About a year
ago I sought guidance about masturbation and looking at pornography. I was told
that it was not a mortal sin in my case because it was leading me towards love. What
do you say about this? That response confused me. Anyway, I have still been troubled
with these vices. I have prayed for God to make me stop, and yet I am unable to resist
the temptations, and I still look at porn and masturbate. What am I missing? What is
my motivation behind this desire, and why won’t I stop?
ave you heard it said, “With friends
like him (or her) I don’t need enemies”? Well, with guidance like the kind you
encountered, you don’t need demons to seek the ruin of your soul. Christ told
Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21: 15–19), and men and women who give guidance
like this have been feeding His sheep all right—they’ve been feeding His sheep to
The advice you were given is wrong
theologically (a) because Christ Himself told us that lust—even
lust in the heart—is a mortal
(Matthew 5:28), (b) because the Tradition of
the Catholic Church has preserved Christ’s teaching through the ages,
and (c) because the Catechism of the Catholic
Church (23512354) continues to endorse that
The advice you were given is wrong
psychologically because it doesn’t recognize that
sexuality (when stripped of its procreative
function) has nothing to do with love.
fantasies, whether thoughts or feelings, often arise as images
of satisfaction when, because of other circumstances, we are feeling deprived,
ineffectual, weary, unrecognized, or alone. The experience of genital arousal
points to a yearning for an intoxicating existential merger with an “other” to
hide the unwanted reality of your own brokenness; you “devour” the other so
that you can experience the ecstasy of transcending the “unknown” or of “seeing”
or “feeling seen” (common male fantasies) or of “being filled” (a common female
Same-sex attraction (SSA) fantasies
can reverse these roles: a man can desire to be filled with the strength
of a father (who in reality was weak, or absent, or cruel); a woman can desire
to see, or be seen by, a mother (who in reality was cruel or neglectful or
The combinations can be almost
infinite, but they all point to a certain lack of unconditional childhood
recognition, guidance, or acceptance that resonates with a current
lack—that is, a deprivation—of recognition, guidance, acceptance,
resources, or time.
The psychological point here
is that filling up a lack has nothing to do with love.
Sexual fantasies can also derive
from memories of past sexual activity—voluntary or inflicted
abusively—that now carry feelings of guilt or regret or even anger.
In this context, men can have fantasies of raping, and women (and some men)
can have fantasies of being raped, all as an unconscious attempt to usurp God’s
mercy and inflict punishment on themselves with the
same merciless severity with which punishment was inflicted on them in childhood
by their parents.
The psychological point here
is that guilt, regret, and anger also have nothing to do with
derives from the urge to defile an “other” by using the other as
an object of consumption to devour for your own pleasure. On the surface, it
may seem that pornography is simply about erotic pleasure. But when the human
body is made into a biological toy, it is stripped of all human dignity,
and this defilement is a psychological act of aggression. The hostility may
be unconscious or it may be openly violent, but, either way, it has its basis
To whom, then, is the resentment
directed? Well, as in all things psychological, the resentment goes back
to the parents. Deep down, under all the apparent excitement, and despite
the attraction to what is seen, lurks the dark urge to
hurt and insult—to “get back
at”—what is behind the scenes: a mother who devoured, rejected,
or abandoned, rather than nurtured, or a father who failed to teach, guide,
So face the shocking and sad
truth: in your childhood you were made into an object that was manipulated,
scorned, or ignored, and now you seek the perverse satisfaction of making others
into objects so you can “feed” on them for your pleasure.
The psychological point here
is that revenge has nothing to do with
Autistic self-stimulation (i.e.,
masturbation) does not lead you towards
love because it’s a defilement of love. Masturbation makes your own
body into an object
that you use for your own pleasure, but real love does not seek anything
for itself. Real love is not a feeling; instead, it is an act of
it’s a self-sacrifice for the sake of the
salvation of other souls. Masturbation, in opposition
to real love, seeks everything for itself; it’s really just a subtle
form of anger for not having received your parents’ love—especially
your father’s love.
As a child, you
felt lonely and neglected, and you had to take matters into your own hands
to teach and protect yourself. You essentially had to raise yourself as a
child without your parents’ guidance. So now, as an adult, when you
feel ineffectual, anxious, lonely, and neglected, what do you do? You take
matters into your own hands and raise yourself—literally.
The psychological point here
is that the defilement of love has nothing to do with love.
Finally, the advice you were given is
wrong in actuality because the advice has done nothing to help you. You
still have the same problem as before and you are now more confused and discouraged
You need some clarity
about prayer, and until now you have not been taught how to pray. Your prayer
hasn’t been “working” because you have not been praying properly. You have been
asking God to make you do something, but you haven’t been focusing on
nurturing the desire for desiring a chaste and
pure heart; consequently, even as you think you are praying to stop masturbating,
in your heart you continue to desire lust. To
stop masturbating, it is important to pray for a chaste and pure heart; then you
can ward off temptations to lust with a greater desire
than lust—that is, with a love for God.
So let’s get to the truth
of the matter and find out why you masturbate and what you can do to
Just Get Over
You might be saying to yourself, “I
wish I could just get over it.” Yet, no matter how much you try, you can’t get over
it. Why? Well, in regard to lust and masturbation— and for that matter, to sin in
general—we can’t just “get over it” because we have to go down “underneath it”—that
is, deep inside ourselves—to see the dark desire to sin
that lurks in the depths of our unconscious.
In Canto I of Book I (Hell) of Dante’s
Divine Comedy, Dante finds himself lost in a dark woods (symbolizing the
spiritual blindness of a heart hardened by sin). He tries to escape by climbing up
a beautiful mountain, but he is driven back to the woods by three animals, a leopard
(symbolizing lust), a lion (symbolizing violence) and a wolf (symbolizing malice).
Back in the woods he meets the shade of Virgil, an ancient Roman poet, who proposes to
guide Dante down through Hell to get to Purgatory and ultimately
The Mountain, which on
the mystical level is the image of the Soul’s Ascent to God, is thus on the moral
level the image of Repentance, by which the sinner returns to God. It can be ascended
directly from the “right road” but not from the Dark Wood because there the soul’s
cherished sins have become, as it were, externalized, and appear to it like demons
or “beasts” with a will and power of their own, blocking all progress. Once lost in
the Dark Wood, a man can only escape by so descending into himself that he sees his
sin, not as an external obstacle, but as the will to chaos and death within him (Hell).
Only when he has “died to sin” can he repent and purge it. Mount Purgatory and the
Mountain of Canto I are, therefore, really one and the same mountain as seen on the
far side, and on this side, of the “death unto sin.”
So let’s proceed down into your unconscious
to get to the truth of the matter and find out why you masturbate; then it will be
possible to understand what you can do to “die to sin” and purge yourself of the dark
chaos of lust that afflicts you.
The Urge to
The urge to masturbate begins
because you have been feeling helpless, anxious, ineffectual, deprived, or
burdened in some way. In this state of mind, you crave some comfort to relieve
your emotional pain. Well, the four greatest natural emotional pain relievers
are alcohol, drugs, food, and genital stimulation. They are potent natural
pleasures of the flesh.
As Christians we have been called
to grow in spirit and love beyond the natural pleasures of the flesh.
Nevertheless, even though you know that masturbation has nothing to do with
love, the desire for pleasures of the flesh, rather than the spirit, grows
in you because (a) unconscious anger at your parents
for not protecting you and guiding you with true
love leaves you feeling frustrated, and (b) unconscious anger at yourself
because true love has been missing in your life leaves you feeling
These feelings of anxiety, helplessness
and deprivation will vary in detail from person to person and from situation
to situation, but the point is that you don’t turn to God with all your
mind, all your heart, all your strength, and all your soul in the midst
of your emotional pain because you were never taught how to do it.
So, like a child—all alone, with no one to explain things, and trying
desperately to figure out things on his or her own—you give in to the
urge to take matters into your own hands to relieve yourself of your own
despair. But, in all reality, that relief is just a short-lived
At the moment of
orgasm, you will desire its ecstasy with all your mind, all your heart, all
your strength, and all your soul. You will be desiring the orgasm with the
same desire you wanted your parents to have for you, at the moment you were
conceived and in every moment thereafter. But their love was flawed—or
missing altogether. So, as a substitute for their acceptance, you will seek
the acceptance of others. Yet they, too, will fail you. Angry and deprived,
you will turn your back on God and, with all your mind, all your heart, all
your strength, and all your soul, you will seek—not
God—but . . . the orgasm, as you try to keep alive
the illusion that you are wanted by the world.
In reality, then, masturbation is a
non-achievement that invokes the illusion of achievement. As much as you keep
trying to do it, it’s impossible to use your own body to heal your emotional
despair. Try as much as you want, but you will find yourself condemned to failure
like Sisyphus, in Greek mythology, who struggled to push a heavy stone uphill,
only to have it roll back down again, over and over.
Sin Feels Good
How is it that we can continue to commit
sin even when we know that it leads to nothing but failure and doom? Well, the truth
is, sin feels good. Yes, in the moment, sin feels good—and, in the moment, most
persons do not think about holiness; they think only about the pleasure of the
gives us raw physical pleasure. It can be intense and intoxicating. But lust
is not a sin because someone in authority, for some arrogant and mysterious
reason, says so. Nor is lust a sin because it feels good. Lust is sin because
it leads you away from the goal of holiness and into the empty pleasures of
merely feeling good in the moment. Lust is sin because it misses the point of
God is the point of life, and He
gave us genitals so that we could bring new life into the world. Note that we aren’t
creators; God is the Creator and we are procreators—that is, we stand
in the place of the Creator. Our genitals therefore serve the purpose of procreation.
They serve love by bringing children into the world who will learn to love
Love—God Himself—to become love themselves.
Lust, however, is not love. Despite its
intensity of feeling, it is not love. It defiles love. It is the hatred of love
because it defiles procreation. It makes pleasure its own end, and so it ends in
Still, it feels good—and that
points to the ultimate spiritual battle. Despite the throbbing intensity of
lust’s attraction, we have to struggle against the pleasure of sin and constantly
remind ourselves that, despite all the allure, lust is the hatred of
Individuals who don’t understand
the reality of the great spiritual battle with lust use the term
sexual addiction as a politically correct way to make it seem that sexual
behaviors are matters for medical oversight and control rather than matters of
Actually, it is more clinically
correct to say that pornography and masturbation are habits, rather than
addictions, and that they are acquired through continual exposure and practice.
Consequently, the truth is that your recurring urges to consume pornography
and to masturbate derive from the false belief that sexuality is just a form
of sporting pleasure necessary for your happiness, and that its consumption,
rather than being a personal moral choice, is necessary for your emotional
well-being. Thus you have been duped by an anti-Christian society into believing
that hatred for procreation has the power to redeem your emotional
You have been duped especially
by the entertainment industry, an industry that has been working subversively
through movies and television to destroy Christian moral and family values
by divesting the human sexual function of its holy dignity through the glamorization
of lust. For example, it may seem on the surface that “the woman” has been idealized,
because she stands at the center of all erotic imagery, but the underlying
motive has been to defile feminine modesty, stripping
the female body of its holy dignity and reducing it, often with violent overtones,
to a naked, soulless sex object. Even though it may
seem on the surface that socially progressive values have “liberated” women from
“patriarchal oppression,” the truth is that women are increasingly enslaving
themselves to lust.
The end result is that our secular
culture worships lust as its goddess, and all Christians are surrounded with
pernicious temptations to abandon their baptismal promises
of chastity and the rejection of diabolical works. Then, with those once holy promises
hanging from them in useless shreds, they become easily seduced into assuming free
permission to partake of the harlot’s allure.
You have been duped by the
anti-Christian “progressive” liberal agenda of the entertainment
industry into believing that sin is normal and acceptable
and that sexual pleasure is necessary for your “happiness.” As a result, instead
of taking personal responsibility to detach
yourself from social illusions, you willingly
consume them, over and over.
You have been duped into believing
that you can use your own body to heal your emotional despair, and so sin
enslaves you even as you are told that sin does not exist.
It’s not politically correct to admit
it, but it’s not really an addiction that troubles you, it’s anti-Christian
How to Stop Masturbating:
Recognition, The Bridge, and Prayer
healed of your slavery to repetitive sin, first
learn to recognize your feelings of
helplessness and deprivation as soon as they occur. As you begin this learning
process, there might be a long delay between your falling into a temptation
and your discovering its triggers, but with practice you can shorten the delay;
eventually, you will be able to recognize your particular triggers almost immediately.
In any case, sooner or later, notice how they manifest in your particular
Maybe they are a matter of your being
overwhelmed with obligations, without proper guidance and assistance, so
that you feel lonely, weary, and burdened.
Maybe they are a matter of your being
obstructed and hindered by others, so that you feel insulted and
Maybe they are a matter of your own
inner confusion and lack of confidence, so that you feel frustrated and
the psychological bridge to the past; that is, consciously explain to
yourself how your current feelings of helplessness and deprivation connect to similar
feelings from your childhood. Think back to the actual childhood events that
precipitated the feelings and describe them in detail.
Then gather up all this scrutiny
and bring it in prayer before Christ.
Pray to Him for guidance and courage to overcome the past. Pray from your heart,
as you would speak to another person. Pour out your feelings and doubts and
frustrations in sincere honesty.
But be careful here. The mistake would
be to believe that your sins make you unworthy for God to hear your prayers; the truth
is that it is in these very moments of your weakness and vulnerability that
Christ has the most compassion for you and the
most eagerness to help you.
Pray that the
desire for holy love will grow in you and overshadow
every other desire.
Ask for the strength and courage
to persevere through your painful feelings into confident
trust in divine protection despite what others do.
wretchedness and ask for the grace to
love, and to pray for,
everyone—even your enemies—despite the mistreatment you received
from your parents as a child and continue to receive, even now, from others.
Below are some psychological
concepts that can assist you in the battle with your impulses to sin.
When erotic fantasies or urges to
look at pornography disturb you, it will be necessary to train yourself to seek
only in Christ—not in the body of another person, and not in your own
body—the true recognition and comfort that is lacking everywhere
Temptations can be so enticing, however,
as to scatter your prayers; therefore, praying for the temptation to “go away” will
not likely help you. Moreover, when confronted with temptations, many
persons make the psychological mistake of telling themselves that they can’t
have something or that they shouldn’t do something. Trying to force
yourself away from a desire only increases its intensity!
The one thing that can help you the most
is to focus on the sorrow of love being defiled.
Consequently, it will be important to
look beyond the illusion of satisfaction that the desire projects in front of you;
instead of seeing the illusion, pay attention to what you are really experiencing
when you look at someone with lust.
Instead of seeing a body that arouses
your lust, feel the sorrow of God’s holy creation being defiled by
immodesty. Feel the sorrow for a world that has been so
deceived and overwhelmed by sin that it hates
Instead of seeing your own pleasure,
feel the sorrow of being a predator who “feeds upon” the erotic pleasure of another
Instead of seeing the “hope” that
another person can fill your emotional emptiness, feel the sorrow of knowing
the truth that your own mother and father did not comfort and guide you as a child
when, in the face of impending responsibility, you felt vulnerable and
Instead of seeing the “comfort” of
self-stimulation, feel the sorrow of all the time and effort wasted in
masturbatory non-achievement that has done nothing but leave you with more and more
emptiness, devoid of any real love.
With your heart,
“see” the illusions for what they really are, and then vow that you will revere and
protect God’s love.
Immodesty of Other Persons
Many impulses to sin originate
in the immodesty of other persons. When
others wear clothing that does not cover their
bodies with chaste dignity but instead draws attention
to the intimate contours of their body parts, you will be attacked in two
First of all, your
curiosity to see “behind the veil” will become
French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, in The Four Fundamental Concepts
of Psycho-Analysis, tells the story of a competition
between two ancient painters, Zeuxis and
Parrhasios. Zeuxis receives acclaim for painting grapes so life-like
that even the birds who try to peck at them are fooled. In his pride, Zeuxis
then goes to look at the work of Parrhasios. But Zeuxis sees only a veil,
and so he asks to see the painting that Parrhasios has hidden behind the
veil. Well, Parrhasios’ painting was the veil. It was so well
done that it fooled even the master of deceptive painting himself. Hence
Lacan points out that if you want to deceive someone, present him with a
“veil,” something that incites him to ask what is behind
Then, with your curiosity incited,
you will feel frustrated that you cannot see behind the veil, and
to ward off the conscious awareness of your dreaded helplessness you will
experience a surge of fantasies that offer imaginary relief to your
At this point
Remind yourself that
those who love God respect the sanctity of their reproductive functioning and
do not play with their bodies like toys. Tell yourself that you can love God
like this, too.
Remind yourself that
lust is just an unholy illusion that can never
heal the emotional pain that provokes it.
Remind yourself that
lust causes real spiritual harm to others—and to
When you feel the
urge to look at or touch or kiss someone erotically, tell yourself,
“It’s futile. There is no point in thinking this way because it
is not in accord with procreative
Remind yourself that
those who dress immodestly are themselves blinded
by sin and trapped in it. Rather than make them into objects of your lust,
feel sorrow for them and pray for their enlightenment.
So yes, eroticism is attractive. It’s
very attractive, but the pleasure is empty, and it leads to doom.
Desire for Satiety
Practice the virtue of
satiety prevention. Temptations to sin
are all based in the desire to have your emotional emptiness filled—now!
If your life has been structured around the comfort of immediate gratification
and always feeling satiated, then, when temptations arise, there will be
no voice of virtue to contain them. But if you can teach yourself to accept
a lifestyle not based on constant satiety, you will have more confidence
and strength to assist you in tolerating the fury of an unfulfilled
Is the radio in your
car and the television in your home always on, just filling up the silence?
Stop! Turn them off. Learn to appreciate contemplative silence.
Are you always carrying
your mobile device with you, chatting, texting, constantly alert for messages,
listening to songs, or playing video games ? Stop! Turn it on only to give
or receive meaningful information. Games and secular music steal time away
from prayer. Learn to focus your mind and heart on constant prayer, as Christ
told us to do.
Do you eat until
you feel stuffed? Are you always snacking and drinking coffee or cola? Stop!
Learn to fast from the excess of the world so as to appreciate a spiritual
hunger for holiness.
Anger Behind the Lust
Many people get taken by surprise
by this fact, so be careful to understand that the
more you overcome your urges to masturbate, the more prone you will be to
feelings of irritation—and that the feeling of irritation
can easily escalate into the sin of
Why does this happen?
Well, remember what I said
above about anger being the underlying psychological motive
for masturbation. When you stop masturbating, that anger will still be present
under the surface of everything. It will he necessary to deal with it in
a healthy manner, or you will find it “leaking out” everywhere
Therefore, keep up a constant
scrutiny of your emotions so that you can recognize
your emotional injuries and then work to resolve them in a timely and
spiritually healthy manner. Maintain a sense of
peace within your heart through the practice of
When you try to resist temptations
by sheer force of will, and then fail, you can fall into the trap of punishing
yourself for your mistakes—and this only leads to further failure. Instead,
turn to God in sorrow and tears and ask that He teach you to learn from your
mistakes. His mercy is more gentle and compassionate than any punishment
you can inflict on yourself. Ask Him for the courage to face your emotional
pain directly, and ask Him for the grace to see your struggles with your
psychological conflicts as opportunities to grow in wisdom and
Because it is not psychologically
possible to erase from your mind memories of pornography and past sexual
experiences, these old images and feelings will intrude into your consciousness
with haunting regularity, and they will arouse erotic feelings. This can occur at
any time during the day; it can occur during prayer; it can occur at night during
those moments when you wake up and try to fall asleep again, and it can occur
especially when you are in a dreamlike state in the early morning just before you
become fully awake. But, instead of falling into the temptations of eroticism,
tell yourself, “In the past, I did these things for mere pleasure, but now I
see it all for the
it really is. It’s attractive, but the pleasure is empty, and it leads to doom.”
Moreover, to strengthen this resolve,
use a special prayer for deliverance.
Use the following formula and repeat it
as necessary until the temptations fade.
“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
I renounce the desire to use my own body or the body of another for my pleasure
or satisfaction. I renounce the spirit of lust that afflicts me. And I
affirm that my only hope and comfort is in God Himself.”
Then say, “Into Your hands, O Lord, I
commend my spirit.”
ASKED the LORD, “O LORD,
why is it that we are so troubled with genital arousal and erotic desires?
Why does our sexuality have to be this difficult?”
He replied, “No one enters My Kingdom who has not resolutely
chosen the Spirit over the Flesh. Let your genitals be a constant reminder
of this, in every moment, with every breath you take.”
1. Transient erotic images that arise spontaneously
in your mind, however, are not necessarily mortal sins unless you dwell upon
them for pleasure. All fleeting fantasies are intellectual products,
not acts of will; that is, they are products of unconscious defensive
psychology. Through careful scrutiny (as I describe here) you can use the
occurrence of such fantasies to help you understand your current emotional
2. True love, as Aristotle explained (Rhet. ii, 4)
and as Saint Thomas Aquinas reiterated, is “to wish the good of someone.”
See Summa Theologica, I-II, 26, 4.
3. From her commentary on Canto I of Cantica I: Hell
(L’Inferno) in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, trans. Dorothy Sayers
(Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1949).
4. Not all of those who hate God have consciously
given themselves over to evil; instead, some have
become morally corrupted; that is, they have succumbed to an
illusion that denies the reality of
sin and evil, and so they deceive themselves in believing
that their self-serving behavior is not an offense to God.
5. Jacques Lacan, “The Four Fundamental Concepts
of Psycho-Analysis.” Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, translated by Alan
Sheridan. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1981). See p. 103 and pp. 111-112.
6. The fundamental meaning of sexuality is in
its procreative function. This does not mean that every sexual act must produce
a child; rather, it means that no sexual act has a legitimate purpose as
something done for fun or entertainment or to soothe feelings of loneliness.
To cast away the fundamental meaning of sexuality (through acts such as
masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, artificial birth control, etc.) is to fall
into sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses it this way:
“. . . every action which . . . proposes, whether as an end
or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically
7. See Note 6.
in the Catholic mystic tradition
How to turn the
of daily life into
for our cultural
and spiritual battle
about the spiritual depth of