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Our readers asked:

Is masturbation a mortal sin?

Richard G. Malloy, SJ Answers:

Mortal sin means “deadly” sin, the choice to so reject God’s love that the life of grace “dies” in a person.  The meanings of masturbation range over a variety of acts and life situations.  An overly “act” centered approach to sexual morality, in my humble opinion, fails to take into account the multiplicity of meanings and complexities of the human condition.  Masturbation by a 13 year old boy is radically different from masturbation by a person who is refusing to have sexual relations with a spouse because of unresolved anger and conflicts.  Overall, it is difficult to imagine someone using masturbation alone in such a manner that God is definitively rejected, with full consent of the will and a clear and total understanding of the implications of one’s choice (cf. CCC #1858).

The church teaches that masturbation is “gravely disordered” (CCC #2352) as are acts of lying, stealing, etc.  In the same way, one can easily discriminate the difference between “stealing” a $1.00 from your mother’s purse when you are 10 years old and embezzling thousands on your job, or overcharging the government billions, so too we should judge the different levels and meanings of masturbation.  In judging the moral responsibility surrounding masturbation, many conditions can “reduce to a minimum moral culpability” (CCC #2352).

Fr. Rick Malloy, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, fisherman and author.  He is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and serves as a Chaplain at the college.  His book, A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century, (Orbis Books 2007) examines the relationships between the practices of faith and the cultural currents and changes so rapidly occurring in our ever more technologized and globalized world.

The Author : Richard G. Malloy, SJ
Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D., is Vice President for University Ministries, the University of Scranton, Scranton, PA, and author of A Faith That Frees (Orbis Books).
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  • Jim

    Excellent explanation, although I agree with Joan Grabowski that some more of the “why” is needed.

    Our sexuality is oriented toward the marriage relationship and, specifically the act of full self-giving that is both unitive and procreative. Acts outside of this is a misuse of our sexuality that is contrary to that to varying degrees.

    A 13 year old boy is an example of immaturity, a married couple with each other may be a form of disordered love in the marriage. Of course, it is a bad habit, it is a sin, it does distance us from God and it can lead to far worse.

  • Ivan tretiak

    Great answer! It’s simple and to the point. Bravo for shedding some light onto something that is, usually, very hard to understand. Busted Halo rocks !

  • Joan Grabowski

    Whoa…this is a dangerously short answer to a very important question.

    “The church teaches that masturbation is ‚Äúgravely disordered‚Äù (CCC #2352)…give me a break. Resources about John Paul II’s Theology of the Body abound that make a lot more sense about the “whys”. For those of us who do not accept black and white minimalist approach to our faith, it is unhelpful simply to say “thou shalt not” without saying why and what the reasons and better options are.

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