usually don’t go well in the same sentence. The Church is seen as an old prude shaking her finger at a young self-discovering person. It is a fact, that research indicates, that an overwhelming amount of young people admit that they regularly masturbate, and that masturbation remains the most significant source of orgasmic pleasure for young people.
The truth is that the Church teaches that Masturbation is “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action. I know that this sounds harsh, and I don’t feel that it is my place to discuss whether musturbation is a sin or not. What I wish to talk about is: being young; masturbation; and how the Church actually says: ‘for young people this, at times, may not even be a sin.’
I have worked with adolescents for many years and the main issue I found is usually linked to sex, masturbation and self-discovery; especially when it comes to adolescents who are trying to live a Catholic life. Primarily, I found that many young people feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that they masturbate and they feel guilty about confessing the same sin time and time again. It hurts me to see young people distance themselves from the Church, because they feel that there is something wrong with them, or that they are bad people because they are struggling with masturbation. The Church promotes chastity, and we need to know that this as an ongoing process, as this is not just an issue of young people.
- Stanley Hall, a pioneering American Psychologist, viewed that adolescence is a period of heightened “Storm and Stress”. Hall examines 3 key aspects of this “Storm and Stress” view, these are: Conflict with Parents, Mood Disruptions, and Risky Behavior. We can say that being a young person is a stressful situation, which includes insecurity and anxiety while still discovering who you are. Biologically, we know that an adolescent’s brain is not fully developed. Socially, fitting in and belonging can be very stressful. Additionally, when it comes to the family and acquiring autonomy, it can be extremely stressful.
This is the advice a local ‘sexual health’ website gives to adolescents: “Masturbation is a way to get to know your body and what pleases you. This can improve your self-esteem. It also provides a sense of well-being and at the same time it does not harm anyone. Sexual pleasure can alleviate bad moods. Thus, masturbation can be a form of stress relief and can help in people who have sleeping problems. Masturbation is pleasurable for all ages…”The above is what young people are being told, no wonder the struggle is so real and so many young people are struggling to find a balance. It seems society presents a particular view of self-fulfillment and the Church another, society promotes the immediate pleasure of the senses, and the church that of virtue. Don’t get me wrong; I totally understand the call to self-control and the disciplining of the senses. But I believe that true freedom comes in finding the right balance.
You see, sin is always marked by a separating. Our mind, our will, and our body, seem at war with one another. St. Paul says: “there is a war within me a war against the law of my mind”, meaning that he is at war with himself. He is saying that his emotions, his mind and his will, are at war with each other. There is a battle between the physical and the spiritual; that is one of the marks of our need for growth. It is one of the things we have to come to terms with.
One of the clearest marks of our sinful selves is the tendency to float dangerously between the two extremes. Sometimes utterly indulging our bodily desires, and sometimes utterly spiritualizing ourselves. We live by the phrases: “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”; “min u sidi?”; “yolo” or “ABZ”. Freud’s words are so true when he said that the pleasure principle dominates many lives. It is safe to say that we are an instant gratification generation, and it is sad to say that instant gratification seems to be the only gratification we will get. Some people choose to live for material things only. For time and time again, I have seen that this leads to a shipwreck of a life. Anyone who has walked down that path can tell you this.
Another side to the dimension also exists: that of being afraid of our bodies, our feelings and desires. When we become purely spiritualized, suspicious of the body; especially one of the most powerful bodily desires, namely sexuality. This, in my opinion, can lead to dualism or excessive asceticism- a disregard for the physical. This is just as unhealthy as the first option- that of living a materialistic lifestyle.
Catholic Theology, that is rooted in the Bible, has always avoided this tendency. THE BODY IS GOOD IN ITSELF, and so are its fundamental desires. Sexuality is in itself GOOD, and this should be celebrated. Running from the flesh, is not what living an authentic spiritual life is about. Spirituality is about finding the balance that is proper to the human way of being; it is more about disciplining the body in a proper way; it is more about grounding the body. Unnecessary guilt and shame do not lead to an authentic life.
Smith et al., 1996.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2352.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2352.
Persona Humana, 9.
Romans 7, 23.