A - Thanks for the question. I hope I can help you out a bit. I will note that we will discuss this issue quite directly and without hemming or hawing.
The problem with any intentional act of sexual self-gratification, including masturbation, is they are contrary to the purposes of the act of sex. Sex is intended to be an expression of love between a married man and woman. They express this love through a complete self-giving to one another in the act. Love never takes or is selfish. It should always be about the other person, not me.
Masturbation is an exact opposite act - it is all about the selfish feelings one derives from the act. By the very nature of the act, it turns one in on oneself. This is the opposite of love, because it isn't about another person.
While many young people suffer from compulsive self-gratification, it is not impossible to stop. The temporary relief and feelings quickly lead to emptiness and in many cases shame. It is like being thirsty and trying to quench your thirst by drinking water from the ocean.
Bad habits are not easy to stop, but they are worth it.
As for the gravity of the sin, here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
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."Now, as an objective standard (not applied to any individual case) it is gravely sinful. But, as the Catechism points out, the gravity of the sin can be venial with extenuating circumstances - immaturity, habit, anxiety, etc.
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 can lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.
But, don't automatically tell yourself that you are not doing anything "too bad" if you struggle with masturbation. Your confessor should be able to help you sort through it all. But, don't neglect to go to confession if you are committing this sin.
Sex ought to be so much more than mere pleasure. It is intended to be an amazing act of love between to committed people. It can be life-giving and powerful. It should be intimate and a means to receive grace. Finally, it can be a powerful opportunity to glorify God. But, only if done in the proper context. Don't let sex become something less than this wonderful vision.
A few practical tips for those that struggle with this sin:
- Try to understand what makes you want to indulge sexually. Is it boredom, self-hate, stress, etc. Then try to prepare yourself to battle during theses times.
- You must fill up the negative thoughts and lustful images with positive ones. Sacred Scripture and holy images can help.
- Stay away from moments of temptation - the computer, being alone, watching movies with sex, etc. Have a battle plan to combat these problems.
- You MUST work on your spiritual life. The closer you draw to Jesus in prayer and the Sacrament the more you will conquer this problem.
- Most people need some kind of accountability to stop once they acquire this habit.
- Learn more about the Church's teachings on sexuality. I recommend finding a good book on the topic. Some I recommend here.
- You can read more tips on things you can do to help in this area here.
"you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" -1 Cor 6:20I hope this helps.