.
Online Porn Statistics:
40 million adults in the United States regularly visit pornographic websites
10% of adults in the United States admit to having an addiction to internet pornography
17% of all women struggle with porn addiction
20% of men and 13% of women admit to using porn while at work
Is masturbation normal?
No. While it is common, that doesn’t mean it’s normal. The widespread use of pornography has turned this into a uniquely modern problem. People didn’t use to masturbate this much.
It has been normal to experience lustful thoughts and work on self-control. But the act of masturbation is a sin and is not normal. It’s actually disordered.
God designed the world and everything in it to have a purpose or an end. We can observe this and is something ancient Greek philosophers talked about, as well as Thomas Aquinas and many others. Therefore this gives us the ability to analyze actions as being in line with creation, with God, or against creation and sinful.
So the natural law analysis on masturbating comes down to asking what is the goal or point of the sexual organs, or more broadly, what is the point or end of sex. It’s pretty simple. The sexual organs have really two uses.
The first is for use in procreation. Without sex, you can’t make more people. That one is pretty straightforward.
The second is that it helps build a relationship between spouses. The sexual organs allow you to orgasm. It feels good to have sex and leads to the release of many vital hormones in the body. It helps build a strong bond between men and women. This whole process helps build a relationship with your spouse and a strong marriage.
Does masturbation violate these ends?
Yes. Masturbation violates both ends of sex. Since masturbation involves self-stimulation, there’s no chance for a woman to get pregnant, so it’s certainly not procreative. And since, again, it’s self-stimulation. There is no bond being formed.
From a natural law standpoint, masturbation is disordered, and therefore, masturbation is a sin.
What does the Bible say about Masturbation?
But we’re Christian, so we don’t have to just rely on natural law and philosophy to know how to live a virtuous life. We have the Bible.
Does the Bible directly mention masturbation? No. But the Bible doesn’t mention lots of things. Cars, abortion, and the internet are all not mentioned in the Bible for obvious reasons. However, as everyone knows, we can still use the Bible to figure it out.
Story of Onan:
The story of Onan in Genesis 38 is often used as an example of a man spilling his seed. In that story, Onan is told to “Go in to thy brother’s wife and marry her, that thou mayst raise seed to thy brother.”
But knowing that the kids produced from this would not be considered his, spilled his seed on the ground so that no children would be born in his brother’s name. and God “slew” him because of it.
This story from the old testament is great at showing that sex is about procreation. Onan does not ejaculate inside of Thamar so that she won’t have kids. Masturbation is similar.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that jeveryone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.
A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls. But where in the Bible does it point to masturbation as a sin? Well, it doesn’t. The closest we can come, in that context, is sexual immorality and lust.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
1 Thessalonians 4:3
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;
1 Corinthians 6:19–20
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Leviticus 20: 10-21
“ ‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. 11 “ ‘If a man has sexual relations with his father’s wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
12 “ ‘If a man has sexual relations with his daughter-in-law, both of them are to be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads. 13 “ ‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. 14 “ ‘If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.
15 “ ‘If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he is to be put to death, and you must kill the animal. 16 “ ‘If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. 17 “ ‘If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, and they have sexual relations, it is a disgrace. They are to be publicly removed from their people. He has dishonored his sister and will be held responsible.
18 “ ‘If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people. 19 “ ‘Do not have sexual relations with the sister of either your mother or your father, for that would dishonor a close relative; both of you would be held responsible. 20 “ ‘If a man has sexual relations with his aunt, he has dishonored his uncle. They will be held responsible; they will die childless.
What does the Catechism say about Masturbation?
2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” 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.”
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.
People Try to find loopholes
I hope I’ve made it clear using an abundance of sources that masturbation is sinful. If lust, pornography, and masturbating are something you struggle with, I would encourage you to stop. There are a ton of great resources out there. You could try Exodus 90 or look into other programs that are similar. I would also encourage you to work on your prayer life. The Rosary has done miraculous things.
Just know you’re not alone. This is one of the most common sins priests hear in the confessional.
Work on your self control, pray, go to church, work on your marriage and over time the temptations of lust and the desire to masturbate will subside.