Q. 4: Can Catholic Spouses use Masturbation in the Context of Natural Intercourse?

No, they cannot. First, masturbation is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

The CCC defines masturbation as: “the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure.” [1] This sexual act is non-marital, non-unitive, and non-procreative. It has three grave deprivations in its moral object, making the act intrinsically evil and certainly always a grave sin.

Does masturbation become moral when used with another purpose or motive, other than “to derive sexual pleasure”? No, for intrinsically evil acts are immoral regardless of the intention that motivates the act.

CDF, Persona Humana: “masturbation is an intrinsically and seriously disordered act. The main reason is that, whatever the motive for acting this way, the deliberate use of the sexual faculty outside normal conjugal relations essentially contradicts the finality of the faculty.” [2]

Although the CCC mentions the most common motive for masturbation (sexual pleasure), the Magisterium does condemn this type of sexual act, regardless of “the motive for acting this way”. Therefore, the motive of preparing for the natural marital act does not justify masturbation, nor does the motive of helping the wife reach climax after marital relations.

Moreover, the Magisterium has condemned “the full exercise of the sexual faculty” (any sexual act to climax) outside of natural marital relations, for the wife as well as for the husband. [3] Neither the husband, nor the wife, may stimulate her to climax outside of the natural act. Such an act is morally a grave sin, just as is a solitary act of masturbation.

As an intrinsically evil act, masturbation is not justified by any purpose or motive, nor by any circumstance. An intrinsically evil act never becomes justified by being done about the same time as a good act. So it is not true that an act of masturbation on the husband or on the wife, becomes moral by being done before or after the natural marital act.

What if the act of masturbation is not completed in climax? The USCCB defines masturbation as “deliberate, erotic stimulation often to the point of orgasm…. masturbation is always gravely contrary to chastity and the dignity of one’s body.” [4] The USCCB says “often to the point of orgasm” because climax is not essential to the definition of masturbation, nor to the definition of a sexual act.

Masturbation is still the same type of grave sin when used without climax, or when used in marriage, or when it occurs about the same time as the natural marital act.

Endnotes:
[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church 2352.
[2] CDF, Cardinal Seper, Persona Humana IX.
[3] Pope Pius XII, Address to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility, 1956.
[4] USCCB, “Create In Me A Clean Heart”, III. Pornography’s link to other sins.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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12 Responses to Q. 4: Can Catholic Spouses use Masturbation in the Context of Natural Intercourse?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Conte, this is a very embarrassing thing to ask, but I have to make sure, because I don’t want to commit a mortal sin. As a devout Catholic, I try to harbor thoughts that are pure and noble, and resist all thoughts against purity. There are, however, times of weakness (usually in bed, such as waking up in the middle of the night or in the morning) when I experience impure thoughts. I try to fight them, but sometimes I will enjoy them for a few minutes and sometimes, even longer, before I stop. Sometimes I will go back and forth between “fighting” the thoughts and “giving into them.” During these times, I often have, well, erections. I’m sorry, I know it’s gross and it’s something that I don’t want to talk about, but I have to know – does this count as masturbation and should I go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion? Thank you so much for your help, and God bless.

    • Ron Conte says:

      No, it does not count as masturbation. This type of impure thought, even with some consent, is usually venial. It would be the mortal sin of lust, only if the consent is such that the person would be willing to commit the sin, if the opportunity presented itself. The lust of which Jesus speaks, calling it adultery of the heart, is the willingness to commit adultery (or other mortal sexual sins), not merely in imagination, but in real life if a situation presented itself. Apart from this real willingness to commit an immoral sexual act, impure thoughts are generally venial, as they occur in a person who is not willing to actually choose impure acts. Since it is only venial sin, you don’t need to go to Confession before going to Communion.

  2. Marco says:

    If i’m not mistaken, you said that these kinda extreme theological positions aren’t infallible, right? You said it in another post that what Pope Pius XII said about this issue wasn’t infallible.

    I’m saying this, because i really don’t see any Reasonableness behind these positions.

    So if someone isn’t impotent but can reach erection only with certain means, he should live his whole life as a monk? And a woman should never be able to climax if her wife climaxes too quickly?

    I mean, sorry but this seems legalism at its finest. And if these are truly the standards, i really don’t know who can be saved and how can you believe that, as you stated, the majority of people are saved.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The teaching of Pius XII on this topic is non-infallible. Certainly, the Church’s condemnation of certain sins (masturbation, sodomy, adultery, fornication) is infallible under the ordinary and universal magisterium, and also because these sins are condemned in Tradition and Scripture. But the question of marital foreplay, as it is termed, on either side of the debate, is non-infallible. Even so, I think the application of Church teaching in this area should not be controversial. All of the Church teachings that would be applied to answer the question are quite clear. So married couples who are aware of this teaching should work toward a conjugal life that is free of these acts.

  3. Paul says:

    Ron, I don’t agree with the advice you gave to Anonymous. Of course, it is your site, and I may well be mistaken, but indulging impure thoughts for “a few minutes” or even longer sounds like grave matter. We are to love God with our minds as well.

    • Ron Conte says:

      No, it is not grave matter. A mortal sin must be sufficiently grave to deserve eternal hell fire, and so as to be entirely incompatible with the love of God and neighbor. The described sin does not meet that standard.

  4. Matt Z. says:

    I agree with Ron, it seems like Anonymous only semi-consented to the impure thoughts which would be a venial sin.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I think even full consent would still be venial, as long as there is no real willingness to actually commit the fantasized sin if an opportunity presented itself. If the person would never commit adultery in any situation, then they are not guilty of adultery of the heart.

  5. Matt Z. says:

    I definitely disagree with that Ron. St.Alphonsus Precepts of the Decalogue Chapter VI states; ” The soul loses the grace of God and is condemned to hell the instant the person consentd to the desire of committing sin, or delights in thinking of the immodest action as if he were then commiting it.” and again, ” My dear Christians, be careful to banish these bad thoughts….He who contracts the habit of consenting to bad thoughts exposes himself to great danger if dying to sin, for the reason that it is very easy to commit sins of thought. In a quarter hour a person may entertain a thousand wicked desires, and for every evil desire to which he consented he deserves hell.”

    This has always been my understanding in reading Church documents and saints writings and not even the most liberal of writers has stated otherwise.

    • Marco says:

      Quite frankly, if that was true, in today’s world i don’t know who would be possibly saved, other than kids who die before the age of reasons and some monk who lives like an hermit.

      And in fact Alphonsus, coerently with his thoughts, believed that the overwhelming majority of human beings ended up in hell (which would have raised the question: why did God create the human race in the first place, if the overwhelming majority of them end up suffering the eternal supplice? But that’s another matter).

  6. Anonymous says:

    I did not realize my comment would cause such controversy. I suffer from impure thoughts infrequently, and Confession, the Rosary, and the Holy Mass have done a great deal to keep many of these thoughts out of my mind. But sometimes, the impure thoughts do happen, usually when I’m tired. I’m not trying to excuse my behavior, but I am authentically concerned about what constitutes mortal sin, for obvious reasons. I just want to know the Truth.

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